BOOK REVIEW | Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

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3.5/5 stars

From the publisher:
Louise is a single mom, a secretary, stuck in a modern-day rut. On a rare night out, she meets a man in a bar and sparks fly. Though he leaves after they kiss, she’s thrilled she finally connected with someone.

When Louise arrives at work on Monday, she meets her new boss, David. The man from the bar. The very married man from the bar…who says the kiss was a terrible mistake but who still can’t keep his eyes off Louise

And then Louise bumps into Adele, who’s new to town and in need of a friend, but she also just happens to be married to David. David and Adele look like the picture-perfect husband and wife, but then why is David so controlling, and why is Adele so scared of him?

As Louise is drawn into David and Adele’s orbit, she uncovers more puzzling questions than answers. The only thing that is crystal clear is that something in this marriage is very, very wrong, but Louise can’t guess how wrong―and how far a person might go to protect their marriage’s secrets.

My thoughts:
Secrets, secrets, secrets. People are filled to the brim with them if you look closely.

This book is completely nutty…and I loved every second. Let me start this off by saying that I would not categorize this as a psychological thriller, I feel like that is a little misleading. It’s certainly nothing like any psychological thriller I’ve read before. It is, however, extremely compelling and a blast to read.

Louise is struggling though her mundane life. Shes’s recently been divorced, and is a single mom who works as a secretary for a psychologists’ office. On an evening out, she meets a handsome man named David and they click instantly. They have an amazing time and share a kiss – it feels too perfect…and of course, it is. When she heads into work for her next shift, David walks in and she discovers that he is both her new boss and married. To make matters more interesting, Louise bumps into a woman after dropping her son off at school and they get to chatting and go out for coffee. An exciting new friendship begins and the woman, Adele, just happens to be David’s wife. Are you still with me? See what I mean? Nutty. Louise and David continue with their affair while Louise and Adele continue with their friendship, and Louise does her best to make sure these two relationships never collide. Who wants to look like the crazy woman who becomes secret friends with her lover’s wife?

As the friendship between Louise and Adele grows, strange things are revealed. David seems to keep Adele on a tight leash, not allowing her a cell phone or credit card. Adele has no other friends, and Louise begins to wonder if David, who is a bit of a heavy drinker, is possibly controlling or abusing Adele. At the same time, during their affairs, he seems tender and kind, and she has trouble piecing the David she knows together with the David who is married to Adele. This story is narrated from multiple perspectives and timelines, each skillfully adding an element to the plot. The reader quickly realizes that everything is not as it seems, questioning everything while fearing the truth.

Pinborough brings us along for the ride until we reach the infamous #wtfthatending. Now, it  wasn’t quite as outrageous as I expected it to be, but I loved it and and found myself laughing in the best way possible as it unfolded. I was able to guess some of the events that would occur, but Pinborough keeps the twists coming until the very final pages, and the very last one?? I did NOT see that coming! Go into this book and immerse yourself it in – it’s a thrill ride and and will be best enjoyed if you just go with it. Suspend reality and let the crazy in!

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BOOK REVIEW | The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

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4/5 stars

From the publisher:
In a tantalizing set-up reminiscent of Patricia Highsmith’s classic Strangers on a Train… On a night flight from London to Boston, Ted Severson meets the stunning and mysterious Lily Kintner. Sharing one too many martinis, the strangers begin to play a game of truth, revealing very intimate details about themselves. Ted talks about his marriage that’s going stale and his wife Miranda, who he’s sure is cheating on him. Ted and his wife were a mismatch from the start—he the rich businessman, she the artistic free spirit—a contrast that once inflamed their passion, but has now become a cliché.

But their game turns a little darker when Ted jokes that he could kill Miranda for what she’s done. Lily, without missing a beat, says calmly, “I’d like to help.” After all, some people are the kind worth killing, like a lying, stinking, cheating spouse. . . .

Back in Boston, Ted and Lily’s twisted bond grows stronger as they begin to plot Miranda’s demise. But there are a few things about Lily’s past that she hasn’t shared with Ted, namely her experience in the art and craft of murder, a journey that began in her very precocious youth.

Suddenly these co-conspirators are embroiled in a chilling game of cat-and-mouse, one they both cannot survive . . . with a shrewd and very determined detective on their tail.

My thoughts:
Talk about a page-turner! Peter Swanson’s The Kind Worth Killing is action packed with just enough psychological unrest to keep the reader guessing at everyone’s motivations.

Truthfully, I don’t think murder is necessarily as bad as people make it out to be. Everyone dies. What difference does it make if a few bad apples get pushed along a little sooner than God intended? And your wife, for example, seems like the kind worth killing.

There are a few storylines to follow, but everything is centered around Ted and Lilly. Ted and Lily meet at the airport bar and begin to chat. They quickly realize that they are both heading to Boston, but assume they will never see each other again after the flight. Since they are strangers, Ted confides in Lily, sharing that his wife is cheating on him and reveling a dark desire. Lilly is surprisingly receptive to his confessions, and plans are made for another meeting. I really can’t say much more than this, because the plot twists in this book are amazing! I will say that the twists are surprisingly plausible – they make sense in this scenario. Swanson doesn’t throw in twists just for the sake of it, and it all ties together perfectly.

Having read two Swanson books, I can see consistent stylistic choices across both. He loves multiple narrators, and reliving the same scene from each of these points of view. In both, Swanson name drops authors and books and I kind of love it. It’s fun to look up some of the books he mentions, and I imagine that some of these are his personal influences as a writer. He’s definitely a fan of classic mysteries, and I love that he pays homage to the genre through his work.

If you’re a fan of thrillers, this is definitely one to check out. I must say I enjoyed this a bit more than Her Every Fear (which I really liked), and Swanson has become a writer to watch!

BOOK REVIEW | The Devil Crept In by Ania Ahlborn

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3.5/5 stars

From the publisher:
Young Jude Brighton has been missing for three days, and while the search for him is in full swing in the small town of Deer Valley, Oregon, the locals are starting to lose hope. They’re well aware that the first forty-eight hours are critical and after that, the odds usually point to a worst-case scenario. And despite Stevie Clark’s youth, he knows that, too; he’s seen the cop shows. He knows what each ticking moment may mean for Jude, his cousin and best friend.

That, and there was that boy, Max Larsen…the one from years ago, found dead after also disappearing under mysterious circumstances. And then there were the animals: pets gone missing out of yards. For years, the residents of Deer Valley have murmured about these unsolved crimes…and that a killer may still be lurking around their quiet town. Now, fear is reborn—and for Stevie, who is determined to find out what really happened to Jude, the awful truth may be too horrifying to imagine.

My thoughts:
Ania Ahlborn takes the dysfunctional family to new heights with her latest book, The Devil Crept In. She explores the lengths that a mother would go to to protect her child, while delivering just the right amount of mystery to keep you flipping the pages.

Stevie is a bit of a weird kid: he has a speech disorder, a couple missing fingertips, and no friends except for his cousin, Jude. With an abusive drunk for a step-father and an older brother who wants little to do with him, Stevie depends on his relationship with Jude for escape. Jude, who developed behavioral problems after his father’s death, is known to be aggressive and is often in trouble. When Jude goes missing, most people chock it up as Jude acting out again. Stevie knows that Jude didn’t just run away and is determined to find him, even venturing out into the woods to search for him on his own. Stevie is a great unreliable narrator; he’s constantly on edge and questioning every shadow he sees while trying to find answers. Suddenly Jude returns – but, it’s not the Jude that Stevie knew: he’s unresponsive and blank, with peeling, itchy skin.

The story is told in three parts, and is a bit slow to get going. I really enjoyed the middle section when we are introduced to Rosie and her struggles. Rosie’s longing and self-consciousness are relatable, and in a strange way I understand the choices she made. You’ll have to read the book to understand what I mean! The action picks up in the final third, and it’s a brutal and gruesome as I hoped it would be. I could have done without the epilogue, as I wasn’t crazy about how it capped off some of the story lines. Ahlborn really shined in her capture of Stevie’s childhood, and I completely believed I was in the mind of a ten year old boy. I also loved the big brother / little brother dynamic between Dunk and Stevie – Ahlborn totally nailed this relationship. It’s hard to read a story like this and not be reminded of the King; I can certainly feel Ahlborn’s influence, and fans of his will likely enjoy this book.

My only complaint with this book is that it just wasn’t scary enough – I didn’t feel a foreboding sense of dread. . Creepy? Definitely. Disturbing? Heck yes! This was a great read, but not one that kept me up at night.

BOOK REVIEW | Canada Reads 2017 #1 – Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis

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4.5/5

From the publisher:
– I wonder, said Hermes, what it would be like if animals had human intelligence.

– I’ll wager a year’s servitude, answered Apollo, that animals – any animal you like – would be even more unhappy than humans are, if they were given human intelligence.

And so it begins: a bet between the gods Hermes and Apollo leads them to grant human consciousness and language to a group of dogs overnighting at a Toronto veterinary clinic. Suddenly capable of more complex thought, the pack is torn between those who resist the new ways of thinking, preferring the old ‘dog’ ways, and those whoembrace the change. The gods watch from above as the dogs venture into their newly unfamiliar world, as they become divided among themselves, as each struggles with new thoughts and feelings. Wily Benjy moves from home to home, Prince becomes a poet, and Majnoun forges a relationship with a kind couple that stops even the Fates in their tracks.

My thoughts:
Fifteen Dogs blew me away. This was probably the Canada Reads selection that I was least looking forward to, and it may very well end up as my front runner.

Gods Hermes and Apollo are hanging out at the local tavern, waxing philosophical over drinks. The discussion turns to human happiness, and a bet is made: Apollo wagers a year’s servitude that any animal, if bestowed with human intelligence and consciousness, would be even more unhappy than humans. Hermes takes him up on the bet, with the caveat that if any one animal is happy at its death, he wins. After leaving the tavern they end up near a veterinary clinic and in the back are fifteen dogs. With that, they decide to test their theory on dogs, and they grant the animals with human language and intelligence. From here, the story unfolds. We follow the fifteen dogs as they begin to understand their new intelligence, through their lives and struggles, and ultimately to their deaths. The story is insightful, bleak, brutal, and heartbreaking – I absolutely loved it.

The dogs ask poignant questions and contemplate timeless philosophies – to understand love, the fight for personal sovereignty, the need for a sense of family or community, dominance vs. submission, and of course the struggle to find meaning and joy in life. Alexis skillfully weaves in and out of their stories, and brings it all home with a touching denouement. In the note on the text, Alexis reveals something pretty amazing about the short poems in the book – I promise you’ll be turning back to read them all over again.

Alexis packed so much into this short book: there’s action, quiet contemplation, humor, joy, and sadness. Every page has meaning and has been carefully crafted; this is not a book to be skimmed through. While this is a book about fifteen dogs, you do not need to be a dog lover to enjoy this, though there are some great moments for those of of who are! This book is profoundly human, and one that I can see myself returning to again and again.

BOOK REVIEW | Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

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5/5 stars

From the publisher:
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is the long-awaited new novel– a book that sold more than a million copies the first week it went on sale in Japan–from the award-winning, internationally best-selling author Haruki Murakami.

Here he gives us the remarkable story of Tsukuru Tazaki, a young man haunted by a great loss; of dreams and nightmares that have unintended consequences for the world around us; and of a journey into the past that is necessary to mend the present. It is a story of love, friendship, and heartbreak for the ages.

My thoughts:
I have no sense of self. I have no personality, no brilliant color. That’s always been my problem. I feel like an empty vessel. I have a shape, I guess, as a container, but there’s nothing inside. 

Haruki Murakami broke my heart with his gorgeous story of Tsukuru Tazaki and his search for what it all means. In his high school days, Tsukuru was a part of a special friendship; a group of five that were truly inseparable. Four of his friends share a unique bond – their last names all represent a color: Aka is red, Ao is blue, Shiro is white, and Kuro is black. Tsukuru, however, feels colorless as his name simply translates as “the builder”.

In his college years, without warning, his four friends reveal that they will no longer speak to him leaving Tsukuru ostracized and alone. Tsukuru has no idea why this occurred, but is convinced that his flaws are what led to this  abandonment. Though painfully suicidal, Tsukuru manages to graduate from college and build a successful career. Tsukuru eventually meets a woman named Sara, and with her encouragement realizes he must face his past and release his pain so that he can move into his future. On the cusp of a great romance, Tsukuru journeys to reconnect with his old friends and put to rest this difficult part of his life. His reunions open old wounds, but also pave the way for new discoveries.

I went into this book knowing little about the plot, and it turned out I was in the perfect mindset for something like this. Murakami examines many complexities of modern life with writing that is clean and straight forward; his insights aren’t muddied by overly colorful prose. The language is clear and direct, and it’s not nessecary to dig into the text for meaning: it’s all laid bare. Many Murakami fans suggest reading this work later, not as your introduction to his writing. I absolutely adored this book, though, and am now excited to dive into the magical realism that he is known for.

BOOK REVIEW | All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

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3.5/5 stars

*I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

From the publisher:
You know the future that people in the 1950s imagined we’d have? Well, it happened. In Tom Barren’s 2016, humanity thrives in a techno-utopian paradise of flying cars, moving sidewalks, and moon bases, where avocados never go bad and punk rock never existed . . . because it wasn’t necessary.

Except Tom just can’t seem to find his place in this dazzling, idealistic world, and that’s before his life gets turned upside down. Utterly blindsided by an accident of fate, Tom makes a rash decision that drastically changes not only his own life but the very fabric of the universe itself. In a time-travel mishap, Tom finds himself stranded in our 2016, what we think of as the real world. For Tom, our normal reality seems like a dystopian wasteland.

But when he discovers wonderfully unexpected versions of his family, his career, and—maybe, just maybe—his soul mate, Tom has a decision to make. Does he fix the flow of history, bringing his utopian universe back into existence, or does he try to forge a new life in our messy, unpredictable reality? Tom’s search for the answer takes him across countries, continents, and timelines in a quest to figure out, finally, who he really is and what his future—our future—is supposed to be.

My thoughts:
Is it possible to think outside of the box of your ideology? Or is ideology the box and you just have to work at opening it?

In Tom Barren’s 2016, all of the technological advances predicted in the 1950’s have come to light. In 1965, a scientist named Lionel Goettreider discoverd a new form of energy, unleashing the power of automation and nano-targeting into the world. Need a haircut, a meal, or a new outfit? The touch of a button gets the job done, and the results are perfectly tailored to your needs. If you’re heading to work, take your flying car. Life is easy with technology at the forefront, but Tom isn’t happy. Tom’s father, a leader in the field of time travel, is openly disappointed in his son but reluctantly brings him aboard his company. Tom was not meant to be the first to test his father’s time machine, but through a mishap, that’s exactly what he becomes. Tom ends up in another 2016 – our 2016 – where a haircut requires a skilled, scissor yielding, professional.

While this book is categorized as sci-fi, I found it surprisingly rooted in humanity. Tom’s struggles are relatable, and I found myself highlighting many poignant passages. Mastai creatively addresses fate and destiny, the power that a single decision can have on the course of one’s life, and finding contentment and human connection in a world overrun with technology. Though I didn’t fully connect with Tom I still wanted the best for him – I wanted him to find his way home, and for him to have peace with wherever that was.

I often struggle with books primarily narrated in the first person, but found that the story was engaging enough that I didn’t notice it here, a testament to Mastai’s writing. He does use the word “like” conversationally quite a bit, and I could have done without that. I understand the intent, people do talk like this, but I found it distracting. Mastai’s insights are meaningful and this story was really fun to read!

BOOK REVIEW | Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

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4.5/5 stars

From the publisher:
At the edge of the continent, Crosby, Maine, may seem like nowhere, but seen through this brilliant writer’s eyes, it’s in essence the whole world, and the lives that are lived there are filled with all of the grand human drama–desire, despair, jealousy, hope, and love.

At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town and in the world at large, but she doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance: a former student who has lost the will to live: Olive’s own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse.

As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life–sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition–its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires.

My thoughts:
These short stories are subtle and tender in their approach – I can only describe them as endearingly human. The stories themselves are varied in nature, though they are all bound by the thread that is Olive Kitteridge. Olive is big, bold, and opinionated; she speaks her mind freely, often to the chagrin of those who know her. Her husband, Henry, loves her with purity and sweetness that seeps from the pages. Olive is not the heroine I was expecting when going into this book, but, wow, she sure had a lot to teach me. I have chills, the good kind, from the final page.