BOOK REVIEW: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Title: The Girl on the Train

Author: Paula Hawkins

Book Length: 316 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller, Suspense, Contemporary

Read Start Date: November 7, 2022

Read Finish Date: November 13, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy. And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar. Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train…

My Review: The book tells the story from 3 POVs:

Rachel is having a hard time of it. Spiraling downward, she has lost her husband, her job, and many times her dignity (she often gets blackout drunk and does things she regrets in the morning). Fooling her roommate into believing she still has a job, Rachel takes the train each morning into London, drink in hand. Every morning she passes by the house that used to be hers — the one that her husband now lives in with his new wife and baby girl. A few doors down lives another couple, whom Rachel watches through the train window, creating a perfect life for them in her mind.

One day, this perfect image is shattered when sees the wife cheating on the husband with another man. Shorty thereafter, the wife goes missing and is feared dead. What happened to her? Was it the man Rachel saw her with? Did the husband find out and kill her in a jealous rage? Rachel was there that night–the night that Megan went missing–but she was drunk and doesn’t remember a thing.

Rachel becomes obsessed with trying to solve the mystery, as she is convinced she knows more than she remembers.

Megan: The story of Megan is told in the past and leads up to the circumstances surrounding why she goes missing. Something horrific happens in her past (I won’t spoil it), but it left me bereft for days afterward.

Lastly, the story of Anne, Rachel’s ex’s new wife. Anne views Rachel much like everyone else — a drunk, a nuisance, crazy. Rachel is constantly leaving messages for Tom (the husband) and Anne is becoming fed up. I wasn’t too crazy about Anne’s POV and it didn’t add that much to the story until the ending when it all came together.

Down the Rabbit Hole sums it up best: “The characters in this book were all so frustratingly imperfect. Each time I wish they would make some good decisions, but they wouldn’t. I think all in all that speaks to the author’s prowess at creating these characters that you can’t help but root for, or at least wish the best, and then have that all crumbling down around you all the time. It truly made for a frustrating yet impressive experience of impending dread.”

I love Paula Hawkins’s writing. Both its imagery and the mystery aspect. The ending had a big twist that I did not see coming and it tied the whole story into a neat little bow. Although Rachel’s actions are cringe worthy sometimes, she is a sympathetic character. She has been done wrong — and by the end it is clear why she is (justifiably) a mess.

I would definitely recommend this book.

As a last point, I would like to share a couple of quotes that I took note of:

My heart breaks for Rachel here in this moment.

I liked my job, but I didn’t have a glittering career, and even if I had, let’s be honest: women are still only really valued for two things — their looks and their role as mothers. I’m not beautiful, and I can’t have kids, so what does that make me? Worthless.

The Girl on the Train page 85

The below quote as a really awesome element of foreshadowing in it, that you don’t pick up until much later in the book. It’s just really fantastic, actually, when I think about it.

Blackouts happen, and it isn’t just a matter of being a bit hazy about getting home from the club or forgetting what it was that was so funny when you were chatting in the pub. It’s different. Total black; hours lost, never to be retrieved.

Tom bought me a book about it. Not very romantic, but he was tired of listening to me tell him how sorry I was in the morning when I didn’t even know what I was sorry for. I think he wanted me to see the damage I was doing, the kind of things I might be capable of. It was written by a doctor, but I’ve no idea whether it was accurate: the author claimed that blacking out wasn’t simply a matter of forgetting what had happened, but having no memories to forget in the first place. His theory was that you get into a state where your brain no longer makes short-term memories. And while you’re there, in deepest black, you don’t behave as you usually would, because you’re simply reacting to the very last thing that you think happened, because — since you aren’t making memories — you might not actually know what the last thing that happened really was.”

The Girl on the Train page 74

BOOK REVIEW: Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Title: Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Author: Gabrielle Zevin

Audiobook Length: 13 hours and 52 minutes

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction, Contemporary

Read Start Date: October 6, 2022

Read Finish Date: October 11, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: In this exhilarating novel by the best-selling author of The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry two friends–often in love, but never lovers–come together as creative partners in the world of video game design, where success brings them fame, joy, tragedy, duplicity, and, ultimately, a kind of immortality.

On a bitter-cold day, in the December of his junior year at Harvard, Sam Masur exits a subway car and sees, amid the hordes of people waiting on the platform, Sadie Green. He calls her name. For a moment, she pretends she hasn’t heard him, but then, she turns, and a game begins: a legendary collaboration that will launch them to stardom. These friends, intimates since childhood, borrow money, beg favors, and, before even graduating college, they have created their first blockbuster, Ichigo. Overnight, the world is theirs. Not even twenty-five years old, Sam and Sadie are brilliant, successful, and rich, but these qualities won’t protect them from their own creative ambitions or the betrayals of their hearts.

Spanning thirty years, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Venice Beach, California, and lands in between and far beyond, Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is a dazzling and intricately imagined novel that examines the multifarious nature of identity, disability, failure, the redemptive possibilities in play, and above all, our need to connect: to be loved and to love. Yes, it is a love story, but it is not one you have read before.

My Review: I had no idea what to expect when I checked this audiobook out from the library, as to often happens to me with audiobooks. It was filed in the “popular global” category, and I thought, why not. I’m glad I did.

Sam and Sadie met as children at the hospital following an accident which left Sam disabled. Sadie’s sister had cancer and so was at the hospital often. Initially bonding over video games, their friendship ended when Sadie hurt Sam’s feelings deeply. They didn’t reconnect until college, when Sam saw Sadie coincidentally on a train platform. They created a video game, which launched their careers, and the events which flow from this success will shape their lives.

This book is largely character driven and despite having taken place over a time period of 30 years, nothing much happens from a plot perspective. The characters make a video game, then another, and another. Sadie falls in and out of a negative / abusive relationship. Sam and Sadie are friends, then they are not. They seem to always either be “on” or “off”, often fluctuating with whether they are making a game together or not. This book has no thrills (except maybe one scene toward the end), and is one of those books that is meant to be more beautiful than action packed.

In other words, with books like these, that focus on character rather than plot, the characters have to be well developed and the writing great. I had no complaints about the writing while listening and found the story to be engaging even though it could be at some points mundane.

The characters were at times not great people. I’ve Read This states: “The characters of Sam and Sadie aren’t all that likeable – both are selfish and self-absorbed the majority of the time.” I can’t say that I had feelings toward the characters one way or the other, but for some reason that didn’t seem to detract from the overall story for me. I think that the characters were meant to be flawed, and this made them more real somehow, more relatable.

I really love BOOKSHELF FANTASIES‘s take on this book: “Over the course of the years covered by Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, we learn about their backstories, their families, their traumas, and of course, their brilliance. There’s so much to absorb here about culture, wellness and disability, reality and virtual worlds, intelligence and academia, and more. Sadie, Sam, and Marx are unforgettable characters, beautifully described and developed. We know these people and what makes them tick; we understand their joys and their pain, and when bad things happen, it hurts deeply.

The writing is beautiful, often funny, often pensive, filled with oddball characters in a world that many of us (anyone not involved in gaming and coding) may find alien. We’re given entrance into this world through these characters’ experiences, and it’s fascinating.”

As of the writing of this review Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow has a 4.35 rating on Goodreads. Seems about in line with the 4 stars I am giving it. I would recommend this book for people who like character driven novels, especially those who are interested in video games and 90s nostalgia.

BOOK REVIEW: This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub

Title: This Time Tomorrow

Author: Emma Straub

Audiobook Length: 8 hours and 31 minutes

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Science Fiction, Time Travel, Contemporary, Magical Realism

Read Start Date: October 1, 2022

Read Finish Date: October 4, 2022 

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: With her celebrated humor, insight, and heart, beloved New York Times bestseller Emma Straub offers her own twist on traditional time travel tropes, and a different kind of love story.

On the eve of her 40th birthday, Alice’s life isn’t terrible. She likes her job, even if it isn’t exactly the one she expected. She’s happy with her apartment, her romantic status, her independence, and she adores her lifelong best friend. But her father is ailing, and it feels to her as if something is missing. When she wakes up the next morning she finds herself back in 1996, reliving her 16th birthday. But it isn’t just her adolescent body that shocks her, or seeing her high school crush, it’s her dad: the vital, charming, 40-something version of her father with whom she is reunited. Now armed with a new perspective on her own life and his, some past events take on new meaning. Is there anything that she would change if she could?

My Review: I liked this book, but I wouldn’t say I loved it. After a few too many drinks on the eve of Alice’s 40th birthday, she finds herself passing out in the guardhouse of her childhood home. The next morning she wakes up on her sixteenth birthday, in her sixteen year old body, but with her forty year old mind. She has the chance to do it all over again — the infamous night when she didn’t hook up with the “one that got away.” What strikes Alice about her sixteen year old self, is her forty year old father, who is, in the present day, dying. He seems so young, so full of life, and she finds herself just wanting to be close to him. To spend time with him.

Nevertheless, Alice goes to the party, sleeps with the one that got away, and wakes up on her 40th birthday to find that she is now married (to the one who (previously) got away) with children. What I didn’t like about this reiteration of Alice is that she almost despises her children. She has no memory of the past 24 years of her “new” life, which I find strange — wouldn’t she have remembered both time lines? Since she has no memories of her children, she feels no connection with them. She doesn’t feel like their mother, and so, she doesn’t want to be their mother. She doesn’t want the life with the husband she must love, right? Did Alice at 39 and 364 days love her family and then when she wakes up at 40 she is a different person (because she doesn’t remember her new past)? This just doesn’t square with me.

Anyway, Alice goes back in time again and does it all over again and again trying on new lives like new jackets. Each time she doesn’t remember how she got there — she is perpetually the original Alice in a new life she doesn’t remember living. Then she compares her old life with the aspects of the new life and makes a determination about which life is better — I don’t think this is a fair comparison. She has no memories, no emotions, etc. of her new timeline. How can she really judge which is best?

While it was nice that she got to spend time with her father again and again in the past, I was ultimately dissatisfied with the ending. I won’t go into too much detail, but it felt like the book was about a futile journey. Since the father didn’t remember each timeline, the only one developing a longer, lasting relationship was Alice. And what happened from the age of 16 to 40 in the timeline she chose last? All of the new memories she would have had with her father, anything she started to build on the do-over night of her 16th birthday, was just nonexistent in her mind.

As of the writing of this post, This Time Tomorrow has a 3.83 rating on Goodreads, which seems to mean that it has mixed reviews. So I guess on this one, I’m not that far off the mark with my assessment. Nevertheless, I think that if you like time traveling stories with themes of father-daughter relationships, then this book is for you.

BOOK REVIEW: My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Title: My Sister, The Serial Killer

Author: Oyinkan Braithwaite

Book Length: 223 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Thriller, Mystery, Crime, Contemporary

Read Start Date: October 19, 2022

Read Finish Date: October 22, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: When Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This’ll be the third boyfriend Ayoola’s dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede’s long been in love with him, and isn’t prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other…

My Sister, the Serial Killer is a blackly comic novel about how blood is thicker – and more difficult to get out of the carpet – than water…

My Review: As of writing this review, this book has a 3.7 rating on Goodreads, which I find to be a little unfair. I really liked this book for several reasons. First, I found it to be an interesting premise. Korede and Ayoola are sisters who grew up with an abusive father, that is, until he died. I never figured out whether the father just up and had a heart attack, or if the sisters had something to do with it. I would have liked to see more clarity about this topic.

Secondly, I liked that this book was easy to read. I finished it in only 3 days.

The book starts with a murder — Ayoola’s third murder to be precise. The man she killed had been her boyfriend, and she claims he attacked her. But then, why was the knife (their father’s knife) protruding from his back? Why has Ayoola done this before? Could it really be that ALL the times she has killed was always done in self defense, or could she be, as Korede thinks, a serial killer?

In darkly comedic fashion, we are with the sisters as they clean the scene, wrap the body, and carry him down in the elevator to Korede’s car. They dump him unceremoniously into the river and go on with their daily lives. Ayoola is immediately ready to get back to normal, and Korede has to reel in Ayoola’s Instagram posts which might seem in poor taste to some, and to others suspicious. Neither sister seems emotionally stable, some might even call them sociopaths.

This book is as much about Ayoola being a serial killer as it is about the complicated relationship between the sisters. Korede is extremely jealous of Ayoola because of her beauty and success with men, due to a sense of familial obligation instilled in her by their mother, continues to cover up Ayoola’s crimes. Korede, though the elder sibling, has always lived in Ayoola’s shadow. “I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I realized that Ayoola was beautiful and I was…not. But what I do know is that I was aware of my own inadequacies long before.” Korede is self-deprecating and very hard on herself — which I don’t feel is warranted. She is smart and a hard worker, having been recent promoted to head nurse at the hospital where she works. Yes, she might not be as alluringly seductive as her sister, but well, her sister clearly has some fatal flaws.

When Ayoola catches the attention of Tade, a doctor whom Korede is in love with, it is unclear for most of the book what Korede will do. Will she tell on Ayoola? Will she allow things to progress and see what happens? What will come first, family or what is morally right? I won’t spoil the ending, but I think that it is true to Korede and I wasn’t surprised.

BOOK REVIEW: The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

Title: The Lost Apothecary

Author: Sarah Penner

Book Length: 316 pages

Rating:  3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Thriller, Contemporary, Crime

Read Start Date: September 30, 2022

Read Finish Date: October 18, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads:  A female apothecary secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them – setting three lives across centuries on a dangerous collision course.

Rule #1: The poison must never be used to harm another woman.
Rule #2: The names of the murderer and her victim must be recorded in the apothecary’s register.

One cold February evening in 1791, at the back of a dark London alley in a hidden apothecary shop, Nella awaits her newest customer. Once a respected healer, Nella now uses her knowledge for a darker purpose – selling well-disguised poisons to desperate women who would kill to be free of the men in their lives. But when her new patron turns out to be a precocious twelve-year-old named Eliza Fanning, an unexpected friendship sets in motion a string of events that jeopardizes Nella’s world and threatens to expose the many women whose names are written in her register.

In present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, reeling from the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. When she finds an old apothecary vial near the river Thames, she can’t resist investigating, only to realize she’s found a link to the unsolved “apothecary murders” that haunted London over two centuries ago. As she deepens her search, Caroline’s life collides with Nella’s and Eliza’s in a stunning twist of fate – and not everyone will survive.

My Review: As of writing this post, this book has a 3.76 rating on Goodreads, which isn’t stellar for a mainstream, popular book. 37% gave the book 4 stars, while 27% gave the book 3 stars. I read this book about a year ago as an audiobook, and I remember liking it more than I did when I read it in paperback. I had given it 4 star last year, but after rereading the book, I’m switching to 3 stars. Maybe thinking it was better was due to my delirium of being a new mom and never sleeping. Anyway, I liked the story of Eliza and Nella more than Caroline. In fact, Caroline’s story really annoyed me to the point where I was rolling my eyes frequently.

I think the issue is that I just didn’t like Caroline as a character. I didn’t relate to her one bit. Caroline began the application process to attend graduate school at the University of Cambridge, as was her dream. Her then boyfriend, James, had been “adamantly against the idea” because he had plans to propose to her. The second he did “Cambridge could have fallen of the map, for all I cared–Cambridge and advanced degrees and every novel ever written by Charles Dickens. From the moment I wrapped my arms around James’ neck at the end of that pier and whispered yes, my identity as an aspiring historian rusted away, replaced with my identity as his soon-to-be-wife.” Then she takes a stable, secure job at her parent’s farm, while James steadily rises the corporate accounting ladder.

Because I guess America doesn’t offer masters degrees in history?

Regardless, even if the University she wanted to attend was in Australia, I’m still wondering, why the hell couldn’t she have gone and done her masters and still been a wife? Especially since kids were far off in the distance. “Though I’d wanted kids early in our marriage, James didn’t want to deal with the stress of long hours and a young family. And so just as he had climbed the corporate ladder every day for a decade, so too did I put that little pink pill on the tip of my tongue and think to myself, Someday.” I mean, 10 years is a long time to wait for “someday”. So Caroline puts her academic, career, AND family dreams on hold for a decade? Ummm, no thank you. There would have definitely been a Me shaped hole in the wall long before it got to the 10 year mark.

Also, from everything the book tells us of James, he doesn’t seem like he would be spending all that much time with the kids anyway…so not sure why they couldn’t have had kids early on in the marriage, since Caroline would have been the primary care giver (and since she wasn’t going back to school).

But okay, whatever, they waited 10 years. And now that they are trying for a baby, Caroline finds out he’s cheating, because, wait for it, he’s bored with his predictable, stable, and secure life. Eye roll. And then he tries to gaslight Caroline into believing that it was all HER fault! I can’t even with this guy. He’s such a piece of garbage (there are other supporting examples in the book of this) that I can’t believe Caroline didn’t notice the stench until she caught him cheating.

In all honesty, I’m not ever sure the Caroline story was really required because we learned everything that Caroline did from the Nella and Eliza storyline’s anyway.

Nella and Eliza on the other hand have stories that are much more interesting and include thrill, murder, intrigue, etc. Nella’s mother was an apothecary who dispensed remedies for women. When Nella’s mother died, Nella became romantically involved with a man. “In the weeks to follow, we fell terribly, wonderfully in love. My sea of grief grew shallower; I could breath again, and I could envision the future–a future with Frederick. I couldn’t have known that mere months after falling in love with him, I would dispense a fatal dose of rat poison to kill him. The first betrayal. The first victim. The beginning of a stained legacy.”

While I found Nella and Eliza’s story to be more interesting (I am also a big lover of the horror and true crime genres) Nella is, for all intents and purposes, a serial killer, and therefore while seemingly sympathetic, when you look deeper into her character, she is also a little dark. I mean, she’s literally been the reason why countless people are dead. And she doesn’t seem to care — or rather — she is glad that they are dead because they deserved it for being adulterous or lecherous or whatever else they did to affront the women in their lives. So in short, none of the characters are particularly relatable. I can understand wanting to harm someone who has betrayed you, but actually doing the harm is a whole different ball game.

I know that I’ve rambled a bit in this review, and I hope that I’ve made sense. Would I recommend this book? Yes…but there are other ones which I would pick up first.

BOOK REVIEW: The Golden Couple by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Title: The Golden Couple

Author: Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Audiobook Length: 11 hours and 3 minutes

Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Thriller, Mystery, Suspense, Contemporary

Read Start Date: September 5, 2022

Read Finish Date: September 7, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Wealthy Washington suburbanites Marissa and Matthew Bishop seem to have it all—until Marissa is unfaithful. Beneath their veneer of perfection is a relationship riven by work and a lack of intimacy. She wants to repair things for the sake of their eight-year-old son and because she loves her husband. Enter Avery Chambers.

Avery is a therapist who lost her professional license. Still, it doesn’t stop her from counseling those in crisis, though they have to adhere to her unorthodox methods. And the Bishops are desperate.

When they glide through Avery’s door and Marissa reveals her infidelity, all three are set on a collision course. Because the biggest secrets in the room are still hidden, and it’s no longer simply a marriage that’s in danger.

My Review: The Goodreads synopsis is pretty good so I won’t elaborate on the plot much here, except to say that the book alternates between the perspectives of Marissa and Avery. There are threats lurking behind every corner. Marissa owns a boutique store and starts to get mysterious and at times threatening messages. Is it the guy she slept with? Is Matthew also having an affair with an old girlfriend.

Avery lost her professional license because she went one to step over the line: she broke a patient’s confidentiality when she took information she had learned during a session and leaked it to the news media, essentially becoming a whistle blower. Like Marissa, she is also being threatened, but by the pharmaceutical company who wants to know the name of the informant. Avery adopts a love bug of a Pitbull, but not for protection oddly. I have to say I was a little worried that the dog would get hurt protecting Avery at some point in the book, but happily NOPE! Finally! An author who knows to leave the dog alone 😀.

The authors do a good job of building the tension through out the book and although it started somewhat slow, by the end I couldn’t wait to find out what was in store at the story’s climax. The twist at the end was very unexpected, but I liked it!

This book was great as an audiobook, and it was possible to read while multitasking.

BOOK REVIEW: Book Lovers by Emily Henry

Title: Book Lovers

Author: Emily Henry

Book Length: 384 pages

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

GenreFiction, Romance, Contemporary, Women’s Fiction

Read Start Date: August 27, 2022

Read Finish Date: September 4, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: One summer. Two rivals. A plot twist they didn’t see coming….

Nora Stephens’ life is books—she’s read them all—and she is not that type of heroine. Not the plucky one, not the laidback dream girl, and especially not the sweetheart. In fact, the only people Nora is a heroine for are her clients, for whom she lands enormous deals as a cutthroat literary agent, and her beloved little sister Libby.

Which is why she agrees to go to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina for the month of August when Libby begs her for a sisters’ trip away—with visions of a small-town transformation for Nora, who she’s convinced needs to become the heroine in her own story. But instead of picnics in meadows, or run-ins with a handsome country doctor or bulging-forearmed bartender, Nora keeps bumping into Charlie Lastra, a bookish brooding editor from back in the city. It would be a meet-cute if not for the fact that they’ve met many times and it’s never been cute.

If Nora knows she’s not an ideal heroine, Charlie knows he’s nobody’s hero, but as they are thrown together again and again—in a series of coincidences no editor worth their salt would allow—what they discover might just unravel the carefully crafted stories they’ve written about themselves.

My Review: I am not usually a romance novel reader, but have gotten into it recently because I’ve heard that you should read what you are currently writing to get you in the mindset. I also am not usually a fan of romance movies or rom coms. From my limited understanding, this book covers the small town romance trope. Emily Henry writes in the “Behind the Book” section at the end of the book:

“And having seen enough of these low-angst, made-for-TV delights (Hallmark and otherwise), I found myself fascinated with one particular iteration of the small-town romance. It goes like this: an uptight, joyless, career-obsessed main character gets shipped off from the big city they call home to conduct business in Middle America. They don’t want to go! They don’t even have the right shoes for this kind of setting! But once they’re there, not only do they manage to fall in love with one of the sweet, small-town locals, but they also manage to learn the true meaning of life. (Spoiler alert: it’s not a high-power career in a major metropolis. And everyone ends up happy. Well, everyone except for the ex. The woman (or man) left behind in the city, whose entire role is usually to call the lead character and bark at them over the phone, remind them that they went to Smalltown, USA for business–to conduct a mass layoff, or to crush the local toy emporium so Big Toy can open its 667th location in the heart of the town, while maybe bulldozing a gazebo or two on the way.”

Emily Henry goes on to say about the inspiration for Book Lovers: “I found myself asking, who is this woman? Where does her story go from here?”

Enter Nora Stephenson, the woman left behind in the big city. Nora, a high earning, workaholic, book agent, has been left behind THREE times! Nora loves her job, the city (a.k.a. Manhattan), and her life there. The City is where she grew up with her mother and sister Libby — where her mother died. The City for Nora is not only a place to live, but a place where her mother’s memory can be found on every corner. She couldn’t imagine anything worse than living in one of those small-towns from the romance novels she reads, or in general moving from the City to anyplace else.

We meet Charlie Lastra (a book editor) pretty early in the book, and it is obvious that this guy will be the love interest. Nora is late to her meeting with Charlie because she was being dumped, en route, by another guy who is leaving her for a small-town local girl. At this point, Nora is so used to this being her luck with men, that it doesn’t phase her. She really could care less. When she arrives at the table, to pitch her client’s new manuscript, which takes place in Sunshine Falls, a small town in North Carolina, Charlie turns down the book. Whatever, Charlie is a nightmare anyway (everyone says so).

The joke is on Charlie Lastra, because 2 years later, the book Nora was pitching is a best seller making tons of money.

Libby (Nora’s sister) is a mother of 2, with a 3rd on the way, and guilts Nora into taking a four-week relaxation vacation to Sunshine Falls. Nora, who gives Libby whatever she wants, agrees. There is a lot of baggage in the relationship between the sisters, stemming from the death of their mother when they were young. In short, Nora had to step into the mother role and gave up a lot of her dreams. Nora puts Libby first, but Libby is unhappy that Nora works too much and doesn’t seem to have time for Libby anymore, etc.

Anyway, they go to Sunshine Falls, and who should Nora see there, but Charlie. Turns out he is FROM Sunshine Falls, which is why he didn’t want to edit the book because it was clear from the manuscript that the author had never been to Sunshine Falls. Sparks fly, etc. Charlie and Nora are like the same person, except you know, Nora is a woman and Charlie is a man. Has Nora stepped into a small-town romance of her own?

I could go on about the plot, but I think you get the idea.

From the synopsis, I was afraid that this book was going to be too much like Beach Read, but I was pleasantly surprised that it was not. I really liked the main characters Charlie and Nora. Their characters were believable, with real problems. I felt that this was a “small-town romance”, but in real terms rather than movie terms. Nora was a smart, professional woman, who had a hard time finding a man who could handle that — which unfortunately is a very real problem. Charlie, also in love with the City, is stuck in Sunshine falls taking care of the family business and his ailing father. This is also a real life problem faced by many people. Aging parents, no one else to take care of them…etc.

I think that Bookshelf Fantasies says it best in saying that “[t]he plot has much more depth than you might expect. Emily Henry excels at creating funny, quirky, unusual characters, then giving them rich backstories that humanize them and expose the pains and sorrows behind their facades. The same is true here, and it makes Nora much more likable than she initially comes across, so much so that I became very invested in her happiness and well-being.”

I also loved how Charlie and Nora were not perfect, but perfect for each other. I agree with Ali’s Books, when she says “Charlie and Nora are perfection together. When they come together it’s HOT and not because the scenes are steamy, but because you feel their connection so deeply. The way Charlie worships and adores Nora is just everything. And watching the sisters heal and reconnect was beautiful, too.”

I also appreciated that the banter between the characters did not get tiresome as in most romance books I’ve read lately. They are both playfully sarcastic, but the conversations were not stupid or annoying, and did not seem contrived just for the sake of having a conversation to show how sarcastic the characters were — meaning that the conversation had purpose, depth, a certain realistic edge to it.

While the ending was predictably a happy one, it was also very realistic, which was great. I can’t stand sappy, ridiculous endings that just ruin an otherwise good book. I’m so glad that this didn’t happen here, because I would have been pretty annoyed.

All in all another great book from Emily Henry!

BOOK REVIEW: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

18045891Title: Sharp Objects

Author: Gillian Flynn

Book Length: 321 pages

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller, Suspense, Horror, Contemporary

Read Start Date: September 4, 2022 

Read Finish Date: September 17, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, reporter Camille Preaker faces a troubling assignment: she must return to her tiny hometown to cover the unsolved murder of a preteen girl and the disappearance of another. For years, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed in her old bedroom in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Dogged by her own demons, she must unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past if she wants to get the story—and survive this homecoming.

My ReviewCamille Preaker, now a reported living in Chicago, is sent to her childhood hometown Wind Gap to cover the story of two child murders. To say that Camille had a troubled childhood would be an understatement. The tag line on the cover of the book I rented from the library states: “This family isn’t nuclear. It’s toxic.” That’s a mild way to put it.

Adora, the family matriarch and Camille’s mother is beloved by the small town of 2,000 residents. The Preaker’s are old money, and own the biggest business in town: a hog farm and butchery. When Camille was thirteen, her sister Marian died after a long bout of illnesses. Marian, the more loved child. The more adored child. Camille had always been second best. Soon after, Camille started cutting words on her body until only a small patch of skin on her back was unmarred. By the time she was an adult, she was also an alcoholic.

At the age of 30 she went to rehab for 6 months, a place for girls who cut. Her mother only visited once. “Then, inevitably, came the stories of Marian. She’d already lost one child, you see. It had nearly killed her. Why would the older (though necessarily less beloved) deliberately harm herself? I was so different from her lost girl, who — think of it — would be almost thirty had be lived. Marian embraced life, what she had been spared. Lord, she had soaked up the world — remember, Camille, how she laughed even in the hospital? I hated to point out to my mother that such was the nature of a bewildered, expiring ten-year-old. Why bother? It’s impossible to compete with the dead. I wished I could stop trying.”

Despite this horrible relationship and past, Camille, fresh out of rehab is heading back to the place where her demons grew up — to stay in the very house where they were created. Wind Gap was “the place where [her] sister died, the place [she] started cutting [her]self. A town so suffocating and small, you tripped over people you hated every day. People who knew things about you. It’s the kind of place that leaves a mark.”

For the first time in a long time, Camille sees Amma, the half-sister she knows very little about. “My mother said she was the most popular girl in school, and I believed it. Jackie said she was the meanest, and I believed that, too. Living in a swirl of Adora’s bitterness had to make one a bit crooked. And what did Amma make of Marian, I wondered? How confusing to live in the shadow of a shadow. But Amma was a smart girl — she did her acting out away from home. Near Adora she was compliant, sweet, needy — just what she had to be, to get my mother’s love.”

Gillian Flynn paints the picture of a bleak town in Nowheresville, America, where you are either a winner or a loser. “Old money and trash,” as Camille puts it. Now, two young teenagers are dead, strangled with their teeth pulled out. By all accounts these girls had their troubles — sometimes they were even bullies, but who would do such a heinous thing? Suspects abound, the police seem a tad incompetent, or at best overwhelmed / out of their league. Will the killer be caught before the next girl goes missing?

The mystery keeps you in it’s grip until the end.

I also really love Gillian Flynn’s writing style. Here are some examples:

“I rang the doorbell, which had been a cat-calling screech when I was very young, now subdued and truncated, like the bing! you hear on children’s records when it’s time to turn the page.”

“I drank more vodka. There was nothing I wanted to do more than be unconscious again, wrapped in black, gone away. I was raw. I felt swollen with potential tears, like a water balloon filled to burst. Begging for a pin prick. Wind Gap was unhealthy for me. This home was unhealthy for me.”

This book was published back in 2006 — wow already 16 years ago — so chances are you might have already read it. In case you haven’t yet, please do. This book is just fantastic.

BOOK REVIEW: Local Woman Missing by Mary Kubica

54737068Title: Local Woman Missing

Author: Mary Kubica

Audiobook Length: 11 hours and 40 minutes

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller, Suspense, Crime, Contemporary

Read Start Date: August 30, 2022 

Read Finish Date: September 2, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Shelby Tebow is the first to go missing. Not long after, Meredith Dickey and her six-year-old daughter, Delilah, vanish just blocks away from where Shelby was last seen, striking fear into their once-peaceful community. Are these incidents connected? After an elusive search that yields more questions than answers, the case eventually goes cold.

Now, 11 years later, Delilah shockingly returns. Everyone wants to know what happened to her, but no one is prepared for what they’ll find….

In this smart and chilling thriller, master of suspense and New York Times best-selling author Mary Kubica takes domestic secrets to a whole new level, showing that some people will stop at nothing to keep the truth buried.

My Review: I really struggled between giving this book 3 or 4 stars, but landed on 3 stars. This book is essentially about two women and a 6 year old girl who goes missing in the same town 11 years ago. The story is told by 3 separate POVs, some in the present and some 11 years in the past.

Essentially, the plot of the book is as follows: One woman (Shelby) is found dead, buried in a shallow grave — her husband is sent to prison for her murder. The other woman, Meredith, is found dead in a motel — death by apparent suicide — her 6 year old daughter is missing, and has been for the last 11 years. Meredith left a note saying that her daughter was “safe” and not to bother looking. The daughter, Delilah, is found in the opening scene of the book (after she escapes her captors), but her brother Leo soon suspects that the girl calling herself Delilah is not actually his sister.

I read some Goodreads reviews that said that they didn’t like the way the sentences were written. They were really short — however, this did not come across in the audiobook, so perhaps audiobook in this instance should be the preferred medium. For me, this was an easy listen and one that could be done while doing chores etc.

I liked the suspense of finding out what really happened — this was building through out the entire book. I was entertained and generally liked the book until I got to the end. I was disappointed as to how it all turned out. There was a lot of potential for this to be better than it was — the ending just was not plausible and there seems to be a lot of convenient police incompetence, which would not normally happen. I feel like so many things went wrong just for the sake of the story.

If you want to read this book, please do not read on.

SPOILER ALERT:

I need to give away key elements of the plot to fully state my feelings on why I gave this book 3 instead of 4 stars.

We are told that Leo and his dad always believed that Meredith killed herself after giving away Delilah to some unknown person. Say what now? Does that make sense to anyone? But ok. So they believe this hogwash, which means that they basically have believed the whole 11 years that Delilah is safe and happy living with some kind family.

Did the police really believe that Meredith would go to a motel, kill herself, but before doing that “hide” her daughter somewhere? Essentially give the child away to someone else?  Why would she do that? Meredith was happy in her career, her marriage, her life. The dad was a good guy, husband and father. It just really makes no freaking sense whatsoever. And who would she stash the daughter with? Wouldn’t there be a list of trusted friends?

If there was an Amber Alert out for the girl, how would no one recognize her? How would she be living a good life elsewhere without coming into contact with someone, anyone? A 6 year old girl is old enough to know who her parents are — she is old enough to tell someone. How anyone could have thought she was anything but kidnapped and hidden is ludicrous. And if she was kidnapped, then of course Meredith was murdered. Duh. Also, can’t pathologists figure out it wasn’t suicide by the angle of the wounds? Like, if Meredith was stabbed in the stomach, the angle of the wound would be different than if she stabbed herself in the stomach. Right? Sigh.

Then there is the issue of the girl being found. So Delilah escapes, and the cops take a DNA sample. Turns out, it is not the right girl, but the family keeps on thinking it is Delilah because one detective with a crush of the dad tells him that the DNA results are positive so that he won’t be sad anymore. Uh, what? No one else at the police department checked the file? Was this detective actively lying to everyone? Did she honestly think no one would find out?

By this point in the book, we have almost reached the culmination of the storyline 11 years in the past.

We find out that Shelby was a victim of a hit and run accident (Bea (Kate’s partner) was driving drunk with Meredith in the passenger seat). To hide the crime, Bea and Meredith bury the body in a shallow grave, and then Meredith comes back later to cover her with a blanket. There are so many problems with this. The police eventually arrest Shelby’s husband for the murder (I guess based upon the theory he beat her up or something), but like, hello, how is this even possible? She was HIT BY A CAR! Did the pathologist miss this fact? How did the police think the husband had killed her? And what about the blanket? Couldn’t they tell with forensics that the blanket was placed later — didn’t they look at video surveillance at shops to see who had purchased the blanket? Are the police in this town just crazy incompetent?

I mean these crimes did not take place in 1940 — DNA existed. I watch enough true crime to know that there is ALWAYS DNA left at the scene of the crime. I mean, come on. Was NO DNA testing done on Shelby’s body? And if not, why not? Did Shelby’s husband have an incompetent lawyer also?

The ending is probably the most farfetched, but I won’t spoil that for you. I could go on, but I won’t. I think you get the idea.

As I said above, I would recommend this book as a beach read or something you can listen to while multitasking. As long as you don’t think too much about the plot holes, it’s actually rather enjoyable.

BOOK REVIEW: The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood

56732449Title: The Love Hypothesis

Author: Ali Hazelwood

Audiobook Length: 11 hours and 8 minutes

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Romance, Contemporary, Women’s Fiction

Read Start Date: August 22, 2022

Read Finish Date: August 25, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: As a third-year Ph.D. candidate, Olive Smith doesn’t believe in lasting romantic relationships–but her best friend does, and that’s what got her into this situation. Convincing Anh that Olive is dating and well on her way to a happily ever after was always going to take more than hand-wavy Jedi mind tricks: Scientists require proof. So, like any self-respecting biologist, Olive panics and kisses the first man she sees.

That man is none other than Adam Carlsen, a young hotshot professor–and well-known ass. Which is why Olive is positively floored when Stanford’s reigning lab tyrant agrees to keep her charade a secret and be her fake boyfriend. But when a big science conference goes haywire, putting Olive’s career on the Bunsen burner, Adam surprises her again with his unyielding support and even more unyielding… six-pack abs.

Suddenly their little experiment feels dangerously close to combustion. And Olive discovers that the only thing more complicated than a hypothesis on love is putting her own heart under the microscope.

My Review: Apparently this is another “booktok” recommendation — I checked it out of the library as it was on the list of “global popular books”. I went into this not knowing anything about the book, or having any expectations.

I was torn between giving this book 3 or 4 stars. 3 stars because the banter between the characters annoyed me, as did the ridiculous conversation subject matters. It also generally annoys me when characters have very poor communication skills and hold back their true feelings or don’t discuss topics because of “misunderstandings” which could be cleared up in a matter of a few seconds but aren’t just to create tension.

Maybe this is just how rom coms are formulaically, but it just seems so contrived. Additionally, poor communication is a horrible foundation for a relationship. 

My Book Joy summed up the issue pretty nicely: “What kiiiiilled me though, was the reliance on the idiotic thing I often find myself screaming during these kinds of stories: JUST TALK TO EACH OTHER!!! STOP ASSUMING YOU KNOW WHAT THEY THINK AND WANT AND DID! GOOD LORD! COMMUNICATION, PEOPLE! It was particularly frustrating in this book for two reasons. The first is that they’re not high school age — 26 and 34 if I recall correctly — so I would kiiiind of expect them to be better with handling this. To be fair, it did mostly come from 26-year-old Olive who has very little romantic relationship experience. Still, with the other friendships she has, I’d think honest communication would have been a skill she picked up by now.”

It also got tiresome how Adam kept being described as “large”, “big”…if I heard about his “large hands” once, it was 30 times. We get it. He’s a big guy. By big I guess the author meant tall? Because we are also told he has a six pack so he can’t be overweight or bulky. Also, if I heard the words “fake dating” once, I heard it 100 times. I am NOT a fan of repetitive word usage. 

If I only gave ratings on the endings of books, I might have been persuaded to give the book 4 stars, because despite myself, by the end of the book I was listening to it because it was finally grabbing my attention. I won’t say too much here otherwise it would give away the story, but let’s just say things started to finally get interesting.

Would I recommend this book? Eh, I guess? If you are the type of person who really loves the fake dating to real relationship rom com trope and can handle a lot of bad dialogue, then I would say go for it!