The Year of Needy Girls

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A young boy’s murder unleashes chaos in the life of a schoolteacher and a small New England town.

Bradley, Massachusetts is in many ways a typical small New England town, but a river divides it in half—on one side, the East End: crowded triple-deckers, the Most Precious Blood parish, and a Brazilian immigrant community; and on the other, the West End: renovated Victorians, Brandywine Academy, and families with last names as venerable as the Mayflower.

Deirdre Murphy and her partner Sara Jane (SJ) Edmonds have just moved to their first house—and for the first time are open in their relationship—in the West End, where Deirdre teaches at Brandywine Academy. A dedicated teacher from a working-class background, she is well loved by her students. But the murder of ten-year-old Leo Rivera from the East End changes everything—for Deirdre and SJ, for the girls at Brandywine, and for all of Bradley. And when Deirdre is falsely accused of sexually molesting one of her students, the entire town erupts.

The Year of Needy Girls by Patricia A. Smith

Publication Date: January 3, 2017 by Kaylie Jones Books

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My Thoughts:

The Year of Needy Girls starts with a really strong premise, but ultimately fails to deliver on what it sets out to do. The reader is drawn in by the dueling plot lines: the horrific rape and murder of a young boy on the other side of town and the accusations against the main character, Deirdre, of sexually assaulting one of her female students.

The murder story line never seems to go anywhere and I was left wondering what the reader was supposed to gain from Leo Rivera’s death. There was not enough time spent on it and it seemed like this particular aspect of the plot was meant more to highlight the prejudices in their small, wealthy, New England town in relation to the accusations against Deirdre and their fear of homosexuality. There was something uncomfortable for me about this piece of the story line as someone who works in an urban school district because it felt like it was meant more to shock rather than add any depth to the overall story.

As a character study, The Year of Needy Girls fails as well. Deirdre is a vapid, one-dimensional individual who teeters on the edge of unhealthy obsession with her career and her students. Again, as someone who works in education I may hold some biases of my own, but it was difficult to feel any sympathy for Deirdre for while she was clearly not a sexual predator by any means, her behavior definitely placed her in that category of teachers who exhibit a lack of appropriate borders with their students.

Deirdre’s partner, SJ, also lacked depth and her own individual storyline seemed more like filler than something that added to any character development as the novel progressed. I’m not one to shy away from unlikeable characters, but there was something that just fell flat with both of them that I had difficulty becoming invested in the slow unravelling of their relationship or feeling any sort of empathy for either of their situations.

There was something very Puritanical as well about many of the character’s personal judgements or beliefs regarding homosexuality. While there are definitely plenty of people out there that are as ignorant as those in this novel, I found it difficult to believe that SO many people in Deirdre’s life could hold such assumptions up as truths, particularly in Massachussetts at the time the book is set to take place. This particular “witch hunt” aspect of the novel clashed with the timeframe and it made less of an impact on me as I felt baffled by how all these particular events could add up.

While there are a lot of issues with the book as a whole, I did enjoy Smith’s writing and that is ultimately what helped me to finish reading this through to the end. Unfortunately, this isn’t a book I would recommend for those looking for a crime thriller or a solid LGBT narrative since I didn’t feel as if The Year of Needy Girls delivered on either front.

Eleanor

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When a terrible accident claims the life of Eleanor’s twin, her family is left in tatters, and her reality begins to unravel, dropping her in and out of unfamiliar worlds. When she returns to her own time and place, hours and days have flown by without her. One fateful day, Eleanor leaps from a cliff…and vanishes. In a strange in-between place, she meets a mysterious stranger who understands the weight of her family history: Eleanor’s twin wasn’t the only tragic loss. And unless Eleanor can master her strange new abilities, she may not be the last.

Eleanor by Jason Gurley

Publication Date: March 7, 2017 by Broadway Books

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My Thoughts:

I was drawn towards Eleanor because the premise seemed so original and while I don’t always read fantasy, it felt comparative to the more supernatural elements of books like The Lovely Bones and decided to try something new.

I really enjoyed the first portion of the novel, particularly young Eleanor’s characterization. Her childhood had a darkness overshadowing it by the death of her twin sister and her mother’s inability to learn to cope, but she was a resilient and interesting individual and this helped to create a strong introduction to the plot.

About halfway through the novel, the chapters begin to rapidly switch narrators from Eleanor to Mea and then to the Keeper. These transitions grew more and more rapid and oftentimes felt awkward and unnecessary. What had initially grabbed my attention in the book’s synopsis, quickly turned into what felt like a shadow of several other stories (an odd combination of Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland) that have already been told. These elements combined with the novel’s shallow ending made for a very disappointing read.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

Before This is Over

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There is a deadly virus spreading around the world. At first it is a distant alarm bell in the background of Hannah’s comfortable suburban life. Then suddenly, it has arrived on the doorstep.

The virus traps Hannah, her husband, and their young sons in their city, then their neighborhood, and finally their own home. As a formerly idyllic backyard and quiet street become battlefields, fear and compassion collide. But what happens when their water supply is cut, and then the power, and the food supply dwindles?

Chilling and suspenseful, at once deeply personal and terrifying in its implications, Before This is Over invites us to imagine what a family must do to survive when pushed to the extreme.

Before This is Over by Amanda Hickie

Publication Date: March 28, 2017 by Little, Brown, and Company

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My Thoughts:

I love books that deal with epidemics, plagues, post-apocalyptic environments, etc. and so I dove into Before This is Over with expectations that were maybe a little too high because what isn’t there to love about the premise of a global epidemic without a known cure?

I flew through the first half of the novel and created my own sense of anticipation as I kept waiting for something to happen. But NOTHING HAPPENED.

While I enjoyed Hickie’s writing style and found it initially very easy to become wrapped up in the suspense created by the narrator’s anxiety, I ultimately felt let down by the lack of action. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by prior reads like Philip Roth’s Nemesis or Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend”, or maybe I’ve just become too wrapped up in The Walking Dead, but Before This is Over just felt like being stuck in a household with a bunch of adults and several children whose mere presence made me want to bang my head against a wall.

The Breakdown

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Cass is having a hard time since the night she saw the car in the woods, on the winding rural road, in the middle of a downpour, with the woman sitting inside―the woman who was killed. She’s been trying to put the crime out of her mind; what could she have done, really? It’s a dangerous road to be on in the middle of a storm. Her husband would be furious if he knew she’d broken her promise not to take that shortcut home. And she probably would only have been hurt herself if she’d stopped.

But since then, she’s been forgetting every little thing: where she left the car, if she took her pills, the alarm code, why she ordered a pram when she doesn’t have a baby.

The only thing she can’t forget is that woman, the woman she might have saved, and the terrible nagging guilt.

Or the silent calls she’s receiving, or the feeling that someone’s watching her…

The Breakdown by B.A. Paris

Publication Date: July 18, 2017 by St. Martin’s Press

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My Thoughts:

Having seen all the praise heaped on Behind Closed Doors, I decided to go about things backwards and start my B.A. Paris experience with her newest novel, The Breakdown, first.

What a fast-paced and addictive book! I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump for the past month and have found myself wary of starting something new since I’ve been disappointed by a lot of the books I’ve picked up in the last few weeks. Luckily, The Breakdown was exactly what I needed to get my reading mojo back.

While there were several key aspects of the plot I was able to figure out fairly early on, my sleuthing abilities in no way took away from my reading enjoyment. Cass’ fear and anxiety were palpable – enough so that I found myself feeling equally stressed about being home alone while reading. This was not a typical reaction for me, especially considering I live in a third floor apartment in the middle of a big city and could no way fear the same things as Cass initially did in her isolated, country home.

Although it became clear that Cass might not be the most reliable narrator early on in the plot, I still found myself fully connected to her emotional experiences and couldn’t peel my eyes away from my Kindle no matter how late into the night it became. I ended up finishing The Breakdown in one, tense-filled sitting and have zero regrets about the sleep I lost because of this decision.

While a few aspects of the plot were somewhat predictable, I personally didn’t feel that they took away from my enjoyment of the novel. I was much more wrapped up in character development than the events that occurred since the combination of suspense and an unreliable narrator are definitely my favorite combination in a psychological thriller and The Breakdown nails both of these qualities down perfectly.

White Fur

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When Elise Perez meets Jamey Hyde on a desolate winter afternoon, fate implodes, and neither of their lives will ever be the same. Although they are next-door neighbors in New Haven, they come from different worlds. Elise grew up in a housing project without a father and didn’t graduate from high school; Jamey is a junior at Yale, heir to a private investment bank fortune and beholden to high family expectations. Nevertheless, the attraction is instant, and what starts out as sexual obsession turns into something greater, stranger, and impossible to ignore.
The unlikely couple moves to Manhattan in hopes of forging an adult life together, but Jamey’s family intervenes in desperation, and the consequences of staying together are suddenly severe. And when a night out with old friends takes a shocking turn, Jamey and Elise find themselves fighting not just for their love, but also for their lives.
White Fur follows these indelible characters on their wild race through Newport mansions and downtown NYC nightspots, SoHo bars and WASP-establishment yacht clubs, through bedrooms and hospital rooms, as they explore, love, play, and suffer. Jardine Libaire combines the electricity of Less Than Zero with the timeless intensity of Romeo and Juliet in this searing, gorgeously written novel that perfectly captures the ferocity of young love.

White Fur by Jardine Libaire

Publication Date: May 30, 2017 by Hogarth Press

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My Thoughts:

White Fur is an intimate look at a dysfunctional relationship between two people who have been damaged before they’ve even met. While it’s easy to compare the storyline to the traditional Romeo & Juliet plot, Jamie and Elise bring their own baggage into the relationship and they’re up against much more than just meddling parents and differences in socioeconomics.

I really enjoyed Libaire’s writing style. Her depictions of 1980s New York and the rawness of Jamie and Elise’s experiences are what moved the book along for me. For someone who only knows the locations described in both Connecticut and New York as seen from the late 1990s to the present, I appreciated Libaire’s ability to bring these neighborhoods to life in a way I’ve never seen with my own eyes.

What made it difficult for me to really become invested in White Fur was the characterization. While I understand that the differences between Jamie and Elise are an important part of the novel, they at times felt more like caricatures or stereotypes of who Libaire wanted them to be and there were times during my reading that a phrase or a description, particularly of Elise, rang a bit false for me. It felt a bit forced and the constant reminders of their socioeconomic backgrounds started to get in the way of my connection with the characters.

I ultimately enjoyed Libaire’s writing more than the plot itself and that is what propelled me through my reading. I don’t think I was the right audience for the novel since I was anticipating more of a character-driven plot and instead felt there was something lacking in character development as the story progressed.

Oola

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The first thing Leif notices about Oola is the sharp curve of her delicate shoulders, tensed as if for flight. Even from that first encounter at a party in a flat outside of London, there’s something charged, electric about the way Oola, a music school dropout, connects with the cossetted, listless drifter of a narrator we find in twenty-five-year-old Leif. In love, infatuated, the two hit the road across Europe, housesitting for Leif’s parents’ wealthy friends, and finally settling for the summer in Big Sur. Left to their own devices, a project begins. Leif makes Oola his subject: he will attempt an infinitesimal cartography of her every thought and gesture, her every dimple, every snag, every swell of memory and hollow. And yet in this atmosphere of stifling and paranoid isolation, the world around Leif and Oola begins to warp–the tap water turns salty, plants die, and Oola falls dangerously ill. Finally, it becomes clear that the currents surging just below the surface of Leif’s story are infinitely stranger than they first appear.

Oola by Brittany Newell

Publication Date: April 25, 2017 by Holt Paperbacks

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My Thoughts:

I was thoroughly absorbed for the first portion of the story as the relationship between Oola and Leif unfolded since what’s not to like about an unreliable narrator? The slow, tension-building of the beginning of the story reminded me a lot of all the best details in Bates Motel that manage to make my skin crawl while also not being able to look away.

Unfortunately, there came a point where the story started to feel a bit stagnant to me about midway through the novel. I’d heard enough of Oola’s background and that’s when I became distracted by my dislike for both her and Leif – enough to make me feel like I didn’t care to continue reading. What had initially held my interest never seemed to go below surface level in plot development, but I decided to hold out and see if the storyline would peak my interest again.

I wish I had chosen to just admit defeat instead of seeing this one till the end. While I usually embrace the abstract and bizarre, Oola felt too forced and contrived for me to ever really connect to the story.