BOOK REVIEW | Distress Signals by Catherine Ryan Howard

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4/5 stars

Release Date: February 2, 2017

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

From the publisher:
A debut thriller that channels Gone Girl, from the newest writer to watch, Catherine Ryan Howard

The day Adam Dunne’s girlfriend, Sarah, fails to return from a Barcelona business trip, his perfect life begins to fall apart. Days later, the arrival of her passport and a note that reads “I’m sorry–S” sets off real alarm bells. He vows to do whatever it takes to find her.

Adam is puzzled when he connects Sarah to a cruise ship called the Celebrate–and to a woman, Estelle, who disappeared from the same ship in eerily similar circumstances almost exactly a year before.

To get answers, Adam must confront some difficult truths about his relationship with Sarah. He must do things of which he never thought himself capable. And he must try to outwit a predator who seems to have found the perfect hunting ground …

My thoughts:
I have been reading a lot of quiet, psychological thrillers lately, and I must say that this is quite the opposite – it’s fast-paced and action packed, with plenty of characters and story lines to keep the reader guessing.

It all starts when Adam’s long time girlfriend, Sarah, fails to return from her business trip to Barcelona. Unable to connect with her by phone or email, Adam and Sarah’s parents start to panic. They report her missing to the Gardi (Irish police), and struggle to get help from them. Sarah is, after all, a grown woman who likely decided she needed some space – this is not a crime. When Adam receives an anonymous package containing Sarah’s passport and a note simply stating “I’m Sorry – S”, he knows he needs to take matters into his own hands. After a bit of digging he discovers that Sarah’s story wasn’t all she made it out to be; she was last seen on a cruise ship called “Celebrate” and this is where he heads next.

In alternate story lines, we learn about Romain, a troubled French boy, and Corrine, an older woman who is working on a cruise ship for an unknown and mysterious reason. I really enjoyed these stories and how they eventually twisted together. My only complaint is that I sort of wish Howard saved these stories for another book! With a bit of fleshing out, this alone could have made an amazing second novel. It all works well in this book, but I really wanted to learn more about Romain and his family, his story really got under my skin!

For the first part of this book, I thought this was going to be “Gone Girl on a boat”, as many elements are similar. A woman goes missing, and her partner and parents must work together to piece it all together. The men in these books even share the same last name, Dunne! Howard, however, takes the story in an unexpected direction, and we end up in a place we never saw coming. Calling this another Gone Girl is inaccurate, as Distress Signals deserves to stand on it’s own. It’s intricately plotted and was a blast to read, and I look forward to more from Catherine Ryan Howard.

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BOOK REVIEW | Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

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4/5 stars

Release Date: September 5, 2017

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

From the publisher:
A searing and profound Southern odyssey by National Book Award–winner Jesmyn Ward.

In Jesmyn Ward’s first novel since her National Book Award–winning Salvage the Bones, this singular American writer brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first-century America. Drawing on Morrison and Faulkner, The Odyssey and the Old Testament, Ward gives us an epochal story, a journey through Mississippi’s past and present that is both an intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle. Ward is a major American writer, multiply awarded and universally lauded, and in Sing, Unburied, Sing she is at the height of her powers.

Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie’s children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise.

Sing, Unburied, Sing grapples with the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power, and limitations, of the bonds of family. Rich with Ward’s distinctive, musical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a majestic new work and an essential contribution to American literature.

My thoughts:
Sing, Unburied, Sing presents a way of life that will be unfamiliar to many of its readers. A life in which addiction rules and heartbreak abounds. Jesmyn Ward presents themes and ideas, however, that are as relevant today as they ever have been; racism, injustices in the prison system, police treatment of minorities, and how the past shapes the present. This is the story of a family living in poverty along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi.

Through multiple perspectives, Ward tells us the story of Jojo and his toddler sister Kayla who are being raised by their grandparents, Mam and Pop. Jojo’s mother, Leoni, is often absent and frequently high. When Leoni gets a call that Michael, Jojo and Kayla’s father, is going to be released from prison, she packs the kids up and head’s out onto the road to pick him up on his release day. Jojo, who has just turned 13, is less than excited to be reacquainted with the stranger that is his father.

Leoni is haunted by visions of her deceased brother, and Jojo is haunted by a young boy Pop knew in his youth during his time in prison. Ward carries these figures elegantly throughout the story, and they become central to Leoni and Jojo’s fates. Ward doesn’t hold back in her depiction of prison as slavery, and this storyline comes to a truly heart wrenching and tragic end. This book is wrought with pain and sadness, and I know I will be thinking about Jojo for a while.

This was my first time reading Jesmyn Ward, and I certainly understand her success. She has keen insights and a strong voice, and I am looking forward to reading her backlist.

BOOK REVIEW | Faithful by Alice Hoffman

Faithful by Alice Hoffman

4/5 stars

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

From the publisher:
Growing up on Long Island, Shelby Richmond is an ordinary girl until one night an extraordinary tragedy changes her fate. Her best friend’s future is destroyed in an accident, while Shelby walks away with the burden of guilt.

What happens when a life is turned inside out? When love is something so distant it may as well be a star in the sky? Faithful is the story of a survivor, filled with emotion—from dark suffering to true happiness—a moving portrait of a young woman finding her way in the modern world. A fan of Chinese food, dogs, bookstores, and men she should stay away from, Shelby has to fight her way back to her own future. In New York City she finds a circle of lost and found souls—including an angel who’s been watching over her ever since that fateful icy night.

Here is a character you will fall in love with, so believable and real and endearing, that she captures both the ache of loneliness and the joy of finding yourself at last. For anyone who’s ever been a hurt teenager, for every mother of a daughter who has lost her way, Faithful is a roadmap.

My thoughts:
This book had me in tears more than once, it’s a truly beautiful piece of work. Shelby is flawed, tragic, hopeful, and I absolutely loved her. Her affinity for animals and what she does for them is the perfect insight into who she could have been before the tragedy, and who I hope she will become.

This was my first Alice Hoffman, and definitely won’t be my last. Thank you again to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley!

Publication date: November 1, 2016
Pre-order on Amazon

BOOK REVIEW | Aftermath by George Weinstein

Aftermath by George Weinstein

2/5 stars

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

From the publisher:
Janet Wright left tiny Graylee, Georgia at five, when her mother fled a destructive marriage. Now forty and reinventing herself after a failed engagement, Janet returns as the sole inheritor of her recently murdered father’s valuable estate. Life should be easy, but she can’t resist pulling at the threads of the apparently open-and-shut case. Before long, she finds herself tangled in Graylee’s web of secrets, lies, and scandals — and in fear of her own life.

My thoughts:
Aftermath started off really well and I was drawn right into the story. Pretty quickly, however, I started to notice the bizarre sarcastic dialogue between Janet and Tim. It was sort of cute at first, but this level of sarcasm cannot be sustained throughout an entire book without totally grating on the nerves. The dialogue just felt so unnatural with every single character. The mystery was interesting enough to keep me reading, but I nearly quit this one a few times because I couldn’t stand the dialogue. A big thanks to NetGalley and the Deeds Publishing for the copy!

Publication date: August 9, 2016

Book Review | The Summer that Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel

The Summer that Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel

5/5 stars

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

From the publisher:
Fielding Bliss has never forgotten the summer of 1984: the year a heat wave scorched Breathed, Ohio. The year he became friends with the devil.

Sal seems to appear out of nowhere – a bruised and tattered thirteen-year-old boy claiming to be the devil himself answering an invitation. Fielding Bliss, the son of a local prosecutor, brings him home where he’s welcomed into the Bliss family, assuming he’s a runaway from a nearby farm town.

When word spreads that the devil has come to Breathed, not everyone is happy to welcome this self-proclaimed fallen angel. Murmurs follow him and tensions rise, along with the temperatures as an unbearable heat wave rolls into town right along with him. As strange accidents start to occur, riled by the feverish heat, some in the town start to believe that Sal is exactly who he claims to be. While the Bliss family wrestles with their own personal demons, a fanatic drives the town to the brink of a catastrophe that will change this sleepy Ohio backwater forever.

My thoughts:
This book is absolutely amazing. It’s beautiful, sad, dark, and touches on many challenging and polarizing topics. McDaniel’s ability to work through difficult or controversial topics draws similarities to my favourite author, John Irving (though their prose is nothing alike).

It’s difficult to say much about The Summer that Melted Everything without giving significant moments away, but I will say that I have never highlighted so many quotes from a single book! This book features one of the most touching moments between a mother and son that I’ve ever read – those who have read it will know what I am talking about.

The Summer that Melted Everything will probably go down as my favourite release of 2016 – I will be picking this up in hardcover soon, and plan to re-read this many times in the future. Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for the copy, I’m already looking forward to Tiffany McDaniel’s next book!