Review- The Sisters Hemingway, by Annie England Noblin

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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?

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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)!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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January Wrap-up & February TBR

Welcome to another monthly wrap-up and TBR post!

January has been a slow-ish reading month for me, but I did manage to get 15 reviews up, so still not terrible. I’m hoping I can pick up the pace a little bit in February to make my ridiculous GoodReads goal more easily attainable!

Let’s look back at January. All hyperlinks in book titles will lead to my reviews!

Books I reviewed in January…

The standout book of this month was The Lost Man, by Jane Harper! I read this novel as an ARC and it will be available for purchase February 5th, 2019! This is Jane Harper’s third novel and I’ve enjoyed all three so far. This one is a slow burn mystery that may take a bit to grab you, but trust me when I say the story is well worth it!

And now on to February…

I’m bad at sticking to TBRs, but my main priority this month is to try to get through most if not all of the NetGalley ARCs I currently have. As you can see… that might be a challenge if I’m going to fit in the other reading I like to do (new releases, book club selections, etc.).

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I also have a hard copy of The Night Tiger on its way to me in the mail right now, courtesy of BookSparks for their Winter Reading Challenge. This cover is absolutely gorgeous and I’m hoping the story is as well! Here’s the synopsis:

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.

That’s it for today. Thanks for reading! What was your favorite book that you read in January? Is there anything you’re most looking forward to reading in February? Share in the comments!

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