Book Review: The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry

lace-reader

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! πŸ™‚

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

far from you.jpg

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 holeΒ  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! πŸ™‚

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

Book Review: Break Your Heart by Rhonda Helms

helms.jpg

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

Favourite quotes:

“Math is constant. It’s ordered. It’s comforting. And, frankly, it gets a bad rap. I think we need more women in math. We need more people of color in math”.

“Strength doesn’t mean doing everything alone. It can also mean knowing when you need help. Even if it’s just another person to talk to”.

“Sometimes you have to silence the noise around you to listen to what your heart is whispering”.

 

Megan Porter is a senior at prestigious college in Conencticut and she is very excited to start her mathematics graduate program in a few months. She loves math, she loves socialising and she is driven to succeed. But first, she has to get through senior year. And that means taking on brand new classes, meet new people, perhaps rekindle a few flames in between, and of course say goodbye to her roommate Casey who has plans to move in with her boyfriend soon.

One of the many exciting new things Megan is tackling is her cryptography class, and the teacher just happens to be her advisor. At least he was until he had a heart attack. The new teacher is Dr. Nick Muramoto, a professor who is ten years older than Megan, very enthusiastic about math and cryptography, and just happens to be very smart. And incredibly handsome. Obviously he is overseeing Megan’s thesis now. An attraction develops between them throughout their interactions, and soon they are unable to stay away from each other. But Nick just got tenure and he has a lot to lose. And so does Megan. But the more they try to pull away, the stronger they gravitate towards each other. Are their feelings worth risking what each of them has been striving to achieve their entire lives? And can Megan and Nick deal with the inevitable crash and burn when it comes?

 

The reason I haven’t written reviews in a while is because my tablet broke last month, and I couldn’t fix it until two days ago, so I didn’t have access to the majority of my books for almost a month. Yes, it was torture. But I was over the moon when I finally managed to fix it! And all by myself too! “Break Your Heart” was the first book that popped out on my newly restored Kindle, and I was in the mood for more New Adult after having finished the amazing “Off Campus” series.

Teacher-student romance are either a hit or a miss for me. “Break Your Heart” was most certainly a hit. Not only was I immensely pleased to read a book with an African-American protagonist with STEM aspirations and an Asian-American love interest, but I also appreciated that the book was well-written and characters weren’t caricatures and there “just to score diversity points”. They felt real and relatable, especially the women. Megan was obviously the star of the book, but her friends Casey and Kelly weren’t just there to fill in spots on the background. They had their own backstories that didn’t make the narrative all about Megan, which I really liked. And the female friendships in the book were also wonderful to read about. The male characters were a bit bland – there is a “nice guy”, an “uneducated entitled jock” or five, and other stereotypical college males. But this story wasn’t about them.

The character of Megan Porter is that of a modern young woman who is ambitious, driven and yet knows how to have fun and to capture a guy’s attention, and values life outside of work and academia. She might be a math enthusiast, but we can clearly see that family and friends would always come first for her. Before math, and most certainly before a guy, even one as amazing as a hot college professor who is very, very good in bed.

When it comes to romance, I understand that in a New Adult book, it is one of the primary subjects, but I don’t like when that’s all the book focuses on. Luckily, the author didn’t do that. True, the relationship between Megan and Nick took up a lot of the novel, but there were also subplots that focused on Megan dealing with issues many young women deal with today. Family, friendships, the future and other things that were important to Megan might have all been affected by the relationship, but we got to see how Megan dealt with them without making her life all about Nick, and that’s what’s important. The romantic scenes and the sex scenes were okay – I’ve read better, but I’ve been spoiled by Dahlia Adler, Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy who are so damn good at writing them they basically ruined sex scenes for me that are written by other writers.

I would certainly recommend “Break Your Heart” to fans of New Adult and to those who are looking for a nice way to spend an afternoon.

 

Recommendations

You might enjoy “Break Your Heart” if you liked:

“Last Will and Testament” by Dahlia Adler

“Easy” by Tammara Webber

“Pretty Little Liars”

 

Have you read “Break Your Heart”? Do you have a favourite teacher-student romance? Leave me a comment and tell me all about it! πŸ™‚

Book Review: Unteachable by Leah Raeder

unteachable

Favourite quotes:

“Part of falling in love with someone is actually falling in love with yourself. Realizing that you’re gorgeous, you’re fearless and unpredictable, you’re a firecracker spitting light, entrancing a hundred faces that stare up at you with starry eyes”.

“None of us actually grow up. We get bigger, and older, but part of us always retains that small rabbit heart, trembling furiously, secretively, with wonder and fear. There’s no irony in it. No semantics or subtext. Only red blood and green grass and silver stars”.

“That’s how you know someone loves you. When they want you to be happy even in the part of life they’ll never see”.

 

Maise O’Malley hasn’t had the easiest life – what with a drug-dealing mother and her countless pervy boyfriends. What she wants the most is to get out of the small Missourri town and go to a good film school. A hook-up with an older guy at a carnival, no matter how erotic, intense and emotion-filled, isn’t going to get in the way of that – Maise likes to leave them before they leave her. However, the older guy turns out to be none other than Maise’s film studies teacher, and an amazing one at that. Maise is eighteen, Evan is in his early thirties, but what they feel for each other is too intense to be avoided. He sees beyond the tough exterior she projects on the people around her, and he appreciates her wit, her courage, her strength of character and her vulnerability that she hides so well. He makes her feel emotions that go way beyond sexual attraction – although the passion is as sizzling as the fireworks that seem to feature throughout the book. Staying away from each other until Maise graduates doesn’t seem to be an option. However, secret make-out sessions and rendes-vous are on the verge of being discovered, and Maise’s and Evan’s burning bliss is about to be shattered. Will their romance have a “Casablanca” ending or will it be even more doomed?

 

I’m celebrating International Women’s Day this year by reviewing “Unteachable” – a novel with one of the most real, flawed and well-rounded heroines I’ve ever come across in New Adult novels. First things first – I’m drinking champagne right now and I should say that this book goes amazingly well with it – and it’s not just the sparks on this beautiful cover. Maise’s story (I am hesitant to call it Maise’s and Evan’s story for several reasons) is not your conventional student-teacher romance. She isn’t looking to be saved – initially, all she’s looking for is good sex, but later she can’t get enough of whatever is between her and Evan. She is a very self-aware character, having a pretty good idea that their romance is part forbidden and doomed, part addictive, part wonderful. She’s seen the effects of addiction first-hand growing up, and the last thing she wants is to be hooked on something, even if that something is amazing sex. I really appreciated the insight the author provided in Maise’s inner struggles with this and thoroughly enjoyed the vivid, imaginative writing throughout which this was conveyed.

In fact, the writing style was one of my favourite things about the book. True, it is riddled with f-bombs, but they fit strangely well within the overall intensely bright picture “Unteachable” presents to the reader. Colours, fireworks, lights, videoframes, and other devices of the kind were used in clever ways to further highlight Maise’s inner struggles and the intensity of her romance with Evan. I really loved how “Unteachable” is presented as a love story that has gone off-script – Maise references “Casablanca” (a classic I’ve yet to see, unfortunately) on several occasions, and wonders about the parallels in her story and Ingrid Bergman’s. Characters enjoy film art on many occasions throughout the novel, and the juxtaposition of movies against the ongoing storyline of Maise’s own life has worked really, really well.

The relationship is obviously the central point of the book, and it is a student-teacher relationship, which I normally have mixed feelings about – for example, I hated how it was handled in “Slammed”, and “Pretty Little Liars” has a myriad of issues attached to the relationship of the kind that occurs within the story. However, “Unteachable” approaches it bravely, unabashedly, and doesn’t shy away from the problematic aspects. Statutory rape isn’t an issue – Maise is 18 – but illegality and unequal positions of power are very much an issue. Evan’s past is an even bigger of an issue, and is the reason why I hated him by the end of the book and hoped for the “Casablanca” ending. However, the fact that the author didn’t just ignore the issues I mentioned, along with many others, but demonstrated the characters’ struggles with them, made this novel much more compelling than your average student-teacher romance. For that reason, my rating is 7.5/10.

 

Dreamcast

Maise O’Malley – Saiorse Ronan

Evan Wilke – Ian Harding (surprise surprise)

 

Recommendations

You might enjoy “Unteachable” if you liked:

“Slammed” by Colleen Hoover

“Last Will and Testament” by Dahlia Adler

“Easy” by Tammara Webber

“Pretty Little Liars”

Have you read “Unteachable”? What did you think? What are your favourite student-teacher romances? Let me know!