Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Review: The Guest List by Lucy Foley


 

Overview

The Guest List takes place over two days, with an alternating timeline between these two days and multiple perspectives. It follows the events of a wedding on an isolated island and is a thriller mystery.

Plot 

Julia (Jules) and Will are getting married, on a tiny island off the coast of Ireland. Julia picked the wedding venue for it's exclusive and isolated nature as Will is a minor celebrity and they want their day to be private and special 

Some of the guests are coming the night before the wedding for a special dinner, those are the guests "nearest and dearest" to the bride and groom, and include the wedding party, the bride's parents and the hosts of the venue who are doing the catering. 

The day of the wedding arrives and the weather is terrible, the wind is howling and a lot of the guests get seasick on the trip over to the island. Due to the nature of the timeline we only see snippets of the wedding right up until about the 75% mark of the book, at which point one of the most well executed twists of the book forced me to put it down and say "what the fuck?" about five times before I could continue reading. 

During the course of the wedding one of the servers from the reception comes in and says she's found a body and then faints, the ushers/groomsmen all go out into the foul weather in search of the body. This is intermingled with chapters of the drama between the guests, the past events that haunt them and the present eerie nature of the venue coupled with the howling wind and the foreboding landscape with the bogs that threaten to suck people under the earth. 

The Characters and the Writing 

There's quite a list of characters who all have their own individual POV so I'll list them below: 

Julia: the bride, very controlling and perfectionist, doesn't particularly like her family or the groom's ushers, especially the best man. 

Will: the groom, a successful TV star who stars in a Bear Grills-esque show where he gets dumped in the middle of the wilderness and must find his way back to civilisation/a five star resort where his crew is staying. 

Johnno: the best man who has a drinking problem and smokes weed in order to sleep, he seems haunted by his past and feels inferior to his other private school mates who are all varying degrees of professionally successful. 

Oliva: the bridesmaid and Julia's half sister, who has recently gone through a terrible break up and is having a really hard time. Julia doesn't seem very sympathetic to her at all. (CW/TW for self harm/suicidal ideation in Olivia's chapters). 

Charlie: One of Julia's oldest friends and her "best person" and the MC for her wedding. (An absolute prat, actually)

Hannah: Charlie's wife who is (rightfully) a bit miffed at Charlie for being so attentive to Julia and basically ignoring Hannah. 

Aoife: the wedding planner.

With such a huge cast of POVs you would think this book would drag on or become confusing but honestly once I was about two chapters in I was hooked and I didn't get confused at all. Each POV had a distinct voice with their own character traits and dramas which made the chapters fly by and easy to read. 

Lucy Foley excels at writing immersive, interesting characters that you want to know more about even if they're utterly unlikeable (like Johnno) or depressing to read from (like Olivia). I loved the way Foley interweaved all the POVs to create a cohesive story, and the switching back and forth in time was a master stroke, especially since you were only flipping back and forth between two days and they met precisely in the middle. That was exceedingly well done and I was so hooked on this book that I stayed up until one in the morning to finish it. 

The chapters are fairly short in the beginning and tend toward the shorter side as the book progresses, creating a sense of urgency as you race toward the end of the book to find out what the server saw and what happened. 

What didn't work/what I didn't like 

The ending felt a little rushed and a couple of the "twists" seemed very convenient and almost too perfect, however it did all make sense and nothing was thrown in there without thought, there were no plot holes as such but it just felt a little too neat. 

The lack of justice and fairness in the ending was a bit disappointing too, but I suppose that's life. No one is owed a fair go. It was an interesting way to wrap things up and it reminded me a little of Ruth Ware's The Turn of the Key

What I loved

Honestly, Foley's writing and ability to write such a huge cast of characters and POVs without them all sounding like the same character was absolutely brilliant. Foley is a superb writer in this format and excels at the multi perspective, dual timeline thriller. Her ability to shock me was fantastic too as I often predict the major twists in thrillers before they happen. I didn't see quite a few of them coming but the foreshadowing was so subtle that looking back I saw the subtle threads that tied everything together. I don't often reread thrillers but I would quite like to reread this one and see if I can spot clues I missed. 

Final Thoughts

If you liked The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley, or The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware then you'll love this book. 

There were a lot of confronting topics in this book so be aware of a trigger warning for self harm, suicidal ideation, drug use, and child abuse. 

Overall I gave The Guest List 4 out of 5 stars. 





Friday, September 25, 2020

Two "Reviews" in One: Furious hours by Casey Hep and Take me Apart by Sara Sligar

 So, I wasn't going to post these two reviews because they're not really reviews. 


Long story short, I DNF'd both of these books. For those not in the know, DNF stands for Did Not Finish. 

I got both of those books to review on NetGalley and normally I force myself to finish any book I receive from NetGalley so I can give them a fair and honest review but I just couldn't with these two books. 

So, I'll address Furious Hours by Casey Hep first. I really wanted to love this non fiction book about the case that inspired Harper Lee to attempt to write her second book. And I sort of liked it? I think? 

The thing is, it's not really about Harper Lee at all, it's about a self styled Reverend named Willie Maxwell who has a tendency towards insuring his relatives who later end up dead in suspicious and similar circumstances. It follows his life all the way up until he gets shot at his step daughter's funeral by the girl's distraught uncle. Then the book switches to the trial of Robert Burns, who shot Maxwell in full view of many witnesses but instead of serving a lengthy prison term, he is sent to a psychiatric hospital and released within weeks. 

The lawyer who represents Burns at trial is also the same man who represented Maxwell during several civil suits against varying insurance companies who didn't want to pay out on the insurance policies of Maxwell's alleged victims, because Maxwell had numerous policies for these people and it reeked of insurance fraud. 

Harper Lee only comes into this book at the halfway point, which is about where I was ready to give up, I read a little bit about why Harper Lee hadn't written much else after To Kill a Mockingbird, her life growing up and a bit about Tom Radney (the lawyer for both Maxwell and Burns) but then I put the book down because I didn't enjoy it. Simple as that. I wanted to like this book because I like history and I like reading about writers and what inspired them but this was about 50% too long and could have cut out a lot of what was written and still conveyed the same information. 

There were some pros to this book: The writing despite being overdone is actually very good, Casey Hep excels at setting the scene and making you feel like you truly understand Alabama in the 1950s-1970s, however it's just too much. I was bored for whole chapters, and then I'd just be interested in something and Hep would switch tangents. 


The second book I'm going to talk about, I actually can't say much about at all because I DNF'd after less than two chapters. 

Take Me Apart by Sara Sligar is a "thriller" written about two women. One in contemporary times and one in the past. The woman in contemporary times is a historian or conservationist or something hired to catalogue the work of the woman from the past. She's a singer or artist or something and her son wants the work catalogued. The woman in contemporary times becomes intrigued by the woman in the past and supposedly a mystery thriller ensues. 

I didn't get more than 2 chapters into this one because I was bored. It's been done before. The trope of the past meeting the present in this format is overplayed and is rarely done well. I've read other reviews for this book and it also appears to utilise the unreliable narrator trope which only works when done exceedingly well. 


I can't rate two books I didn't even finish but I will say that I'm sure there are readers out there who will enjoy the books, but it wasn't me. 

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Tunnel of Bones by VE Schwab



Overview

This is the second book in the Cassidy Blake series by VE Schwab, so read my last post before you continue because there are spoilers ahead if you haven't read the first book! 

Plot

Cassidy and her parents have left cold, dreary Edinburgh for Paris in search of the ghosts of the Catacombs. Cassidy quickly realises she has again awoken a ghostly spirit and will need help to put the spirit at ease and stop all of the disastrous happenings that have plagued Cassidy and her parents since their arrival in Paris. 

Characters

Cassidy and her ghostly friend Jacob enlist the help of Lara, back in Edinburgh, to help them solve the mystery of the ghost causing such a ruckus. The banter between Cassidy and Jacob, offset by the seriousness of Lara's character is really delightful to read. I grew quite fond of the characters over the course of reading the two published books in this series and cannot wait to read more. 

Atmosphere

The atmosphere of this second book is vastly creepier than the first book, with the ghostly problem at the centre of this novel being a poltergeist with a thirst for causing mayhem that even those who can't see ghosts can clearly see. There are numerous life threatening incidents where Cassidy and her parents come within inches of serious harm, as well as car accidents and other mayhem that affects innocent bystanders. The creepy atmosphere in this one was really ratcheted up and I felt it and loved it. 

Writing

Again, VE Schwab is such a skilled writer that there's not much to say except she's done it again. The second book eclipsed the first in tone and plot and I loved it. It is middle grade so it's not exactly shakespearean language but it's quick, easy to read and most of all really fun. 

What I loved

I usually include a section about what I didn't like, before I go into what I loved but Tunnel of Bones by VE Schwab was delightful in all the ways that count. I was entertained, intrigued, felt a bit of a shiver up my spine at all the appropriate scary moments and loved the characters even more than I did the first time around. 

Final thoughts 

Buy this book for the middle grader reader in your life. It's great, it's spooky and it's just fun. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

City of Ghosts by VE Schwab



Overview

This book follows a young girl who sees ghosts. It's the first book in a planned trilogy by VE Schwab and is meant for a middle grade audience

Plot

Cassidy Blake sees ghosts. She's been able to see ghosts ever since she nearly drowned in a lake less than year ago. Her parents are "ghost hunters" who write books about the legends that lead to ghost stories and the hauntings that people have witnessed based on those legends, a blend of history and the paranormal. 

Cassidy's best friend Jacob is a ghost, though her dad thinks he's an imaginary friend and that perhaps Cassidy is a bit too old to have an imaginary friend. 

When Cassidy's parents get a job offer to turn their successful books into a TV series, Cassidy has to give up her regular family vacation in favour of travelling around the world to well known haunted locations to watch the filming of her parents' show. Their first stop is Scotland, where Cassidy meets Lara, another young girl who can see ghosts but sees her ability in a different way to Cassidy, where Cassidy simply wants to let ghosts coexist in the world, Lara sees it as her duty to help ghosts "move on". 

Cassidy and Lara forge an uneasy alliance when things get a bit scary and Cassidy needs help. 

Characters

I sorta loved these characters more than I probably should, Cassidy is a likeable protagonist with a bit of a tendency to see things her way and a stubborn streak a mile wide. 

Her best friend Jacob is a really interesting character as he is a ghost and we know very little about his back story. Cassidy has never asked Jacob how he died because she felt that it's not her business to ask. Jacob and Cassidy have an easy friendship that is fun to read and even more interesting when things get tense. 

Cassidy's parents are not... great? They really don't notice when their daughter goes missing or when she's clearly distressed but I think that's rather typical of middle grade books, absent parents make for more fun in the plot. I guess it's a bit hard for a middle grade protagonist to go off on an adventure if their parents are telling them to be home by dark and brush their teeth before bed and all that other boring reality stuff. 

The Writing 

Because this is a Middle Grade, the language is simple, not over written and mostly just gets the point across, however VE Schwab is a master of setting a creepy tone in a few words. I loved how simple and quick this was to read while still getting a bit of a creepy vibe.

Atmosphere and Setting

The atmosphere in this book is very spooky and creepy, it's perfect for a middle grade, just enough creep factor without giving a young reader nightmares about what may lurk under the bed. 

The description of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh was fantastic, I could see it in my minds' eye. This book really shines when you soak up the description and atmosphere along with the creepy story. 

The not so good

The plot did feel a little rushed in places, though I suppose it was a short book aimed at young readers, getting bogged down in world building and plot reinforcement wouldn't captivate young minds. 

The great

The characters, the spooky vibe, the sass between Cassidy and Jacob were all fun to read. I loved this book and immediately read the sequel right after (review to come on the 20th of September!)

Final thoughts  

If you know a young reader who likes a bit of a scare I highly recommend this as your next gift purchase for them (if I were you, I'd take the chance to read it first, it's a fun read!).

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Review: Such a Fun Age

 Overview

Such a Fun Age follows Emira, a 25 year old black woman who babysits a little girl called Briar. Briar's mother Alix (not Alex, never Alex!) calls Emira late one night to take Briar out for a while as they've just had an egg thrown at their house and Alix doesn't want Briar there when the police come. 

Plot

The plot follows the aftermath of the ill-fated late night trip to a fancy grocery store, where a woman who doesn't know Emira or Briar asks a security guard to enquire about whether Emira has kidnapped Briar. A man who has watched the situation unfold, begins filming on his phone as Emira gets (rightfully) agitated and eventually calls Briar's father who comes down to the store and clears things up. The book then discusses the fall out from that night over the coming weeks. 

Writing

As I read this book, I had a feeling in the pit of my stomach, a sense of dread that something worse was going to happen. This mounting tension was a master stroke on the part of the author Kiley Reid. I found myself messaging some others who had read it to ask them if they felt it too and they all agreed the sense of foreboding was a key reason they enjoyed the book so much. 

For some though, I think the tension could be too much, it was pretty anxiety inducing. A good friend of mine who I buddy read the book with, messaged me after I'd finished it as she was still reading, asking me to tell her what happened at the end so that she could read the rest without the sense of dread and fear. 

I'm a white woman so I hesitate to say why the author wrote it the way she did, or used the phrases she did, but I wondered if that sense of dread was intentional, especially for white readers. Emira certainly felt mounting dread when approached by the security guard at the grocery store and that sense of dread is a commonly discussed theme among black people in America when confronted by authority figures who are not known for listening to minorities or POC. 

I LOVED the way this book was written, I loved that it made me feel uncomfortable and squirmy with the white privilege I possess, I love the way it made me sit back and think about how hard it would have been for Emira to babysit a white child. The writing was masterful and Kiley Reid is one to watch. 

Characters

Emira is a fantastic MC and the character of Alix is an intensely unlikable woman who is so ridiculously unaware of her privilege that it becomes sickening to read as she tries to "bond" with Emira, in an attempt to prove she's not racist. Alix's husband (whose name is irrelevant because Alix only thinks of him when he's directly present, or in one particularly memorable and cringe worthy scene, she's having sex with him in the upstairs bathroom before he goes to work) is an unnecessary character who is portrayed as a bumbling idiot despite a successful career as a TV anchor, briefly marred by an off the cuff but very racist remark made on live TV, but of course his career recovers because he's white and privileged. 

Emira's friends are a great bunch of fun loving, creative but ambitious women who are carving out their place in the "adult world", Emira feels that they're leaving her behind as she struggles to find a "grown up" job that offers health insurance and full benefits. This conflict between Emira wanting to be seen as grown up while still partying with her friends is a wonderful inner conflict that I related to heavily. 

Setting/atmosphere 

Again, the atmosphere of tension and foreboding was particularly heavy, but it worked. This book worked for me because I felt the weight of my own white privilege and the weight of the fears Emira had and the consequences of one nosy woman in a grocery store who ultimately changed Emira's life. In addition to the heaviness of the situation in the grocery store, Emira's workplace seems fun loving and light on the surface but underneath, Alix's desire to be seen as progressive and non racist is a heavy burden for Emira who feels obligated to be non confrontational about it with her boss as she doesn't have another job lined up. 

The not so good

The romance. It was gross and Kelley was Icky ™. I understood why he was there, to show that fetishising is just as bad as discriminating but man did it feel uncomfortable and just... no. Kelley does not pass the vibe check. 

The good 

I LOVED this book so much, because it had me on edge and made me feel uncomfortable. It highlighted things that I take for granted that black women in America cannot take for granted. I, as a white Australian woman will never have to face the fear that someone will think I stole my friend's baby or that I shouldn't be in a particular grocery store or having to watch out for dropkicks like Kelley who would be dating me for the social clout and because they have an idealised idea of who I could be if only I listened to their wisdom on how to improve myself. 

Final thoughts

Read Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. This is a debut novel and it's abundantly clear that Kiley Reid's voice is a powerhouse and she has so much to say. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. 

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Review: Clap When You Land



Overview

Clap When you Land by Elizabeth Acevedo is an amazing book told in verse. It's the story of two girls who've never met but share the same father. When their father dies their lives are completely changed.


Plot 

Camina Rios lives in the Dominican Republic and awaits the summer eagerly each year, for her father's return from the US where he lives and works the rest of the year. 

Yahaira Rios lives in New York City and spends her life trying to be the kind of daughter her mother and father want her to be. 

When Camina and Yahaira find out their father has died in a plane crash things become a lot more complex and the girls seek each other out for both comfort and to vent their anger at the lies their father told. Each girl feels that the other has stolen their father and had no right to him. 

Writing 

This book is told in dual perspective verse and it is beautiful. The writing is stunning, the verse flows so freely that reading the book takes almost no time at all. It's definitely one of those books that I found myself reading in a single sitting and being surprised that I'd reached the ending so quickly. It doesn't suffer from this brevity, in fact that makes it better. Each chapter is told from either Yahaira's or Camina's perspective and each of them have their own struggles they must combat and come to terms with. Both characters are beautifully developed and easy to relate to in a way that surprised me as a white woman from Australia. I don't have the lived experiences of either character but I felt that I could relate to their emotions as teenage girls going through grief. I also listened to the audiobook version for parts of this book while I was doing other things around the house and the audiobook is phenomenal, Elizabeth Acevedo reads one perspective, and the other narrator is just as flawless. 


Characters

As I said, Yahaira and Camina are two very relatable characters but the side characters are just as relatable. I found myself empathising with Yahaira's mother even though Yahaira finds her overbearing and hard to deal with. Being able to relate to Yahaira's mother added an extra element to this book that surprised me. Perhaps I'm just at that age where I can relate to both adolescents and their parents but Elizabeth Acevedo wrote characters that had conflict but were relatable to the reader which I think is the sign of a great author. 

The villain of the story is barely described but that adds to the creep factor. El Cero watches Camina as she goes about her daily life and makes odd remarks to her about her father owing him money. He makes Camina very uncomfortable and she finds herself avoiding things she used to love doing, like swimming, in case El Cero is there watching. When Yahaira finds out about El Cero, Camina and Yahaira have a moment of sisterly bonding that cements their future relationship as family. It's masterfully done and Acevedo's ability to write conflict and high tension shines. 


Best of the book

The writing is by far the best part of this book, I adored it. I sought out Acevedo's other books in verse after reading Clap When You Land and loved them just as much. 

Here's where I usually put a little criticism of the book, whether that be the writing or the characters or the ending or what have you, but there's nothing I didn't like about this book, at all. That's so rare for me these days, as I have gotten back into writing book reviews, I'm always reading with a critical eye, looking for the things I love as well as the flaws, but Clap When You Land is a phenomenal book that is so well written I couldn't find a single thing I didn't like. 


For fans of

This book is perfect for fans of Elizabeth Acevedo's other works, obviously. But more broadly it will excite readers who enjoy books told in verse, books about grief and family, and stories about young women growing up in less than ideal circumstances. I almost feel this should be compulsory reading in schools as it perfectly touches on how teens feel when their families fall apart or they feel pressure from their parents. 

Review: Little Bones by NV Peacock

  Overview This is the first adult thriller by N.V Peacock, who has previously written young adult horror/supernatural books. This debut int...