Review – Ghosted, by Rosie Walsh

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Ghosted
by Rosie Walsh

Genre: Fiction

Length: 337 Pages

Release date: July 24, 2018

Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books

Synopsis: 

Seven perfect days. Then he disappeared. A love story with a secret at its heart.

When Sarah meets Eddie, they connect instantly and fall in love. To Sarah, it seems as though her life has finally begun. And it’s mutual: It’s as though Eddie has been waiting for her, too. Sarah has never been so certain of anything. So when Eddie leaves for a long-booked vacation and promises to call from the airport, she has no cause to doubt him. But he doesn’t call.

Sarah’s friends tell her to forget about him, but she can’t. She knows something’s happened–there must be an explanation.

Minutes, days, weeks go by as Sarah becomes increasingly worried. But then she discovers she’s right. There is a reason for Eddie’s disappearance, and it’s the one thing they didn’t share with each other: the truth.

rating

three

I wondered how it was that you could spend weeks, months—years, even—just chugging on, nothing really changing, and then, in the space of a few hours, the script of your life could be completely rewritten.

Ghosted is essentially part mystery, part romance. The story alternates between scenes from the week Sarah and Eddie met and scenes after she has been… well… ghosted. The latter takes up a much smaller portion of the book than the former, so we spend more time wondering why Eddie has dropped off the map than we do figuring out why Sarah cares so much. As I prefer mystery to romance, this shouldn’t have been an issue for me, but the lack of development of the romance makes it difficult to care about the mystery. The reader isn’t really given a compelling reason to root for Eddie and Sarah to be together.

The intense insta-love aspect of this novel felt better suited to a YA novel with a protagonist in high school. When you’re young and inexperienced, that burst of infatuation can feel like the be-all end-all. Sarah is written to be around forty years old, but she doesn’t feel like it. I found her tunnel vision obsession with a man she barely knows to be a bit alienating, personally.

However, despite my issues with Sarah and the under-developed romance, there was something rather compulsively readable about Ghosted. The pace feels lightning fast, and there was more to the mystery than just a spurned lover. At the risk of getting into spoilers, I won’t go into detail, but suffice it to say that the later revelations make for the best bits of character development in the story. For a good chunk of the early section of the novel, it felt like there wasn’t much more to Sarah than pining after a man; thankfully, later sections rectify that.

Nobody warns you that life continues to be complicated after you’ve Done the Right Thing. That there is no reward, beyond some intangible sense of moral fortitude.

Overall, this was a fun book with a lot of potential, but it definitely felt like it was lacking something. This appears to be Walsh’s debut novel, so I’ll be interested to see how she grows as a writer from here.

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Thanks for reading! How do you feel about romance in fiction? Do you prefer it to be the focus of the story or more like a side plot? Discuss in the comments!

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Review – VOX, by Christina Dalcher

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VOX
by Christina Dalcher

Genre: Dystopian

Length: 326 Pages

Release date: August 21, 2018

Publisher: Berkley

Synopsis:

Set in an America where half the population has been silenced, VOX is the harrowing, unforgettable story of what one woman will do to protect herself and her daughter.

On the day the government decrees that women are no longer allowed more than 100 words daily, Dr. Jean McClellan is in denial—this can’t happen here. Not in America. Not to her.

This is just the beginning.

Soon women can no longer hold jobs. Girls are no longer taught to read or write. Females no longer have a voice. Before, the average person spoke sixteen thousand words a day, but now women only have one hundred to make themselves heard.

But this is not the end.

For herself, her daughter, and every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice

rating

five

I wonder what the other women do. How they cope. Do they still find something to enjoy? Do they love their husbands in the same way? Do they hate them, just a little bit?

VOX is a dystopian novel in the vein of The Handmaid’s Tale which expertly blends the personal and the political. Set in an America which has been taken over by hyper-conservative extremists, women are no longer allowed to work, and they are forced to wear word counters which administer painful electric shocks if they go over their allotted 100 daily words.

One of the highlights of the novel is Jean’s strained relationship with her husband. Prior to the political shift which left Jean as a second class citizen, she viewed her husband as gentle; now, she views him as meek and cowardly. He privately disagrees with the direction the country has taken, but feels unable to push for change in his professional life, where he works closely with the president. The slow, simmering resentment is palpable.

Jean makes a really intriguing protagonist for a novel like this, as she was a highly respected scientist before losing her rights. She was a neuroscientist specializing in Wernicke’s Aphasia and working to develop a cure. Wernicke’s Aphasia leaves sufferers unable to produce meaningful speech; words come to them freely and perhaps even in a grammatically correct sequence, but their sentences are gibberish, utterly lacking in meaning. (An example from the book: “Cookie for your thoughts and when the Red Sox gossiping and galloping, I don’t know. There’s going to be hyper-tension!”) Jean’s life’s work was to help give people back the ability to communicate, and she has now been robbed of that herself.

If I have any criticism of VOX, it’s this: I would have liked to see more of the novel devoted to exploring how American society ended up in that state. For example, in The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood makes a big point of emphasizing how far-right groups pounced on the panic induced by plummeting birth rates. In VOX, it doesn’t feel like quite enough time is devoted to exploring how social mores shifted enough to allow such a drastic change. The America portrayed in VOX is essentially identical to our own… until it isn’t anymore. In retrospect, perhaps this is more ominous than The Handmaid’s Tale.

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Thank you for reading! Have you read VOX? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
What’s your favorite novel with feminist themes? Let’s discuss!

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ARC Review – The Dinner List, by Rebecca Serle

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The Dinner List
by Rebecca Serle

Genre: Fiction, Magical Realism

Length: 288 Pages

Release date: September 11, 2018

Blurb via GoodReads: 

“We’ve been waiting for an hour.” That’s what Audrey says. She states it with a little bit of an edge, her words just bordering on cursive. That’s the thing I think first. Not: Audrey Hepburn is at my birthday dinner, but Audrey Hepburn is annoyed.”

At one point or another, we’ve all been asked to name five people, living or dead, with whom we’d like to have dinner. Why do we choose the people we do? And what if that dinner was to actually happen? These are the questions Rebecca Serle contends with in her utterly captivating novel, THE DINNER LIST, a story imbued with the same delightful magical realism as One Day, and the life-changing romance of Me Before You.

When Sabrina arrives at her thirtieth birthday dinner she finds at the table not just her best friend, but also three significant people from her past, and well, Audrey Hepburn. As the appetizers are served, wine poured, and dinner table conversation begins, it becomes clear that there’s a reason these six people have been gathered together.

Delicious but never indulgent, sweet with just the right amount of bitter, THE DINNER LIST is a romance for our times. Bon appetit.

ratingthree

The Dinner List was a quick read with an interesting premise. What began as a simple mental exercise with a college roommate (choose any five people, living or dead, to join you for one meal) suddenly becomes a reality on Sabrina’s 30th birthday. The result is an unexpected encounter with four people from Sabrina’s personal life… and Audrey Hepburn.

On its face, this seems like it would make for a light, fun read. Serle’s novel, however, drags her protagonist into a drawn-out exchange with people who represent a monumental amount of emotional baggage for her. Yes, even Audrey, in a way. While there are fun and light moments in the novel, it primarily feels like an analysis of where Sabrina’s life has gone wrong and if/how she can move on from those things.

While I enjoyed this novel overall, it felt like there was something lacking. I think part of the issue is that fundamental weirdness of Audrey Hepburn’s presence as the only person on the list Sabrina did not know personally. The presence of only one stranger, and such an iconic one at that, brought something of a lopsided impression to the plot that I don’t feel would have been there if there had been an additional stranger at the dinner. As it was, it felt a bit like a celebrity barging into an intimate family discussion.

The Dinner List has one bombshell of a plot twist (perhaps you’ll see it coming; I certainly didn’t) that changes the whole tone of the story when it hits. This book was an emotional roller coaster that ends with a glimmer of optimism and light at just the moment it began to feel too dark. Overall, a unique book that was worth the read.

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

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Review – Force of Nature, by Jane Harper


Force of Nature 
by Jane Harper

Genre: Mystery

Length: 326 Pages

Release date: February 6, 2018

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Synopsis: 

Five women reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking along a muddy track.
Only four come out on the other side.
The hike through the rugged Giralang Ranges is meant to take the office colleagues out of their air-conditioned comfort zone and encourage teamwork and resilience. At least, that’s what the corporate retreat website advertises.
Federal Police investigator Aaron Falk has a keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing hiker, Alice Russell. Because Alice knew secrets, about the company she worked for and the people she worked with.
The four returning women tell Falk a tale of fear, violence and fractured trust during their days in the remote Australian bushland. And as Falk delves into the disappearance of Alice, he begins to suspect some dangers ran far deeper than anyone knew.

rating

four

“It’s the panic that gets you. Makes it hard to trust what you’re seeing.” 

Force of Nature is a continuation of The Dry, but don’t worry if you haven’t read it (although I definitely recommend giving it a shot.) Detective Aaron Falk is the central character for both books, and while Force of Nature makes a few passing references to the events of The Dry, Falk is working to solve a new mystery in this second installment, and it could easily be read as a standalone book. (But really, why would you skip The Dry?)

In The Dry, the mystery was incredibly personal for Falk; the man accused of killing his own family was Falk’s closest childhood friend, Luke, and solving the mystery would either clear Luke’s name or reveal how little he ever really knew him. The stakes are slightly less personal in Force of Nature, but still quite high-pressure. The missing woman, Alice, was meant to turn over documents that Falk urgently needs for  an ongoing investigation. The result is a gripping, desperate pursuit that makes for an engaging read.

The novel can basically be divided into two parts, which alternate throughout the story: Aaron Falk’s perspective, starting after Alice has gone missing, and flashback scenes to the retreat where the disappearance took place. The latter varies in perspective, and we get to know each of the women who were lost in the bushland with Alice. The tension is high from start to finish, from Falk’s work pressures to the hysteria-inducing panic of being lost in the Australian wilderness. Both of Harper’s novels have been highly atmospheric; the Australian landscape can begin to feel like a character on its own, raising the stakes and pushing the characters to act.

With plenty of red herrings and twists galore, Harper manages to pull off a shocker of a conclusion which will keep the reader guessing until the end.

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Review – Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward

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Sing, Unburied, Sing
by Jesmyn Ward

Genre: Fiction, Magical Realism

Length: 285

Release date: September 5, 2017

Publisher: Scribner

Synopsis: 

An intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle, Sing, Unburied, Sing examines the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power – and limitations – of family bonds.

Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. His mother, Leonie, is in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is black and her children’s father is white. Embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances, she wants to be a better mother, but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use.

When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.

Rich with Ward’s distinctive, lyrical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first century America. It is a majestic new work from an extraordinary and singular author.

rating

four

This is an absolutely beautiful book. Ward’s lyrical prose, rich with metaphor and evocative imagery, meshes well with the magical realism woven into the story. Overall, this creates a dreamy atmosphere which provides a nice counter balance for the heavy, dark story lines; ghosts are full-fledged characters in this story, bringing along their baggage and trauma brought on by violent deaths.

If I have any criticism at all of this novel, it’s that Ward’s distinctive voice sometimes gets in the way of her characters. There is too much similarity in tone between different point of view characters, blending them together. The prose was so lovely that it’s hard to mind, but it does have the effect of distracting from the story at times. For example, Jojo is 13 years old, and sometimes seems to have a college-level vocabulary. The writing is stylistically lovely, but not always believable as Jojo’s internal monologue.

Leonie is a deeply flawed woman and unable to bond with her children. Kayla, the youngest child, looks to Jojo for a kind of surrogate parent, and she resents both of them for this evidence of her failure as a mother. I personally disliked Leonie deeply, but still found her point of view chapters endlessly engaging, a testament to Ward’s skill as a writer. If a book has me hanging on every word of a character that I can’t stand, that’s worth noting.

I feel the need to warn readers that this is an emotionally difficult book to read. Themes include, racial violence, sexual violence, drug addiction, and death. These themes are handled masterfully, however, and Sing, Unburied, Sing, is the kind of novel that lives in the reader’s soul for years to come.

“Sometimes the world don’t give you what you need, no matter how hard you look. Sometimes it withholds.” 

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Thank you for reading! Have you read Sing, Unburied, Sing or any of Jesmyn Ward’s other work? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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