Book Review: Tattletale by Sarah J. Naughton

tattletale.jpg

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

Favourite quotes:

Whatever you may have read in the tabloid press, those suffering from mental health difficulties are far more likely to be a danger to themselves than others”.

“This is why I don’t have relationships. Even if you’re lucky enough to meet someone you genuinely care about, someone who feels the same and isn’t a complete asshole, as soon as you let your guard down and start to rely on them, bang! Some deus ex machina comes down and blows them up or gives them a tumour or pushes them over a stairwell. It’s not worth it. You can’t miss it if it was never there”.

“A whole industry based on schadenfreude, making their inadequate readers feel smug about their drab little lives and relationships. Celebreties break up because their egos are solid enough not to put up with other people’s bullshit. The rest of us don’t have the balls, because we’re too insecure to be alone”.

 

What happens when two women with troubled pasts are connected by death of someone they both loved at one point? How far will one go to prove the other did it? And how much the other can take before she finally breaks?

A hotshot Vegas lawyer Mags receives news from London that her brother Abe tried to kill himself and is in a coma. When she flies up to England to see him, she meets his fiancee Jody and a cast of characters who were Abe’s neighbours. As a lawyer, Mags knows that nothing is ever what it seems. As she gets to know Jody and the neighbours, a lot of facts about her brother come to light. And little by little, they begin to make sense. But nobody is prepared to learn the full truth about their family, and to confront their past. Least of all Mags and Jody.

The paths of the two women would have never crossed if not for Abe. Neither of them trusts the other. Can they build a relationship based on lies, delusions and madness? Or will their histories destroy them completely?

 

 

“Tattletale” is a multiple PoV story, and no narrator is a reliable one. We don’t know which of the women we should trust – in fact, we don’t know until we’re well into the book who the devastating flashbacks are all about. That, admittedly, made the narrative a little harder to follow, but after a few chapters, everything became much clearer and I was able to enjoy this book for what it is. A decent pscyhological thriller that keeps you guessing until the very last page.

Psychological thrillers aren’t “light”, and “Tattletale” certainly wasn’t. It dealt with very heavy topics like rape, depression and suicide, addiction and bigotry. The book features a couple of graphic descriptions of sexual assault (trigger warning), and some scenes make the reader’s skin crawl. Mental illness was a very important plot point in “Tattletale”, as was victim-blaming, but I thought that the author dealt with the topics quite well. We do see through other characters’ eyes that there is still a big stigma surrounding people with mental illnesses and sexual assault survivors. I am glad that it wasn’t swept under the rug but was addressed and explored. Although I could’ve done without usage of death of a marginalized person as a central plot point.

“Tattletale” is a debut novel, and it’s written in a simple language with very little purple prose. It does show a lot of promise and gives us a glimpse into the author’s writing talent. I’m sure we’ll see several new good thrillers in the future from Sarah J. Naughton. “Tattletale” certainly made train journeys to and from work a lot more interesting!

 

Recommendations

You might like “Tattletale” if you liked:

“The Good Lawyer” by Thomas Benigno

“Disclaimer” by Renee Knight

“Last Seen Leaving” by Caleb Roehrig

 

Have you read “Tattletale”? What are your favourite psychological thrillers? Tell me in the comments and don’t forget to check out my Etsy charity shop!

Book Review: The Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee

expats

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

 

Favourite quotes:

“Human beings have figured out that to celebrate and feel happy, you need certain elements—people, music, alcohol—and that’s all it takes to create this feeling of celebration and acknowledgment of life and time passing. The rituals we make—the elaborate wedding, the twenty-first birthday—these all signal to the world outside the changes in one’s life.”

“This is what could kill you about children as you watched them: the way they slept, their open-mouthed unconscious faces, their frail collarbones, their defiant stance right before they cried, their innocence. Their crazy, heartbreaking innocence. It could really kill you, if you thought about it.”

“Can you suddenly be summoned into adulthood? Is it the same as being promoted and suddenly having to pretend you know how to be a boss, or getting your period or having sex and suddenly being on the other side, knowing what it’s all about?”

 

I was an international student in high school, university and grad school, and I was an expat in between and some time after these respective periods. So of course I was interested in reading fiction about people who have experienced similar things, especially a book with a diverse cast like “The Expatriates”. The novel is told from points of view of three women whose lives are intervowen in expats’ favourite city – Hong Kong – in a way that makes us believe that even the biggest cities can be so overwhelmingly small.

Margaret Reade is a freelance landscape desigher who followed her husband to Hong Kong and took their three children with them. Mercy Cho is a Korean American Ivy League graduate whose bad fortune leaves her with a string of one bad decision after another. Hilary Starr followed her lawyer husband to Hong Kong and is desperate for a child but has trouble connecting with kids, particularly one kid. A tragedy leaves Margaret despondent and numb and family devastated, and makes Mercy embark on even more self-destructive ventures. Meanwhile, Hilary’s laissers-faire attitude towards adopting a mixed-race child opens her to societal scrutiny, and her husband’s actions aren’t helping. The city of Hong Kong isn’t home to these women, but their position in that world is fragile and there are unspoken societal rules to be followed. After all, nobody wants to be alone in a foreign city where you don’t speak the language and need a source of income or to be a rock for your family. American expats in Hong Kong might have their own odd little community, but each member of that community has a different story and their own secrets and crosses to bear.

 

The three protagonists of “The Expatriates” are not likable in a traditional sense – they are flawed and real, which makes them very compelling. The book does have great descriptions which paint a clear picture of the Hong Kong expat society in a reader’s head, but the primary reason I was able to feel for Margaret, Mercy and Hilary, despite all their faults, is that the writing truly shows us a picture of who they are. I do mean shows, not tells – the author clearly knows the importance of that rule. That rule is broken when the author tells us what the characters are thinking and feeling, but that is done in a very believable way. Mercy, Margaret and Hilary aren’t perfect and the author doesn’t in any way try to present them as such. Perfect people don’t exist, and I don’t like seeing them in fiction either. Marriages aren’t perfect either, which is made very clear in this book – “Marriages are mysteries to everyone, most of all to the people in them, if they are not paying attention“. I’ve never been married and I’m not particularly keen on being married, but I know that the struggles every couple, every family experiences when their surrounding environment changes completely are very real. “The Expatriates” doesn’t gloss over these issues and problems – in fact, the author makes it quite a significant subplot, details of which I can’t divulge without spoiling anything.

It can be argued that while the novel is character-centric, the setting – modern-day Hong Kong – is no less significant. I love books where a setting could very well be a character in itself, and Hong Kong is such a complex, multi-layered city that it could very well be the fourth main character. I’ve never been unfortunately (not yet), and I was very pleased to see that the author doesn’t just describe the “glamorous” parts of the town tourists hear so much about and that are advertised as “expat heaven”. Cultural differences, sexism, racism and classism were never once glossed over, although we see them through the eyes of three privileged Americans. Indeed, class differences are a big subject in the novel, and the contrast between American expat community and their “help”, as well as the rest of the population is starking. I was an expat – not an American one but an expat nonetheless – and chances are that I might very well be one again someday – and I did see quite a few familiar behaviours in the book. Unfortunately, the lack of interest in the local culture, customs and language that’s demonstrated in the book was quite common amongst my expat contemporaries. When I’m in another city or country, even for a short time, I genuinely enjoy getting to know the local culture, the people and I truly believe that the best way to learn a language is to integrate yourself into the society. It baffled me how unwilling the people in “The Expatriates” were to learn Cantonese. Granted, languages are difficult and not everybody is a linguist, but still.

The city’s vivid atmosphere and the characters are what truly made “The Expatriates” an enjoyable and compelling novel, worth thinking about afterwards. My rating is 7.5/10.

 

Recommendations

You might enjoy “The Expatriates” if you liked:

“Girl in Translation” by Jean Kwok

“Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“This Must Be the Place” by Maggie O’Farrell

 

Have you read “The Expatriates”? Do you have any favourite books about lives of expats? Leave me a comment! 🙂

Book Review: Of Pens and Swords by Rena Rocford

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. And how could I resist requesting a book with such a beautiful cover?!

pens and swords

Favourite quotes

“Poetry is hard, hard work. You have to pull out the truth of your heart and lay them out for the world to see. Sometimes, that means something to someone, and they so. Sometimes, it coems off as a gooey, sappy, love sick puppy with about as mich in common with poetry as a Chihuahua and an elephant. And people say terrible things about art. It’s a risk”.

“Words are purer – freer like this, as if freshly cast from the forge of the gods. My words can dance through the air, and you will have to find the meaning of them without my face to hint. Time enough for faces on some other night, but here, in the gathering dark, let me be the candle against the light”.

“You know who doesn’t mind how many hands I have? Books. So I read. And I read, and I read, and I read. Books don’t judge. They don’t mock. They don’t knowingly smile like Mona Lisa when they see me, knowing that my life is “harder” yet pretending to treat me like everyone else. Books don’t have to pretend: they are the same to everyone”.

 

Cyra Berque’s dreams include being an Olympic fencer and a girlfriend to the handsome Rochan. The first is something she’s worked for her entire life, and, despite the fact that she only has one hand, she’s almost there. The second is unfortunately presenting some problems in the form of mean girls who love to mock Cyra for her disability, and the new girl in school – ethereal, whimsical ballerina Christine. Christine whose rich father hired Cyra as a tutor, and who is a lot more interested in winning Rochan’s heart than she is at passing AP English. For Cyra, pen is just as mighty as the sword, so she reluctantly agrees to help Christine get the guy by using her talents as a poetess in exchange for money for the new coach who could make her Olympics dream come true. However, juggling all of that is difficult enough when you’re a conventionally attractive, able-bodied high school student, and it’s nearly impossible when you are someone who is plus-sized and only has one hand. Can Cyra come to grips with her changing reality or will she have to bear witness to her dreams crashing and burning?

 

“Of Pens and Swords”‘ description grabbed me as much as the beautiful cover art did. That is because I am a writer, and I was a fencer back in university (foil). I still fondly look back on the days where my evenings twice a week consisted of footwork and various en gardes, and I do hope that at some point in the future, I’ll pick up a foil again. I never stopped being a writer though, and “Of Pens and Swords” felt like a love letter to two of my greatest loves. And it’s not just because words and swords are two big subject matters – it’s also the way the book is written. The amount of details paints an amazing picture of what fencing is actually like without being overwhelming or dull (for me, anyway), and the reader can genuinely feel how much Cyra loves the foil, and later the epee. Words are a whole other matter – the author managed to make a simple “plucky girl helps hot girl get hot guy” plot into something intricate and romantic. The words Cyra wrote for Christine to give to Rochan are beautiful, full of emotion, and the ending of that story makes them even more so.

Writing and reading, and later fencing, have been my ways to cope with things for a very long time. Thankfully, nothing as horrible as what had happened to Cyra has ever happened to me, but I could certainly relate to how she felt about books – “You can have a meaningful relationship with a character from a book. I mean really? You have all the emotions of the relationship. You feel joy when they succeed. You mourn when they die. You have a relationship with them. It might not be as deep or as rich as real life. And let’s be clear: real life is messy. But book characters are every bit as important as real-life people”. I didn’t start fencing until I was 19, but if a sixteen-year-old Kate had had a book like “Of Pens and Swords”, she might have gotten into it a lot earlier. Cyra puts into words really well a lot of things I love about fencing – for example: “But with fencing, it didn’t matter. A rating from a girl counted the same as a rating from a boy, and the rating handed out at the end of the competition was dependent on how many fencers showed up. It was one of the few actually equal venues. No one cared if there were women in the mix. The more rated fencers, the higher the rating could be given out at the end of the day”.

The characters in this were mostly high school students, and Cyra was primarily at the center. She is not perfect – she does engage in quite a bit of girl-on-girl hate and passing judgment without getting to know the person – but that makes her all the more real. I am always happy to see representation of diverse characters when they are written like real people and not like perfect, idealised tokens. Cyra’s struggles are very, very real, experienced by many people today, and the author doesn’t gloss over them. Of course, this is a short novella and it is not perfect when it comes to disability representation – but books like “Of Pens and Swords” are needed.

I genuinely enjoyed this little novella, and experienced quite a few moments of fangirling during the fencing scenes. Definitely recommend it!

 

Recommendations

You might like “Of Pens and Swords” if you liked:

“Bookishly Ever After” by Isabel Bandeira

“Now You See Her” by Jacquelyn Mitchard

“Dreaming of Antigone” by Robin Bridges

Have you read “Of Pens and Swords”? Do you like fencing? Do let me know in the comments! 🙂

Book Review: Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman

girls on fire

Favourite quotes

Once upon a time, there was a girl who loved the woods, the cool sweep of browning greens, the canopy of leafy sky. Hidden in the trees, she picked flowers and dug for worms, she recited poems, timing the words to the bounce of her feet in the dirt. In the woods she met a monster and mistook her for a friend. Into the woods they went, deeper and darker, and carved a sacred ring around a secret place, where the monster dug out pieces of the girl and buried them in the ground so that the girl could never truly leave, and never bear to return”.

“What it would be like to be one of them. To have power, be seen, be heard, be dudes rather than sluts, be jocks or geeks or bros or nice guys or boys-will-be-boys or whatever we wanted instead of quantum leaping between good girl and whore. To be the default, not the exception. To be in control, to seize control, simply because we happened to have a dick”.

“Girls today had to be made to believe. Not just in a higher power, a permanent record, someone always watching – girls had to believe that the world was hungry and waited to consume them. <…> Girls had to believe there were limits on what a girl could be, and that trespass would lead to punishment. <…> They had to believe that life was danger and that it was their own responsibility to stay safe, and that nothing they did could guarantee that they would.”

“Girls had to believe in everything but their own power, because if girls knew what they could do, imagine what they might.”

 

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

“Girls on Fire” is a story of three girls whose complex relationships have taken them places they could never forget and put them through hell from which they can never recover. Hannah Dexter is practically a nobody in her junior year of high school. After a particularly nasty incident of bullying performed by Nikki Drummond, Hannah meets Lacey – a rude, abrasive, gorgeous Kurt Cobain fan. Soon the two girls become practically inseparable. Hannah becomes Dex and transforms into a badass, brooding girl who is up for any challenge Lacey throws her way. The bond that soldified in dtheir shared hatred for Nikki Drummond is getting stronger and stronger with each passing day. How intense can a friendship of two girls get and how will they deal with the fatal consequences of their activities?

Meanwhile, a tragedy strikes Hannah’s town. A popular guy Craig, who happens to be Nikki Drummond’s boyfriend, shoots himself in the woods on Halloween night for seemingly no reason. The town is terrified – there are rumours going around about a Satan-worshipping gang of misfits who really drove Craig to suicide, and secrets that remained buried until now by Dex, Lacey, Nikki and everyone else in town are threatening to emerge, destroying the girls in the process. How much are they to blame for everything that’s going on? Will Dex and Lacey be able to save each other from everyone around them or is it each other they need saving from?

 

I must warn you – this is not a happy book. It is very intense and deals with very, very dark subject matters. The themes featured include Satanism, bullying, sexism, homophobia, suicide, murder and rape. So if you feel like spending a day reading a heartfelt novel, put “Girls on Fire” aside for the time being. If, however, an intense mystery with an all-female leading cast is what you’re after, Robin Wasserman’s latest novel needs to be in your hands right now.

Robin Wasserman uses tropes we’ve all seen many times – a teenage party gone wrong, a suicide that’s not all it seems as a flap of a butterfly wing that sets events in motion, a (literal) Chekhov’s gun, a disturbing relationship of a teenage girl with an older man, a transformation of an unpopular girl, parental neglect, and several others. This amount of tropes might seem overwhelming at first, but Wasserman entwines them so masterfully into one long, emotionally draining story you never feel like there’s “too much” going on at the same time. On the contrary – you’re emotionally exhausted at the end of every chapter, but not enough to make you stop reading, and you’re too addicted to the story and invested in the characters to stop at any point, whether it’s just after Hannah meets Lacey and becomes Dex, or after Lacey goes one, two, three steps too far as the book progresses.

The aforementioned tropes work exceptionally well in the atmosphere Wasserman masterfully pushes the reader into. “Girls on Fire” does tell you explicitly a couple of times the time period it’s set in, but even if it didn’t, Wasserman’s incredibly atmospheric writing tells you pretty much from the first chapter onwards. The early 90s were not a good time anywhere in the world to be a girl, and apparently Pennsylvania was no exception. Sexism, racism, homophobia, bullying were much worse back then than they were today, and not once does Wasserman try to gloss over those subjects. In fact, she makes them run through the veins of the book and be the primary cause of the events that transpire in the course of “Girls on Fire”. Everything in this book – fashion choices, music choices, attitudes, expressions, relationships and so on – are so incredibly 1990s. It is a testament to Robin Wasserman’s writing talent that the reader feels as though they’ve been sent back 25 years and are faced with the grim reality of that setting. “Girls on Fire” was very emotionally draining for that very reason and I still feel the chills I got from certain chapters (well, the majority of chapters, really) when I read them. You can see that my “Favourite quotes” section is unusually long this time – that would be because there are so many compelling, chilling passages in almost each chapter, I had a very hard time picking them out.

The author presents us with three very different main characters – Hannah “Dex”, Lacey and Nikki. The first two girls are first-person narrators, and up to a certain point, we only see their “antagonist” – Nikki – through their eyes. Hannah is the misfit who transforms into a badass, Lacey is the headstrong Nirvana fan accused by the town for being a Satan worshipper, and Nikki is the mean popular girl. Except when they aren’t. Hannah and Lacey desperately need each other, but would they have if it weren’t for Nikki? This question, buried underneath the layers of faux Satanism, complex relationships and emotional intensity of obsession, does appear to be the very question the author poses to the reader. Of course, “Girls on Fire” wouldn’t have been the book it is if there was a short answer to that question. First of all, the characters are incredibly complex and multi-dimensional, and even by the end of the book, we still don’t know them well enough to answer the author’s question. Second of all, all the narrators of this book – Hannah, Lacey and the third-person “parent” narrator – are incredibly unreliable. They’re in fact so unreliable that they could give Gillian Flynn’s narrators a run for their money, in my opinion. And finally, the reader doesn’t know the answer to the questions because the characters don’t have one either.

“Girls on Fire” was a disturbing, provocative, dark and emotionally exhausting ride. And I am not ashamed to admit that I rode the wave of all that emotional intensity over a weekend with very few pauses. However, I did need a long break from emotional books after I finished it. I could write a lot more about “Girls on Fire”, but instead I suggest that you buy the book when it comes out in a month.

 

Recommendations

You might be interested in “Girls on Fire” if you liked:

“Some Girls Are” and “All the Rage” by Courtney Summers

“Dare Me” by Megan Abbott

“Dangerous Girls” by Abigail Haas

 

Have you read “Girls on Fire” yet? Do you like stories of destructive female friendships? Let me know in the comments!

 

Book Review: Learning to Fly by Misha Elliott

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

 

Sophie Marshall is a product of a teenage pregnancy, and her mother’s emotional maturity hasn’t advanced past the date of her sixteenth birthday. Growing up and being the top student in your class is hard enough as it is, but when you add a mother who’s really a kid at heart, you’re the one who has to be there for her instead of the other way round. Sophie’s childhood and teenage years mostly consisted of moving around the country following her mother’s one failed relationship after another. She’s only managed to make some friends during her junior year of high school, but on the last day, her mother tells her that they have to move. Again. Understandably, Sophie is pissed – she’s certain that finishing senior year in some strange place, away from her support system in the form of her friends is going to be awful. However, a girl doesn’t have too many options and her mother needs an adult figure in the house.

 

Despite her reservations, Sophie’s new home and school turn out to be a lot different than she expected. At first glance, it starts all over again – her mother gets a new boyfriend and Sophie is shunned by the popular kids. However, when the school’s handsome basketball star Alex takes an interest in Sohphie, her life takes a very different turn. Will their relationship survive? Or has Sophie been too emotionally scarred by her mother?

 

“Learning to Fly” is a book that has previously been self-published, which did explain a number of typos and errors in the text (e.g. “Sophie” and “Sophia”). In this case, I didn’t have as much of an issue with it as I normally would in case of a self-published novel. I had, however, a number of other issues with this book – which is not to say I didn’t enjoy the two train rides that it took me to finish.

 

First of all, I was counting on a book that focuses primarily on a mother-daughter relationship and character development. Did I get that? Yes, but in a much smaller dose than I was hoping for, and it was very much a “tell, don’t show” narrative, rather than a “show don’t tell”. Second of all, I was wrong – this is a romance novel, instead of a YA that focuses on the parent-and-child dynamic. Long-time readers of my blog know that romance is not my favourite of genres (which is not to say I don’t read romance novels when I’m in the mood for them), and “Learning to Fly” has ticked many boxes next to the reasons why I am not too fond of romance.

 

Let’s start with the love interest. Alex is your quientessential popular high-school jock who has the eyes of every girl at school on him. He is the definition of “cliche”, and as his relationship with Sophie progresses, he fits the definition more and more. Perhaps I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be seventeen and in love for the first time, or perhaps my problem is that I never liked sporty guys that much anyway, but I thought that Alex was pretty darn awful. And that’s saying a lot, given that the book is from Sophie’s , a.k.a. his adoring girlfriend’s perspective. I absolutely hated how he treated her and pressured her into things she didn’t want, and yet that made her want him more and more.  Perhaps it’s “realistic” for a teenage girl to feel that way (although I don’t ever remember feeling that way, which probably makes me very lucky), but it doesn’t mean that that’s OK. I really hate it when love interests in romance books pressure someone (or are pressured) into sexual relations or any other things. This sort of thing does not sit well with me and it never will.

 

Also, I really hated how Sophie was willing to give up going to Brown to follow a guy she only met a few months ago to a college called FSU (which, as far as I understand, is far inferior to Brown). While I did think that that was one of the most realistic ways for her to act, given her background and what she had to have learned from her mother, that was another thing that didn’t sit well with me.

 

Finally, I hated how the author constantly alluded to Sophie being asexual/demisexual, and did a complete 180 towards the end of the book. If she were confirmed to be ace, perhaps I would’ve enjoyed “Learning to Fly” more than I did – books with interesting asexual characters are rare, particularly in contemporary romance books.

 

I’m sorry to sound so negative – “Learning to Fly” was a good way to spend a couple of train rides to and from work, and I was interested in what was going to happen to Sophie, but the bad things about the book just outweigh the good ones for me.

 

Favourite quotes
“I learned to cope by getting lost in the pages of a good book. The problem comes when you realize life isn’t anything like the tales you read”. 
  
“A woman shouldn’t give up her dreams to follow a boy who isn’t willing to alter his dreams for her”.

 

Dreamcast
Sophie – Sophie Turner
Alex – Alexander Ludwig
Angie – Lauren Graham

 

Recommendations
You might like “Learning to Fly” if you liked:
“Last Heartbeat series” by T.R.Lykins
“One Tree Hill”

Book Review: These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

graves

I apologise for being away for so long – work’s been very busy! I’ll try to catch up with my Friday Finds this week hopefully 🙂

 

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

Jo Montfort is a teenage blue-blooded New Yorker whose fate is to marry an even more blue-blooded childhood friend of hers, Bram Aldrich and be a good socialite. However, Jo’s passions lie elsewhere. She wants to be a writer – like Nellie Bly – and she wants to write about girls and hardships they endure. However, society doesn’t look too kindly upon a strong-headed, imaginative girl in 19th century New York and Jo is about ready to kiss her dreams goodbye. Her life changes drastically, however, when her father is found dead in their home. The police believe that he killed himself, but Jo, who loved her father very much, wants to get the truth. She starts to dig into her father’s past and meets a charming reporter Eddie Gallagher, who has secrets of his own. As the mystery unveils, Jo is sucked deeper and deeper into the New York that she never even knew existed, riddled with prostitutes, madmen and murderers. Would her and Eddie be able to be together and achieve their writing dreams, or will Jo’s naivete make her the killer’s next target?

 

“These Shallow Graves” was the book I’ve been anticipating for a few months now – Jennifer Donnelly is one of my favourite authors. Long-time readers of this blog would remember that I fell in love with “Revolution” and “A Gathering Light”. I was thrilled to hear that she was writing another historical fiction novel with a strong female protagonist. I was therefore over the moon when I got this copy from Netgalley.

However, I must say that my expectations were too high. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the story – I most certainly did, and thought it to be one of the better murder mysteries I’ve read this year. Perhaps my love for Donnelly’s previous books has set the bar a little too high for “These Shallow Graves”, and, while I wouldn’t say I was disappointed, I was rather underwhelmed. “Revolution” and “A Gathering Light” kept me engaged from the very first page, but “These Shallow Graves” didn’t manage to suck me in until about 30% into the book.

The main character, Jo, seemed too much like a spoiled rich kid at the start, which is understandable, given her upbringing, but it didn’t compel me to like her until quite a bit into the book. She does go through quite a bit of development and become a lot more interesting as the book progresses, though. Her romance with Eddie was a little too insta-love – either I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be sixteen and in love, or girls back then fell in love way too quickly.

The supporting cast was, however, just as good as that of Donnelly’s other novels. Oscar, Fay, the Tailor and other characters were well-rounded and interesting to read about, and added several more layers to the mystery, making it all the more compelling. They are the strong sides of “These Shallow Graves”, and so is the plot of the mystery. The writing is, while as atmospheric as her other books, just didn’t work for me. This is because I expected a lot more in terms of writing, given how much effect Jennifer Donnelly’s previous works had on me. I’d still recommend the book, though, and can’t wait for her next one!

 

Favourite quotes:

“If you’re going to bury the past, bury it deep, girl. Shallow graves always give up their dead”.

“Morality is a luxury, my darling. A very expensive one”.

 

Recommendations

You might like “These Shallow Graves” if you liked:

“The Cure for Dreaming” by Cat Winters

“Velvet Undercover” by Teri Brown

“Vengeance Road” by Erin Bowman

 

Book Review: Lair of Dreams (The Diviners, #2) by Libba Bray

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I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. My review for the first book in the series can be found here

 

Warning – this review contains spoilers

After falling in love with yet another book by Libba Bray in 2013, I spent the last two years yearning for the next installment and needless to say, I was thrilled when NetGalley approved my request for the ARC of “Lair of Dreams”.

The book picks up sometime after “The Diviners”, and our Evie O’Neill is now a radioshow celebrity, with a title “America’s Sweetheart Seer”. On the surface, she seems po-si-tu-te-ly thrilled with her new role, but as always, nothing is ever as it seems with Libba Bray’s books. Her fallout with “Unc” Will and Jericho isn’t helping anybody, and only Theta and Henry can see that. Or, and Sam Lloyd can too.

Life might be a party for Evie O’Neill but it’s completely opposite for the working class of New York. Not only are they faced with racism and xenophobia every day, but they are also becoming victims of a mysterious “sleeping sickness”. People just seem to die in their sleep and they never wake up. Since The Diviners are the current “trend”, they don’t have to hide anymore, but not everybody is so accepting of their abilities. Can they, with all the obstacles facing them, defeat the sleeping sickness or will they, too, fall into the lair of dreams and become mere ghosts of the New York City? Or will their past get them before they can even try?

 

I’ve waited for “Lair of Dreams” for a long time, and I’m happy to say that it sucked me in from the very first page. However, unlike “The Diviners”, which I read for 9 hours straight and finished in a day, the second installment took me a few days. Firstly, it’s quite a long book, even longer than “The Diviners”. Secondly, and I never thought I’d say this about a book by Libba Bray, “Lair of Dreams” felt long. Several pages’ worth of description added to the overall spooky atmosphere of the series, but there were times when I wanted to get to “the good stuff” faster. Fortunately, the pace picks up about 50% in, and it soon becomes clear that this book serves as a set-up for the third and fourth installments – which is excellent news, although I wish I didn’t have to wait another two years! But that’s the trouble with falling in love with a series – waiting is part of the package.

Was “Lair of Dreams” just as scary as “The Diviners”? No, but that’s not to say it was a boring ride. The villain wasn’t Naughty John’s level of creepy, but they were more compelling and just as interesting. One thing I’ll say for sure – I was quite scared to go to sleep every time I put the book down before bed!

I’ve said in my review of “The Diviners” that the atmosphere might be the best part of the book, but the characters are a close second. The good news is, Libba Bray spent quite a bit of time re-introducing us to most of our favourites and giving us more of their backstory. The most elaborate ones were Henry’s, Will’s, and Sam’s. We learnt a lot about them and the questions I had at the end of Book 1 were answered, to an extent, but now I have even more questions! Sam Lloyd, you said it – “Every time we get one answer it leaves us with twelve new questions”.

We are also introduced to a new member of The Diviners crew – Ling Chan, a half-Chinese half-Irish science aficionado who forges a close friendship with Henry and helps him find his old lover, Louis. I quite enjoyed reading her chapters and I’m looking forward to more of her interaction with other characters. Reading about the racism she faced was not pleasant at the slightest, but we should all remember – “we have rights as human beings“. History doesn’t paint a pretty picture, but let’s hope we can incorporate that quote into our daily lives and remember it well.

I do have one issue with character chapters in this book – my favourite characters from Book 1 had very few chapters. While Evie still remained the protagonist of the series, Memphis Campbell had only five chapters, if that. Based on my previous experience with Libba Bray’s books, I’d say that this means he’s going to die, and that would be absolutely awful! I loved him and his relationship with Theta, but given the ending of “Lair of Dreams”, the bliss might be short-lived. That’s what I want from the next installment – more Memphis and Isaiah! And the mystery of Blind Bill to be solved. And many other mysteries to be solved. And The Divinevengers to take down the new Big Bad and live to tell the tale. All of them.

“Lair of Dreams” was one of my most anticipated books of the year, and while it wasn’t as amazing as “The Diviners”, it was a great set-up to the big finales! I give it a rating of 8/10.

P.S.If you don’t want to know a major spoiler, please skip the next paragraph:

SPOILER The best thing I learnt from “Lair of Dreams” isn’t that Sam Lloyd is a better man than we gave him credit for. Nor is it that Uncle Will Fitzgerald is much more shady than I thought. It’s that I finally have confirmation that “The Gemma Doyle” series and “The Diviners” series take place in the same ‘verse! Read “Lair of Dreams” to find out more. END SPOILER

 

Favourite quotes

“For dreams, too, are ghosts, desires, chased in sleep, gone by morning. The longing of dreams draws the dead, and this city holds many dreams”.

“And dreams are like a library card, if you will, that provide access to this great archive of shared symbols, memories and experiences”

“We are a democracy, sir, and Diviners are evidence of that democracy and of the proof that all men and women are created equal. For these gifts have been given in equal measure to people of all races and creeds, regardless of sex, whether rich or poor”

 

Recommendations

You might enjoy “The Diviners” series if you liked:

“The Greaty Gatsby” by F. S. Fitzgerald 

“Daisy Gumm Majesty Mysteries” by Alice Duncan

“The Cure for Dreaming” by Cat Winters

“Supernatural” TV series

 

Have you read “The Diviners” series? Do you love Libba Bray as much as I do? Please let me know in the comments! 🙂