ARC Review – When Elephants Fly, by Nancy Richardson Fischer

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When Elephants Fly
by Nancy Richardson Fischer

Genre: YA, Coming of Age

Length: 400 Pages

Coming: September 4, 2018

Blurb via GoodReads: 

T. Lily Decker is a high school senior with a twelve-year plan: avoid stress, drugs, alcohol and boyfriends, and take regular psych quizzes administered by her best friend, Sawyer, to make sure she’s not developing schizophrenia. Genetics are not on Lily’s side.

When she was seven, her mother, who had paranoid schizophrenia, tried to kill her. And a secret has revealed that Lily’s odds are even worse than she thought. Still, there’s a chance to avoid triggering the mental health condition, if Lily can live a careful life from ages eighteen to thirty, when schizophrenia most commonly manifests.

But when a newspaper internship results in Lily witnessing a mother elephant try to kill her three-week-old calf, Swifty, Lily can’t abandon the story or the calf. With Swifty in danger of dying from grief, Lily must choose whether to risk everything, including her sanity and a first love, on a desperate road trip to save the calf’s life, perhaps finding her own version of freedom along the way.

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I received an early release copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher. 

As a person with an education background in psychology, I had some misgivings about the subject matter of this novel going into it. Lily’s schizophrenic mother tried to kill her when she was a young girl. Lily struggles to deal with that trauma and also the looming threat of developing the disorder herself, given the genetic component. Schizophrenia is a such a highly stigmatized illness, and a novel with a schizophrenic character committing such a dramatic act of violence at the center of the story is concerning. While delusions in thought can cause a person with schizophrenia to become violent, most people living with this disorder are not violent and are at far greater risk of harming themselves than they are anyone else. So while Lily’s story is certainly not out of the realm of possibility in the real world, these are important things to keep in mind when reading a story like this.

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Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

That being said, I do think that Fischer made efforts to treat the subject matter with sensitivity. She has used Lily’s concerns about developing the disorder as a means to relay information to the reader; Lily has researched this topic tirelessly as a means of maintaining a sense of control over her life and mental health, and is aware, for example, of the risk of suicide for patients dealing with this disorder. Lily is a very sympathetic protagonist who is acutely aware of her risk of developing this disorder; she also gives the reader a window into what it feels like to be unfairly dismissed based on their mental health status.

Certain characters look down on Lily based on the mere possibility that she may have inherited her mother’s illness; should this possibility prove to be true, the contempt would be that much worse. Any and all of Lily’s opinions can be dismissed based on the speculated status of her mental health. For an insecure and yet passionate young woman just emerging into adulthood, this is excruciating.

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Photo by Casey Allen on Pexels.com

And then there’s Swifty. I got so emotionally invested in this baby elephant; Lily’s connection with Swifty is palpable, and my heart broke for both of them as Swifty struggled after being rejected by her mother. Many of the passages about Swifty are very well written, but some of them showcase the novel’s main weakness, in my opinion. It’s very clear that Fischer wanted this novel to educate, and that’s admirable.

However, with a 400 page book dealing with intricate subjects such as mental health, adolescence, parenting, and animal rights, the information may not always be woven seamlessly into the story. Certain passages felt forced and awkward. It sometimes felt like the author’s own research was pasted into the story without regard to the overall flow of the novel; it had the effect of pulling the reader momentarily out of the story.

Overall, this was a strong novel. It was well-paced with a well-developed and sympathetic protagonist. The story was interesting and multi-faceted. It brought us a character who, despite her overwhelming anxiety about her mental health, is more than her mental health status. Lily has people who love her deeply and a cause she’s willing to fight for.

Purchase links

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Have you read When Elephants Fly? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
What are your favorite novels about mental health?

 

 

ARC Review – Goodbye, Paris, by Anstey Harris

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Goodbye, Paris
by Anstey Harris

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Length: 288 Pages

Release date: August 7, 2018

Blurb via GoodReads: 

Jojo Moyes meets Eleanor Oliphant in Goodbye, Paris, an utterly charming novel that proves that sometimes you have to break your heart to make it whole.

Grace once had the beginnings of a promising musical career, but she hasn’t been able to play her cello publicly since a traumatic event at music college years ago. Since then, she’s built a quiet life for herself in her small English village, repairing instruments and nurturing her long- distance affair with David, the man who has helped her rebuild her life even as she puts her dreams of a family on hold until his children are old enough for him to leave his loveless marriage.

But when David saves the life of a woman in the Paris Metro, his resulting fame shines a light onto the real state of the relationship(s) in his life. Shattered, Grace hits rock bottom and abandons everything that has been important to her, including her dream of entering and winning the world’s most important violin-making competition. Her closest friends–a charming elderly violinist with a secret love affair of his own, and her store clerk, a gifted but angst-ridden teenage girl–step in to help, but will their friendship be enough to help her pick up the pieces?

Filled with lovable, quirky characters, this poignant novel explores the realities of relationships and heartbreak and shows that when it comes to love, there’s more than one way to find happiness.

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Goodbye, Paris was a great feel-good read for the summer. Despite Grace’s precarious position as the mistress of a man who is obviously (to everyone but Grace, that is) fundamentally selfish and childish, the tone for the story is quite optimistic. Grace begins the story as a somewhat unlikable narrator; while this may be a bit of a turn-off for some readers, it leaves so much room for growth and character development, which is what this novel is all about.

The blurb makes reference to Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, and this feels appropriate; Grace will feel familiar for fans of Gail Honeyman’s novel. Part of the reason she has scales over her eyes when it comes to David, her married boyfriend, is because she is otherwise so fundamentally isolated. While she has a few friends, people she has bonded with in the course of her work, there is a definite sense of a barrier there, and one can see it slowly dissolving throughout the course of the novel.

Grace is passionate about music, and Harris has woven this into every aspect of her story. Music is connected to the trauma of her youth which took away her sense of self worth, and it is intricately connected to her healing as an adult as she slowly regains her confidence. Her closest friendships come through a shared love of music. Her faith in her abilities helps her to see herself as a person of value outside of her relationship to David.

Goodbye, Paris is a tad predictable and not terribly deep, but it was immensely satisfying to read. If you’re looking for a warm and fuzzy tale of a woman coming into her own, however belatedly it may be, pick up a copy today.

I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and not influenced by the publisher. 

Purchase links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | IndieBound

Thank you for reading! What’s your favorite feel-good novel? Please share in the comments!

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ARC Review – Tied to Deceit, by Neena H. Brar

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Tied to Deceit
by Neena H. Brar

Genre: Mystery

Length: 328 Pages

Release date: August 4, 2018

Blurb:

On a drizzly August morning, the inhabitants of the hill town of Sanover, Himachal Pradesh, wake up to the shocking news of the murder of the exquisite, secretive, malicious, and thoroughly immoral Devika Singh.
As Superintendent of Police Vishwanath Sharma begins to sift through the hidden secrets of Devika Singh’s life, it becomes evident that everyone who knew her seems to have a clear-cut motive for killing her.
Faced with the investigation of a crime that appears to have as many suspects as there are motives, Vishwanath Sharma probes the sinister web spun around a tangle of lies and deception.

Praise for Tied to Deceit

“A remarkable whodunit that’s as sharp as it is concise.
Brar enhances her taut murder mystery with an engaging setting that effectively incorporates the local culture. The smart, believable denouement will have readers looking forward to Brar’s next endeavor.”
-Kirkus Reviews
“A literary mystery saga that includes far more depth and psychological and cultural insights than your typical murder mystery’s scenario.”
-D. Donovan, Midwest Book Review

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Excerpt

Dr. Rajinder Bhardwaj, the owner and the head physician at Lifeline Hospital, Sanover, had showered after his brisk morning walk and joined his wife for an early morning tea. Gayatri Bhardwaj sat with her second cup of ginger tea on her favourite old, worn, woven chair on the verandah which overlooked their front garden: a tapestry of blooming carnations, marigolds, roses, and chrysanthemums. She longed for a clear, bright day and the dazzling blue sky of summer.

It was her favourite spot to sit in the mornings; a place from where she could witness the brilliant dawn streaking half of the sky coral; raindrops soaking everything wet during the monsoon; specks of silvery snow falling from the sky during winter. She could take in everything from the serene mountain peaks and the forest to their house—its roof, windowpanes, and the pebbled driveway that snaked its way criss-cross toward the outside big iron gate. She would sit there until Dr. Bhardwaj joined her after his daily ritual of a brisk morning walk.

They had done this for years despite the changing seasons and the changing equation of their marital relationship. They had spent endless mornings of their initial married years there, when their hearts were still giddy with the feeling of young love, and they would talk about everything and nothing. She’d been a bride at barely twenty, young and naive. He’d been ten years her senior, already on the way to establishing himself as a successful physician, the younger son of a landlord aristocratic family with old wealth. He had swept her off her feet then, and was all charm and charisma but then the magic slowly diminished and finally died due to his secret betrayals over time. Thousands of little resentments had replaced the early warmth. But their hearts, although heavy with bitterness and anger at the failed expectations, had gotten used to the solace of each other’s company that often comes with years of living together, and they never stopped performing this morning ritual of their married life.

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I received an early release copy of this book in exchange for an honest review; all opinions are my own. 

This book is difficult for me to rate. I enjoyed the first half of it immensely. The setting was interesting, and it was nice watch Brar weave Indian culture and words into the story. I liked the idea of a murder mystery with an unsympathetic victim. Devika had wronged so many people that virtually every character was a potential suspect at one point or another.

Some of the major characters were very interesting, particularly Gayatri Bhardwaj, who knows her husband has been carrying on affairs, but reacts with almost indifference, with an astounding level of confidence that none of these mistresses pose any real threat to her marriage.

Brar explores gender issues in the context of Indian culture in the late 60’s or perhaps early 70’s; the exact time frame was never quite clear to me; some dates in the early sixties were mentioned as having been several years prior. The differential treatment of men and women when it comes to sexual misconduct came up time and time again. Class divides were also integral to the story, and Gayatri is again of particular interest in that regard; she expresses how she feels class can be a double-edged sword even for those in a position of privilege, as it distances her from those around her.

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There was a lot to enjoy in this book, but the second half started to drag. Vishwanath Sharma spends what feels like an excessive amount of time pursuing one particular suspect, on the cusp of solving the mystery. The actual resolution strikes the right balance of surprising while still being somewhat foreshadowed, but it takes too long to get there. The length itself is not necessarily the problem here; this is not an overly long book. However, the amount of time dedicated to one singular focus rather than vacillating between suspects makes it feel longer.

Brar also seemed very invested in driving home just how horrible Devika was, to the point where it began to feel repetitive and drawn-out. One can only read about what a manipulative snake she was so many times before it becomes boring. Personally, I would have appreciated a bit more nuance in her character. Brar does throw in a few things that seem to be an attempt at doing this, but they come so late in the narrative that they felt shoe-horned into it; something about it seemed to lack authenticity, and the overall impression of Devika does not change. She is very one-dimensional and seems to have no redeeming qualities.

Overall, I enjoyed Tied to Deceit, and it was a fairly solid debut novel. Sharma and his assistant have a Sherlock and Watson-esque relationship which is fun to observe. The cultural issues explored added a lot to the story, and the cast of characters was varied and engaging. Fans of the Sherlock stories or Agatha Christie may find this a worthwhile read!

Purchase links

Amazon India 

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

Author Bio  

AUTHOR PICNeena H. Brar lives in Edmonton, Canada with her husband, two children, a highly energetic German Shepherd, and a lifetime collection of her favorite books.

A hermit at heart, she’s a permissive mother, a reluctant housekeeper, a superb cook, and a hard-core reader.

Tied to Deceit is her debut novel.

 

Author Contact Details:  

Website:  http://neenabrar.com

Instagram: @bookaddictnwriter

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NeenaHBrar/

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ARC Review – My Real Name Is Hanna, by Tara Lynn Masih

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My Real Name Is Hanna
by Tara Lynn Masih

Coming September 15, 2018

Length: 208 pages

Genre: Historical fiction, YA

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Blurb via GoodReads:

Hanna Slivka is on the cusp of fourteen when Hitler’s army crosses the border into Soviet-occupied Ukraine. Soon, the Gestapo closes in, determined to make the shtetele she lives in “free of Jews.” Until the German occupation, Hanna spent her time exploring Kwasova with her younger siblings, admiring the drawings of the handsome Leon Stadnick, and helping her neighbor dye decorative pysanky eggs. But now she, Leon, and their families are forced to flee and hide in the forest outside their shtetele—and then in the dark caves beneath the rolling meadows, rumored to harbor evil spirits. Underground, they battle sickness and starvation, while the hunt continues above. When Hanna’s father disappears, suddenly it’s up to Hanna to find him—and to find a way to keep the rest of her family, and friends, alive.

Sparse, resonant, and lyrical, weaving in tales of Jewish and Ukrainian folklore, My Real Name Is Hanna celebrates the sustaining bonds of family, the beauty of a helping hand, and the tenacity of the human spirit.

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I don’t know where to begin with this book. Hanna will stay close to my heart for a long time to come. My Real Name Is Hanna explores one of the darkest times in history, but does so with a remarkable spirit of hope and faith in mankind. Central to the theme of this book is a sense of connection which transcends divides such as religious beliefs.

One of the most touching relationships in this book is between our young Jewish protagonist, Hanna, and her elderly Christian neighbor, Alla, who takes on a somewhat grandmotherly role to Hanna. Hanna’s parents don’t entirely approve of the work which she does for Alla, assisting her in decorating pysanky, a kind of Ukrainian Easter egg which is intricately decorated and rich with symbolism. At one point in the story, Alla gifts Hanna with a pysanka decorated with symbols from Jewish folklore, a gesture which speaks to a deep abiding love and the mutual respect they have for one another’s cultures and beliefs.

Hanna’s father examines the bird painted on the egg and speculates on the meaning behind it. Perhaps it is a phoenix, which would symbolize patience, or perhaps it is the Ziz, which would be a symbol of protection.

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This passage is, in a lot of ways, the crux of the novel to me. Alla and Hanna connect, not by ignoring their differences, but by embracing them, finding ways to bridge the gap, and a mutual habit of never addressing one another with a sense of superiority. This merging of cultural traditions in a time of sharp division and iniquity was a poignant symbol of hope in the fundamental goodness of people.

There is a lot of darkness in this book; it is a YA book, so it avoids going into grisly detail about some of the worst of Nazi atrocities, but it is honest and clear about the fact that Hannah and her family are facing the imminent threat of death. They endure unspeakable hardship, sustained in large part by their love for one another. They have lost their home, almost all of their possessions, and any sense of security in their own country, but familial love endures as they hold on by a thread.

Inspired by a true story of a family that survived the Holocaust by hiding out underground, this novel is a timely reminder of all that’s at stake when we fail to acknowledge the humanity of the Other. Above all else, we must value kindness and connection.

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

Pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes & Noble

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 feels 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.) 

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.