BOOK REVIEW | Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

4/5 stars

Celeste Ng’s latest work is a heartbreaking story about mothers and daughters, right and wrong, morality and reality, the wealthy and the not so wealthy. Little Fires Everywhere is the perfect title for this book, in which many polarizing controversies are littered throughout. I absolutely adored Ng’s debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, and was beyond thrilled to win an advance copy of her latest book through Goodreads. Ng has created another special book that fans of EINTY will be sure to love.

In the picturesque town of Shaker Heights, Ohio, the Richardson family is the portrait of happiness and success. Elena and her husband are successful, and their 4 children, each 1 year apart, are well rounded and popular. Izzy, the youngest, doesn’t necessarily fit in with her family – she is a wild spirit with a knack for getting into trouble. Elena struggles to understand her youngest daughter, leading to a tenuous relationship.

When an artist, Mia, and her teenage daughter, Pearl, move into town and begin living out of the Richardson’s rental property, both families are inevitably changed. Elena values order, rules, structure. Mia moves from town to town whenever she loses her artistic inspiration, raising Pearl in an unsettled life. The longer they remain in Shaker heights, the more Pearl sets down roots. She befriends the Richardson children, often fantasizing about life in their family, while Izzy, never feeling comfortable with her own mother, finds a connection with Mia. A legal battle soon takes over Shaker Heights, leaving each family on opposite sides of the argument. Ng navigates both sides of the debate – as a reader I didn’t know where to stand. This battle shapes the later half of the story, ultimately revealing unexpected parts of both Elena’s and Mia’s pasts.

Ng has a way of drawing out qualities in her characters that capture who they are, such as the way Elena subtly leaves a cash donation on her way out of a museum. In one beautiful passage, Mia contemplates a parent’s need to touch their children, to hold them and breathe them in, and how over time the moments lessens. This nearly broke my heart; Ng’s writing is no less impactful than in her debut. I question the choices that some of the characters make towards the end, but felt safe in Ng’s capable hands. In some ways, I wish it ended differently, but I think it’s because wasn’t ready for the story to end.

 

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BOOK REVIEW | Never Let You Go by Chevy Stevens

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4.5/5 stars

Release Date: March 14, 2017

*I received a digital advanced review copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

From the publisher:
The author of Still Missing targets her readership with a novel that hits all the notes they come to expect from her—and ratchets up the stakes even more. Lindsey Nash has left an abusive relationship and her ex-husband was sent to jail. She has started over with a new life, her own business, and a teenage daughter who needs her more than ever. When her husband is finally released, Lindsey believes she has cut all ties. There is no way he can ever find her and her daughter again. But she gets the sense that someone is watching her, tracking her every move. Her new boyfriend is threatened. Her home is invaded. Even her daughter is shadowed. Lindsey is convinced it’s her ex-husband, even though he claims he is a different person and doesn’t want to do her any harm. But can he really change? Is the one who wants her dead even closer to home than she thought?

My thoughts:
Chevy Stevens took my breath away more than once with her upcoming book, Never Let You Go. Focused around a physically abusive and controlling relationship, Stevens places the reader directly in the center of the storm. Reading an abusive relationship was intense, and I felt my heart pounding during most of part one. I have never been in this situation, but Stevens opened my eyes to just how terrifying it is for the victim of abuse, and how it can feel impossible to get out of the relationship. In this book, Lindsey Nash knows she must take a bold risk to remove her and her daughter, Sophie, from the grip that her husband, Andrew, has over their lives.

Lindsey and Andrew meet at a young age and fell deeply in love. They married and settled into their new home together, enjoying the early days of their romance. As Lindsey learns more about Andrew, she decides to surprise him with a thoughtful Christmas present – she knows he is going to be so touched. As it turns out, the gift triggered painful parts of his past, which revealed a rage that she didn’t see coming. Lindsey feels terrible, but works to repair the damage. Over time, she notices that Andrew’s drinking is increasing, and he becomes more verbally abusive and controlling. She slowly dissolves her friendships and hopes for a career, her world centering around Andrew. Sophie is born and years later the situation has escalated – Lindsey has no freedom and Andrew’s drinking is out of control. She has to escape this to protect Sophie and take back her life, but how? The events that follow lead to Andrew’s arrest, and a chance for Lindsey to start over.

Fast forward eleven years: Lindsey has built a new life for herself and Sophie is now 17 years old. Lindsey makes her living cleaning houses, and has worked hard to develop her business. Sophie is a talented artist, though, like many teenagers, a little lost. Sophie longs for a relationship with her father, the missing piece in her life. Lindsey has been dating, and has two reliable men in her life – Marcus, a great friend who teaches self-defense at her support group, and Greg, her boyfriend. Lindey’s world is shaken when she discovers that Andrew has been released from prison, but she feels confident that he will not be able to find her and Sophie. When strange events begin to occur, Lindsey is convinced that Andrew is back and looking for revenge. Her home is invaded, both her dog and boyfriend are attacked – she knows this is Andrew’s work, but with no tangible evidence, the police can’t do much to protect her.

This story is told in multiple timelines and is narrated from both Sophie and Lindsey’s perspectives. I have read a ton of books lately that feature this narrative style, and this one really stands out. I loved hearing Sophie’s take on the situation, and Stevens wrote a teenager so well! This book isn’t extremely violent, but the emotional toll it takes, especially in part one, is so heavy. I was so horrified and disgusted by Andrew’s actions, but more than that I was terrified for Lindsey and sad for Sophie. This book was so close to being a 5 star read for me! I had to dock it a little due to two shortcomings: the first is the story behind Sophie’s boyfriend, Jared. He is a major player in the story, and there are some questions about him that are left unanswered. I am still thinking about this kid – I want to know more! The second reason is that I didn’t love the final thoughts regarding Andrew. I can’t say much more than that without spoiling the story! That said, this is one of the best psychological thrillers I have read in a while – it’s fast-paced, completely gripping, and had me at the edge of my seat.

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.

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.