Not That I Could Tell

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Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a copy of Jessica Strawser’s novel, Not That I Could Tell,in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Yellow Springs, an idyllic suburb in Ohio, is rocked to its core when Kristen and her two young twins, go missing. Kristen is in the middle of a divorce and her soon-to-be ex-husband, Paul, is devastated by their disappearance. He had been living in an apartment, but he moves back into the house that he shared with Kristen during the investigation. Not everyone in the neighborhood is convinced that Paul, a respected doctor, is as innocent as he appears. The neighbors try to figure out what has happened to their dear friend. Can the police or Kristen’s friends solve the mystery before something else goes wrong?

LIKE– I loved Desperate Housewives and although Not That I Could Tell is quite a bit more serious, it had shades of the show. In particular, it had similarities with the various personalities in the neighborhood and mystery element of the story. Also, how sprinkled throughout the novel are short chapters written by Kristen, which reminded me of Desperate Housewives narrator, Mary Alice.

I liked the mystery elements of the story. Strawser does a great job at building the suspense, especially when she builds to the climatic moment in the story. I was gripped and glued to the page.

I loved the character of Hallie, a neighborhood pre-teen, who takes it upon herself to be a amateur sleuth. I wasn’t quite sure how her story arc would play-out and it was a wonderful surprise. She adds a lot of conflict to the story, sending it in a wild direction.

The magic in Not That I Could Tell is in the friendships between the women. Strawser has vividly imagined her neighborhood and its inhabitants. I appreciate that she included Izzy, a single woman without children. Izzy is in a different place in her life, but she easily finds friendship with her neighbors. Not That I Could Tell celebrates all types of families and relationships.

DISLIKE– The ultimate outcome of the story was predictable. I appreciate that Strawser tackles a difficult and sensitive subject matter with care, but I was hoping for a more unexpected ending. I think with the way that Strawser peppered the narrative with Kristen’s chapters, I was hoping for a Gone Girl-esque twist that never arrived.

RECOMMEND– Yes! Not That I Could Tellis a solid page-turn that speaks to an important issue. You’ll love the neighborhood and friendships that Strawser has created.

My Dead Parents

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Thank you to Crown Publishingfor providing me with a copy of Anya Yurchyshyn’s memoir, My Dead Parents, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT-In her memoir, My Dead Parents, Anya Yurchyshyn examines how life shaped her parents into the people that she knew; an alcoholic mother and a tempermental father. When Yurchyshyn was a teenager, her father George, died in a tragic and suspicious car accident in the Ukraine. Her mother, Anita, feeling that her husband had been murdered fell into a deeper despair and drank herself into an early grave. As Yurchyshyn sorted through her parent’s belongings, she discovered letters and pictures that sent her on a journey to discover the parents that she never met, the people that her parents were before she was born.

LIKEMy Dead Parentsis impossible to put down. It wasn’t short enough for me to read in a single sitting, but I plowed through it in less than two days. Yurchyshyn is a gifted writer and they way that she has presented her family story packs the biggest punch. She begins with the fact that her parents have both died, as is evident in the title, but then she quickly goes back to her childhood and starts painting her complicated relationship with both of them.

Her earliest memories are of parents who were glamorous and exciting. They would often travel to far-flung parts of the world and return with treasures, like rugs from the middle east and masks from Asia. These treasures filled Yurchyshyn’s home and imagination, making it seem like she lived in a museum. But this part of her parents was also mixed with her mother’s alcoholism and refusal to step-in to protect Yurchyshyn and Yurchyshyn’s older sister, Alexandra, from their father’s demanding behavior. Yurchyshyn rebels against her parents, especially when George temporarily relocates to his home country of the Ukraine, leaving his family in America.

When George dies in a car crash, Anita suspects that it was staged and that he had been murdered. Yurchyshyn feels guilty for feeling relieved that her father has died and that she is now out from under his controlling behavior. However, now as she transitions to adulthood, her mother’s alcoholism ramps up. Alexandra tries to take the brunt of care taking for their mother, in efforts to shelter her younger sister, but she cannot conceal everything. Anita’s alcoholism is out of control and up until her death, her addiction and behavior creates a lot of pain within the family. Echoing how she felt when her father died, Yurchyshyn feels relieved when her mother passes.

However, as she is going through her parent’s possessions, she falls down a rabbit hole of wondering about her parents, trying to figure out how such seemingly vivacious people could have turned into the parents she knew. She takes her discovery of letters further, to speak with family and close-friends of her parents, in efforts to understand the people that they were before she was born.

Who are our parents and can we ever really know them? This is the central question of My Dead Parentsand something that I found personally relevant, but that is a concept that I’d argue will be universal for all readers. Like Yurchyshyn, I’ve lost both of my parents and I have definitely look through all of the objects that are now in my possession and I’ve tried to cobble together “the truth” of their lives, especially for my father, who died when I was four. I have a hard time reconciling the mom that I knew, from what I knew of her as a person from before me. Life can dramatically alter people. Yurchyshyn writes about her parents with care and love, but she also does not spare the difficult parts of their relationship or her feelings. I felt heartbroken, but like I could fully relate to her memoir.

Yurchyshyn learned that she had an older brother who died as an infant, a pain that her parents never recovered from. She also learned of the cultural differences between her parents. Her father’s family fled the Ukraine when he was young, moving to America. Her mother was from a Polish-American family. There is a long history of distrust between Ukraine and Poland. Her parents union was not approved of by her father’s parents. Additionally, George’s strong ties to his Ukrainian heritage became more prevalent as years went on, including his disappointment that his daughters did not carry on the culture. As a teenager, Yurchyshyn didn’t understand why her father needed to return to Ukraine and felt that it was because her parent’s marriage was crumbling. In hindsight, she now realizes that it was a deep-seeded need to help repair his home country, rather than a failing in his marriage. The car accident cut short his efforts in the Ukraine and also his plan to return to living with his family.

The last part of the memoir turns to an investigation, as Yurchyshyn travels to the Ukraine to try to determine if her father’s death was an accident or murder. I’m not going to spoil it, but just know that this entire section is intense and unexpected.

DISLIKE– Not a single thing.

RECOMMEND– Yes!!! My Dead Parentsis a memoir that I will not soon forget and I’m certain that it will be on the bestseller’s list. A great pick for a book club too, so much to discuss.

Sociable

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Thank you to Doubleday Booksfor providing me with a copy of Rebecca Harrington’s novel, Sociable, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Journalist Elinor Tomlinson is devastated when her boyfriend and fellow journalist, Mike, breaks up with her. They had been dating for four years and the break-up seems to have come from out of the blue. Elinor suspects that Mike was cheating on her with his colleague, Andrea, but no matter how much she dives into Mike’s social media, she cannot get concrete proof. In the months after the break-up, Elinor starts working at a company called Journalism.ly, where she has a knack for writing articles that go viral on social media. She starts figuring out life on her own with a new apartment and jumping back into the dating scene, but Mike is never far from her mind. Will Elinor ever understand her breakup or will she just drive herself crazy by using social media to relay to Mike that her life is fine without him?

LIKE– One of the best part of Sociableis the commentary on how men treat women in the workplace. Elinor is a talented journalist, yet the men in her life use subtle tactics to undermine her efforts. When she is dating Mike, his career and talents always shine above hers. The ending of the story has a nice nod to Elinor realizing that she is just as talented and worthy. Her superiors at Journalism.ly, are male and they constantly belittle her. One guy, who is her age and whom she went to college with, feels that he can serve as her mentor, because he has been at the company a few months longer. It’s insidious and the worst part is the men clearly don’t even realize what they are doing. It’s simply the way things between men and women have always been. I certainly recognized the behavior from my own experiences in the work place. Men can be very patronizing, even when they are the “good guys.”

Speaking of the men in Sociable; they come across as very flat characters, especially Elinor’s co-workers. When I finished the novel, I felt disappointed, especially with Peter, a coworker whom it seems might have a crush on Elinor, but where the storyline never develops. However, after giving it some thought, I’ve concluded that the point of Sociableis that Elinor allows her fixation on Mike to get in the way of her goals. The point is for Elinor to come into her own and realize that she is worthy outside of having a relationship or validation from social media. It was a little odd that so much of the Peter situation was developed without a pay-off, but the ultimate pay-off was Elinor’s self-realization.

And Elinor, oh Elinor…she’s a mess. It’s not a requirement to have a likable protagonist, but I have to confess that I wish that I had been able to like Elinor a bit more. She reminded me of a character from Lena Dunham’s series, Girls. Elinor is self-involved, not particularly nice to her friends, and neurotic. She is full of contradictions and is rather unpleasant. I felt that her situation was highly relatable, but I found myself rooting for her to succeed in her situation, not her as a person. That said, I found Sociableto be a compulsive read that I didn’t want to put down. I was locked-in and finished it in one afternoon.

I also want to mention that the same day that I sat down to read Sociable, my husband and I had a discussion about Facebook and the fake realities that people create for themselves or how they post things on social media just for attention. I found this to be very timely with regard to my reading of Sociable, especially how Elinor works hard to cultivate a perfect social media presence. In several scenes, Elinor is at party or a mixer, and she is on her phone (as are others) ignoring real social interactions, while favoring documenting a false version of the situation on their social media accounts. It’s stomach turning, because it’s what’s happening in real life all of the time. Reading Sociablehas made me step back from my own social media usage.

DISLIKE– Besides wishing that I had liked Elinor, I found it odd that the story occasionally broke the fourth wall, addressing the reader directly. It was infrequent enough to be a quirk that I found unnecessary and distracting. It always pulled me out of the story.

RECOMMEND– Yes. Sociableis a quick read that stuck in my mind for several days after I finished reading it. It reminded me so much of Girls, that I recommend it to fans of the show. Harrington is a solid writer and this is a on-point topic.

A Guide for Murdered Children

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Thank you to Penguin Group Blue Rider Press for providing me with a copy of Sarah Sparrow’s novel, A Guide for Murdered Children, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT-Willow Wade is a recovering alcoholic and former cop trying to get his life back together. His friend and current husband to Wade’s ex-wife, convinces him to take a job in a cold-case unit in Detroit. Wade, who has psychic abilities, soon realizes that something very unusual is happening with regard to the cold cases of children who have been murdered. The murdered children are coming back for revenge.

LIKEA Guide for Murdered Childrenis oozing with creativity and different from any novel that I’ve previously read. I love the concept that Sparrow has created: murdered children are able to live again through the bodies of recently deceased adults, adults who have died in a manner where no one else knows that they have died. For example, a woman is jogging and collapses,  but she rises from the dead to resume her life with this murdered child inside of her and no one else knows. The murdered child must work with the newly dead adult to exact revenge on the child’s murderer before either body can have peace.

When the child takes over the adult’s body, the adult’s behavior changes. If the adult had been in a relationship, they are now no longer interested in being intimate with their partner. To the child inside of them, they can’t grasp sexual intimacy. It’s gross! The child may cause them to eat funny, such as one character who begins to favor gummy bears. I loved this creative element, where the adult and child are in equal shares trying to live through this one body. There is a poignant moment where it is mentioned that the children will experience sensations through the adult body, that they never had a chance to live long enough to do.

I love the concept of having the children meet at an AA type meeting, where they are guided through the process of being inside an adult and their goal of finding their murder. There were many plots twists that I did not anticipate. I don’t normally take issue with scary stories, but I found myself unable to read A Guide for Murdered Children, when I was home alone. It’s rather disturbing and unsettling. Even writing this review now (while I’m home alone at night) is giving me the chills.

DISLIKE– There were  times where I couldn’t keep track of the large volume of characters and subplots. It made it a story that was an effort to read, rather than one that I could get lost inside. A Guide for Murdered Children has a lot going on and I’m not sure that it is all necessary. The pacing is uneven, sometimes breakneck speed and other times very sluggish.

RECOMMEND– Yes. A Guide for Murdered Childrenis likely going to be very unique from any story that you’ve previously read and Sparrow’s abundance of creativity shines above the pacing problems. This is a great pick for people who enjoy detective stories and don’t mind if it’s on the unsettling, creepy side.