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review 2020-01-25 02:17
Review: Lies She Told by Cate Holahan
Lies She Told - Cate Holahan

This is definitely one of the harder mysteries that I have to review, or maybe I'm spoiled by the engrossing experience of the last mystery I read. The TL, DR version of this review: parts of it I really liked, and parts of it I didn't.

This is the first book I've read from Cate Holahan, and I can say from the get go that I want to read more from the author in the future for sure. I'm just not certain what side of the fence I fall on in reacting to "Lies She Told". It's a dual perspective story, though not in the way that you would typically find in a mystery of this scope. It's largely the story of a writer whose star has dimmed over the years (Liza Jones) and who struggles to write her next bestselling novel. But Liza throws herself into her work to distract from the fact that her life is falling apart - she wants to have a baby, but her husband is distracted by the sudden disappearance of his work partner, Nick.

The dual perspective is from the viewpoint of Beth, the heroine of Liza's story. Beth is a jilted wife who realizes her husband is having an affair as she's struggling to care for their newborn child. Beth becomes immensely jealous and wants to carve her own path to vengeance against her husband, but ends up murdering her husband's mistress with some complexities to face in the aftermath of that.

Fiction somewhat mirrors truth when Nick turns up dead in a river and Liza's husband is investigated for the disappearance/murder. The aim of the book makes it clear that the reader should question what is fiction and what is truth to Liza's life as details from Nick's murder surface. The aim of the book is fascinating and definitely something that intrigued me as I went through the story. However, there are some caveats that detracted from my experience a bit. The pacing in the story often lulled in moments where it switched between the perspectives of Liza and Beth. For a time, I found myself more immersed in Beth's perspective because she had the more compelling strength of grief and rage associated with her story (cheated lover, new mother, seeking to fill the void her husband left with his frequent departures and keeping her sanity together).

Liza's story wasn't as compelling to start (basically wanting a baby, husband more preoccupied with Nick's disappearance, and Liza wondering why she should care since Nick was a douchecanoe, though Nick and her husband lawyers who won a transgender rights case. I think as Nick's backstory came to light and the inference that his disappearance/murder possibly might've centered on a hate crime, I found myself more intrigued. Too bad it fizzled a little after that.)

As the story wove its way towards the end, the goalposts shifted a bit in terms of the whodunit to keep the reader guessing. The climax was very intense, particularly in the confrontation between Liza and her husband. However, the ending to Liza's story left me feeling unsatisfied from the experience, wanting a bit more meat than it provided for the set up. It tied up some loose ends, but not in a way that I really felt attached to. Beth's ending was a suitable one given the framework of the story and knowing where Liza's mind was by the end of the book, as well as her authorial choice to end Beth's story the way she did. But I still was like "Ehhh, that could've been a little more fulfilling."

In the end, I'm glad I read it. The writing had strong, compelling moments where it hooked me, yet the conclusion made it so the one-time read was enough for me. Definitely curious to see what else Holahan has in her bibliography.

Overall score: 3/5 stars.

Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley from the publisher.

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review 2020-01-20 20:36
Review: "The Girl the Sea Gave Back" by Adrienne Young
The Girl the Sea Gave Back - Adrienne Young

Iniital reaction: I really enjoyed this story, namely for the stakes in the story, the action scenes, and the intrigue of the lore.

Full review:

My first full book finished for the start of 2020, and this ended up being a solid read for me. I'd probably rank it only slightly below the author's debut novel "Sky in the Deep" as far as how much it intrigued me and immersed me through the read. The story follows two protagonists, the first of which is Tova, a young woman who can see the future among the runes she carries. She's taken in by a group called the Svell after being found on a half burned boat and taken in for the value of her abilities. But she's been used by the Svell much of her life and as war clashes between the Svell and a sworn enemy, she finds herself in the middle of the crosshairs with a series of bitter losses. She tries to do the best she can with her abilities and willingness to do the right thing, but with what she feels is a cursed existence, Kova finds herself lost in the fray. Enter Halvard, a young warrior who's attempting to find his own way and gets caught thrown into the tides of battle. Both Tova and Halvard's fates are destined to meet and intertwine, but it's not without heavy losses along the way.

What I really enjoyed throughout this novel were the action sequences and really the dynamic of the relationships Tova and Halvard had among their respective groups. I felt the writing for the action scenes were well written and paced throughout the book, immersing me into the battle sequences as they unfolded. Tova's willingness to help those around her, yet feeling helpless with her role and overarching missing identity was palpable. Likewise, Halvard wanting to protect his family and loved ones alongside finding his own purpose was something I could see through the narrative. Where the narrative faltered fell more on developing the leads with a deeper connection to themselves as well as their overarching journeys. I could sense the book rushing towards its conclusion without necessarily tying those threads together and giving Tova and Halvard more character connectivity to make their chemistry and intertwined fates more realistic and immersive. The novel certainly circled back to the feeling of identity on Tova's end and related to the title towards the conclusion, but it still left me wanting more to see where the characters would go from here on out.

This book takes place many years before/is a prequel of sorts to "Sky in the Deep" and features the reappearance of characters from that novel, though they are only in minor roles in the book. I liked "The Girl the Sea Gave Back" for what it offered and found it a valuable read. Still, there were steps that could have been taken to deepen the experience and round out the story better than it was. I'm looking forward to seeing where Young takes this universe in the future and reading more from the author as well.

Overall score: 3.5/5 stars.

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review 2017-05-27 00:17
Review: Gem and Dixie by Sara Zarr
Gem & Dixie - Sara Zarr

Quick review for a quick read. Another emotional and engaging read from Sara Zarr. "Gem and Dixie" is a story of sisters as well as knowing when to let go and grow. I enjoyed the journey, though the story had more compelling points in certain turns than others. It got a little muddled in the middle trying to march itself towards the ending, but still pulled at my heartstrings for showcasing the relationship between the characters.

Gem is four years older than Dixie and has been tasked as the responsible figure in a complicated household. Gem and Dixie's father is often absent from their lives, and usually when he returns, it's never for good reasons. Their mother can barely keep food on the table and while she's present in their lives keeps her own distance from taking on responsibility due to a number of vices. Gem has always tried to help and protect her younger sister, but even as they've grown older, their relationship has become more distant, with Dixie wanting to hold on to memories they used to have while Gem is ready for something more, something better.

The two have a rather unique opportunity to get away when their father returns to their lives, leaving a questionable amount of money of undetermined source under the bed. Gem asks Dixie to get away for a short time - just to "let loose". But their journey from that point is a series of encounters that have the girls meeting mishaps and discovering each other in a way they hadn't had opportunities to do before. I think the first half of the novel had me in its compelling portrait of the girls' broken home, while the latter part had some moments of emotional connectivity, but the pacing and grip loosened a bit up until closer to the end when the girls have to face the reality of their situation and Gem has to make a decision for herself rather than for the inclusion of her and her sister. In the end, it's a solid read - probably not my personal favorite from the author, but well included among her potent stories in contemporary YA and dealing with difficult issues. Wonderful audio narration by Julia Whelan as well.

Overall score: 4/5 stars.

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review 2017-05-25 03:29
Review: Burned (Burned #1) by Ellen Hopkins
Burned - Ellen Hopkins

Quick review for a quick read that I picked up from my library's audio collection. Powerful and really wonderful character exploration, which is typical of Ellen Hopkins's books. Pattyn is a young woman living in a tightly knit religious community and abusive household. She strongly laments her inability to grow as a young woman - in relationships, in asserting herself among other things - as well as watching her mother being subjected to her father's fists. After a series of incidents in which she acts out, she's sent to live with her aunt and begins to know what it means to have a better life for herself, including being valued in a romantic relationship with her S.O. (Ethan). In the end, she's not prepared to return to the household that cast her out, yet she never really wanted to leave completely behind, and things only turn for the worst after that point. I'll admit it hit me like a punch to a gut and I couldn't shake the emotional upheaval it left within me long after turning the final page.

"Burned", like the other books of Hopkins I've read, went down so smoothly and quick for the overarching read - I really enjoyed the audio narration of the novel as well as the poetic form she uses to tell Pattyn's story. She captures Pattyn's thoughts, questions, fears, uncertainty, and emotion to the teeth, and I liked being able to follow her throughout. I thought her fears and concerns were front and center, making me feel her struggle, but I think there were opportunities of depth and debate (particularly around the religious community concerns, since Pattyn lives in a Mormon household) that were missed. I definitely look forward to reading the next novel in this series, though the cliffhanger ending makes me all the more anxious to get to it as soon as possible.

Overall score: 4/5 stars.

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review 2017-05-09 04:24
Review: Shadowshaper (Shadowshaper #1) by Daniel Jose Older
Shadowshaper - Daniel José Older

Initial reaction: One of my favorite reads this year so far. I loved this book so much. The MC had a strong voice and the overarching storyline was imaginative and exciting. I'm definitely looking forward to the sequel.

Full review:

I'll admit I saw this book on the shelf at my library and was completely taken by cover lust. If you also want a different experience than reading the physical book, the audio version is wonderfully read by Anika Noni Rose (I ended up purchasing this from Audible because I loved the book so much.)

I think one of the things that I can say off the bat about this book's collective experience was that it was so much fun to read and very imaginative. I haven't read any of Daniel Jose Older's work before this point, but my experience with "Shadowshaper" makes me want to read more. The story revolves around a young woman named Sierra who descends from a long line of "Shadowshapers": those who can magically manipulate the art they create. Sierra's ill grandfather suddenly snaps out of his near comatose state, begging Siera to finish a mural that she notices has come to life and is quickly fading away. She doesn't understand what it means at first, but a rich history and harrowing adventure unfolds as Sierra discovers not only her hidden abilities but a rich and dynamic family history that was kept hidden from her because of the rising conflicts between members of her family. I really enjoyed Sierra's strongly asserted voice and the dynamic characters that I came to know in this book. Even the romantic angles of the story were well-developed and in a dynamic I was rooting for throughout the story. It's the kind of tale that I wish more YA novels had the depth and development to tell. Plus, the multicultural cast, lore and history really sets this book apart from many of its peers.

I'm definitely looking forward to the next book in the series.

Overall score: 4.5/5 stars.

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