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Red Clocks

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In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers alongside age-old questions surrounding motherhood, identity, and freedom.

Ro, a single high-school teacher, is trying to have a baby on her own, while also writing a biography of Eivør, a little-known 19th-century female polar explorer. Susan is a frustrated mother of two, trapped in a crumbling marriage. Mattie is the adopted daughter of doting parents and one of Ro’s best students, who finds herself pregnant with nowhere to turn. And Gin is the gifted, forest-dwelling homeopath, or “mender,” who brings all their fates together when she’s arrested and put on trial in a frenzied modern-day witch hunt.

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

Publication Date: January 16, 2018 by Little, Brown and Company

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My Thoughts:

I’ve seen a lot of reviews that compare Zumas’ novel to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and while both are feminist dystopian novels that deal heavily with reproductive rights/issues, I think it’s important to recognize Red Clocks as its own unique story to avoid certain expectations going into the storyline.

It took me some time to adjust to the formatting of the novel – chapters rotate among four major characters (The Mender, The Daughter, The Wife, and The Biographer) with each chapter broken up by a section of the biographer’s current work on a novel about a female polar explorer. At first, I was worried that I wouldn’t feel connected to the characters just based on the writing style and lack of names, but the reader slowly learns the identities of all four characters as the story progresses. I also finally realized after a few chapters the brilliance of titling each woman by a category rather than a name, as it provided further commentary on how women are often identified by their traditional roles instead of their individual identities. I’m not sure if that was what Zumas meant by this stylistic choice, but I found it to be a clever way to highlight the struggles women go through with societal pressures to fit certain molds (i.e. wife, mother, etc.).

‘I want you to learn a lesson from this. Don’t repeat your mistakes. Like I tell my daughters: be the cow they have to buy.’

‘Sorry?’

‘Don’t be the free milk.’

What made Red Clocks so terrifying is how closely it resembled our political climate. It doesn’t seem far-fetched to imagine a country where Roe vs. Wade has been overturned and a fetus is considered a human being. The interactions between men and women often reminded me of things I’ve heard or even had said to me and the frustration, anger, and sadness all four women experience for various reasons rang true for me – either because I have felt it myself, or because there’s a woman in my life who has gone through it themselves.

Accused witches in the seventeenth century were dunked in rivers or ponds. The innocent drowned. The guilty floated, surviving to be tortured or killed some other way.

This isn’t 1693! the biographer wants to yell.

She shakes her head.

Don’t just shake your head.

While she hid out in Newville, they closed the clinics and defined Planned Parenthood and amended the Constitution. She wanted on her computer screen.

Don’t just sit there watching.

Red Clocks is such a frightening and poignant read because it hits so close to home. There is something in this novel that any woman could relate to and it’s a reminder of how easily one’s rights may be taken away when you become too complacent or comfortable – to think it could never happen here when it so easily can at any moment. While it would be easy to assume this is a depressing novel, I actually felt empowered once I was finished. This is a book that every woman (particularly in America) should read as it’s a reminder of what we are capable of even in the darkest of times if we refuse to settle for what men tell us to accept for ourselves.

I Love You Too Much

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Thirteen-year-old Paul is a lovable but unloved boy on the vulnerable cusp of manhood. Paul lives in Paris, in a world of privilege where beauty dominates, adults are intent on their own satisfaction, and everything looks perfect. There’s nowhere to get dirty, or so it appears.

His mother is glamorous and powerful, distracted by a younger lover and her own fear of aging. His wealthy father is desperately seeking to assuage his endless discontent. Paul lives between the two apartments of his broken family, looked after by a Filipino babysitter who hasn’t seen her own children in years. When Paul meets Scarlett, a beguiling classmate, he uncovers the cruel gulf between the world as it is and how he imagined it to be. It’s only a matter of time before Paul witnesses a shocking event and inherits a burden he’s far too young to shoulder.

A dazzling coming-of-age story, I Love You Too Much is a devastating literary debut born from the saying, Je t’aime trop: a distinctly French expression of excessive love. In a world of abundance, a Paris where parents don’t always mean what they say, Paul must look beyond his glamorous home to find a love that’s real.

I Love You Too Much by Alicia Drake

Publication Date: January 23, 2018 by Little, Brown and Company

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My Thoughts:

I went into this book without any real expectations – I was unfamiliar with the author and had not previously heard of the book prior to Little Brown graciously offering to send me a free ARC. This was my first official read of 2018 and was an easy five star rating!

Paul is such a sweet, naive, lovable character and it was often painful and felt voyeuristic to witness many of the interactions he has with family members and classmates. While I didn’t find his parents likable, Paul’s point of view shows two adults that are just so unhappy with their own lives that they don’t have the time to even think about their son’s happiness. Paul is at the pre-adolescent age where he has yet to recognize his parents as individual’s with flaws and rather views much of their behavior as his own fault – something that makes his story so much sadder.

Drake’s writing is really what made me fall in love with this book – she paints a picture of a Paris I’ve only visited once and yet I felt like I was there with Paul throughout the book.  While I loved the complicated characters and was most affected by Paul’s experiences, there is something about the setting that really adds to the overall atmosphere of the novel.

This is definitely a book I would recommend to someone who loves coming-of-age stories and is okay with books that don’t necessarily have happy or neatly resolved endings. I am forever grateful that Little Brown offered to send me my copy! Alicia Drake is definitely an author who will stay on my radar for future releases.

The Visitors

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Marion Zetland lives with her domineering older brother, John in a decaying Georgian townhouse on the edge of a northern seaside resort. A timid spinster in her fifties who still sleeps with teddy bears, Marion does her best to shut out the shocking secret that John keeps in the cellar.

Until, suddenly, John has a heart attack and Marion is forced to go down to the cellar herself and face the gruesome truth that her brother has kept hidden.

As questions are asked and secrets unravel, maybe John isn’t the only one with a dark side.

The Visitors by Catherine Burns

Publication Date: September 26, 2017 by Gallery/Scout Press

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My Thoughts:

Oh my god, what is there to say about this book other than I absolutely loved it?!

The Visitors is a psychological thriller with an unreliable narrator who is (semi) equal parts sympathetic and not. This is less of a traditional “horror” story and more of a character study which just happens to be more up my alley.

The entire novel is told from the point of view of Marion, a 50-something woman who has never lived anywhere other than her family home. At the time the reader is introduced to her, both of her parents have passed away and she is living with her older brother. Marion has never had a romantic relationship and only failed attempts at friendship throughout her life. It’s difficult to determine if she’s intellectually disabled or just so damaged from her disturbing childhood that she’s come to embody the type of person her mother always told her she was.

Early on, it becomes clear to the reader that Marion is aware of what her brother John is doing in the cellar and her complacency makes it difficult to feel entirely sympathetic for her. Yet, there were still times where my heart broke for the younger Marion and it’s easy at times to understand why Marion never stands up to her brother. In the glimpses we get of her upbringing, John is painted as a sociopath early on without ever being directly implicated in some of the awful things that occur.

The chapters switch back and forth between the present and Marion’s memories of her childhood which slowly begins to put together the pieces for the reader to understand who Marion and John are as adults. Traumatic experiences are told only from Marion’s point of view so it often is left to the reader to make inferences – something that becomes questionable by the end of the novel and left me having doubts about my earlier assumptions about Marion’s character.

For all his faults, John loved her and she loved him. Without him there would be no one. He was there on birthdays and at Christmas. He might only buy her something cheap or forget to buy her a present at all, but at least he was there. Someone to get angry with for not doing the right thing was better than no one at all.

Despite how horrific her brother is, Marion is so frightened of being alone that she often justifies his behavior. It was easy to identify Marion as a victim for much of the book, but yet it was still uncomfortable to know she could have done something to stop him. As the novel progresses, Marion’s innocence becomes questionable as well and a lot of questions are left unanswered by the end of the book – a style that isn’t for all readers, but I happen to love!

The Visitors is a slow-burning story that leaves a lot up to the reader to determine since everything is told solely from Marion’s point of view. I would recommend this book to readers who prefer psychological thrillers that make you think rather than those that are more plot-driven.

The Massacre of Mankind

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It has been 14 years since the Martians invaded England. The world has moved on, always watching the skies but content that we know how to defeat the Martian menace. Machinery looted from the abandoned capsules and war-machines has led to technological leaps forward. The Martians are vulnerable to earth germs. The Army is prepared.

So when the signs of launches on Mars are seen, there seems little reason to worry. Unless you listen to one man, Walter Jenkins, the narrator of Wells’ book. He is sure that the Martians have learned, adapted, understood their defeat.

He is right.

Thrust into the chaos of a new invasion, a journalist – sister-in-law to Walter Jenkins – must survive, escape and report on the war.

The Massacre of Mankind has begun.

The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter

Publication Date: August 22, 2017 by Crown Publishing

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My Thoughts:

The Massacre of Mankind is not a “bad” novel – I just wasn’t the right audience for it. It’s intended for those who want an authentic continuation of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds in both writing style and plot. The story picks up where Wells’ left off and while I appreciated the female narrative, this read more like a war novel than sci-fi fiction and I started to feel as if I was drowning in the heavily detailed prose.

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

First Love

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From “one of Britain’s most original young writers” (The Observer), a blistering account of a marriage in crisis and a portrait of a woman caught between withdrawal and self-assertion, depression and rage.

Neve, the novel’s acutely intelligent narrator, is beset by financial anxiety and isolation, but can’t quite manage to extricate herself from her volatile partner, Edwyn. Told with emotional remove and bracing clarity, First Love is an account of the relationship between two catastrophically ill-suited people walking a precarious line between relative calm and explosive confrontation.

First Love by Gwendoline Riley

Publication Date: 2017 by Granta Books

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My Thoughts:

First Love is a vicious, cerebral little book and apparently exactly what I needed to kick-start my recent reading slump. Reading Riley’s novel feels a bit voyeuristic at times and her use of dialogue really does a fantastic job of playing out the tension as the reader witnesses the day-to-day of Neve and Edwyn’s dysfunctional relationship.

Finding out what you already know. Repeatingly. That’s not sane, is it? And while he might have said that ‘this was how he was’, for me it continued to be frightening, panic-making, to hear the low, pleading sounds I’d start making, whenever he was sharp with me. This wasn’t how I spoke. (Except it was.) This wasn’t me, this crawling, cautious creature. (Except it was.) I defaulted to it very easily. And he let me. Why? I wonder now how much he even noticed, hopped up as he was. No, I don’t believe he did notice. This was the lesson, I think. That none of this was personal.

Despite the entire novel being told from Neve’s point of view, she doesn’t paint a picture of herself being a victim and this makes the novel feel even more threatening since it’s unclear how much she plays a role in their unhealthy dynamic or if she is just unclear herself how much she is to “blame” for Edwyn’s horrible treatment of her. It was gut-wrenching to read through these dialogues and see how easy it can be to become stuck in the continual cycle of an abusive relationship. She may love Edwyn but the reader is never certain of Neve’s recognition that her love for him doesn’t make his treatment of her acceptable or normal.

This is a stunner of a book and I can’t wait to get my hands on the rest of Gwendoline Riley’s work!

Chronicle of a Last Summer

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Cairo, 1984. A blisteringly hot summer. A young girl in a sprawling family house. Her days pass quietly: listening to a mother’s phone conversations, looking at the Nile from a bedroom window, watching the three state-sanctioned TV stations with the volume off, daydreaming about other lives. Underlying this claustrophobic routine is mystery and loss. Relatives mutter darkly about the newly-appointed President Mubarak. Everyone talks with melancholy about the past. People disappear overnight. Her own father has left, too—why, or to where, no one will say.

We meet her across three decades, from youth to adulthood: As a six-year old absorbing the world around her, filled with questions she can’t ask; as a college student and aspiring filmmaker pre-occupied with love, language, and the repression that surrounds her; and then later, in the turbulent aftermath of Mubarak’s overthrow, as a writer exploring her own past. Reunited with her father, she wonders about the silences that have marked and shaped her life.

At once a mapping of a city in transformation and a story about the shifting realities and fates of a single Egyptian family, Yasmine El Rashidi’s Chronicle of a Last Summer traces the fine line between survival and complicity, exploring the conscience of a generation raised in silence.

Chronicle of a Last Summer by Yasmine El Rashidi

Publication Date: June 13, 2017 by Tim Duggan Books

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

For such a small book, Chronicle of a Last Summer is a slow, difficult read. I felt like this pace was mostly due to El Rashidi’s prose because although the content itself is heavy, the author’s writing style forces the reader to slow down. As someone who reads very quickly, this is not a book I could see reading during a commute or while in public since it demands your full attention.

That is not to say that El Rashidi’s novel is difficult to grasp, unless the reader does not have much knowledge on Egypt’s political history. I was grateful for my own culture/history coursework and personal interest in international affairs since it helped to clarify some of the topics that the author discusses in an intimate way that doesn’t lend to much clarification.

The book is broken into three different sections: 1984, 1998, and 2014. I struggled the most with the first section (1984) since the narrative flow felt very fragmented as it was told from the POV of the narrator at a very young age. I’ve never done well with novels told from a young perspective and Chronicle of a Last Summer was no exception. I was glad I powered through though since I felt most connected to the narrator during the section on 1998. I also found this portion to be the most powerful since it is during a time where our young narrator is beginning to find a voice and a purpose during such a turbulent time in her city.

While I enjoyed the book as a whole, I still didn’t feel entirely connected to the story. I think ultimately that El Rashidi’s prose, while beautiful, was not a good fit for me. I prefer coming-of-age stories to feel a bit more personal and I found something lacking in my connection with the narrator.

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

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

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In this brilliant, heartbreaking book, Matthew Desmond takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge. Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons on the $20 a month she has left after paying for their rundown apartment. Scott is a gentle nurse consumed by a heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs and a neighborhood full of boys to look after, tries to work his way out of debt. Vanetta participates in a botched stickup after her hours are cut. All are spending almost everything they have on rent, and all have fallen behind.

The fates of these families are in the hands of two landlords: Sherrena Tarver, a former schoolteacher turned inner-city entrepreneur, and Tobin Charney, who runs one of the worst trailer parks in Milwaukee. They loathe some of their tenants and are fond of others, but as Sherrena puts it, “Love don’t pay the bills.” She moves to evict Arleen and her boys a few days before Christmas.

Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America’s vast inequality—and to people’s determination and intelligence in the face of hardship.

Based on years of embedded fieldwork and painstakingly gathered data, this masterful book transforms our understanding of extreme poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving a devastating, uniquely American problem. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

Publication Date: February 28, 2017 by Broadway Books

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

I will admit that I was hesitant to pick up this book after seeing that the author was a white, male who teaches at Harvard. I clearly have my own biases to work through, but I was worried that a book about poverty and the role race and gender play in the housing system was not something I wanted to read through the viewpoint of someone like Desmond. I am happy to say I was wrong about my own assumptions as Desmond proved to not only be an amazing writer, but his work as a sociologist is stunning in bringing to light a topic that hasn’t been given enough coverage in this country.

Evicted is a difficult read. Desmond brings to light all the horrific details of what it’s really like to struggle to maintain housing in an American city where eviction is unbelievably commonplace for those living in extreme poverty and helps to explain why so many people find it too difficult to ever “move up” economically-speaking. While some of the statistics or factual arguments Desmond makes are not necessarily new to many readers (myself included), the sociologist approach of sharing the information through the personal narratives of real people makes these issues much more “real” and easier to understand.

People like Larraine lived with so many compounded limitations that it was difficult to imagine the amount of good behavior or self-control that would allow them to lift themselves out of poverty. The distance between grinding poverty and even stable poverty could be so vast that those at the bottom had little hope of climbing out even if they pinched every penny. So they chose not to. Instead, they tried to survive in color, to season the suffering with pleasure. They would get a little high or have a drink or do a bit of gambling or acquire a television. They might buy lobster on food stamps.

Desmond sheds light on what it means to live in poverty and easily squashes some of the typical, irrational arguments I’ve often heard from people who see living in poverty as a “choice”. He also shows the similarities and differences that can arise depending on a person’s race and gender – all within the same city. I can’t imagine a person reading this book and not being affected because while it it clear that Desmond wanted to maintain a personal distance when sharing people’s experiences, I found myself most impacted by the people he wrote about as it made the factual information that much more upsetting.

While Evicted may be a challenging book to read, it is also an extremely important one as it humanizes an issue in our country that people either often overlook or don’t have an opinion on as it doesn’t directly affect them. In his epilogue, Desmond also shares ways that we as Americans could vastly improve the housing crisis in our country if we only chose to focus more on helping the poor rather than the rich.

Most federal housing subsidies benefit families with six-figure incomes. If we are going to spend the bulk of our public dollars on the affluent – at least when it comes to housing – we should own up to that decision and stop repeating the politicians’ canard about one of the richest countries on the planet being unable to afford doing more. If poverty persists in America, it is not for lack of resources.

Although it might be easy to walk away from this book with a sense of despair, Desmond makes it very clear in his epilogue that the poverty and housing issues in this country are not impossible to overcome – if we only could work towards making it a priority in our government. This is a book every American should read.

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

 

Eat Only When You’re Hungry

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In Lindsay Hunter’s achingly funny, fiercely honest second novel, Eat Only When You’re Hungry, we meet Greg—an overweight fifty-eight-year-old and the father of Greg Junior, GJ, who has been missing for three weeks. GJ’s been an addict his whole adult life, disappearing for days at a time, but for some reason this absence feels different, and Greg has convinced himself that he’s the only one who can find his son. So he rents an RV and drives from his home in West Virginia to the outskirts of Orlando, Florida, the last place GJ was seen. As we travel down the streets of the bizarroland that is Florida, the urgency to find GJ slowly recedes into the background, and the truths about Greg’s mistakes—as a father, a husband, a man—are uncovered.

In Eat Only When You’re Hungry, Hunter elicits complex sympathy for her characters, asking the reader to take a closer look at the way we think about addiction—why we demonize the junkie but turn a blind eye to drinking a little too much or eating too much—and the fallout of failing ourselves.

Eat Only When You’re Hungry by Lindsay Hunter

Publication Date: August 8, 2017 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Goodreads

Beer Pairing: Two Roads Honeyspot


My Thoughts:

So that’s what radishes tasted like. Now he knew. They rotted at the bottom of the crisper drawer, they and the lettuce heads and the carrots in their peels. Deb pulled them out a month later, floating in their bags in what looked like lake water, scrubbed the crisper in the sink so it was clean and empty and ready for more bacon.

He guessed that’s what sobriety felt like to GJ: a lurid, hopeful salad that he could not even pretend to choke down.

For such a small book, Eat Only When You’re Hungry packs a serious emotional punch. Hunter’s characters are all broken in their own way and yet there lingered a sense of hope throughout the novel as I found myself desperately hoping that they would each find what they needed to grab a hold of their lives and their broken relationships with one another.

There’s something a bit voyeuristic about reading along with Greg’s narrative and that definitely helped the reader to both understand and empathize with Greg, despite many of his flaws, in particular as a father to GJ. Eat Only When You’re Hungry felt honest because of this brutality and is ultimately what I loved most about Hunter’s writing style.

The Child

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As an old house is demolished in a gentrifying section of London, a workman discovers a tiny skeleton, buried for years. For journalist Kate Waters, it s a story that deserves attention. She cobbles together a piece for her newspaper, but at a loss for answers, she can only pose a question: Who is the Building Site Baby?

As Kate investigates, she unearths connections to a crime that rocked the city decades earlier: A newborn baby was stolen from the maternity ward in a local hospital and was never found. Her heartbroken parents were left devastated by the loss.

But there is more to the story, and Kate is drawn house by house into the pasts of the people who once lived in this neighborhood that has given up its greatest mystery. And she soon finds herself the keeper of unexpected secrets that erupt in the lives of three women and torn between what she can and cannot tell.

The Child by Fiona Barton

Publication Date: June 27, 2017 by Berkley Books

Goodreads

Beer Pairing: Harpoon Citra Sea IPA


My Thoughts:

I’m a bit conflicted about my feelings regarding this book. Perhaps this is partly because of my expectations going into it (I absolutely LOVED Barton’s debut novel, The Widow). Much like The Widow, I enjoyed Barton’s writing style and her complicated, female characters. I think what was different about The Child is that while the chapters transitioned quickly between different points of view, the book as a whole moved at a much slower pace.

While I appreciate Barton’s storytelling and ability to slowly reveal all the hidden layers beneath what “seems” to be a simple crime investigation, I enjoy her characterization the most. All of the women in The Child are complicated individuals and Barton is skillful in both character development and deception – even when I thought I understood a character’s motives, Barton manages to instill enough doubt to make the reader question what is really true.

Dangerous to think you know too much, sometimes, because who really knows someone else? You can scratch the skin, but you never get to the meat of someone else. Into their bones.

While not as fast-paced as her first novel, The Child is a smart, suspenseful crime thriller and I’m excited to see what Fiona Barton writes next!

Lucky You

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Three women, early twenties, find themselves aimlessly adrift in Erika Carter’s fierce and darkly funny debut novel, Lucky You. Ellie, Chloe and Rachel are friends (sort of); waitresses at the same tired bar in the Arkansas college town they’ve stuck around in too long. Each is becoming unmoored in her own way: Ellie obliterates all feeling with alcohol and self-destructive acts of sexual promiscuity; Chloe pulls out patches of her hair and struggles to keep incipient mental illness at bay; changeable Rachel has fallen under the sway of a messianic boyfriend with whom she’s agreed to live off-grid for a year in order to return to “health” and asks Ellie and Chloe to join them in “The Project”. In a remote, rural house in the Ozarks, nearly undone by boredom and the brewing tension between them, each tries to solve the conundrum of being alive.

Lucky You by Erika Carter

Publication Date: March 14, 2017 by Counterpoint Press

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

Sometimes a book doesn’t need a plot with a clear trajectory, likable characters, or a neat ending. In fact, I tend to prefer the opposite of all of those things as long as the writing style suits me. Luckily for me (HA, pun intended) Carter’s debut novel fits the bill.

Carter’s three main characters (Ellie, Chloe, and Rachel) are not necessarily likable, but they’re far from despicable. All three are damaged in their own way and despite attempts to escape their bad habits, it’s clear that they can’t outrun themselves. While the book splits its time between all three women, Ellie is focused on a little more heavily which is what made it easier to relate to her struggle the most. While not suffering from any of the same surface-level issues that these three have, I could easily relate to their feelings of restlessness and that constant itch for contentment that always seems slightly out of reach.

Once Chloe had told her that every seven years the body is made of entirely new material. It made Rachel look into her hands, the network of pink lines in her palms, the blue veins in her wrists, and wonder Who am I really?

I particularly loved the middle section of the book and Carter’s descriptions of their time spent at the house in the Ozark mountains. As their year together progresses, the hidden feelings of tension bubble to the surface when it’s clear that it will take more than just a change of scenery for Chloe, Ellie, and Rachel to deal with their problems. These specific chapters really did a lot to strengthen the internal narratives and characterization of the three women.

While the ending is in many ways open-ended, it is far from despondent and while it’s obvious that all three women are still far from making drastic changes to their lives, there’s a sense of hope in Ellie’s narrative that they still have plenty of time to figure their shit out and that they aren’t doomed to repeating an endless cycle of mistakes.