Good as Gone – Amy Gentry

Are you really my daughter?

Good as Gone has been sitting on my shelf since I received it in my October 2016 Book of the Month box. I wasn’t sure if I would like it, but I decided to give it a shot. I’m still in a bit of a reading slump with all that’s been going on, so an easy thriller sounded like a nice change of pace.

The story captivated me almost immediately, but lost me as it went on. It started out from the mom’s perspective, and she described how she lost her oldest daughter, Julie. She was kidnapped at knife point one night as her younger daughter, Jane, watched her older sister leave, terrified and hiding in her closet, too afraid to scream. Eight years pass, and we find out the family has all but fallen apart from the loss of Julie. Jane is rebelling at the farthest away college she could find, and there is a palpable distance between the parents. Just as their sitting down for dinner upon Jane’s return from college, Julie arrives on the door step… hallelujah?

We spend the rest of the book wondering if Julie is who she says she is. She looks similar, but her mom doesn’t really remember her eye color. And why is Julie referring to her parents as “Tom and Anna”? Why can’t Julie recall the shared memories between her and her sister? What about the dead body that was recovered eight years ago? In every chapter, we experience the story from the mother’s point of view, and then another girl takes over the narrative for the last half of the chapter. This is where Gentry lost me. In the end, it all comes together, but trying to piece together all of the different names that Gentry used (Julie, Vi, Charlotte, Starr, Mercy, Esther, etc.) feels like wading through mud.

The two perspectives are what give the story the depth and drama needed to question reality, but I feel it could have been written better. It took me a while to figure out what exactly she was trying to do, but when I did it became predictable. The ending lost me, as I felt it became too preachy. I’m not sure if Gentry was trying to praise religion or if she was satirizing it, but either way it made me feel uncomfortable. This was Gentry’s debut novel, and overall I would have to say she did okay. I would definitely pick up another book by her and would be interested to see how her writing style develops.

Bird Box – Josh Malerman

“It plays to man’s fear of the unknown.”

bird Box

I picked up Bird Box by Josh Malerman because it was described as a “psychological thriller”. I have to say, I was not disappointed. I have a strong background in psychology and recently received my Bachelor’s degree in it. I’m not pretending that I can read your mind or diagnose you, but I do have a good understanding of the human psyche. A lot of that is thanks to Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational which is explains why humans are so dang weird in our decision making.

Bird Box is your typical dystopian novel. The world’s ending, people are dying, but there’s no known cure because the malady itself is unknown, but if you see it…you’re dead. To be honest, I would have gotten bored with this plot line without Malerman’s impeccable ability to tell a compelling story. The story follows Malorie, and the chapters jump between three different time periods. He builds suspense as we follow Malorie attempting to escape to a sanctuary in present-day, but in the past she was trying to protect her housemates from the outside. The rest is guesswork. Why did she finally decide to go outside? What happened to her housemates? Who gave her directions to this sanctuary…and judging by the breadth of this plague, is there even a safe place left?

Malerman really plays up to man’s fear of the unknown in this story. Every day tasks that would seem mundane such as walking through the backyard are terrifyingly suspenseful because if one of the housemates catches a glimpse of whatever is out there, they may be driven to deadly violence. This means, everyone stays blindfolded. No matter what. Even the children are trained to wake up with their eyes closed. With your eyes closed, what feels like a threat approaching could really be a deer grazing in the yard.

The book keeps you in suspense until the very end, and the last chapter feels kind of underwhelming. You spend 30+ chapters wondering what’s outside, why are people reacting this way, etc. but it’s never really explained. I appreciate a novel that leaves you guessing and wanting more (i.e. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood), and I think that’s what Malerman was going for, but it feels unfinished…especially after the gruesome scene involving Malorie and Olympia.

I would recommend this book as a decent thriller, but I don’t think this is one that will leave a lasting impression on me. Maybe a movie would be more exciting?

The Circle – Dave Eggers

SECRETS ARE LIES. SHARING IS CARING. PRIVACY IS THEFT.

As a millennial, I grew up with technology. When I was a toddler, I learned how to shove a floppy disc into the computer tower and play a game that involved camping dinosaurs (I cannot for the life of me remember what that game was called) on the Windows 95 operating system that the whole family shared. I installed AOL on that same computer using a CD, and crossed my fingers that nobody called while I was instant messaging my friends. The Yahoo! ads sang to me, and MySpace Tom was my first friend on social media.

When it came time to worry about things like getting Catfished or privacy issues, I laughed it off. I saw posts where people would have their kids hold up signs saying, “I live in Spokane, WA! Comment your location on this post, and see how far we travel!” People would share their location as Mumbai or London, and it was a tactic to scare kids into filter who they added as friends and not make things public. I paid no attention, if we’re being honest.

The Circle by Dave Eggers shows the issue with my nonchalance. The story is a modern 1984, and it follows Mae as she gains employment with The Circle, a technology company that would be the equivalent of working for Google or Facebook. She is awe-struck by their developments when it comes to sharing your life, even though it’s deemed mandatory. Bailey, a founding member of The Circle, explains to her that her memories should be shared as learning experiences for others. Why wouldn’t you want to share that you saw a seal while you were kayaking? It’s selfish to keep that knowledge to yourself. Mae buys into this so much that, not only does she submit to being broadcast live almost 24/7, but she also wears a camera around her neck to her followers don’t miss a second as they work to “complete The Circle”.

This book dives into issues with work, family, and friends that are all very relevant to where we are as a society with social media. I’ve seen this book condemned as a scare tactic and unrealistic, but it’s really not that far off. Think about it, we Instagram our food, we check in on Facebook, and we monitor Snapchat for minute updates of people’s lives. I’m not saying I’m anti-social media; in fact, I have all of the above-mentioned platforms, but I do believe we’re in a society of over-sharing that could be detrimental.

I didn’t mean for this review to turn into me preaching on my soap box, but this book has a message. When I saw parallels with Bailey and former bosses, it was honestly a wake-up call. I was in a situation where I had to add my boss on social media, and she’d text me all hours of the night. She wanted to know where I was, what I was doing and why I wasn’t focusing on my “career” while I was out of the office. It turned into such an issue, that I quit without looking back, but it was like being a frog in water. It took a while for me to see the impact that amount of over-sharing was having on my life, but sadly some people just get boiled to death.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who lives in the modern world because Eggers tells a captivating story, and I don’t want to end up like Mae or Mercer.

May TBR pile = conquered

10 books down, thousands to go!

Yeah, I’m that person every year that says, “How is it already June?! I swear I was just playing Cards Against Humanity at Christmas!” But seriously, though, I’m loving that spring is behind us, and Boise is starting to see 90 degree weather.

For a while in May, I was on a role of finishing a book every other day. I was hoping to finish upwards of 18 books, but I only finished 10. Life got a bit crazy and I found myself unable to focus on slower books, but I still made a good dent in my TBR list. I’m hoping to pick up the pace again in June, and also get beta reading started.

Here’s my list of what I read in May:

The Circle by Dave Eggers*

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

I started Eat Pray Love, but I just couldn’t bring myself to finish this one.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins*

The Girls by Emma Cline**

The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft

Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes**

Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane**

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid*

Girl Boss by Sophia Amoruso*

Bird Box by Josh Malerman*

* Review coming soon

** Review is posted! Check it out.

Still reading:

It by Stephen King (So dense, so many pages!)

The World According to Garp by John Irving

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

 

Leave a comment telling me what you read this month!

 

 

 

Since We Fell – Dennis Lehane

“I could drive a semi-truck through the plot holes in this book.”

Let me be real for a second…WTF was Dennis Lehane thinking when he wrote this book?! I received this book in my Book of the Month box, and was super excited when I learned the Lehane was also the author of Shutter Island. To be honest, Since We Fell was the first thing I’d read by him, and I’m almost too skeptical to read anything else.

Since We Fell follows Rachel, a journalist who struggles with mental illness. The anxiety seems to stem from the lack of knowing who her father was growing up, and it affects her performance at work. After the death of her mom, Rachel hires a private investigator to find out who her real father is, but after the PI can’t find him, she sort of just drops it.

Without spoiling too much, I’ll just say this. I could drive a semi-truck through the plot holes in this book. I love a good twist. Hell, Dark Matter by Blake Crouch is one of my favorite books and it’s full of twists. I feel as though Lehane threw in twists just to see what he could get away with, and that drove me crazy. The story becomes so convoluted at the end that I honestly had to re-read a whole chapter just to see if I was losing my mind (and not in a good way). It was almost as though he wrote an alternate ending to the book, and the editors forgot to take it out.

I’m sorry if that sounded harsh. Lehane’s writing style is captivating and really the only reason that I finished the book. Even when the plot got ridiculous, I couldn’t put it down because I just had to see what happened next. There really never was a dull moment.

If you’re a fan of The Talented Mr. Ripley with Matt Damon and don’t mind an unreliable narrator, then I would recommend this book to you. It really does have some good plot lines, but I just wish they connected a bit more. Before I finished the book, I ordered a few more Dennis Lehane novels, so I will give him another chance. I’ll leave with this, though… Dennis, if you’re reading this, did you write this just to see if you were popular enough to get anything published? I’d really like to know!

The Girls – Emma Cline

“I felt as though I was watching something I wasn’t meant to see.”

Charles Manson was a cult leader in California in the late 1960s, and his followers were dubbed the “Manson Family”. Together the cult performed a series of crimes including mass murders. Now imprisoned at Corcoran State Prison, Manson is a household name that still sends shivers down backs. The Girls by Emma Cline was loosely based on this story, but don’t get hung up on that.

While I was reading The Girls, I felt as though I was watching something I wasn’t meant to see. The book follows fourteen-year-old Evie as she navigates conflicts at home and the loss of friends. Evie doesn’t have a support system, and is looking to anyone that can make her feel better…enter Suzanne, a girl she sees in the parking lot. She sees a lifestyle in this girl that looks blissful and idealistic compared to her seemingly dull existence, and she goes for it. Set aside the fact that she joins a cult, and this truly is a coming-of-age story.

Evie is the narrator and recalls the story a couple of decades later when one of her friend’s children recognizes her from a news story about the murders. This re-telling gives the story a very reminiscent feeling, leaving the reader feeling sympathetic to what Evie went through in her youth. She was misunderstood, and desperate to be accepted. A lot of her angst came from her relationship with her mother, which was hard for me to relate to. My mom and I have a fantastic relationship, but I can still empathize with what the author is trying to convey. Emma Cline’s choice of words can be shocking, but I challenge you to dig deeper and attempt to understand what life was like for an adolescent girl in the 1960s.

This was Cline’s debut novel, and I see true promise in her writing career. She tells a compelling story that leaves you wanting more. I would highly recommend picking up The Girls this summer, and research the Manson Family afterward.

Under the Tuscan Sun – Frances Mayes

Spoiler alert! This book is nothing like the movie.

I actually had no idea that the movie was based on a book, but I picked it up when I saw it in my local thrift store because I’d been so in love with the movie’s story line. You know, the bad ass divorced woman who goes to Italy and buys a beautiful Tuscan house on a whim? Yeah, that’s not how it happened. Which is fine, her real story is still bad ass enough, but I can’t say I’m not disappointed. So, without further ado, here’s my review:

In my opinion, a story should transport you to another world. It should make you feel as though you’re in the author’s shoes looking at their setting and you almost feel a longing for that place when the story is over. That is precisely how Under the Tuscan Sun made me feel. Frances Mayes transported me into her stone house in the middle of a Tuscan valley, and I felt as though I could go into my backyard and pick olives by the time I was done reading. Sadly, I live in Idaho and around here you’re warned against eating whatever grows on the trees.

Mayes had previously lived in San Francisco, but decided to uproot her life after a divorce left her traumatized. She found new love and together they pined for a house in the Tuscan valley, surrounded by olive trees, blackberry bushes and, most importantly, locals who would soon become friends. The couple decided on a historical, albeit crumbling, stone house and set to renovating it. It was hard work, but her romantic writing style made me want to take on the same challenges.

Mayes’ memoir is written in the present-tense. It’s an achievement for a writer to pull that off because it can often be clunky and hard to comprehend. Under the Tuscan Sun is the exception. Using the present-tense was one of the best decisions she made because she pulled it off in such a way that you feel like you’re walking the stone streets to the market with her, taking a siesta and sandblasting your house. Her style is romantic and it is reminiscent of The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck because of how she had to release herself from materialism and use her resources. I have to say, I was jealous when I read that she’d been stepping on pine nuts in her driveway, not realizing what they were. In the states, I pay upwards of $20 a pound for them!

While the book made me want to pack up and become an ex-patriot, I do have a critique. I wish it had ended sooner. The last half of the book felt repetitive and long-winded. I felt as though I could have skipped the last few parts and not missed anything. I’m glad I didn’t, though, because there were some great recipes and a story about a severed goat’s head (you’ll have to read to find out).

Overall, I would recommend this book. If you have any desire to travel or live out of the country, this book will make you wonder why you haven’t done so already.