The Pisces

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Thank you to Crown Publishing for providing me with a copy of Melissa Broder’s novel, The Pisces, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Thirty-eight year old Lucy, has spent over a decade living in Arizona and working on her thesis involving the poetry of Sappho. Lucy is struggling with her thesis and when her boyfriend dumps her for a younger a woman, Lucy hits rock bottom.

Lucy needs a break from her desert life. Her sister, Annika, is spending the summer traveling and needs someone to dogsit, so Lucy moves into Annika’s California beach house for three months. While in California, she tries to get her life back on track by attending group therapy for sex addiciton. Nothing seems to be making her life better, until one evening while sitting on the rocks at the beach, she meets Theo, a handsome and mysterious man, who likes to swim by moonlight.

LIKE/DISLIKE– I usually separate what I liked and dislike about a book, but in the case of The Pisces, I feel the two are so intwined that I need to speak of them together.

I likely would not have read The Pisces, if I had realized that it was erotica. The description of the novel said that it was erotic, but did not list it as “Erotica,” which is a big distinction. I’m not a prude, but I also don’t read erotica. It’s not a genre that I’m familiar with, so perhaps someone who is familiar with the genre would have a very different reaction to The Pisces.

I found much of the erotica elements to be icky. There are plenty of vivid descriptions about fecal matter and period blood that are just gross. Broder writes incredible sensory descriptions, but they were often of things that I did not care to imagine. I thought erotica would be sexy and a turn-on, but there was nothing sexy about The Pisces. I felt that a lot of it was for shock value.

The Piscesis narrated by Lucy and she is a self-centered, bitchy character. She makes snide judgements about nearly ever other character in the story. She’s terrible to her sister, who loves her. The worst part is she neglects the elderly dog that is in her care. I’m not sure if I’ve ever read a story with blatant animal abuse. As an animal lover, this was hard to stomach. Although, I think all of this is Broder’s way of showing us that Lucy is a deeply disturbed person and as a reader, we really not supposed to like or connect with her. There is a subtle shift in her character in the last few chapters, but most of the novel she is not someone who is learning from her mistakes or even wishing to make changes.

I liked the colorful characters that Lucy meets in her group therapy, as they add another dynamic to the story. But the whole time the therapist and things there are being told to do in sex therapy, disturbed me. The advice was terrible, further damaging already damaged women. I kept looking for the plot or character that would redeem the story and shed some positive light, but this was hard to find. Annika seems to be the only normal, good-hearted character and her part is minor. The Piscesis a story about deeply damaged people.

This is also a fantasy novel with mythological creatures that requires a heavy suspension of disbelief. Logistically, there were elements that didn’t add up. The scenes with Theo hanging out with Lucy in Annika’s house were bizarre. I was paranoid about the white couch.  I wondered why Lucy didn’t question him more, she was too accepting.

I liked the ending. It’s creepy and unsettling. I didn’t anticipate the twist.

RECOMMEND– Probably not, although I think if you love to read the genre of erotica, maybe give The Piscesa try. This book wasn’t for me.

 

You Think It, I’ll Say It

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Thank you to Random House Publishing Groupfor providing me with a copy of Curtis Sittenfeld’s short story collection, You Think It, I’ll Say It, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT-You Think It, I’ll Say Itis a collection of short stories from acclaimed novelist, Curtis Sittenfeld.

LIKE– Sittenfeld is one of my favorite modern writers and I was absolutely thrilled to have an opportunity to review her latest book, a collection of short stories.

Sittenfeld doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable and many of her characters toy with emotional bombshells. They exist on the edge, often crossing the line by acting on their impulses.

In the story which provides the inspiration for title of the collection, The World Has Many Butterflies, friends begin to have an emotional affair by playing a strange game: “You Think it, I’ll Say It.” They secretly play this game when they come in contact at parties and their kid’s sporting events. Graham initiates the play by mentioning the title and then Julie begins to tear down the other people in the room, as if she and Graham are conspirators thinking the same thoughts. At first, Julie feels a sense of freedom in speaking as she wishes and saying what’s on her mind, but the game becomes increasingly intimate, as she speaks in a way that she wouldn’t dare reveal to her spouse.

Plausible Deniability plays on a similar theme, with Libby having an emotional affair with her brother-in-law. She feels in her gut that it is crossing the line, but for over a year she continues to send him text messages. At a certain point, they agree to only send one message a day and the message can only be about classical music. Libby sends these incredibly intimate texts about the music she loves. When she becomes pregnant and confronts her brother-in-law regarding this emotional affair and intimacy that they are having, he tries to make it seem like it isn’t a big deal. Libby admits that it is a big deal to her, she thinks about him romantically and even though he is devastated that she wants to cut it off, he won’t admit that they have crossed the line. He is the narrator of the story, so we know that he loves her more than he should and even more devastating, he realizes that his brother doesn’t really love her.

Old memories from high school and college also haunt Sittenfeld’s characters. A Regular Couple, involves two couples on their honeymoon who meet at a resort in the desert. The wives were high school classmates over two decades ago. The narrator, Maggie, is both intimidated and fascinated with Ashley, who was a very popular girl in their high school. Now, Maggie is a successful lawyer and immediately, Ashley mentions having seen Maggie in the news. Maggie and her husband are staying in the most expensive rooms, while Ashley and her much older husband, are staying in cheaper accommodations. Maggie knows she has reaches success in her career and she even has a “trophy husband”- She admits that her husband, Jason, is far more attractive than she is and she constantly worries that Jason, who does not have as successful of a career, is using her for her money. Maggie is insecure and spending time with Ashley turns her into a mess. Although Ashley seems to have nothing but goodwill towards Maggie, Maggie can’t help but try to seek retribution for the way that she was treated in high school.

Do-Over is a perfect story for our political climate. A few decades after they graduated from boarding school, Sylvia looks up her old classmate, Clay and they have dinner. Sylvia and Clay ran against each other in a school campaign and there was a tie vote. The school administrators gave the role to Clay, offering Sylvia a lesser leadership role. Years later, Sylvia, who also happened to have a crush on Clay back in high school, decides to confront him or rather, ambush him. Sylvia, feeling she has nothing to lose, lets Clay know exactly how she feels during a very tense and awkward dinner date.

You Think It, I’ll Say Itis a solid collection and every single story was excellent. No clunkers. I adore Sittenfeld. Her characters engage in cringe-worthy behavior, but their mindset and impulses are always relatable. She understands how people tick and I love to see how her stories play out. She always keeps me guessing and turning the page. Her wicked sense of humor also shines through.

DISLIKE– Not a single thing.

RECOMMEND– YES, YES, YES!!! I recommend You Think It, I’ll Say It and everything else that Sittenfeld has written. I can’t wait to read what she writes next. Sittenfeld is such a talent!

The Favorite Sister

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Thank you to Simon & Schuster for providing me with a copy of Jessica Knoll’s latest novel, The Favorite Sister, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– “Goal Diggers” is a reality show about a group of highly driven and successful entrepenurial women. All are successful in their careers, but the show creates a new format in which they can compete. The women backstab and lie in efforts to show that they are valuable enough for the network to cast them on the subsequent season of “Goal Diggers.” Those who do not prove their worth by being entertaining enough are ruthlessly shown the door.

Long time cast member Brett, owns a chain of cycle fitness centers with her older sister, Kelly. This season, we learn that Kelly has been added as a full-time cast member. This shocks the cast because Kelly is a single-mom and being a mother had never been part of the plan for any of the other “Goal Diggers”. Kelly’s teenage daughter is beautiful, sassy and bi-racial. Stephanie, the only African-American and the oldest member of the cast, immediately feels threatened, thinking that Kelly’s daughter might be her replacement.

Early in the novel, we learn through a flash-forward that Brett is dead and there is something very fishy regarding her death. However, to figure out how Brett died and who is responsible, we need to sit back and enjoy the current season of “Goal Diggers”: the most vicious and shocking season to date!

LIKE– I loved Jessica Knoll’s debut novel, Luckiest Girl Alive and I was thrilled to be granted a copy of The Favorite Sister. Knoll has a fabulous writer’s voice and excels at tone. The tone of The Favorite Sisteris snarky and bitchy, there are so many cutting remarks. It’s a black comedy and often very funny. I don’t remember the exact line, but a memorable comment that made me laugh-out-loud, was when one character uses the term “Bae” and another character cuts into her fear of being old, by telling her that no one under thirty uses “Bae” anymore. Knoll’s novel is filled with comedic moments.

The Favorite Sister made me feel stressed. All of the characters are constantly struggling to maintain their image and push their brand. Logically we know, and they probably know, that nothing that they ever do will be enough. It’s a never ending hamster wheel. However, to a much lesser degree, this is what a majority of us do when we waste time on social media. I think this is why I felt anxiety reading The Favorite Sister, it touches a nerve.

The characters are successful in their careers, yet it seems like none of that success counts, unless they are able to prove their worth on “Goal Diggers”. On the surface, “Goal Diggers” claims to be a show that lifts-up women and showcases their successes, but of course that is all a sham for a reality show that is just as dirty as the latest “Housewives of…” series. The participants on the show all willingly play into the charade, all desperate to keep in the spotlight.

I’m a Reality TV fan, so the overall theme appealed to me and I loved Knoll’s behind the scenes look at the fictitious “Goal Diggers.” It’s fun to see the manipulation on the production side. The ending was an unexpected surprise with great twists.

DISLIKEThe Favorite Sister was not an effortless read. It took me about half the book to really keep all of the characters straight. It didn’t help that I was trying to read it during my vacation in England: not a distraction free environment. If you plan to read The Favorite Sister, I suggest setting aside a large chunk of time to really get into the story.

Also making it difficult was the pacing. I found the middle of the story to be sluggish. I think it may be in part due to the nature of the story with regard to tone. None of the characters are even remotely likable and their ceaseless negative attitudes is draining on the reader. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of funny moments that comes with this territory and the story world dictates this behavior, but it’s also cumbersome. I couldn’t call this a page turner, because I had to set it aside, not wanting to spend too many minutes in this world at a time.

RECOMMEND– Maybe. I highly recommend Knoll’s first novel, Luckiest Girl Alive, but I’m hesitant to recommend The Favorite Sister. That said, Knoll is a very gifted writer and I will absolutely read her next book. I appreciate what she was trying to accomplish withThe Favorite Sister, but the negative energy drained me.