A Beginner’s Guide to Book Blogging

So, you’ve decided to start a book blog. How exciting!

Figuring out how to get started can feel overwhelming. No worries, bookworms! I promise it’s all a lot less complicated than you might think.

pexels-photo-261909.jpeg

One of the first things you’ll want to think about is which platform(s) you want to use. Start with something free to use! You don’t want to pour a bunch of money into setting up a website only to realize three weeks later that you aren’t a fan of that particular platform or maybe don’t like blogging quite as much as you’d hoped. Obviously, I use WordPress, which has a free version, and you always have the option to upgrade later if you start to feel like you need more features, more space to host images, etc.

While you don’t need to limit yourself to one platform (and you’ll probably find yourself wanting to branch out as you get into the groove) don’t bite off more than you can chew early on. Different platforms are geared towards different kinds of content. If you’re just running a review blog and a Facebook page, this might be a simple matter of cross-posting your reviews to Facebook and sharing some other articles and memes there, which isn’t a huge additional time commitment. If you’re branching out to Instagram, on the other hand, you’re adding the additional task of photography. This can be anything from relatively candid shots with some light editing to complicated flat lays with floral arrangements and lots of props.

When I started my blog, I focused mainly on WordPress and Goodreads, slowly branching out to Tumblr, Instagram, and Facebook as well. This… can feel like a lot. You probably don’t need to be posting to five separate websites. My advice would be to start with two and work on adding more only if you feel like your free time truly allows it. This is a hobby, right? It’s supposed to be fun. Different platforms give you access to a broader audience, but trying to do too much will just make your content as a whole suffer and make your miserable.

But how do you get all those free books?

This is what you’re really wondering, right? Again, it’s probably easier than you think. Starting out, you can mainly expect to get access to digital copies. Hard copies will come later, as you build a following and maintain a steady flow of content.

There are a few websites you can use to get started. The most popular are Edelweiss and NetGalley. Personally, I use NetGalley, so that’s what I’ll be discussing here.

random houseStep one with NetGalley is to set up your profile. NetGalley offers very little guidance here, but the contents of your profile are going to be super important. This is not going to be your “About Me” page. Try to keep it concise and relevant; I’m including a screengrab of Random House’s preferences, but individual publishers may have specific things they’re looking for in your profile. A good rule of thumb is to be sure to have your stats such as total followers and how much traffic your blog tends to get on a weekly basis.

You may also want to talk about what types of books you typically review, particularly if your blog is geared towards a specific genre. Finally, it’s a good idea to list an email address so that publishers can contact you with any questions. Some publishers will not approve you for titles if you don’t have contact information in your profile.

NetGalley indicates that you should maintain a feedback ratio (i.e., the percentage of books you’ve accessed through their site that you have then gone on to actually review) of at least 80%. How do you get an 80% feedback ratio before publishers have approved you for any books? Thankfully, NetGalley has a section of their catalog dedicated to books that don’t require approval from a publisher. When you click “Find Titles” from the homepage, it will take you to a page with a sidebar labeled “Browse,” which includes a “Read Now” option. These books give you some options to get started and show publishers that you will reliably review the books they send you. Once you’ve established yourself by reviewing a few books this way and have the recommended feedback ratio, you can start to think about requesting other books.

Note: be sure to review the publisher’s preferences in regards to when to post your reviews as well. These guidelines may be on their profile page on NetGalley or included in the emails confirming your approval for a particular title. Publishers don’t want reviews going up too early, creating hype around a book only to be forgotten by the time it’s actually available for purchase. A common requirement is that the review go up no more than 30 days prior to the publication date.

What about hard copies?

These are, understandably, going to be a little harder to get your hands on. Publishers are going to want to see a consistent record of audience engagement and reliable posting before they go to the expense of sending you a physical book. However, even as a newbie, there are ways to get physical advance reader copies, although it won’t be a sure thing. I regularly browse Goodreads giveaways to enter and have managed to snag a few great books this way. Publishers host their own giveaways frequently as well; subscribing to newsletters can be a good way to keep an eye out for these.

20190210_111354Once you’ve been blogging for around six months and have around 500 or more followers, this opens up more opportunities. (These are not hard-and-fast requirements, but a reflection of a greater likelihood of approval.)

To obtain hard copies of ARCs (advance reader copies) directly from the publisher, you will (mainly) be emailing them. A quick Google search for the name of the individual publisher and “publicity contact” will generally turn up results for the person you need to reach. I’ve found a couple that specifically request mailed requests, but the overwhelming majority (in my experience) have an email contact.

What should you say in your email? Think of this a lot like your NetGalley profile, with one major difference. Yes, you’ll want to include your stats such as total followers and where you post, etc., but you now have the advantage of being able to tailor the information to the specific book you’re requesting. Have you fallen in love with the author’s previous work? Is it a historical fiction novel set in your favorite time period? In short, why are you requesting this specific book? No, you don’t have to promise a positive review (and it would be bad form to do so) but giving the publisher some indication of why you think you’ll love the book can help them to know if you’re a good fit to review it.

Have your mailing address in the original email request. You don’t need to wait for approval to let them know where they can send the book; anything that requires less emails exchanged back and forth, thus making it easier for the publisher to send you the book, is a good thing! The publisher may or may not respond to your email, but this doesn’t necessarily mean the book won’t turn up. I recently gave up all hope of getting an advance copy of The Huntress, by Kate Quinn, only to have it show up on my porch unannounced.

Keep in mind: these people are busy. Do not overwhelm them with a wall of text. If they have 50 requests to review and you’ve written them a whole book about why you want to read theirs, they’ll probably move onto the next request. A few short paragraphs are more than adequate: introduce yourself, explain a little about your blog’s audience and where you post, and let them know why you’re requesting that specific book. Then, wrap it up!

When it comes to actually writing reviews…

pexels-photo-261763.jpegYou may have noticed that most of the advice thus far has been a bit… procedural. But how do you go about writing your actual review? I’m hesitant to offer a lot of advice in this regard, because I feel like this is where your personality should shine through. People’s styles vary wildly, and that’s a good thing. If a professional, somewhat formal writing style feels awkward for you, you don’t need to use it. While I’d caution against going too casual (if your blog is full of memes, it might put some publishers off and make them less likely to send you a book) your reviews should not read like a stuffy book report you’re submitting to a teacher. This should be about your feelings and why you loved or hated a book. Literary analysis is great (and you can absolutely include that in your review) but your readers are coming to your reviews with one major question: “Is this book worth reading?” Your review needs to answer it. If you loved it or hated it, tell them why. And for goodness sake, no spoilers without a spoiler warning!

Personally, I open with the purely informational aspects of it (author, title, release date, synopsis from the publishers. etc.) and then follow it up with my rating out of five stars, leading into my actual review. This is a pretty common way to format, but don’t be afraid to experiment and see what works best for you, particularly early on in your blogging.

Finally, be social!

Reach out to other bloggers. Read other bloggers’ reviews, like, comment, and follow. Reply to comments on your own reviews. This is a huge part of how you’ll grow your following, but it’s also part of what makes the whole thing feel less like work.

Book bloggers are, by and large, one of the most positive groups of people I’ve encountered. Use your blog to find like-minded bookworms and make friends!

Thank you for reading! Fellow book bloggers: what’s the one piece of advice you would offer to newbies? Please share in the comments!

Capture2

Other places to follow me…
Tumblr | Facebook | Instagram | GoodReads

 

Review- The Sisters Hemingway, by Annie England Noblin

44606279_723679144662262_4334990550043197440_n.jpg
The Sisters Hemingway
by Annie England Noblin

Genre: Fiction

Length: 384 Pages

Release date: February 12, 2019

Publisher: Wililam Morrow

Synopsis: 

From the author of Sit! Stay! Speak! comes the heartwarming story of three sisters who reunite after their beloved aunt’s death to repair their fractured relationships.

The Sisters Hemingway: they couldn’t be more different…or more alike. 

The Sisters Hemingway were coming back to Cold River…

Hadley, the poised, polished wife of a Senator

Pfeiffer, the successful New York book editor

Martha, who skyrocketed to Nashville stardom

They each have a secret…a marriage on the rocks, a job lost, a stint in rehab…and they haven’t been together in years.

Returning for the funeral of the aunt who raised them, the sisters must stay together in their childhood home, faced with a puzzle that may affect all their futures. As they learn the truth of what happened to their mother and youngest sister, and rekindle the bonds they had as children, bonds that had once seemed broken. With the help of neighbors, friends, love interests old and new—and one endearing and determined basset hound, the Sisters Hemingway learn that the happiness that has appeared so elusive may be right here at home, just waiting to be claimed.

rating

four

My thanks to William Morrow for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher. 

The Sisters Hemingway is the story of three sisters as they return to their hometown for the funeral of the aunt who raised them. Hadley, Pfeiffer, and Martha have grown distant from one another during adulthood, as their individual problems dominated their lives. They each, with varying degrees of success, have wanted to maintain the polished veneer of their lives and hide their failures.

Martha, a country music starlet, has had far more success in music than she has in hiding her personal problems. Hadley, a senator’s wife, and Pfeiffer, an editor for a New York city publisher, are comparatively somewhat of a mystery to one another. As the story unfolds, the sisters slowly reveal their own secrets as they uncover a mystery in their deceased aunt’s old farmhouse.

The Sisters Hemingway is richly atmospheric, and the small town southern setting provides a distinct flavor to every scene, from sprawling farmlands to nosy neighbors. It’s very well paced, and the mystery will keep readers obsessively turning the pages. The relationships between the sisters were a huge highlight of the novel; watching these women who’ve grown so far apart rediscover sisterly affection made for a gratifying and heartwarming read.

Capture.PNG

Purchase links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | IndieBound

Thanks so much for reading! What’s your favorite novel you’ve read which focused on relationships between sisters? Let’s discuss in the comments!

Capture2

Other places to follow me…
Tumblr | Facebook | Instagram | GoodReads

 

Wildcard, by Marie Lu (Review)


Wildcard
by Marie Lu

Genre: YA, Science Fiction

Length: 352 Pages

Release date: September 18, 2018

Synopsis: 

Emika Chen barely made it out of the Warcross Championships alive. Now that she knows the truth behind Hideo’s new NeuroLink algorithm, she can no longer trust the one person she’s always looked up to, who she once thought was on her side.

Determined to put a stop to Hideo’s grim plans, Emika and the Phoenix Riders band together, only to find a new threat lurking on the neon-lit streets of Tokyo. Someone’s put a bounty on Emika’s head, and her sole chance for survival lies with Zero and the Blackcoats, his ruthless crew. But Emika soon learns that Zero isn’t all that he seems–and his protection comes at a price.

Caught in a web of betrayal, with the future of free will at risk, just how far will Emika go to take down the man she loves?

rating

two

*Minor spoilers included in this review.*

Oh, Wildcard,  I wanted to like you. I gave Warcross a three star review, so it was solid but not super impressive in my eyes, but I was intrigued enough by the end to want to continue the series. I should not have bothered.

Let me start with the positive; this book is trying to do a lot of interesting stuff thematically. Through Hideo’s character, Lu explores how practically limitless power, unresolved past trauma, and technology can intersect with disastrous consequences. The abuse of power through advanced tech is not a remotely new theme in sci-fi, but Wu’s futuristic society in this series does provide an interesting platform to explore it.

Also, Emika mentions her “rainbow hair” probably at least 50% less in this book than she did in the first one, so that was a plus. (Seriously, that phrase was used so often in Warcross that I think it may forever make my eye twitch when I hear it.)

That being said, I had a lot of problems with this book. Complex villains are good, but I wasn’t super thrilled about how Hideo’s character arc was handled, particularly in relation to Emika. She is horrified by what he’s done but can’t seem to shake her feelings for him. I’m not into the dynamic there; if you’re into shipping Kylo Ren and Rey, you’ll probably like it a lot more than I did. Emika spends a lot of time sympathizing with Hideo and thinking about how the loss of his brother has driven him down the path to becoming essentially a super villain. People die due to Hideo’s manipulation of the tech he’s tricked them into using. We all lose people, buddy. Most of us don’t resort to attempting mind control over the entire population of the earth over it.

Overall, it just feels like Wu wants us to view Hideo as a redeemable character, and I don’t see him that way at all. Your mileage may vary.

But on a broader note, I just had a hard time connecting with any of the characters in this at all. They all felt a bit flat and I had trouble keeping Emika’s teammates straight for a good bit of the book. Even Emika never really jumped off the page for me, and she’s the protagonist. She seems like she sometimes veers into that “bland MC who can’t be too much of a character because the author wants you to be able to picture yourself in their role” kind of territory.

Wildcard also features one major plot twist, and maybe it’s a product of being outside of the target audience for YA novels, but it did not take me remotely by surprise. It was an interesting development, but it seems like Lu was laying on the foreshadowing a bit too thick for it to have the punch that she wanted it to.

Finally, it feels very disconnected from the book that came before it in a way I can’t quite articulate. A lot of other reviewers have stated that they almost felt like it took place in a separate universe from the first installment, and I can definitely understand that assessment. Warcross as a game also plays a much smaller role in this book, and I think that also contributes to a totally different vibe.

Basically, there was a lot of potential in this book, but it felt a bit squandered. I don’t know if Lu is planning another installment of this series, but regardless, I’m saying goodbye forever to Emika and her rainbow colored hair.

Purchase links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | IndieBound

Thank you for reading! What’s your favorite story that explores the relationships between power, technology, and morality? Let’s discuss in the comments!

Capture2

Other places to follow me…
Tumblr | Facebook | Instagram | GoodReads

The Silent Patient, by Alex Michaelides (Review)


The Silent Patient
by Alex Michaelides

Genre: Thriller, Mystery

Length: 336 Pages

Release date: February 5, 2019

Synopsis: 

Promising to be the debut novel of the season The Silent Patientis a shocking psychological thriller of a woman’s act of violence against her husband—and of the therapist obsessed with uncovering her motive…

Alicia Berenson’s life is seemingly perfect. A famous painter married to an in-demand fashion photographer, she lives in a grand house with big windows overlooking a park in one of London’s most desirable areas. One evening her husband Gabriel returns home late from a fashion shoot, and Alicia shoots him five times in the face, and then never speaks another word.

Alicia’s refusal to talk, or give any kind of explanation, turns a domestic tragedy into something far grander, a mystery that captures the public imagination and casts Alicia into notoriety. The price of her art skyrockets, and she, the silent patient, is hidden away from the tabloids and spotlight at the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London.

Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist who has waited a long time for the opportunity to work with Alicia. His determination to get her to talk and unravel the mystery of why she shot her husband takes him down a twisting path into his own motivations—a search for the truth that threatens to consume him….

rating

five

“…we often mistake love for fireworks – for drama and dysfunction. But real love is very quiet, very still. It’s boring, if seen from the perspective of high drama. Love is deep and calm – and constant.” 

This book was such a pleasant surprise for me. Some of you may have noticed I have a tendency to nitpick thrillers to death, and the mental health aspect of this one in particular had me a bit nervous. I’ve seen one too many horror stories which can basically be boiled down to “Aren’t crazy people super scary, guys?” This didn’t feel like that, and I’m grateful for that. So I’m glad I gave into the hype to give The Silent Patient a chance.

The novel alternates between Alicia Berenson’s diary entries from prior to her husband’s murder and Theo Faber’s perspective as he works with her as her psychotherapist, determined to get her to speak again. Both characters were incredibly intriguing and the pacing was perfect.

Michaelides did stunningly well (especially for a debut author!) at writing a really balanced book; there was enough action and suspense to make it compulsively readable, but the character development provided a sense of substance that can sometimes be missing from this genre. But by far the highlight of the book for me was the twist towards the end. It’s not too heavily foreshadowed, so it comes as a huge shock in the best way, and throws everything before it into a totally new light.

This review is a bit brief because I really feel like this is a good book to go into largely blind and just enjoy the ride. The Silent Patient gets five full stars from me! It’s such an impressive debut and I can’t wait to see what Michaelides writes next!

Purchase links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | IndieBound

Thank you for reading! What thrillers have you enjoyed lately? Do you have a favorite novel with a huge twist ending? Let’s discuss in the comments!

Capture2

Other places to follow me…
Tumblr | Facebook | Instagram | GoodReads

WWW Wednesday 02/06/2019

Welcome to another WWW Wednesday! This meme is hosted by Taking on a World of Words. To participate, 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?

img_1384-0

I’m currently reading…

reading

This Mortal Coil
by Emily Suvada
This is a young adult, science fiction, dystopian novel that’s largely about DNA and “gene hacking.” It’s been on my radar for a little while, and I finally picked up a copy when the sequel was released late last year. I’m a little less than halfway finished right now and I feel… cautiously optimistic about this book. The last YA sci-fi series I read was Warcross and this definitely seems like it’ll be a set above that.

The Promise
by Teresa Driscoll
This is a thriller which comes out tomorrow and I’m scrambling to get it finished so I can have a review up on the release date. I read I Am Watching You from the same author last year with my book club, and I liked it but didn’t love it. So far this is looking like a three star rating, but I’m hoping the later part of the book bumps it up to a four for me. It reminds me a lot of The Lying Game, by Ruth Ware (a group adult women returning to the boarding school where they grew up that harbors a dark secret from their past in danger of being exposed) but it’s definitely its own story.

Women Talking
by Miriam Toews
This is another ARC (April 2, 2019 release date) and I honestly can’t seem to get into it as much as I’d like. The feminist themes had me super intrigued when I read the blurb (it’s based on a true story and it’s about a group of Mennonite women who have been sexually victimized by the men in their community as they try to decide how to respond: do nothing, fight, or flee) but the writing feels rather… drab, honestly. It’s intentionally unpolished, as the narrator is meant to be a male member of the Mennonite community who they have asked for help because he can write, and he’s not highly educated, but I do think it takes away from the story. I wonder if this may have benefited from a third person omniscient narrator.

I recently finished reading…

I didn’t do a WWW Wednesday post last week, so I’ve finished a lot of books since the last one, so I won’t be discussing each title here as I normally would. I will say The Silent Patient was phenomenal. Full reviews should be coming soon on most of these titles (if you’re curious about a particular title, though, please feel free to ask about it in the comments and I’ll let you know some of my thoughts before I write my full review)!

Capture

Up next…

This is the next book I’ll be reading as an official ambassador for the Booksparks Winter Reading Challenge! (By the way, the first two books were released yesterday: The Lost Man, by Jane Harper, and The Night Olivia Fell, by Christina McDonald. Both books are getting good reviews, but I highly recommend The Lost Man in particular!)

The Night Tiger
by Yangsze Choo

A sweeping historical novel about a dancehall girl and an orphan boy whose fates entangle over an old Chinese superstition about men who turn into tigers.

When 11-year-old Ren’s master dies, he makes one last request of his Chinese houseboy: that Ren find his severed finger, lost years ago in an accident, and reunite it with his body. Ren has 49 days, or else his master’s soul will roam the earth, unable to rest in peace.

Ji Lin always wanted to be a doctor, but as a girl in 1930s Malaysia, apprentice dressmaker is a more suitable occupation. Secretly, though, Ji Lin also moonlights as a dancehall girl to help pay off her beloved mother’s Mahjong debts. One night, Ji Lin’s dance partner leaves her with a gruesome souvenir: a severed finger. Convinced the finger is bad luck, Ji Lin enlists the help of her erstwhile stepbrother to return it to its rightful owner.

As the 49 days tick down, and a prowling tiger wreaks havoc on the town, Ji Lin and Ren’s lives intertwine in ways they could never have imagined. Propulsive and lushly written, The Night Tiger explores colonialism and independence, ancient superstition and modern ambition, sibling rivalry and first love. Braided through with Chinese folklore and a tantalizing mystery, this novel is a page-turner of the highest order.

Capture2.PNG

Other places to follow me…
Tumblr | Facebook | Instagram | GoodReads

What are you reading this week? Any thoughts on the books listed in this post?  Please feel free to discuss or share WWW links in the comments!

Review – The Night Olivia Fell, by Christina McDonald

The Night Olivia Fell
by Christina McDonald

Genre: Mystery

Length: 320 Pages

Release date: February 5, 2019

Publisher: Gallery Books

Synopsis: 

In the vein of Big Little Lies and Reconstructing Amelia comes an emotionally charged domestic suspense novel about a mother unraveling the truth behind how her daughter became brain dead. And pregnant.

A search for the truth. A lifetime of lies.

In the small hours of the morning, Abi Knight is startled awake by the phone call no mother ever wants to get: her teenage daughter Olivia has fallen off a bridge. Not only is Olivia brain dead, she’s pregnant and must remain on life support to keep her baby alive. And then Abi sees the angry bruises circling Olivia’s wrists.

When the police unexpectedly rule Olivia’s fall an accident, Abi decides to find out what really happened that night. Heartbroken and grieving, she unravels the threads of her daughter’s life. Was Olivia’s fall an accident? Or something far more sinister?

Christina McDonald weaves a suspenseful and heartwrenching tale of hidden relationships, devastating lies, and the power of a mother’s love. With flashbacks of Olivia’s own resolve to uncover family secrets, this taut and emotional novel asks: how well do you know your children? And how well do they know you?

rating

three

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book as a BookSparks Winter Reading Challenge official ambassador. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher. 

I struggled a lot with how to rate this novel. I settled on a middle-of-the-road rating because, while it seems most readers really enjoyed it, it didn’t work very well for me, for reasons that aren’t necessarily the fault of the author. The main thing that held this book back for me is that it bears a lot of similarities to another book I’ve read, Reconstructing Amelia. (I will go over this in detail later in the review, with a spoiler warning before that section.) I want to be clear that I’m not alleging plagiarism; similar ideas can surely occur independently, but there was enough in common between the stories that this felt like a reread for me.

This book is marketed as a mystery thriller, but I think emotional angle was the main strength of the novel, as opposed to the twists and turns. After Olivia’s fall, Abi learns that she is on life support and will not recover. She is kept on life support to keep her developing fetus alive long enough to perform a C-section. Abi has to grapple with the conflicting emotions surrounding knowing that getting her grandchild will mean losing her daughter. As she counts down the days, it’s obvious how heart-wrenching this is for her. I seriously felt for Abi and the months she spent in limbo, with her daughter not truly alive, but still breathing.

Olivia, who we get to know through flashbacks, was likable, but not always believable as a teenage girl. Her mother is relatively strict and over-protective. Olivia rarely balks at this, and when she does, has a habit of immediately mentally reminding herself that it’s only because her mother wants what’s best for her. I’m not trying to say she needs to be a total brat to be a realistic teenager, but Abi’s habits as a mother would honestly lead me to expect more frustration out of Olivia than she shows. She read less as a genuine teenager and more as a teenager as seen through a thin layer of wishful thinking from an overprotective parent. On a similar note, I would have liked to see a bit more of a distinction between Olivia and Abi’s voices in their respective chapters.

Spoilers for the bullet points ahead!

As discussed, on to the similarities to Reconstructing Amelia. Here are the characteristics in common between the two. (Apologies if I’ve mis-remembered anything, as it’s been a number of months since I read Reconstructing Amelia, but I feel like I remember it pretty well.)

  • Workaholic single mother’s teenage daughter dies, or in Olivia’s case, becomes brain-dead
  • Death / injury is the result of a fall which is initially dismissed as a potential suicide
  • Teenage daughter’s recent falling out with her best friend
  • Mystery surrounding paternity of the daughter provides a suspect for a potential killer
  • Mother has to work to solve the case on her own because the police aren’t taking it seriously
  • Plot unfolds in alternating chapters; flashbacks from the daughter’s perspective leading up to the night of the fall, current timeline from the mother’s perspective as she tries to solve the mystery
  • Killer turns out to be someone who cared for the girl, who lashed out in a moment of anger, and didn’t actually mean to kill her

Olivia’s pregnancy does provide a divergence from that structure, but the similarities are still too much to ignore. I wanted to like this novel, and it seems other readers generally liked it, but I unfortunately spent the whole book feeling like I was watching a rerun of a crime drama. If you haven’t read Reconstructing Amelia, odds are you’ll enjoy this book; otherwise, prepare for déjà vu.

Purchase links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | IndieBound

Thank you for reading! Have you read The Night Olivia Fell and/or Reconstructing Amelia? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Capture2

Other places to follow me…
Tumblr | Facebook | Instagram | GoodReads

Review – The Girls at 17 Swann Street, by Yara Zgheib

The Girls at 17 Swann Street
by Yara Zgheib

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Length: 384 Pages

Release date: February 5, 2018

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Synopsis: 

The chocolate went first, then the cheese, the fries, the ice cream. The bread was more difficult, but if she could just lose a little more weight, perhaps she would make the soloists’ list. Perhaps if she were lighter, danced better, tried harder, she would be good enough. Perhaps if she just ran for one more mile, lost just one more pound.

Anna Roux was a professional dancer who followed the man of her dreams from Paris to Missouri. There, alone with her biggest fears – imperfection, failure, loneliness – she spirals down anorexia and depression till she weighs a mere eighty-eight pounds. Forced to seek treatment, she is admitted as a patient at 17 Swann Street, a peach pink house where pale, fragile women with life-threatening eating disorders live. Women like Emm, the veteran; quiet Valerie; Julia, always hungry. Together, they must fight their diseases and face six meals a day.

Yara Zgheib’s poetic and poignant debut novel is a haunting, intimate journey of a young woman’s struggle to reclaim her life. Every bite causes anxiety. Every flavor induces guilt. And every step Anna takes toward recovery will require strength, endurance, and the support of the girls at 17 Swann Street.

rating

four

My thanks to St. Martin’s Press and Netgalley for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher. 

The Girls at 17 Swann Street is a an honest, unflinching, but fundamental hopeful portrayal of anorexia and the struggles of recovery. Anna enters treatment at the beginning of the novel primarily at the behest of her husband, who is at the end of his rope and fearful that he wouldn’t be able to keep her alive on his own. She is resistant to the idea of treatment at that time, filled up with fear and denial.

Zgheib explores the triggering events that led up to Anna’s situation, from her demanding background in ballet to her sense of isolation as an immigrant in America. Anna’s background felt like one of the biggest strengths of this novel. There is no single factor which led to her developing an eating disorder; the reasons are myriad and the descent was gradual. As is often the case in real life, compounding traumas and pressures slowly built up to a mental health crisis, and it’s difficult to say how Anna would have fared if even one of these factors had been different.

Zgheib seems to take pains to lend a sense of realism to Anna’s recovery efforts throughout the novel. Progress is treated with caution, as relapse is very common with anorexia, but the overall tone does not come across as pessimistic. The reader sees Anna’s mindset change slowly but drastically, spurred in part by a desire to reconnect with family members who have grown distant during her decline and in part through fear of ending up like some of the other girls she encounters in treatment.

There is nothing remarkably original or unique in the telling of this story; a woman hits rock bottom, enters treatment for anorexia, falters and makes slow progress, and the story ends on a hopeful but still somewhat ambiguous note. If you’ve read a lot of novels about mental health, the structure will feel very familiar, but Zgheib’s writing style is engaging and it feels very easy to connect with Anna. The Girls at 17 Swann Street is a rewarding and poignant read, and I look forward to seeing what this author writes in the future.

Purchase links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | IndieBound

Thank you for reading! Please feel free to share your thoughts about this book in the comments!
Have you read any good novels lately which revolve around a mental health issue? Let’s discuss.

Capture2

Other places to follow me…
Tumblr | Facebook | Instagram | GoodReads