Sunburn by Laura Lippman

Sunburn by Laura Lippman

Lippman, Laura 2018.04
Cover image provided with permission from HarperCollins

Polly and Adam are drawn toward each other like magnets, despite each of them knowing it’s a very bad idea. Polly has abandoned her family and is running away from (or  perhaps towards?) something, what it is isn’t exactly clear. Adam has secrets too, his boss has sent him to investigate Polly, but why, exactly? The story progresses in a search to answer questions that only seem to lead to more questions, the suspense slowly building to one inevitable outcome.

Set in 1995 Delaware, this book has a noir appeal to it, Polly’s aesthetic is vintage and the restaurant that both Polly and Adam begin working in has a 1950s nostalgia flair. The writing style is also very sparse, reminding me of The Maltese Falcon and other compelling mysteries of that era. The story has many layers to it that must be slowly peeled back until the truth is discovered, the secrets of the past complicating the future, or as one character puts it:

Some people are like rabbit holes, and you can fall a long, long way if you go too far.

Sunburn is spellbinding story that kept me coming back to solve the riddles of Polly’s past and to see what violent ends awaited the people around her. It was clear that the book wasn’t going to end well for someone, the question is who that person is and by what means. Lippman is masterful in building the plot and slowly leaking the details, by the end everything is clear and the story has a resolution, even if it’s not exactly what you were hoping for. I would recommend this for lovers of a femme-fatale noir mysteries, or someone who enjoys a good suspense novel that keeps you guessing until the very last moment.

Sunburn by Laura Lippman

Published on: February 20, 2018

I read this as: A library book

 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

EleanorOliphant
Cover image provided with permission from Penguin Random House Canada

From the outside Eleanor appears to be okay, maybe even completely fine. Sure, she is socially awkward, has no verbal filter, is unable to be anything but completely literal, and her closest friend is a plant, but none of this seems to really bother Eleanor, as she puts it:

“If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn’t spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.”

Once we start digging through the layers of Eleanor, we begin to see that she is far from fine. However, as the shroud of her heartbreaking past and the mystery around it begins to fall, Eleanor learns about herself and develops meaningful relationships. She meets Raymond, her office IT guy, and through her friendship with him she saves Sammy, an older man who falls in the street. Even though Raymond and Sammy are a little confused by Eleanor initially, they see the kindness in her and open their friendship and families to her, giving Eleanor a chance to experience loving relationships, perhaps for the first time.

This book is about trauma, but even with everything stacked against her, Eleanor is a true heroine; she is brave, kind, someone you simply cannot stop rooting for. Despite the sad parts, Eleanor is unwittingly hilarious, I loved the depictions of her experiencing something for the first time, such as dancing in public:

“I found myself not thinking about anything, sort of like how the vodka worked, but different, because I was with people and I was singing. YMCA! YMCA! Arms in the air, mimicking the letters – what a marvelous idea! Who knew dancing could be so logical?

During the next free-form jigging section, I started to wonder why the band was singing about, presumably, the Young Men’s Christian Association, but then, from my very limited exposure to popular music, people did seem to sing about umbrellas and fire-starting and Emily Brontë novels, so, I supposed, why not a gender and faith-based youth organization?”

I DIED.

This novel was so endearing, funny, and sweet, I loved it from start to finish. Learning about Eleanor opens us up to understanding people who are different, even if they are off-putting and strange, and in this way the book reminded me a lot of A Man Called Ove. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys quirky and like-able characters, character-driven story-lines, or someone who enjoys cheering for the under-dog.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Published: May 9, 2017

I read this as: A library book

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Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

EroticStoriesForPunjabiWidows_
Cover image provided with permission from HarperCollins

I keep telling people how much I enjoyed this book and I get uncomfortable, embarrassed looks in return based on the title. If you also feel a little shy because of the first two words of the book’s name, don’t worry you are not alone! However that’s not worth skipping out just because of the title, I absolutely loved it.

Nikki, the modern daughter of Indian immigrants to London, has become a little lost in her search of what exactly she wants to do with her life. She picks up a side job in what she assumes will be teaching creative writing to women in the local Sikh community of Southall. However when she begins working with the women she realizes:

  1. Their idea of creative writing is much more “creative” than anything she could’ve ever imagined (see: the title).
  2. The women who attend her class are for the most part, illiterate.

Although at first she is a bit patronizing of her students, as she learns more about them Nikki’s relationships with these women grows, in many ways hilariously, but also with a twist of heart-warming friendship. On top of the amazingly original premise of the book, it also contains a mystery and a love-story. And in case you were wondering, yes, there really are erotic stories in the novel, albeit not an extreme amount, but if that is 100% not your thing then it’s better to be forewarned.

Jaswal’s book is beautiful in its first-person account of life as an immigrant, and a first-generation children trying to navigate life on a completely different path from their parents. The book made me think of the sacrifices mothers and fathers often make for their children so that they can have better opportunities, and how children struggle with meeting the expectations their hard-working, ever-sacrificing parents have for them:

“You waste everything because you’ve always had everything.”

This was Reese Witherspoon’s bookclub pick for March 2018, and I couldn’t agree with her more; I found this story thoroughly delightful from start to finish and would would recommend this to a reader looking for a fun, open-hearted, plot-driven story that’s fast-paced and has something for everyone: a love, mystery, friendship, personal growth, and yes, erotica.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Publication Date: June 13th, 2017

I read this as: A library book (hardback)

What You Don’t know about Charlie Outlaw by Leah Stewart 

What You Don’t know about Charlie Outlaw by Leah Stewart 

Stewart, Leah 2018.03
Cover image included with permission from G.P. Putnam & Sons

Charlie Outlaw is a television celebrity who has problems. He’s said some extremely honest (and therefore embarrassing) things in an interview, angering the showrunner, his fans, and most of all his girlfriend Josie Lamar, who ends up dumping him over it all. Charlie decides to escape by going on a vacation on a far-away tiny island when he finds that he has real, serious problems, namely that he is kidnapped, unsure if he will ever make it out alive.

The book ensues with parallel narration, going back and forth between Charlie and Josie as they remember their past together and the current situations they both are in. Josie is also a celebrity, although her peak has come and gone, as she was the star of a huge cult show 20 years ago (I imagined her as Sarah Michelle Gellar from Buffy). This book has so many interesting insights on being a celebrity, from interreacting with fans, auditioning, the costs (literal costs, such as how much publicist and stylists charge), and the stress of fame, that I was convinced that Stewart was perhaps a celebrity I had never heard of. Turns out she’s not, but she did extensive research on sets, watching auditions, and interviewing casts and crew, but she could have fooled me. I loved learning about the insights of being an actor, the sincerity and practice of it all, as well as the techniques actors used to fulfill different role types. I have always been aware that acting is difficult, but I had never really considered how it is done or what that experience would be like, and putting myself “in the actor’s chair” was the best part of the novel for me. Stewart is also very good at thinking through emotions, showing the complex way each person feels and how that drives their decision making and reactions.

The story-line is very much character driven, so it’s good that both Charlie and Josie are extremely likeable and sympathetic, their back-stories tying into their current situation as they recall the highs and lows of their relationship. At first the book reminded me a lot of Maria Semple’s books, but then with the kidnapping the story-line turns, well a bit dark at points. While the take on celebrity is novel and very fresh, the story itself moves a bit slowly, doing a thorough job of really fleshing out the characters and their relationships with each other. I would recommend this to someone looking for a new take on a love story, with interesting, realistic, insightful and sympathetic characters, and definitely someone interested in life in Hollywood.

What You Don’t Know About Charlie OutlawWhat You Don’t Know About Charlie Outlaw by Leah Stewart

Published on: March 27, 2018

I read this as: A NetGalley ARC

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Hannah, Kristin 2018.03
Cover image provided with permission from St. Martin’s Press

Leni Allbright, her mother Cora and father Ernt move to Alaska in 1974 after Ernt is bestowed a piece of land from his fellow Vietnam POW soldier who died in combat. The war has broken Ernt, who drinks heavily and is unable to control his violent outbursts and nightmares from undiagnosed PTSD. The family hopes that a change in scenery and wide open spaces will help him to heal before his anger is taken too far. When they arrive they are little prepared for the wild weather, and Leni begins to truly understand toxicity of her parents relationship. The local community is a great source of support and Leni finds roots and strength outside of her family. While her love of the wild land grows, the bonds of her family become more strained and dangerous, building to a breaking point and leaving devastation in its wake.

The description of Alaska, America’s last frontier with its mountains, water, animals, weather and sunshine (and lack thereof) were all beautifully done in this novel. The experience of living on the land, with its dangers and highs, really gave me the experience of what living in Alaska might be like; Hannah has first-hand knowledge, her family having lived there during the 1980s. Hannah is known for her engaging and heartbreaking prose, and this story hits on every mark, including a star-crossed love in the form of Matthew, the Sam to Leni’s Frodo, who hails from an affluent Alaskan family Ernt despises. Their friendship and eventual romance does not exactly help curb the danger Leni’s father poses, continually giving the reader the feeling of this cannot end well.

If you’ve read the Nightingale or Firefly Lane (Hannah’s most popular previous works), and are concerned that this will have as sad an ending as those two, don’t worry. While The Great Alone is heartbreaking and tear-inducing, its ending was hopeful, having many wrongs made finally right. This story includes a lot of domestic violence that was painful and angering to read about, but it also puts you in these people’s shoes, and reminds you that nothing is as easy or as clear-cut as it might seem from the outside. The characters were engaging, flawed, and interesting, combining with the beautiful descriptions these are truly the highlights of the book. I would recommend as a compelling family drama set in a beautiful and artfully described landscape, building slowly to create an emotionally powerful story that ultimately ends with a happy outcome.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Published on: February 6, 2018

I read this as: Hardback borrowed from a friend

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Ng, Celeste 2018.03
Image included with permission from Penguin Press

Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.

Izzy Richardson does not follow the rules, and this is a problem for her mother, Elena Richardson, born and raised in Shaker Heights, and life-long rule follower. The older three Richardson children have all fallen in line with the life prescribed by their mother and their community, but when single mother Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl move into the family rental property, the children begin to see all sorts of new possibilities.

Pearl quickly finds a place in the solidity of the Richardson household, where everything is planned, steady and organized, a life very different from the one she has lived with her artistic mother, who has moved them around the U.S. her entire life. Meanwhile Izzy latches onto Mia, who seems to recognize something in Izzy that her family has neither seen or understood. As their worlds begin to thread together, a local polarizing incident causes everyone to take sides, lines are drawn, and secrets begin to come out.

Today there are many set rules for how things should be done: do well in school, drink eight glasses of water a day, get regular haircuts, don’t have a child out-of-wedlock, don’t watch too much TV, the list goes on and on. Not that these are bad rules to follow, the problem lies with believing that anyone who doesn’t play along is wrong or has made a mistake, as Ng so eloquently summarizes:

One had followed the rules, and one had not. But the problem with rules… was that they implied a right way and a wrong way to do things. When, in fact, most of the time they were simply ways, none of them quite wrong or quite right, and nothing to tell you for sure what side of the line you stood on.”

The story also had some amazing insight on race, motherhood, and life as a minority in America. I would recommend this to someone looking for an insightful, deep, yet hopeful novel with a building pace, flawed characters who experience growth. If you were born in the early 80s you will probably enjoy the throwbacks to your youth as well, the novel is mostly set in the mid-late 90s.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Published on: September 12, 2017

I read this as: an eAudiobook from Audible

The French Girl by Lexie Elliott

The French Girl by Lexie Elliott

Elliott, Lexie 2018.03What would happen if you crossed How I Met Your Mother with What Lies Beneath, moved the story to England and remade it into a book? While that kind of sounds like a mess, these are the comparisons what I kept thinking while reading Lexie Elliott’s first novel.

The body of French beauty Severine has turned up ten years after her disappearance, and the last people to see her were a group of six college friends, who have all gone their own way over the last decade. The re-opening of the case starts to bring them all back together in ways they may or may not welcome, as each is forced to re-live the fateful night they last saw her alive. As secrets begin coming out about each of them, a clock starts ticking down in the rush to uncover the true killer, before someone else is framed for the crime.

This book is not a complex “whodunnit”, as there are only six suspects and many of the clues are known early on, however it kept me turning the pages to find out why they did it, and the details of the crime. The characters are all enjoyable, the story-line has an air of suspense without any cringe-worthy or gruesome moments, and the outcome is neat and clear. I recommend this for anyone looking for a : lite on scary suspense, non-gruesome murder mystery, thriller with good outcome.

The French Girl by Lexie Elliott

Published: February 20, 2018

I read this as: ARC from Netgalley