The River at Night

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Winifred Allen needs a vacation.

Stifled by a soul-crushing job, devastated by the death of her beloved brother, and lonely after the end of a fifteen-year marriage, Wini is feeling vulnerable. So when her three best friends insist on a high-octane getaway for their annual girls’ trip, she signs on, despite her misgivings.

What starts out as an invigorating hiking and rafting excursion in the remote Allagash Wilderness soon becomes an all-too-real nightmare: A freak accident leaves the women stranded, separating them from their raft and everything they need to survive. When night descends, a fire on the mountainside lures them to a ramshackle camp that appears to be their lifeline. But as Wini and her friends grasp the true intent of their supposed saviors, long buried secrets emerge and lifelong allegiances are put to the test. To survive, Wini must reach beyond the world she knows to harness an inner strength she never knew she possessed.

The River at Night by Erica Ferencik

Publication Date: January 10, 2017 by Gallery/Scout Press

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My Thoughts:

All I knew was that no one expected us home for five days, and no one I knew expected to hear from me at all.

I’ll start by saying this is an enjoyable, fast-paced book. The author wastes no time in diving right into the plot and at no time did I feel like I was waiting for things to become tense or frightening because she manages to create that tension right from the very beginning. She not only hints at what the reader obviously knows is not going to be a happy story, but she also does a great job of painting the picture of a violent, unforgiving environment.

We three sat in silence, bumping along so hard my teeth were chattering, feeling the main road recede as the forest came at us fast. Branches reached out and scraped across the windshield, snapping back behind us. The road decayed into two muddy grooves with grass down the middle, and the truck bounced so violently in deep ruts I thought the engine would fall out.

There were a few things that kept this book at a three stars for me rather than a higher rating. One is that there are aspects of the plot that are a bit too unbelievable for me and while I know they played into the storyline, I found it a bit baffling that we were expected to believe these details (I’m not going to go into detail to avoid spoilers).

The second is that this book constantly reminded of me of a mixture of Deliverance and the movie The Descent. The female characters were very much the same formula as the movie: Pia, the fearless leader who makes rash decisions her friends always seem to follow because of her sense of adventure (but is unreliable and sometimes just a jerk). Wini, the more hesitant, rational friend of the group who has been through some recent trauma and is looking to get away for a long weekend to try and get her mind off of everything (and somehow turns that around to be able to survive yet another harrowing experience in the book once things go terribly wrong). The other two friends stay a bit in the background, but are there to complete the female group of friends equation.

The River at Night is a fun, fast-paced book, but it just seems a bit too much like a shadow of a story I’ve heard before for me to have become fully absorbed in the book’s plot. This would be an enjoyable read for those who haven’t already read/seen Deliverance or The Descent as I feel that that was the one aspect I couldn’t get past, but wouldn’t be a deal breaker for those who haven’t been tainted by prior experiences!

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Heartless

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Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries. But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be a queen.
At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship.
Cath is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Publication Date: November 8, 2016 by Feiwel & Friends

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

This was one of the most enjoyable reading experiences I’ve had all year! I postponed starting Heartless because I was worried that it wouldn’t do Alice in Wonderland justice, but I was pleasantly surprised.

In Heartless Meyer is able to combine the best parts of Carroll’s world with her own unique storytelling to come up with a story that is both familiar and entirely new. The balance just felt so perfect – she doesn’t bastardize Carroll’s original ideas nor does she completely stray from the world that fans of Alice in Wonderland come to expect no matter who is recreating the story.

Catherine Pinkerton – daughter of a marquess and deemed to be the future Queen of Hearts – is trapped in the expectations her royal blood has put forth. Whereas her parents see a future for her that involves a marriage to the king, all Catherine wants is freedom to choose her own destiny – a destiny that means shedding a life of luxury in order to own a bakery with her best friend and housemaid, Mary Ann.

This was why she enjoyed baking. A good dessert could make her feel like she’d created joy at the tips of her fingers. Suddenly, the people around the table were no longer strangers. They were friends and confidantes, and she was sharing with them her magic.

If the fantasy of owning her own bakery wasn’t enough to distract her from her impending engagement, Catherine meets Jest, the court joker, and suddenly realizes how much more difficult it will be to go against her parents’ wishes in order to pursue her own idea of happiness.

The first half of the book left me hungry and craving macarons, but readers shouldn’t be fooled into thinking Heartless is a light romance with lots of amazing descriptions of desserts. Meyer creates a sense of foreboding even in spite of the initial hope felt in the first half of the book – a perfect combination of fairytale-esque wonder and Victorian-era sexism that is frightening for even those familiar with the original Alice books. And for those who know the Queen of Hearts from Carroll’s tales, it’s clear that things aren’t going to end happily ever after.

As the story progresses, the tension begins to heighten. The Jabberwocky’s attacks increase and Catherine feels the grip of her inevitable future tighten around her as she realizes her choices are becoming further and further limited by what her society expects of her. Catherine’s anger and frustration is palpable and hints of her future self are seen in her emotions and feelings of utter hopelessness. It becomes easy to see the Queen of Hearts in Carroll’s realm and it is utterly heartbreaking (pun not intended!)

Murderer. Martyr. Monarch. Mad.

Meyer knows exactly how to combine the lighter, more childlike details of Alice in Wonderland – the tea parties, the Cheshire Cat’s humor, the decadent desserts – with the dark and vicious aspects of true fairytales. The only disappointment I felt was knowing that Heartless was a standalone book and I would not be reading more of Catherine’s life. This isn’t to say that Meyer’s book left me wanting for anything, but only that the story was so good that I was sad to have it come to an end!

The Likeness

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The haunting follow up to the Edgar Award-winning debut In the Woods

Tana French astonished critics and readers alike with her mesmerizing debut novel, In the Woods. Now both French and Detective Cassie Maddox return to unravel a case even more sinister and enigmatic than the first. Six months after the events of In the Woods, an urgent telephone call beckons Cassie to a grisly crime scene. The victim looks exactly like Cassie and carries ID identifying herself as Alexandra Madison, an alias Cassie once used. Suddenly, Cassie must discover not only who killed this girl, but, more importantly, who is this girl? A disturbing tale of shifting identities, The Likeness firmly establishes Tana French as an important voice in suspense fiction.

The Likeness by Tana French

Publication Date: July 17, 2008 by Viking Adult

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

It took me awhile to get into this one compared to In the Woods, but I see why people seem to prefer it to the first book in this series. I personally felt that Maddox was a much more likable character than the narrator in book one, and I was more invested in knowing the outcome of her situation compared to Ryan’s – although I’m hoping books later down the line are going to tell me WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED IN THE WOODS.

Whereas in I was stressed about knowing the outcome of the investigation as well as the truth behind what happened to Ryan’s childhood friends, The Likeness was much more about experiencing events versus discovering the murderer. I felt I had a good idea from the beginning behind who was responsible for Lexie’s death and wasn’t as consumed by the “whodunit” aspect of the storyline.

While the idea behind the plot – a woman dies who looks identical to Maddox and who was using an old alias of Maddox’s from when she worked for the Undercover unit – requires a stretch of the imagination, I enjoyed the atmosphere of the novel a lot. In many ways, it was similar to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History – a group of university students who seem to rebel against modern day life and spend their time absorbed in their little academia bubble all while involved in an “unsolved” murder. There’s something so appealing about their way of life (minus the murder) that it’s easy to see how Maddox risks becoming drawn in enough to say fuck all to the investigation she is supposed to be making headway for.

In the Woods was a slooooooooow novel, but I appreciated the slow unravelling of the investigation as well as the character development Tana French seems to have a special knack for. The Likeness started equally slow-paced, but the last hundred pages or so FLEW as things began to really unravel in the plot. I loved that I was able to read a novel from Maddox’s point of view and I’m stoked to read the next book from Mackey’s perspective. It’s official – I am a Tana French addict.

The Girl Before

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A damaged young woman gets the unique opportunity to rent a one-of-a-kind house. When she falls in love with the sexy, enigmatic architect who designed it, she has no idea she is following in the footsteps of the girl who came before: the house’s former tenant.

The eerie parallels in the two girls’ lives lay bare an enthralling story…and make this novel the must-read thriller of the season.

The Girl Before by JP Delaney

Publication Date: January 24, 2017 by Ballantine Books

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

All these men who loved Emma, I think. For all her problems, men were fixated on her. Will anyone ever feel like that about me?

I’VE BEEN TRICKED. The premise of this book sounded both intriguing and original and with all the strong reviews backing it up, I started reading with the expectation of a psychological thriller. What I ended up with was a murder mystery wrapped up in Fifty Shades of Grey.

I’ll start by saying that rather than throwing my kindle across the room midway through the novel, I felt hopeful enough to finish it – so there are definitely aspects of the book that work. The idea of people willing to agree to a neurotically detailed contract in order to live in a gorgeous house with an insanely cheap rent was enough to warrant attention. J.P. Delaney is definitely talented at maintaining a constant, underlying tension throughout the story. I also liked the interchanging chapters between the past and the present – Emma (the prior tenant) and Jane (the current tenant). The back and forth did not feel choppy at all and it helped to maintain the pace of the plot.

What ruined the book for me was the characterization. While perhaps the reader is expected to believe much of the behavior we see is because both Emma and Jane have experienced a personal trauma and are vulnerable when they agree to move into the house, the whole submissive act starts to become validated by the big bad alpha, Edward – the millionaire architect responsible for the home they reside in – and that’s where the book lost me.

The phone goes silent. And immediately I feel better, much better, because what I want more than anything else right now is for someone strong and decisive, someone like Edward, to come and pick up my life and rearrange all the pieces for me and somehow make everything work.

While it seems that the author intends to make Emma and Jane two separate characters with their own individual characteristics, they both come off as vapid and weak – not women suffering to fight back against devastating events in their life, but women who lack a personality and who seem to only gain a sense of security from being with a man who treats them like property. Perhaps this would have worked as part of the plot if their sex lives with Edward didn’t play such a massive role in the book, but more and more I felt like this deviation from what I had hoped was the true storyline was something to sell to the masses – because apparently damsels in distress with daddy issues who like violent sex is what the public buys.

When I haven’t heard from Edward in two weeks, I send him a selfie. I got a tattoo, Daddy. Do you like it? The reaction is instant. WHAT HAVE YOU DONE? I know I should have asked your permission first. But I wanted to see what would happen if I was really, really bad… in truth, the tattoo is small, quite pretty, and invisible when wearing normal clothes – a stylized representation of a seagull’s wings, just above the swell of the right buttock. But I know how much Edward loathes them. PS it’s quite sore. The reply comes a few minutes later. And going to get sorer. Tonight. I’m coming back to London. Angry. It’s the longest text he’s ever sent me.

The ending of the novel definitely raises a lot of questions – particularly whether the stereotyped characters were all a part of the plan. The book is filled with women who put up with horrible behavior from the men in their lives and men who act like downright predators. If there was a message about gender roles and our society, I clearly missed it and that is what ultimately left me feeling unsatisfied with The Girl Before – vapid women and controlling men for no reason other than pure entertainment is not the type of novel I enjoy reading. For those who enjoyed Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey, perhaps this is the type of thriller for you, but for those looking for a little less sexism and a lot more depth, I’d suggest skipping this one.

Thank you Netgalley and Ballantine Books for allowing me the chance to read this book in return for an honest review.

The Mortifications

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In 1980, a rural Cuban family is torn apart during the Mariel Boatlift. Uxbal Encarnación—father, husband, political insurgent—refuses to leave behind the revolutionary ideals and lush tomato farms of his sun-soaked homeland. His wife Soledad takes young Isabel and Ulises hostage and flees with them to America, leaving behind Uxbal for the promise of a better life. But instead of settling with fellow Cuban immigrants in Miami’s familiar heat, Soledad pushes further north into the stark, wintry landscape of Hartford, Connecticut. There, in the long shadow of their estranged patriarch, now just a distant memory, the exiled mother and her children begin a process of growth and transformation.

Each struggles and flourishes in their own way: Isabel, spiritually hungry and desperate for higher purpose, finds herself tethered to death and the dying in uncanny ways. Ulises is bookish and awkwardly tall, like his father, whose memory haunts and shapes the boy’s thoughts and desires. Presiding over them both is Soledad. Once consumed by her love for her husband, she begins a tempestuous new relationship with a Dutch tobacco farmer. But just as the Encarnacións begin to cultivate their strange new way of life, Cuba calls them back. Uxbal is alive, and waiting.

Breathtaking, soulful, and profound, The Mortifications is an intoxicating family saga and a timely, urgent expression of longing for one’s true homeland.

The Mortifications by Derek Palacio

Publication Date: October 4, 2016 by Tim Duggan Books

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

mor·ti·fi·ca·tion
noun
1.
great embarrassment and shame.
“they mistook my mortification for an admission of guilt”
2.
the action of subduing one’s bodily desires.
“mortification of the flesh has a long tradition in some religions”

It seems important to know the meaning behind the title in also understanding the book. The Mortifications is a story of four family members struggling to find their own sense of purpose and happiness while also tending to the dysfunction of their relationships with one another.

The novel focuses primarily on Ulises – the son of Uxbal and Soledad – who as a child, is forced to leave his home and his father in Cuba in order to accompany his mother and sister, Isabel, to start a new life in a vastly different environment (Hartford, Connecticut). It clearly isn’t a coincidence that Ulises is loosely named after the Ulysses of the Roman myths – a hero whose epic journey home is recorded in The Odyssey.

The first portion of the novel focuses on the characters’ attempts to make a home and find a purpose in Hartford. All three seem to feel the void that has been left upon leaving their father and husband, Uxbal, in Cuba, but they are also fighting against those feelings of loss in their own ways. Soledad throws herself into her work while maintaining a household for her two children before ultimately finding solace in a new lover – Willems. Isabel finds purpose in her religious fervor and Ulises loses himself in books. Despite living together in a small house, it’s clear all three never truly feel a sense of togetherness and this idea of isolation only gets worse as the story progresses. At one point when it seems that all of these characters have found what they consider to be contentment, their world is shattered when Ulises receives a letter from his father, Uxbal.

For just a moment it brought Ulises a joy he could not recall experiencing, some version of fatherly love, but the letter, with Uxbal’s mayoral tenor, his carefree tone – as if Soledad had taken Ulises and Isabel to a cousin’s in Santiago and not to another country – was a vessel, and it had carried Ulises to the rim of a whirlpool, to a point where he could look down and see how black the tapering center was. He had forgotten, willingly, his father and home – Ulises read, ‘For I don’t deny I did the murder’ – but now he could sense the truth that Isabel, his twin, his counterpart, had perhaps always known: the heart sustains when the mind relents; the heart remembers what the mind forgets.

Knowing that their father is still alive, a new restlessness appears in Soledad, Ulises and Isabel. Having become a stand-in for Uxbal, Willems is left unsettled by this change in the family he has essentially adopted. His feelings of being the outsider are sad to witness and it becomes clear as the novel progresses, that the family’s disconnectedness is in part of being separated from Uxbal and Cuba – their idea of home.

You’re stretching yourself across the Atlantic. The result is a body in Hartford and a heart in Cuba. You can’t live in two places at once.

Ultimately, this is a heart wrenching story of a dysfunctional family struggling to maintain their relationships while also seeking independence from one another in their own attempts at finding contentment and happiness. Each character is flawed and far from perfect and that is what makes the story so powerful – it is an honest portrayal of the human experience.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Good as Gone

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Thirteen-year-old Julie Whitaker was kidnapped from her bedroom in the middle of the night, witnessed only by her younger sister. Her family was shattered, but managed to stick together, hoping against hope that Julie is still alive. And then one night: the doorbell rings. A young woman who appears to be Julie is finally, miraculously, home safe. The family is ecstatic—but Anna, Julie’s mother, has whispers of doubts. She hates to face them. She cannot avoid them. When she is contacted by a former detective turned private eye, she begins a torturous search for the truth about the woman she desperately hopes is her daughter.

Good as Gone by Amy Gentry

Publication Date: July 26, 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

If there is something missing – if I am afraid to love her quite as much as before – it is only because the potential for love feels so big and so intense that I fear I will disappear in the expression of it, that it will blow my skin away like clouds and I will be nothing.

This is such a refreshingly different take on the psychological thriller genre! While a major part of the story line does immerse the reader in wanting to know what happened to Julie and who this young woman really is living in the Whitaker’s home, the book is so much bigger than its plot.

Much of the novel is told from Julie’s mother’s point of view, and it is through her narration that the reader begins to learn more about the relationships in the family and what has happened to them since Julie was abducted from her bedroom years earlier. While the plot kept the tension in the novel going, Good as Gone is much more focused on character development and the relationships the women in the novel are involved in – with each other and with the men in their lives.

Maybe once you’ve been left by the most important person in your life, you can never be unleft again. Maybe you’re destined to be abandoned even by your own guts, maybe your foot walks off with your thighbone, why not, stranger things have happened.

The novel delves deep into feelings of loss and the effect trauma can have on a person’s life and relationships. The reader sees how the loss and return of Julie has impacted her mother, father, AND sister and the question of whether or not the young woman who has just shown up on their doorstep really IS Julie takes the reader further into the minds and lives of these characters and what they have experienced for the last seven years. The underlying tension of not knowing if this person who has returned really IS Julia adds so much to all the nuances and hidden pieces of the plot and makes for a fantastic (and very fast-paced) read. I’m looking forward to Amy Gentry’s next novel!

 

The Beast is an Animal

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Alys was seven when the soul eaters came to her village.

These soul eaters, twin sisters who were abandoned by their father and slowly morphed into something not quite human, devour human souls. Alys, and all the other children, were spared—and they were sent to live in a neighboring village. There the devout people created a strict world where good and evil are as fundamental as the nursery rhymes children sing. Fear of the soul eaters—and of the Beast they believe guides them—rule village life. But the Beast is not what they think it is. And neither is Alys.

Inside, Alys feels connected to the soul eaters, and maybe even to the Beast itself. As she grows from a child to a teenager, she longs for the freedom of the forest. And she has a gift she can tell no one, for fear they will call her a witch. When disaster strikes, Alys finds herself on a journey to heal herself and her world. A journey that will take her through the darkest parts of the forest, where danger threatens her from the outside—and from within her own heart and soul.

The Beast is an Animal by Peternelle van Arsdale

Publication Date: March 17, 2017 by Margaret K. McElderry Books

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

The Beast is an Animal reads like a Grimm’s fairy tale – the kind that doesn’t shy away from violence and death. While that aspect of the book initially drew me in, I found I had a hard time maintaining my attention just due to the length of the book. Fairy tales are meant to be brief and this novel carries on a bit too much, straying away from the initial plot.

The Beast is an Animal begins with the story of a woman who is cast away to live in the woods with her twin, toddler daughters when those living in the village become fearful that she is a witch and her children have the “mark of the beast” on them. The daughters grow up wild and watch their mother suffer over the years. Knowing what their father has allowed to have happened to them and their mother, they decide to enact their revenge upon him and all the adults living in the village.

The story then picks up with Alys – a girl the reader quickly realizes is a bit different than the other children. I loved Alys from the start. Even at the age of seven, she is strong-willed and courageous and I found those aspects of her character to be refreshing, especially since she only grows more confident and intelligent as the years pass.

A lot of the details felt drawn from Puritan history – the village rules, the Elders who maintain order, the fear of witches and the unknown. While the stories of the soul eaters felt original and entertaining, at times the other aspects of the novel felt a bit too borrowed from the witch trials of Salem, MA.

I was also disappointed at how quickly the story took a turn towards romance once Cian’s character was introduced in the second half of the novel. While many times, these types of relationships can strengthen a plot, I found it to be distracting from the tension that had been initially building around the threat of the soul eaters to the village.

Those who enjoy fairy tale-esque books will most likely love this novel. Personally, I most likely would have loved it more if it had been a short story or novella.