Give Me Your Hand

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Thank you to Little, Brown and Company for providing me with a copy of Megan Abbott’s novel, Give Me Your Hand, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT- In high school, Kit and Diane were close-friends, primarily because they were both driven and competitive, both at the top of their class and interested in science. This is where the similarities end. Kit is from a single-mother household, where finances are tight. Diane has divorced, yet wealthy parents and lacks for nothing. Kit is somewhat scruffy and Diane is refined. Kit has social skills and the ability to easily make friends, where Diana is an ice-queen, only friends with Kit.

The girls maintain a friendship primarily based on intense study sessions, until one evening when Diane reveals a shocking secret. Kit is undone by Diane’s revelation and since it is close to graduation, she simply stops spending time with Diane, knowing that after high school, the their lives will head in different directions.

A decade later, Kit is working in a laboratory under the prestigious Dr. Severin, a female scientist who is awaiting funding for her groundbreaking study on PMDD. As they receive word that the study is funded, Dr. Severin surprises the staff by announcing that she will only be continuing with two people, Kit and a new hire, Diane. Kit’s world is rocked by the reappearance of Diane. Will Diane’s secret continue to haunt Kit?

LIKE– I’m a fan of Abbott’s writing and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to review Give Me Your Hand. One of Abbott’s greatest strengths is in creating vivid characters with intense emotional lives. She lays them bare and exposes all of their greatest weaknesses, the types of shortcomings and mortifying thoughts that most people would never admit about themselves. I always cringe when I encounter her characters, but I cringe because those moments ring true. Her characters can be petty and they don’t always make good choices. They act like real people and are compelling.

Along with this, she does such a great job at writing teenage characters. Give Me Your Hand flashes back to Kit and Diane in high school. In a particular cringe-worthy moment Kit reveals a sexual experience she had while being driven home after a babysitting job. The moment she describes is incredibly uncomfortable, but the reason that she is telling the story is worse. She is telling it while on a school trip and in a desperate attempt to fit in with the other girls, she decides to reveal this secret, thinking that it will help her image. As an adult reading this and having the hindsight of age, I want to shake her (and give her a hug), but also as an adult, I can remember those moments at that age. It’s awful. Abbott’s writing is so skillful that it made me feel both a sense of nostalgia and anxiety.

I can’t remember reading many, if any, novels set in a lab, let alone those with strong female lead characters. Go women, go science! Abbott gets bonus points for this.

The early parts of the novel have some great suspense and mystery building. I was eagerly turning the page and curious as to how everything would unfold. Diane’s secret is teased out for a long time too. I kept turning the page, Abbott had my attention.

DISLIKE– Okay, truthfully, I was disappointed in the last third of the story. I was hyped up and along for the ride, but the twists at the end fell flat. I didn’t have a good pay-off.

RECOMMEND– Maybe. I definitely recommend reading Abbott, but Give Me Your Hand wasn’t her best book.

A Terrible Country

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Thank You to Viking for providing me with a copy of Keith Gessen’s novel, A Terrible Country, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Andrei immigrated from Russia to the United States as a child and now in his early thirties, is a Russian Scholar. He’s struggling to find steady employment and to make his mark in academia, so when his brother calls on him to return to Moscow to care for their elderly grandmother, Andrei decides to go. Beyond caring for a grandmother whom he loves, he hopes that being in Russia will revive his career. Andrei is not prepared for the culture shock that he will encounter in his homeland. It teaches him that being born in a place and learning about it in books, is not the same as day-to-day living.

LIKE– Initially, I was drawn to Gessen’s novel by theme of caregiving. Like Andrei, I’ve been in the position of being caregiver and I could relate to both his frustrations and the joy from this precious time spent with a loved one. Andrei’s relationship with his grandmother, Baba Seva, is one of pure love and devotion. He gives her his all, even when he is struggling financially or is feeling doubtful about his own future. The best parts of A Terrible Country are the scenes between Andrei and Baba Seva. She has dementia and her confusion is heartbreaking.

I’m fairly familiar with famous Russian literature, but I don’t have a wide understanding of Russian history or what a modern Russia looks like. Gessen’s novel gave me a glimpse into Russia: the daily life in a major city and the culture. The title of the book is a refrain through-out the story, even Baba Seva tells Andrei that Russia is “A Terrible Country” urging him to leave, as she refuses to do so herself. This sentiment is multi-faceted. In the most simplistic sense, it is terrible because of the wealth disparity, the crime, and corruption. Andrei realizes that he has had it very easy in America. On the flip-side, this is the place of his birth, the place where he still has family. He feels a strong pull towards Russia. Andrei also manages to make friends during his year in Russia, including a girlfriend. He comes to see the beauty beyond the frustrations and he embraces Russia; warts and all. Russia is no longer a memory from his childhood or a mythology patched together from text books, but a place that is part of his soul. He has developed a strong bond with this terrible country.

DISLIKEA Terrible Country was uneven in keeping my interest. It took me several weeks to read. I suspect this was due to the heavy themes and slice-of-life style, but I kept reading it in spurts, a few chapters at a time and setting it aside in favor of other books. It wasn’t that I was disinterested, I just found the story world to be a place that I didn’t want remain for an extended stay.

RECOMMEND– Yes. Gessen is a talented writer and A Terrible Country is great for readers who want a deeper look at modern day Russia. It compels me to seek out non-fiction books on the subject.

The Subway Girls

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Thank you to St. Martin’s Griffin for providing me with a copy of Susie Orman Schnall’s novel, The Subway Girls, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– It’s 1949 and Charlotte Friedman has just finished a typist course at Hunter’s College. She is eager to figure out a way to break into the advertising industry, even if she must work in the typing pool while figuring out how to show her male superiors that she is not only eager, but also capable and creative.

Charlotte suffers a set-back when she learns that there are no jobs available in her dream agencies and what’s more, her father needs her help at the family paint shop. Charlotte is beginning to feel that her dreams will never come true, when she manages to become a semi-finalist in the Miss Subways contest. The Miss Subways are a joint venture between The New York Transit Authority and the famed John Roberts Power Modeling Agency: a contest where one ordinary, yet beautiful, local girl is picked a month to grace posters in Subway cars. Initially skeptical, Charlotte realizes that by winning the contest she might be able to leverage her five-minutes of fame to lure customers to her father’s business and in return, she will gain her freedom to pursue her dreams.

In 2018, Olivia is living Charlotte’s dream of working in advertising, yet, the dream is not fully realized. Olivia is smart and capable, yet she struggles to be heard in a business that is still a “boy’s club.” Olivia has a debilitating crush on her boss, Matt, with whom she has been carrying on a secret, casual sex-based relationship. When the agency has a chance to pitch a campaign to the New York Transit Authority, Matt pits Olivia in an idea contest, against Olivia’s rival, Thomas. One of Olivia’s ideas takes her down the rabbit hole of the Miss Subway’s contest and she meets women from a different generation who make a big impact on her life.

LIKE- I’m a fan of Historical Fiction and I love the concept for The Subway Girls. After finishing Schnall’s novel, I spent a few hours looking at the original posters and reading about the real-life inspirations for this story. It was fascinating and I hope to visit the New York Transportation Museum in the near future to see the exhibit about the Miss Subways campaign. Schnall had a great idea to write a story that parallels the lives of two characters, two women from different generations, both with huge dreams.

The comparing of women from two generations, looking at how much things have both changed and stayed the same with regard to expectations and opportunity, was compelling. Although Olivia isn’t expected to marry and let her husband take care of her, she still must fight for equal treatment in her workplace. As a woman born in the late 1970’s to a single, working mother, I had been raised to believe that anything was possible. If I worked hard enough, I could do or be anything that I wanted. I still believe that, but it is slightly dampened by my work experience in male dominated areas. It is a fight sometimes. I could relate to Olivia’s situation.

I did not anticipate the big twist with Charlotte’s character. That was quite a surprise and well-done.

DISLIKE– I can’t give specific examples because it happened throughout the story, but I often felt the dialogue rang false. It took me out of the story-world. I enjoyed the characters and overall plot enough to push past the dialogue issues. I felt the problems were primarily with the younger Charlotte chapters.

RECOMMEND– Maybe. Yes, if you’re a fan of Historical Fiction or mid-century New York City. I enjoyed The Subway Girls, but in the long-run, I’m not sure that it will make my list of most memorable novels of 2018. Whether or not you read Schnall’s novel, make sure to look up the Miss Subways for a bit of yesteryear nostalgia.

When Life Gives You Lululemons

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Thank you to Simon & Schuster for providing me with a copy of Lauren Weisberger’s novel, When Life Gives You Lululemons, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT-Emily Charlton has left her job as Miranda Priestly’s assistant and is making a name for herself in Hollywood, working as an image consultant. When she loses a few high-profile clients  to a much younger ( and trendier) competitor, Emily heads to the suburbs of Connecticut to take refuge in the home of her dearest friend, Miriam. Miriam’s life as a suburban mom is completely different from Emily’s fast-paced lifestyle. While in Connecticut, Emily gets a career lead, when Miriam’s friend Karolina, a former super-model and wife to a Senator, becomes involved in a front-page scandal. Emily soon realizes that Karolina’s situation may have a sinister side. Can Emily survive living in the suburbs, while she works to repair Karolina’s tarnished reputation?

LIKE-Emily Charlton is one of the most entertaining characters in Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada,and I was thrilled to see her as a main character in When Life Gives You Lululemons. This isn’t a sequel, but a stand-alone book that you can definitely read without having read Prada, but fans will be excited for the return of both Charlton and the devil herself, Miranda Priestly.

When Life Gives You Lululemonshas a solid cast of three strong female leads. I felt the most sympathy for Karolina, who faces severe judgement in the public eye for a crime that she didn’t commit. The fact that she is both rich and beautiful, seems to give others the freedom to be hyper-critical and over look other aspects of her personality, like her intelligence and warm heart. Weisberger’s novels often deal with themes of celebrity, serving to push-back against the way society both obsesses and criticizes those in the public eye. Karolina’s situation is a sad one, made more so by the fact that her step-son, whom she adores and has raised for many years, is taken from her during the scandal.

Weisberger has a knack for clever titles. I enjoyed the fish-out-of-water scenario with Emily having to spend time in Greenwich, CT.. She may know how to handle Miranda Priestly, but suburban housewives are a new breed of high-maintenance women for her to master.

DISLIKE-  When Life Gives You Lululemonswas an enjoyable read, it is not one that is very memorable. I finished it a few weeks ago and even as I am writing this review, I’m struggling to recall key plot points or even how it ended.

RECOMMEND-Yes. I recommend When Life Gives You Lululemonsto fans of The Devil Wears Prada. It’s also a solid pick for a beach read.

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Thank you to Atria Booksfor providing me with a copy of Fredrik Backman’s latest novel, Us Against You, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Fredrik Backman returns to his hockey obsessed Swedish town in Us Against You, the sequel to his 2017 novel, Beartown. Beartown is still experiencing the fallout of a scandal that pitted neighbor against neighbor: the rape of Maya, the daughter of the general manager of the Beartown Hockey Club, who accused the star player, Kevin, of attacking her. The town had divided loyalties, which only aided their biggest rival, the town of Hed, when some of the Beartown players defected to the enemy.

Months have passed and it is summer. Kevin’s family decided that it was best to leave town and although Maya will not longer have to see her rapist, she still feels hatred from those who supported him. Her father, Peter, is on the brink of having his hockey club shut down and is struggling to find a way to keep it going. He is approached by a business man with a proposition, yet the solution may come at the expense of the town residents.

LIKE– I love Fredrik Backman’s novels. He creates characters that have a way of invading your soul; characters that are not only memorable, but ones who become part of your world. I was very eager to go back to Beartown. I have to qualify this though, Beartown is not a happy place. It’s an economically depressed town in rural Sweden. Terrible and cruel things happen in Beartown. It is not a place that you’d want to visit on a vacation to Sweden! The characters are all rough around the edges and have a heavy distrust towards outsiders. They would not welcome you to Beartown. That said, they are also people who love fiercely and are protective towards their own. Beartown has a strong sense of community that is enviable. These are people who not only know their place in the world, but actively own it and are proud of it.

Us Against You is even better than Beartown. I think it has to do with the story. Beartownis more straight-forward, where asUs Against Youis all about the fall-out from the rape and people having to face how they initially reacted. It’s complicated. People do not like to be confronted with their mistakes. Change is hard, change is complicated. Us Against Youhas a large cast of characters and each is written with complexity.

I feel that Backman’s story is timely with regards to the current policy climate, both in America and around the world. It’s not a political story per-se , but it is a story about human emotions and about working with different view points or more than that, the idea that people value things at different levels. It seems simple that people would agree that Kevin should be punished for raping Maya, but it’s not simple. Beyond the idea that some people think Maya has lied, some characters feel that things like having a winning hockey team are more important than Maya’s pain. It’s not really the hockey though. For example, some of the parents of other kids on the team, kids that may not be as talented as Kevin, but who have worked hard for many years, will lose their opportunity to be on a winning team if Kevin isn’t allowed to play. They don’t see it as simple as a Kevin/Maya issue, now that their child is affected. Right or wrong, their value is on their own child, over Maya or Kevin. As in real life, Backman’s characters are complicated because they value different things at different levels, which can lead to not only misunderstandings, but an “Us Against You” attitude. Communication is impossible when people build up their walls.

I’ve been to a hockey game, but I can’t claim to know much about the sport. Us Against Youis a story about the people of the town, but it also has a lot about the game of hockey. It’s a testament to Backman’s writing skills that he can keep a non-hockey fan engaged in the parts of the story that involved the hockey games and practice. I felt energy in his writing that made me excited about the sport.

DISLIKE– My only negative is occasional bouts of sluggish pacing.

RECOMMEND– Yes! If you’ve not already read Beartown, read it first. Us Against Youis a must read for Beartownand Backman fans!

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.

 

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.

Sweetbitter

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PLOT– Just twenty-two and ready to strike out on her own, Tess moves to New York City and lands a job at a prestigious restaurant. As she learns the ropes, trying to work her way up to being a server, she gets a crash-course in the restaurant industry. Tess discovers that the world is a bigger place than she had imagined as she becomes exposed to new foods, wines, and an eclectic group of co-workers. However navigating this new world is not easy, especially when she begins a relationship with a sexy bartender.

LIKESweetbitterhas been on my radar for a long-time. It has gotten a lot of buzz and has recently been turned into a television series on the Starz network. I finally caved and bought it, when it got a great review from Gina B, co-host of theStories We’d Tell in Bars Podcast.It seemed like the perfect vacation read for my trip to England.

Gina was right, Sweetbitteris a page-turner. It’s a bit salacious and soap-opera esque, an escapism read. However, this is not to undermine Stephanie Danler’s writing skills. One of the pleasures in Sweet Bitter is the sensuous way that she describes food and drink. The joy of fine dining is not just in the taste, but also the presentation. There are so many vivid and beautiful descriptions in Sweetbitter.It’s food-porn. The delight isn’t just in the fine dining, but also how Tess and her coworkers steal away things to enjoy. For example, there is a scene where they steal fresh oysters and enjoy them on the sly in the kitchen. The message being that fine dining is not limited to the rich and that the pleasures of food are for everyone. Also, the pleasures of food are not only to be found in expensive restaurants, the characters eat at greasy spoon diners and create feasts in their own homes. Tess learns the need to develop her palate and experience a variety of flavors.

It’s easy for me to fall in love with stories of protagonist who are starting out in the world. i love the idea of fresh starts and how everything is exciting. Tess fits this role perfectly and although she starts to spiral into a dark territory towards the middle/end, I always found myself rooting for her to succeed. I wish she had maintained her innocence longer.

I love the setting of a restaurant. My ex-husband worked in the restaurant industry and I found myself feeling a familiarity with the way the staff had shift drinks after closing and developed a family atmosphere. I also recognized the dysfunction. There is so much dysfunction and extreme behavior.

Simone is the senior waitstaff, a woman with a cool exterior who seems to always have everything under control. She’s a great character. She’s a bit mysterious and always teetering on being either Tess’ friend or foe. I enjoyed the dynamic between Tess and Simone.

DISLIKE– I found Tess’ slide into drug and alcohol abuse to be a little quick. It made the story take a heavy turn than dragged down the pacing. I felt like something else needed to happen with the turn in the story. For example when Tess sits down with Simone at the end, it wasn’t a satisfying resolution, because I failed to believe that Tess had become strong enough to stand up to Simone. It needed another layer to make it believable.

RECOMMEND– Yes! Sweetbitter is a guilty-pleasure read that I fully embraced. I’m looking forward to watching the television series and I’m wondering how they will manage to capture Danler’s rich descriptions. You should read the book, just for the beautiful sensory elements.

Then She Was Gone

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Thank you to Atria Books for providing me with a copy of Lisa Jewell’s novel, Then She Was Gone, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT-Ellie Mack is a beautiful, smart, popular teenager, who seems to have everything going for her. One day, on her way to the library, she disappears and her case goes cold. A decade later. Ellie’s mother, Laurel, begins to date a man named Floyd, whose daughter, Poppy, bears a striking resemblance to Ellie. Laurel begins to revisit her daughter’s disappearance and discovers new facts of the case. Can Laurel finally find out what happened to daughter? Does Poppy hold the key?

LIKE-I’ve read several of Lisa Jewell’s other novels and I was very excited to be granted a copy of Then She Was Gone. Jewell is masterful at crafting great suspense and mysteries. However, where she really shines is with her characters. She has a gift at tapping into the human psyche and creating relatable, multi-deminisional characters.

Characters are what shine in Then She Was Gone. I was most drawn to Laurel, the grieving mother who not only lost her daughter, but also saw her marriage collapse under the weight of a missing child. Laurel is just getting her life back together when she meets Floyd and is shoved back down the rabbit hole of her daughter’s case. Her anxiety and grief is palpable.

We do not learn Ellie’s fate until late in the story, but she is the narrator in some of the flashback chapters. Of course as a reader, our bond with Ellie is not going to be strong, like her mother’s, however these chapters do serve to give us a clearer picture of Ellie and give us a chance to connect with her. Jewell is equally great at writing adults and children, letting us see Ellie’s frame of mind and motivations.

Then She Was Goneheads to some very dark places and is a story that made me anxious. I saw a blurb comparing it to Gone Girl, which was a little misleading. When I think of comparisons to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, I think that the story must have an unreliable narrator. Then She Was Gonehas narrators under duress, but they are not unreliable. I read another that compared it to Alice Sebold’s novel, The Lovely Bones,which is a much better comparison with regard to both theme and tone.

DISLIKE– I anticipated the twist early on and kept hoping that it would not be what I was expecting. It’s not that the story wasn’t intriguing, but it’s always a little bit of a let down when you manage to figure out the twist early on. I did not anticipate the creepy, disturbing aspects of the twist. It gave me chills.

RECOMMEND– Yes! Jewell is such a marvelous writer that I have to recommend all of her novels, including Then She Was Gone.

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.