Review: Eileen

EileenEileen
Author: Otessa Moshfegh
Publisher: Penguin Press
Genre/Themes: Contemporary, Mystery
Release Date: August 18th 2015
Format: Ebook

 

Synopsis

The Christmas season offers little cheer for Eileen Dunlop, an unassuming yet disturbed young woman trapped between her role as her alcoholic father’s caretaker in a home whose squalor is the talk of the neighborhood and a day job as a secretary at the boys’ prison, filled with its own quotidian horrors.

Consumed by resentment and self-loathing, Eileen tempers her dreary days with perverse fantasies and dreams of escaping to the big city. In the meantime, she fills her nights and weekends with shoplifting, stalking a buff prison guard named Randy, and cleaning up her increasingly deranged father’s messes. When the bright, beautiful, and cheery Rebecca Saint John arrives on the scene as the new counselor at Moorehead, Eileen is enchanted and proves unable to resist what appears at first to be a miraculously budding friendship. In a Hitchcockian twist, her affection for Rebecca ultimately pulls her into a complicity in a crime that surpasses her wildest imaginings.

Review

What I quickly realized while reading this novel is that it is nothing like it’s advertised. I thought this was going to be centered around a mystery, or a tragic event that occurred, but that was not the case. This book is not the least bit plot driven. In fact, the main plot point doesn’t happen until two-thirds of the way through the book. Instead, this book is a character study centered around Eileen.

I have never despised a character more than I did Eileen. She is self-obsessed, unhygienic, insecure, a borderline alcoholic, a stalker, and utterly despicable. Reading about her day to day life and her thoughts was so upsetting and frankly, a little boring. I understand that there are some characters that are going to be hard to like, but it was impossible to like Eileen. It was impossible to like any of the characters. I felt no empathy or connection to any of them.

The plot was so slow that I found it a chore to keep reading. I was interested in the big event that happened, but once it did, it was a major let down because it was so boring and unoriginal.

The only tolerable thing about this novel was the fact that the writing was very graphic and caused me to have a physical reaction (even if the reaction was mostly disgust). I applaud Ottessa Moshfegh for being able to elicit such a response from the reader, but the writing was unable to make up for how dull the story was and how unlikeable Eileen was. I don’t recommend this novel unless you’re really in the mood for a character study.

I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This has affected my review in no way.

 

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Review: You Will Know Me

You Will Know MeYou Will Know Me
Author: Megan Abbott
Publisher: Little Brown
Genre/Themes: Contemporary, Mystery
Release Date: July 26th, 2016
Format: Ebook

Synopsis

Katie and Eric Knox have dedicated their lives to their fifteen-year-old daughter Devon, a gymnastics prodigy and Olympic hopeful. But when a violent death rocks their close-knit gymnastics community just weeks before an all-important competition, everything the Knoxes have worked so hard for feels suddenly at risk. As rumors swirl among the other parents, revealing hidden plots and allegiances, Katie tries frantically to hold her family together while also finding herself drawn, irresistibly, to the crime itself, and the dark corners it threatens to illuminate.

Review

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of amazing things about Megan Abbott’s books. I’ve heard that she’s extremely talented at writing women and their relationships with each other. Due to these recommendations, I had high expectations for You Will Know Me. While I enjoyed the novel a lot, I found myself a little underwhelmed with some of it.

I’ve always had a soft spot for books about gymnastics or dance. There’s something about sports competing against other women that cause really dynamic, interesting relationships to write about. This novel was full of those strange interactions, and I have to agree that Megan Abbott has an innate talent for getting to the heart of characters and their motivations. She’s able to get into the heads of each of her characters and having them respond to situations and process emotions in a really complex, yet genuine way. While I didn’t like any of her characters as people, I understood them and saw what made them the way they were. I really thought the characterization was spectacular.

The part that left me underwhelmed was the plot. I knew the resolution to the mystery aspect pretty quickly, and I could see all the red herrings as well. I know that the point of this book isn’t really about what happened with the death, but how everyone got to that point, but it still bugged me. I wanted more from the plot, I wanted there to be more to the story. I wanted something original, and I didn’t get that with this book.

Since Megan Abbott’s writing is so beautiful and poetic, and her characterization so raw and intense, I know I’ll be reading her other works. For the most part, I really enjoyed this novel, and I recommend it to those who want a book with great characters and sharp writing.

I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This has affected my review in no way.

Review: So Much Love

So Much LoveSo Much Love
Author: Rebecca Rosenblum
Publisher: Penguin RandomHouse Canada
Genre/Themes: Contemporary, Mystery
Release Date: March 14th, 2017
Format:Ebook

Synopsis

When a young woman named Catherine Reindeer vanishes without a trace from her small town, those who know her are left to cope with her absence. Moving back and forth from her outer circle of acquaintances to her closest intimates, Rebecca Rosenblum’s first novel reveals how the lives of those left behind can be overturned in the wake of an unexplained disappearance. But at the heart of the novel is Catherine’s own surprising story of resilience and recovery.

When a final devastating loss after months of captivity forces her to make a bold decision, she is unprepared for everything that follows her dramatic escape. Woven throughout are stories about a local female poet who was murdered decades earlier, a woman whose life and work become a lifeline for Catherine during her darkest hours—and who may ultimately hold the key to Catherine’s quest to find solace in the aftermath of unimaginable tragedy.

Review

Unfortunately, I stopped reading this book when I was halfway through it. I tried really hard to become invested in this novel, especially because it’s from a Canadian author, but I was unable to do so.

So Much Love is a debut novel from Rebecca Rosenblum, and it falls into the pitfalls that a lot of debut novels fall into. There are far too many characters in the book. While I understood that the goal was to show how the disappearance of Catherine Reindeer impacted those who knew her, the end result was disjointed. Every chapter was from the point of view of somebody else, but their names were never explicitly pointed out so it took a while to understand who was speaking. I could have gotten past this, but the main problem was there was no cohesion in the story and because we jumped between the (many!) characters, it was hard to gain an understanding of who they were as people.

Another huge issue I had with this book was that it was so dreadfully slow. I don’t mind it when novels are slow and there’s great character development, but this book didn’t have either for me. I couldn’t connect to the characters or the plot and I just didn’t care how the story was going to turn out.

I’m really disappointed that I couldn’t finish this novel because it sounded very intriguing and it has beautiful, poetic writing. I just found myself really disconnected to it. I’m sure this book has an audience out there and it has great ratings, but it just wasn’t for me.

I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This has affected my review in no way.

Review: The Roanoke Girls

The Roanoke GirlsThe Roanoke Girls
Author: Amy Engel
Publisher: Crown
Genre/Themes: Mystery, Contemporary
Release Date: March 7th, 2017
Format:Ebook

Synopsis

Lane Roanoke is fifteen when she comes to live with her maternal grandparents and fireball cousin, Allegra, at the Roanoke family estate in rural Osage Flats, Kansas, following the suicide of her mother. Lane knows little of her mother’s family, other than the fact that her mother ran away years before and cut off all contact with her parents. There is a darkness at the heart of the Roanoke family, and when Lane discovers its insidious pull she has no choice but to run, as far and as fast as she can.

Eleven years later, Lane is scraping by in Los Angeles when her grandfather calls with the news that Allegra has gone missing. Unable to resist his pleas, Lane returns to Osage Flats, determined to find her cousin and assuage her own guilt at having left Allegra behind all those years ago.

Review

When I first read the synopsis for this novel, I knew I was going to enjoy reading it. It has everything I look for in a novel – the mystery of a missing girl, dark family secrets, and a young woman forced to confront her past. Amy Engel is a new author to me, but after reading this book, I will be picking up all of her other works.

This isn’t an easy book to read. It has some really shocking and disturbing subject matter that made me feel squeamish and sick to my stomach for a lot of the book. It’s extremely dark and twisted, but in my opinion, this book is as close to perfect as any book can get. It’s one of my new favourite novels and that’s not an honor I give out lightly.

There are a lot of shocks in this story, but the first one is dropped about 11% through the book. It’s done without any preamble or preparation, and I was taken completely by surprise even though I knew something big was coming. I just didn’t know what it would be and that it would be done so quickly. I liked that the reader knows what the big secret is right away, but it’s not boring since there are still layers that are peeled back as the story continues. The plot moved at a great pace and even though the novel is quiet, it has moments of drama that keep the reader transfixed.

Additionally, the atmosphere of this novel suits the novel so very well. The oppressive heat of the Kansas summer and the beauty and desolation of the Roanoke house combine to create a setting that mirrors the experiences of the characters. Just like the beauty of Roanoke hides something evil and twisted, every beautiful Roanoke girl was hiding something as well. It’s a marvelously written parallel and handled with such grace and eloquence by Amy Engel.

Lane was one of the best characters I’ve ever read. Even though she’s beautiful and sought after, her experiences have left her a mess. She’s self-destructive, selfish, cruel at times, and yet you can’t help but love her. I wanted the best for her and for Allegra. I wanted the best for all the Roanoke girls, and I loved all of them. The secondary characters were also so well-developed and interesting. I also really enjoyed the writing and the layout of the book because we learned about all the Roanoke girls. We understood who they were and we learned some of their secrets too. The one thing I was unsure about was the romantic subplot. I didn’t think I would like it, but I really ended up loving the way it developed. It was everything I wanted for Lane, and the ending was hopeful, which is the best I think you can ask when it comes to a book this tragic.

This book isn’t going to be for everyone. There are going to be people that are so bothered by the subject matter that they won’t be able to get past it to the beauty within. The darkness of the novel will mar everything else, but I really recommend people try and read past it. I want people to read down to the heart of this book, which is about a damaged protagonist trying to find redemption and a little hope. It’s a beautiful story, and one worth reading.

I received this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review. This has affected my review in no way.

Review: The Dark And Other Love Stories

The Dark and Other Love Stories
The Dark And Other Love Stories
Author: Deborah Willis
Publisher: Penguin Random House Canada
Genre/Themes: Contemporary, Short Stories
Release Date: February 14th, 2017
Format: Ebook

Synopsis

The characters in the thirteen stories that comprise The Dark and Other Love Stories exist on the edge of danger, where landscapes melt into dreamscapes and every house is haunted. A drug dealer’s girlfriend signs up for the first manned mission to Mars. A girl falls in love with a man who wants to turn her into a bird. A teenage girl and her best friend test their relationship by breaking into suburban houses. A wife finds a gaping hole in the floor of the home she shares with her husband, a hole that only she can see.

Full of longing and strange humor, these subtle, complex stories about the love between a man and his pet crow, an alcoholic and his AA sponsor, a mute migrant and a newspaper reporter—show how love ties us to each other and to the world.

Review

These stories all revolve around the theme of love. They’re about love in all shapes, but they all have the same melancholy air. Some are rooted in our contemporary world, and some have a little tinge of magical realism. I was really excited to dive into this short story collection mostly because this is a book from a Canadian author, but I found myself extremely underwhelmed.

I only had one story that I actually liked, Last One to Leave, because it was a form of love that I could connect with. I liked both the characters and the narration style and I understood it from beginning to end. There was something resonant about the story, but I had a really hard tie with all of the others. I never fully connected with the characters or the plot, and I just didn’t like where they went.

Overall, I found myself really disappointed with this collection. There was very little substance and nothing noteworthy in the stories. I may or may not read another book by this author.

I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This has affected my review in no way.

Review: The Glorious Heresies

The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney
The Glorious Heresies
Author: Lisa McInerney
Publisher: Crown Publishing
Genre/Themes: Contemporary, Ireland
Release Date: April 9th, 2015
Format: Ebook

 

Synopsis

One messy murder affects the lives of five misfits who exist on the fringes of Ireland’s post-crash society. Ryan is a fifteen-year-old drug dealer desperate not to turn out like his alcoholic father Tony, whose obsession with his unhinged next-door neighbour threatens to ruin him and his family. Georgie is a prostitute whose willingness to feign a religious conversion has dangerous repercussions, while Maureen, the accidental murderer, has returned to Cork after forty years in exile to discover that Jimmy, the son she was forced to give up years before, has grown into the most fearsome gangster in the city. In seeking atonement for the murder and a multitude of other perceived sins, Maureen threatens to destroy everything her son has worked so hard for, while her actions risk bringing the intertwined lives of the Irish underworld into the spotlight . . .

Review

I tried really really really hard to get into this book, but I just couldn’t do it. There’s nothing inherently bad about the writing or the plot, I just felt no connection to the characters and no desire to know how the story would unfold.

I usually really enjoy stories that are about a multitude of characters all linked together, but this one just couldn’t draw me in fast enough and it felt like a chore to keep reading. I think the fault is completely mine though because everyone else seems to love this book.

I received this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review. This has affected my review in no way.

Review: Swimming Lessons

Swimming Lessons
Swimming Lessons
Author: Claire Fuller
Publisher: House of Anansi
Genre/Themes: Contemporary, Mystery
Release Date: January 28th, 2017
Format: Trade Paperback
Swimming Lessons

 Synopsis

In this spine-tingling tale Ingrid Coleman writes letters to her husband, Gil, about the truth of their marriage, but she never sends them. Instead she hides them within the thousands of books her husband has collected. After she writes her final letter, Ingrid disappears.

Twelve years later, her adult daughter, Flora comes home to look after her injured father. Secretly, Flora has never believed her mother is dead, and she starts asking questions, without realizing that the answers she’s looking for are hidden in the books that surround her.

Review

This is a beautiful, heart wrenching, infuriating, and completely incredible novel. It’s hard for me to describe how much this book made me feel, but I loved every moment of it. I knew that I’d enjoy this novel because the premise of this book is exactly what I like to read. Not only is it a book about books, it’s a contemporary novel with a missing woman that had secrets that led to her disappearance. I knew I’d be swept up in the mystery, but I wasn’t expecting to feel so many emotions along the way.

This is one of those rare novels that is both about the plot and the characters, and both are developed beautifully. This book alternates between chapters in the present and the letters that Ingrid wrote to her husband and hid, relaying the story of their marriage.  The plot is one I’ve read before, but there was such subtle hints that I still didn’t see it coming., and even after I learned the truth, I still didn’t know what sort of impact it would make for all the characters.

However, the true beauty of this novel is due to the characters and their stories. Even though Ingrid is missing, she was such an integral part of the novel and we learned so much about her and her husband, Gil, through her letters. I was furious with Gil throughout the majority of the novel, and I despised him by the end of it. Even though in the present timeline, he’s a different and broken man, I still didn’t feel any sympathy toward him. I’ve never hated a character so much in a very long time, and I think it’s a mark of a talented writer to elicit such emotions toward a fictional person.

I loved Ingrid so much, and I felt so terribly for the life she was forced to live, and I felt a lot of sympathy for her daughters, Flora and Nan as well. I felt such a deep connection to all of them even though my life doesn’t mirror theirs in any way.

This is a quiet novel, but it’s devastating all the same. It’s beautifully written – descriptive, atmospheric, and completely refreshing. I’m a huge fan of Claire Fuller, and I will be reading all her future novels.

I received this book through the Goodreads Firstreads program. This has affected my review in no way.

Review: The Invoice – Jonas Karlsson

The Invoice A passionate film buff, our hero’s life revolves around his part-time job at a video store, the company of a few precious friends, and a daily routine that more often than not concludes with pizza and movie in his treasured small space in Stockholm. When he receives an astronomical invoice from a random national bureaucratic agency, everything will tumble into madness as he calls the hotline night and day to find out why he is the recipient of the largest bill in the entire country.

What is the price of a cherished memory? How much would you pay for a beautiful summer day? How will our carefree idealist, who is content with so little and has no chance of paying it back, find a way out of this mess? All these questions pull you through The Invoice and prove once again that Jonas Karlsson is simply a master of entertaining, intelligent, and life-affirming work.

This is a very quiet, contemplative novel and unlike any other book I’ve read. It’s such a strange premise for a novel. This book revolves around the idea that depending on the quality of your life and your experiences, you have to pay a one-time fee. This book really made me ponder how much money I would have to pay and what I would do in the same situation as the narrator.

This book also raises some really interesting questions about how happiness is relative and how people can see their lives in a subjective way. The idea that a person’s happiness is dependent on how they view their experiences is something I always try to keep in mind, even though it’s really hard to remember at times. This book forces you to examine your life and how you’ve viewed the experiences you’ve had.

My only issue with this novel was that because it was so quiet, it was never really exciting to read. I also didn’t feel much connection to the main character. His role and personality wasn’t really fully developed and the book wasn’t about him or the plot. They were secondary to the message the author was trying to convey.

I felt the writing style and the translation from Swedish was fine, but once again, it didn’t elicit much of a reaction from me. Overall, this is a lovely short novel, but I wish it had been slightly more powerful and memorable. However, I still think it’s extremely unique and I definitely recommend it.

I received a copy of this book from Blogging For Books. This has affected my review in no way.

Review: Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour – Morgan Matson

Amy & Roger's Epic Detour Amy Curry thinks her life sucks. Her mom decides to move from California to Connecticut to start anew–just in time for Amy’s senior year. Her dad recently died in a car accident. So Amy embarks on a road trip to escape from it all, driving cross-country from the home she’s always known toward her new life. Joining Amy on the road trip is Roger, the son of Amy’s mother’s old friend. Amy hasn’t seen him in years, and she is less than thrilled to be driving across the country with a guy she barely knows. So she’s surprised to find that she is developing a crush on him. At the same time, she’s coming to terms with her father’s death and how to put her own life back together after the accident.

This is my first Morgan Matson book. She’s known for her young adult contemporary novels because they’re always cute and summer-y. I didn’t have very high expectations for this book mostly because this is one of my least favourite genres. However, I was pleasantly surprised by this novel. There was nothing incredible about it, but I thought Morgan Matson’s portrayal of grief was really realistic.

I haven’t read a lot of road trip books, but I liked the plot of this one. It was really interesting to learn about American states as Amy does because I know little to nothing about American geography, though the idea of driving cross country across Canada has always seemed like a fun idea. The places all seemed to change Amy, and it was so subtly and gradually done that it seemed  completely realistic.

I also really liked all the people that Amy met. A few of them were written as cliches, but it didn’t mother me that much. I didn’t really love or hate Roger. I had no strong feelings for him at all. The romance was probably my least favourite part of this book. It didn’t annoy me, but it was so needlessly overwrought and unnecessary.

I’ll definitely be reading more of Morgan Matson’s works in the future. They’re quick reads, they seem fun, but they’re not really life changing.

Review: The Truth Commission – Susan Juby

The Truth Commission Open secrets are the heart of gossip – the things that no one is brave or clueless enough to ask. That is, except for Normandy Pale and her friends Dusk and Neil. They are juniors at Green Pastures Academy of Art and Applied Design, and they have no fear.
They are the Truth Commission.
But Normandy’s passion for uncovering the truth is not entirely heartfelt. The truth can be dangerous, especially when it involves her brilliant older sister, Keira, the creator of a bestselling graphic novel series, who has left college and come home under mysterious circumstances, and in complete silence.
Even for a Truth Commissioner, there are some lines that cannot be crossed…

Susan Juby is a Canadian author, which immediately endears her to me. When I first learned about her most recent novel, The Truth Commission, I was really interested in the book. I was mostly interested because I like the idea of a book being written as “creative non-fiction” and I love when a book has footnotes and illustrations in it. It usually adds a new dimension to this novel. Even though young adult contemporary is not one of my favourite genres to read, I wanted to see how this book would turn out.

This book infuriated me, but in the best way. It makes you angry, and it makes you want to talk about your anger, which is a great characteristic for a novel. This book takes place at an art school for high school students, which is a perfect setting for the quirky and offbeat characters in this book. I really enjoyed the teenage characters, and the friendship of Normandy and her best friends, but I was furious with all of the adults in this book. I don’t understand why Normandy’s parents were as passive as they were.

The plot was very unexpected. I thought I knew where the story was going to go, but it was completely surprising to me. This book deals with a lot of teenage issues, but it does it in a non-preachy way. When the truth came out, I was furious, but the ending felt very true and I liked the realism behind it.

However, the best part about this book is the style it’s told in. Instead of feeling gimicky, the idea of this novel being written as a creative non-fiction project with illustrations and footnotes just helps you connect to Normandy a little more. I enjoyed this book a lot, and I’m really happy I ended up picking it up.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.