ARC Review – The Space Between, by Dete Meserve

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The Space Between, by Dete Meserve
Coming July 24, 2018
Preorder:
Amazon
Barnes & Noble

Blurb via GoodReads:

After presenting a major scientific breakthrough to a rapt audience across the country, renowned astronomer Sarah Mayfield returns home to a disturbing discovery. Her husband, Ben, a Los Angeles restaurateur, has disappeared, leaving behind an unexplained bank deposit of a million dollars, a loaded Glock in the nightstand, and a video security system that’s been wiped clean. The only answers their son, Zack, can offer are the last words his father said to him: keep the doors locked and set the alarm.

Sarah’s marriage was more troubled than anyone suspected, but now she is afraid that her husband’s recent past could be darker than she dares to admit. Suspecting that nothing about Ben’s vanishing is what it seems, Sarah must delve into the space between old memories, newfound fears, and misleading clues to piece together the mystery of her husband’s disappearance—and find what she hopes in her heart is the truth.

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This was a great summer read! I got completely pulled into the story and I finished it in a day.

I really loved Sarah as a protagonist; I’m a sucker for a story with a female scientist, and Sarah is a high-ranking researcher for NASA who weaves her knowledge of astronomy into how she processes everything in her day-to-day life. Sarah’s way of thinking was engaging, and the story touched on her struggles as a woman in a STEM field; she feel underestimated based on her gender. Later on in the story, she also struggles with potential problems in her career due to the controversy and news coverage regarding her husband.

Overall, Sarah’s identity as a scientist worked really well, but there were a few passages that fell really flat for me. Meserve has a few lapses where really common knowledge seems to be presented as Sarah’s specialized knowledge from her work at NASA. For example, I don’t think any readers needed the protagonist to explain to us that moonlight is simply reflected sunlight. Conversely, passages such as the one that worked into the story the difference between a constellation vs. an asterism felt a lot more valuable and natural.

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I do have to say that the mystery in this novel felt just a bit too heavy-handed on the foreshadowing and predictable to me. I was able to put the pieces together faster than the protagonist; however, this didn’t seem to be as much as a detriment to the story as it could have been. Meserve was able to get me invested enough in the characters that I felt content to watch Sarah work through the mystery after the conclusion felt relatively obvious.

This was fun, fast-paced story which blended mystery, suspense, and just a touch of romance. A great beach read for this summer.

Dete Meserve is also the author of Good Sam and Perfectly Good Crime

(I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.) 

WWW Wednesday 06/13/18

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme is hosted by Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the following three questions:
What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading:

 

Tied to Deceit, by Neena H Brar. (ARC) This is a murder mystery and so far I have zero theories as to the culprit… or perhaps it would be more accurate to say I have too many theories, as practically every character has a potential motive.
Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow. I’ve been meaning to read this biography for ages and I’m kicking myself for not getting to it sooner.

Recently finished:

Swear on This Life, by Renee Carlino. This was a contemporary romance. Read my review here.

Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor. I caved to all the hype and read this YA fantasy novel, and I don’t regret it. Read my review here.

Not Her Daughter, by Rea Frey. (ARC) Kind of a mystery/suspense novel? This one was hard to categorize for me. It’s about a woman who kidnaps a little girl because her mother is abusive. Read my review here.

Reading Next:

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. I got the audio book for this one through my library, and I’m starting it as soon as I finish the 30+ hours of Alexander Hamilton. So… it could be a minute before I get to it.

A Separate Peace, by John Knowles. This has been sitting on my bookshelf unread for… let’s just say years.

What are you reading this week?

In Defense of Chick Lit

Chick Lit: You know that section in the bookshop all the men seem to give a wide berth, full of covers sporting bright colors, flowers, high heels, and handbags?

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Yeah, that one. The label “Chick Lit” comes with an air of illegitimacy, of low quality, a kindergarten-level eww-girls-have-cooties kind of disgust. If classic literature is a well-balanced meal, chick lit is a slice of chocolate cake: maybe fun while it’s going down, but lacking any substance or real nourishment. Literature is for everyone. Chick lit is only for silly women with bad taste.

But is this a fair assessment or just snobbery? And what exactly does it take to get a book labeled “chick lit?”

A quick browsing of the popular books listed in the category on GoodReads reveals books such as The Devil Wears Prada, My Sister’s Keeper, The Help, and Fifty Shades of Grey, and that’s without leaving the first page. These books are worlds apart in tone as well as subject matter, seemingly connected only by the fact that they all contain female characters doing things and having feelings. For shame!

What warrants that label on these particular books?

Let’s take The Help, for example. The fact that anyone has tagged it as chick lit is, at best, confusing to me. The Help takes place in 1962 and revolves around Skeeter and her journalistic project: getting the stories of black women working as maids to wealthy white families in the rural south. Skeeter wants to help give these largely ignored women a voice. This book has faced plenty of criticism for its treatment of race, and I’m not dismissing that, nor am I really going to address it here. Roxane Gay explores this issue far better than I could in Bad Feminist. But the point here is not whether or not it’s a good book or whether Katheryn Stockett handled racial issues with appropriate sensitivity. The point is that there’s something that feels insidious about a person reading a book about racial relations in the south in 1962 and, because the main characters were female, walking away with the message that this is a book for women.

Let’s move on to My Sister’s Keeper. Again, this book touches on some really heavy issues, including a dying child and how a family grapples with the issue of bodily autonomy of the healthy sister who has continually been pushed into transfusions to help keep her alive. This is a book that demands that we ask difficult ethical questions. Again, why is this designated as only for women?

Chick lit is a category so nebulous as to be almost meaningless, but it seems that often what is meant by the label is something along the lines of: “a book which is lighthearted and perhaps a bit trivial while also committing the mortal sin of being girly; probably contains romance.” This just seems a bit odd to me. Men write fluffy, self-indulgent books with little to no substance all the time (I’m looking at you, Ernest Cline) and we don’t relegate them to their own separate sub-genre for it. And for the record, there’s nothing inherently wrong with fluffy, self-indulgent books. We all read them sometimes, and they’re fun. We can’t spend all of our time reading stuffy literature that grapples with heavy philosophical issues.

But when one actually takes the time to browse which books are being labeled as chick lit, it seems that anything marketed to women is fair game, and there is no truly analogous category when it comes to media that men consume.

What it comes down to is that it’s taken for granted that women will be willing to consume media about men, while the reverse is not true. Men write about their emotional journey and they’ve written about “the human condition.” Women write about their emotional journey and it’s “chick lit.” Men’s work is universal because men are the default. Women’s work is a sub-genre unless those women bend over backwards to be marketable to men.

There are some lovely books that a lot of readers will never touch because the publishers saw a female author writing about a female character, slapped a flowery cover on it, labeled it “chick lit” and called it a day. It’s time to drop our assumptions about a sub-genre when it’s become so broad as to have room for both The Help and Fifty Shades. It’s okay to give chick lit a chance. I promise, the books don’t have cooties.

Top Ten – Books I’m Most Anticipating on my TBR

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If you follow my blog, you’ve probably seen me complain about the over 100 books sitting on my shelves as TBR. For today’s post, I’m listing ten of the books I’m most looking forward to reading.

  1. The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison
    This is a steampunk fantasy novel about a half goblin boy, pushed into the role of emperor unexpectedly after the sudden death of his father. It was recommended to me about a year and half ago by a friend and I still haven’t read it because I’m a horrible person with no time management skills.
  2. The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver
    The Poisonwood Bible, by the same author, is one of my all-time favorite books; I read it years ago and I’ve been dying to read more by Kingsolver ever since.
  3. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern
    “The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.” I’ve heard so much about this book! There are so many rave reviews online, and girls at my book club have repeatedly recommended it. It sounds magical.
  4. Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood
    I love Margaret Atwood, but the last book I read by her was The Heart Goes Last, and I just… didn’t love it. I need another Atwood book to remind me why I love her.
  5. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman
    “No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine.” This is another one that’s had so much hype around it. I broke my self-imposed book-buying ban recently to pick up a copy of this, despite how out of control my TBR is.
  6. The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah
    I adore historical fiction, and this one is so well-rated. This would be my first Kristin Hannah book.
  7. What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty
    “Alice Love is twenty-nine, crazy about her husband, and pregnant with her first child. So imagine Alice’s surprise when she comes to on the floor of a gym and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over — she’s getting divorced, she has three kids and she’s actually 39 years old.” This is from the same author as Big Little Lies, and I really love the concept.
  8. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, by Susannah Cahalan
    “In a swift and breathtaking narrative, Cahalan tells the astonishing true story of her descent into madness, her family’s inspiring faith in her, and the lifesaving diagnosis that nearly didn’t happen.” I studied psychology in college, and mental health is endlessly fascinating and important to me.
  9. Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers, by Lillian Faderman
    I’ve been randomizing my TBR lately, but I might break the rules for this one in honor of Pride Month. This is another non-fiction book. “Lillian Faderman tells the compelling story of lesbian life in the 20th century, from the early 1900s to today’s diverse lifestyles.”
  10. Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan
    More historical fiction! I know very little about this book, but I bought it at the recommendation of a member of my book club.

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What books have you purchased that you’re most anticipating? Any thoughts on the books in this list? Share in the comments! 🙂

One Month on WordPress!

Hello, friends!

Just a quick update to say that today marks one month since I started this little blog! I’m starting to get into the swing of things here on WordPress and I’m hoping to get posting on a more regular schedule soon. Things have felt a bit sporadic so far.

I’m currently working through these books:

What are you reading right now? Posted any reviews to books you’d recommend lately? Feel free to share links in the comments! 🙂

Review – Swear on This Life, by Renee Carlino

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Swear on This Life, by Renee Carlino

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Length: 320 Pages
Released August 9, 2016
Genre: Romance / Contemporary
Blurb via GoodReads:

When a bestselling debut novel from mysterious author J.Colby becomes the literary event of the year, Emiline reads it reluctantly. As an adjunct writing instructor at UC San Diego with her own stalled literary career and a bumpy long-term relationship, Emiline isn’t thrilled to celebrate the accomplishments of a young and gifted writer.

Yet from the very first page, Emiline is entranced by the story of Emerson and Jackson, two childhood best friends who fall in love and dream of a better life beyond the long dirt road that winds through their impoverished town in rural Ohio.

That’s because the novel is patterned on Emiline’s own dark and desperate childhood, which means that “J. Colby” must be Jase: the best friend and first love she hasn’t seen in over a decade. Far from being flattered that he wrote the novel from her perspective, Emiline is furious that he co-opted her painful past and took some dramatic creative liberties with the ending.

The only way she can put her mind at ease is to find and confront “J. Colby,” but is she prepared to learn the truth behind the fiction?

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This book pulled me in from page one. I read it in a day, cried three or four times, and felt a little empty inside when I ran out of pages to read. I faltered a bit when deciding whether to rate this four or five stars; I’m not a big romance reader, so maybe the four-star rating is unfair. What matters is that this is a very good book.

Carlino has captured that intensity of first loves: that teenage frenzy that scoops you up and tells you nothing could ever feel as right as this. For Emiline and Jase, this is intensified several times over by their years of childhood friendship and their collective trauma brought on by abusive and neglectful parents; they are one another’s only solace in life. Then their worlds get turned upside-down, and through events I won’t spoil here, they lose touch for 12 years.

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When Emiline finds Jase’s book and realizes that he’s put her childhood on display for the world to see, her first response is a sense of betrayal. How could he? As she reads further, she is forced to confront all of the events Jase has written about which she had tucked away in the dark recesses of her mind: losing her first love, her father’s alcoholism and abuse, her absentee mother, and more.

Swear on This Life alternates between Emiline’s story, primarily her reactions to Jase’s book, and excerpts from the book itself. Carlino explores the artistic liberties which Jase has taken with Emiline’s childhood, allowing Emiline to set the record straight for the reader. This book is part coming of age, part romance, and completely lovely.

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ARC Review: Not Her Daughter, by Rea Frey

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Not Her Daughter
by Rea Frey

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Genre: Mystery/Suspense

Length: 352 Pages

Coming August 21, 2017

Pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Books-A-Million

I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Blurb via Goodreads:

Emma Townsend. Five years old. Gray eyes, brown hair. Missing since June.
Emma is lonely. Living with her cruel mother and clueless father, Emma retreats into her own world of quiet and solitude.

Sarah Walker. Successful entrepreneur. Broken-hearted. Kidnapper.
Sarah has never seen a girl so precious as the gray-eyed child in a crowded airport terminal. When a second-chance encounter with Emma presents itself, Sarah takes her—far away from home. But if it’s to rescue a little girl from her damaging mother, is kidnapping wrong?

Amy Townsend. Unhappy wife. Unfit mother. Unsure whether she wants her daughter back.
Amy’s life is a string of disappointments, but her biggest issue is her inability to connect with her daughter. And now Emma is gone without a trace.

As Sarah and Emma avoid the nationwide hunt, they form an unshakeable bond. But what about Emma’s real mother, back at home?

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Not Her Daughter is fast-paced, engaging, and a relatively quick read. It opens with a relatively common situation: a stressed-out mother in a crowded public place is a little rough with her daughter. Maybe a little too rough. Maybe it’s an isolated incident.  Maybe it’s not.

Those “maybes” start to pile up, and Sarah Walker, our main protagonist, can’t cope with the thought of leaving an innocent little girl in a bad situation. When she happens to encounter Emma again, she views it as a sign that she needs to find out more. After witnessing another act of cruelty by Amy, Emma’s mother, Sarah does the unthinkable and takes her. What follows is Sarah’s desperate effort to stay ahead of the hunt for Emma’s kidnapper while attempting to give her a better life.

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Amy is miserable, both before and after the kidnapping. She has anger management problems and a marriage that leaves her feeling smothered. She has never been able to bond with Emma in the slightest, and her younger child also prefers her husband to herself. She seems to spend every waking moment itching to escape.

What’s interesting about this book is that one has to question the reliability of both of the main POV characters. Sarah has unresolved trauma from childhood caused by her mother. She is also dealing with emotional distress caused by a recent breakup of a long-term relationship. She is feeling desperate and alone, and she sees herself in Emma. Emma gives her a sense of purpose and perhaps a chance to rescue the little girl she once was herself. Can this desperation cause Sarah to read too much into a situation?

Amy resents Emma deeply, and seems to ascribe a level of malicious intent that is simply not believable in a five-year-old child. Emma fidgets because she knows it drives Amy crazy. Emma climbs a tree because she’s so desperate to pull the attention away from Amy and onto herself. Emma does absolutely everything she does because it is her life’s mission to make Amy as miserable as possible.

The images of Emma conjured up by each of these women cannot possibly be the same child. Sarah or Amy must be mistaken. Personally, I think they both are to some extent, and part of the fun of this book was in trying to suss out a clear impression of the real Emma.

Parts of the plot strained the limits of credulity, especially the resolution, but that’s okay. Reading ordinary and perfectly believable events would not have made for a very interesting story. This is Frey’s debut novel, and while I think there was some room for improvement, it was a fun read. I look forward to seeing how she grows as an author over time.