We All Fall Down by Natalie D. Richards

Publication Date: October 3, 2017
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Rating: ★★★★

“Theo’s always been impulsive. But telling Paige how he feels? He’s obsessed over that decision. And it’s time. Tonight. At the party on the riverbank, under the old walking bridge, site of so many tales of love and death.

Paige has had a crush on Theo since they first met, but she knows her feelings are one-sided. She’s trying to move on, to flirt. A party at the river is just what she needs. Except a fight breaks out, and when Paige tries to intervene–Theo’s fist lands in her face.

All Theo and Paige want to do is forget that fateful night. But strange events keep drawing them back to the bridge. Someone, something is determined to make them remember…and pay for what they each did.”

Review:

Thank you to NetGalley & Sourcefire Books for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

We All Fall Down was a pretty interesting young adult novel. I definitely had my attention grabbed from the beginning. I love the unrequited love, especially if the characters don’t know if it’s unrequited. It’s all a slow burn, and it grabs my attention every time.

I think this book had five star potential. I really liked the development and how their troubled pasts really shaped how this book turned out. I was pretty curious on how it would be when I reached towards the end. However, I think that this book lost me a couple of times which is why I gave it four stars. There were times where I had to stop and go back and think “huh”. Books like this generally intrigue me, but with this one, I didn’t totally understand one-hundred percent.

I really liked the concept of how this book was towards the end. It was a question of: is this a paranormal story or what’s even going on here? I loved that it was making me think in ways that a book hasn’t made me think in a while.

I’m excited to read Natalie D. Richard’s other books now. This was my first novel by her, but for sure not my last!

Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp

Publication Date: January 2, 2018
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Rating: ★★
“Best friends Corey and Kyra were inseparable in their snow-covered town of Lost Creek, Alaska. When Corey moves away, she makes Kyra promise to stay strong during the long, dark winter, and wait for her return.

Just days before Corey is to return home to visit, Kyra dies. Corey is devastated―and confused. The entire Lost community speaks in hushed tones about the town’s lost daughter, saying her death was meant to be. And they push Corey away like she’s a stranger.

Corey knows something is wrong. With every hour, her suspicion grows. Lost is keeping secrets―chilling secrets. But piecing together the truth about what happened to her best friend may prove as difficult as lighting the sky in an Alaskan winter…”

Review:
Thank you to NetGalley, Marieke Nijkamp, & Sourcebooks Fire for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from this book to be honest. I read Marieke Nijkamp’s other book, This Is Where It Ends, and was beside myself about how good it was. When I saw that she had a new book out, I immediately requested it. I am saddened to say that Before I Let Go disappointed me. I know that I shouldn’t ever compare books, but I loved this author’s other book, so I thought it was going to be great.

The first thing that bothered me about this book was the characters. The characters had me begging to have something more to them…some type of development or backstory, but I didn’t get my wish. Corey, the main character, seemed to be the one that had the most interesting factors, but I can’t even say I enjoyed it fully because it was a back-and-forth blame game the entire novel. Owning up to mistakes is an important lesson that can be taught through a novel, but this was overly done throughout Before I Let Go.

I feel as though the story and the mystery of this novel was under developed as well. I kept reading and reading, waiting for something to be given to me, and eventually it was. However, I feel like the excitement was not there for me because of the slow-burn buildup about how it was the fault of the town relating to the death of Corey’s best friend Kyra.

Overall, it was definitely not a book for me. I read other reviews and still gave it a shot, and it is safe to say that I was pretty disappointed.

Pure Hollywood by Christine Schutt

Publication Date: March 13, 2018
Publisher: Grove Atlantic
Rating: ★★

In 11 captivating tales, Pure Hollywood brings us into private worlds of corrupt familial love, intimacy, longing, and danger. From an alcoholic widowed actress living in desert seclusion, to a young mother whose rejection of her child has terrible consequences, a newlywed couple who ignore the violent warnings of a painter burned by love, to an eerie portrait of erotic obsession, each story in Pure Hollywood is an imagistic snapshot of what it means to live and learn love and hurt.

Schutt gives us sharply suspenseful and masterfully dark interior portraits of ordinary lives, infused with her signature observation and surprise.

Review:

These tales were interesting, but not my cup of tea. I think that half of me went along with the words in these stories, but the other half was confused by the writing. Some sentences I had to go back and read again because I was thinking that I had the wrong word. To me, it looked like some words maybe were repetitive so the author had to use a synonym to make sure it didn’t repeat too much. I think that these actions caused the writing to simply not flow for me. If I have a hard time with a flow of a book, it’s almost always a do not finish situation. However, I just powered through this one to see what each story entailed.

Some of the stories were alright, some of them were just plain dull. I think that this dullness was a contributing factor of the flow of the writing. If there’s nothing interesting going on, and the words don’t make sense, it seems that the dullness would be escalating per story. It was sometimes a struggle to get through. I hate to be so brutally honest, but I was glad that the stories were so short that I could finish them quickly.

I hope next time Christine Schutt just puts her thoughts out on paper without having to change her wording. It was confusing and just difficult to read. I would definitely give her another chance in the future to see if there are differences on how it could be better.

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks, Sarah Pekkanen

Publication Date: January 8, 2018
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Rating: ★★★

When you read this book, you will make many assumptions.
You will assume you are reading about a jealous ex-wife.
You will assume she is obsessed with her replacement – a beautiful, younger woman who is about to marry the man they both love.
You will assume you know the anatomy of this tangled love triangle.
Assume nothing.

Twisted and deliciously chilling, Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen’s The Wife Between Us exposes the secret complexities of an enviable marriage – and the dangerous truths we ignore in the name of love.

Read between the lies.

Review:

There are so many things that I could say about this book that intrigued me. The hype was unreal when this book came out. I am a person that will wait until the hype decreases to watch it, read it, etc. (I literally just watched Frozen for the first time). The title and cover alone were enough to interest me in what The Wife Between Us was about. There were some parts of this book that were fantastic, but unfortunately, I had a pretty hard time getting through it.

The details of the first half of this book had be ready to sprint towards the end. Everyone was telling about I would be hooked immediately, and I definitely was. I saw every word and mulled them over in my brain as new each part approached. The first twist had me so shocked that I was ready for that big one I was waiting for! Then… I hit the wall. I hit the middle of the book and the story kept displaying itself more and more. I was not so sure I was really into it anymore after hitting the middle and learning more about another twist that was occurring. It just didn’t read right for me I guess.

Then, I hit the end. Everyone on bookstagram and Goodreads and in my personal life talked about the end and how awesome it was. I got to the end and… it did not sit with me well. I didn’t have this “oh my goodness!” moment like everyone described, I was actually quite disappointed. I feel like the end was more focused on the shock value instead of the story. It no longer included the substance I needed it to.

I only read mystery maybe every four or five books, so your opinion of The Wife Between Us could be way different than mine. I encourage you to go after the hype and read this book! I love hearing people’s different ideas of what things meant as well as how they felt about the mysteries surrounding it.

Penpal by Dathan Auerbach

Publication Date: June 2012
Publisher: 1000Vultures
Rating: ★★

Penpal began as a series of short and interconnected stories posted on an online horror forum. Before long, it was adapted into illustrations, audio recordings, and short films; and that was before it was revised and expanded into a novel!

How much do you remember about your childhood?

In Penpal, a man investigates the seemingly unrelated bizarre, tragic, and horrific occurrences of his childhood in an attempt to finally understand them. Beginning with only fragments of his earliest years, you’ll follow the narrator as he discovers that these strange and horrible events are actually part of a single terrifying story that has shaped the entirety of his life and the lives of those around him. If you’ve ever stayed in the woods just a little too long after dark, if you’ve ever had the feeling that someone or something was trying to hurt you, if you remember the first friend you ever made and how strong that bond was, then Penpal is a story that you won’t soon forget, despite how you might try.”

Review:

This one for sure had a creepy, creepy vibe. There were times where I would get goosebumps when reading the words Dathan Auerbach had written on these pages. However, there were somethings in this book I just couldn’t get into. And that hindered my ability to give it a higher rating.

This book was recommended to me, and I wasn’t disappointed. There were absolutely freaky moments and times where I had to stop and go“oh my god” or “woah, that’s weird”. On the other hand, there were times where I had to stop and reread a paragraph because it just wasn’t making sense to me. This was the most unfortunate part about the book, I think some things ended a little abruptly.

Penpal has potential and was a pretty decent read. If you are looking for a quick mystery, this might be a good choice for you. I’m giving it 3.5/5 starts because of some of the confusion and the ending wasn’t really good for my taste. Overall, it was okay and I’d recommend it to someone that is looking for a super quick read with a love of the mystery genre.

The Female, the Flawed, the Ferocious: A Review of Season Two of Jessica Jones

A review by guest author, Desiree Wallen.

WARNING: THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD

After three days of binging in between work and life in general, the lesson that Jessica learns in the final episode (and arguably, the season before) rang true, that it is exhaustingly easy to lose yourself in what happens to you. While I have already heard someone musing that there is not a “big bad” in this season, that’s never been what Jessica Jones has been about, nor is it what the show is renowned for (and Krysten Ritter nails it again, especially when Jessica is shaken out of the safety of her off-putting monotone and sarcasm). Watching the first season was cathartic for me, and I imagine anyone else who had been taken for a fool by a charming sociopath (and while the one-episode appearance by David Tennant in this season was electric, I wish it was more consistent with subsequent episodes since he is supposed to be the archetypal devil on her shoulder). Weirdly like a show opposite in its tone, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, this season of Jessica Jones casts its titular character as someone who strives for the utilitarianism approach to solving her problems, even at the cost of personal stability. So to paraphrase what her detective noir narration sums up in the final moments of the season, it took her past literally clawing out of death for her to realize that the person she is had been dead for a long time. As someone who, for a long time, had dealt with viewing herself as what she does or what she’s lived through  instead of who she is, I think that is an important note to end on for a character’s journey, at least for now.

 

Mothers and Daughters, Amirite?

The relationship between Trish and Dorothy did not budge too much from last season to this season (although Rachael Taylor and Rebecca De Mornay nailed the complexity of one needing the other to thrive), but it did underscore one of the major themes to come out of the show, and that is the influence of mothers on women. The scene where Dorothy takes off her proverbial mask and tells Jessica she doesn’t blame her for Trish’s laying in a hospital bed was a quietly powerful one that may go overlooked when the importance of the season is looked at. While Trish may take from her mother’s qualities of determination and “driving the narrative”, there’s proof she will never be her mother (and I feel like with her new reflexes, the slap that she showed remorse for despite it being deserved may have only been the beginning of Dorothy’s comeuppance). The theme of there not being a relationship like a mother’s to a daughter’s is one that smacks you in the face here, but it works for the development of the main characters.

That being said, the appearance of Alisa was an interesting turn of events, and certainly something that could have derailed the season (much like the mid-season appearance of Elektra in Daredevil Season 2 and Matt Murdock’s eventual self-destruction from it in The Defenders, but the less said about how that was presented that the better), but it didn’t here. I would very much make the argument that the “big bad” isn’t Alisa, but Jessica’s concept of morality in the face of yet another destructive force with personal ties. While that reveal was possibly introduced too early in the season (but what is modern-day Marvel media without pacing issues?) I appreciated that it allowed time for us to see the fears Jessica has manifest in loss, i.e., she fears that her mother will choose a man over her, or she fears she will lose Trish to her mother’s destructive powers, or most importantly, she fears she will lose herself to becoming the worst parts of her mother (which is a very universally applicable fear and one my mind has put me through a lot). This season handles Jessica’s adjustments to constant change quite well, in that there’s no time for self-reflection and she inevitably begins to choose to save and accompany the mother she thought she lost once before. Janet McTeer is amazing as the uncontrollable and insatiable Alisa, who shows us where Jessica gets her problem-solving skills and disdain for stupid people (along with the genetics that reacted to medical experimentation in much the same way). It makes sense that Alisa falls for a man that not only saves her, but finds a kinship in the mind she had (which she felt was not respected before in her marriage to Jessica’s father), but I like the dynamic that whom Alisa sees as a savior, Jessica sees as a destroyer. In the end, though, Alisa differs from Dorothy in that she ultimately chooses to protect her daughter from making more mistakes for her daughter’s sake, not for self, and I think that’s important in examining how Alisa ultimately dies (interrupted, at the hands of someone seeking to rectify her own mistakes). I think it says a lot that even through all the abuse Dorothy dished out to Trish (even though the angle with the director and Jessica’s ex-boyfriend/Trish’s singing career felt shoehorned in), Jessica never truly thought once about outright killing Dorothy, but Trish felt it to be her duty to kill Alisa in order to resolve her own sense of heroism.

 

Death and Desperation Are Partners in Crime

This being a superhero-tinged homage to detective serials, there is a lot of dark humor to be found in the macabre, such as carrying a charred human head in a purse or sharing a body bag as a means of escape, and quipping about the absurdism of it all. That being said, I was quite intrigued by Jeri Hogarth’s path of semi-indestructibility (again). Carrie Anne-Moss is so good in this role and yet, I fail to see why anyone roots for Hogarth. She is cunning, and beautifully  complex, but a lesson learned would be nice. I understand the folly in taking any “miracle” that comes one’s way, but manipulating someone who chose wrong given certain circumstances in her eyes to a life of murder and being locked up for life feels off-putting for some reason. Just as with last season, Hogarth feels like some inverse version of Clarie, a plot device to occupy a purpose, and that’s okay, but I don’t know (again) what her storyline actually served (well, beyond showing that being a “strong, badass female” often comes with flaws as it should, and to subvert more tropes). However, taking Malcolm and setting him up as an antagonist under her wing may prove to make for an interesting third season arc. It sure looks like Jessica will have a match in investigative perusal skills, as well as another “powered person” in Trish, which makes for even more exciting conflict (at the expense of Jessica’s trauma, but that is the foundation of this show.)

Even though death and superheroes famously do not mix, I appreciate this season for equating death with finality. I was grateful they did not bring back Kilgrave from the dead for some convoluted reason, and that equation does explain a lot of turnabout choices (some of which I had problems with, like Simpson’s weirdly resolved redemption; I knew he would be a foil to Trish and the cause of what is likely to be her ultimate transition to Hellcat, but I didn’t understand why his appearance was so limited given the events of the first season). The finality of death also did not factor into there being a lack of mention of the events of The Defenders (unless you count Jessica’s mention of someone dying the last time she teamed up with someone, but if that’s the case, where is the Iron Fist? He also had the strength to stop Alisa and took over Daredevil’s position as protector of Hell’s Kitchen, unless they plan on setting this round of individual seasons concurrently). I get that if Danny Rand came in to save the day, some of the themes regarding womanhood would have suffered, but an explanation would separate the oft-mocked ridiculousness of continuity in comic-based properties.

I still don’t know how I feel about the whole Oscar storyline (and the silly ex-wife-who-spends-all-her-money-on-herself side quest for Jessica to help resolve), but I do appreciate that they bond over the fear of loss. It makes sense for Jessica to find someone that is willing to do anything for his child and values her quiet strengths in choosing goodness (also, that scene with the paint was hot). However, I only see a season three leverage for her to suffer more loss, even if the romance didn’t overshadow the rest of the season as I (depressingly) expected it to.  

 

Inadequacy and the Impostor

Another interwoven theme between Jessica, Trish, and to a lesser extent, Malcolm, over the course of this season, is exhibiting the fear of not being enough. They are all inherent do-gooders with addictive personalities, but that is shown to be driven by that fear. Of course, that does intersect between Malcolm and Trish this season, and does drive Malcolm (Eka Darville, thriving in the obligatory fed-up-with-my-powered-friends role, and rightfully so) to a path where he’ll be even more manipulated, but I digress. It is Trish’s feelings of inadequacy that drives her to toss away all the tools that allowed her to do good in the first place (and her trajectory is a great critique of people with wide-reaching voices flinging them at causes where they may be misplaced or misguided). There is a bit of hearkening back to Greek tragedy where the do-gooders do more harm than good with their purposefully limited information, and it works.

Jessica, of course, is told she is a hero because she has the power to kill anyone who crosses her path and still chooses to control herself, and that at least places her on a pedestal of not becoming her mother, as she muses to her vision of Kilgrave. We don’t want Jessica to be perfect, and in the company of a world in which superheroes exist, she tries to make every justification as to why she isn’t one, and that’s okay. The big picture for her is actually baby steps, in that she is realizing she doesn’t deserve to be regarded the way Oscar’s son sees her (like a Captain America, which yes, #TeamCap), but that she does deserve to be regarded as someone who is capable of owning her own life and her own humanity and her own feelings, and still living and still doing good in her own way. Being honest with herself, about herself is not something that Jessica Jones will ever ask for, but it is what she needs to truly close the door on her past.

Score: 8.5 / 10

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Publication Date: October 10, 2017
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers

Find this book here:

Rating: ★★★

“Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

In his long-awaited return, John Green, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of lifelong friendship.”

Review:

John Green hasn’t failed me yet. I didn’t want to say that this one disappointed me, but it wasn’t as great as I thought it was going to be. John Green has given me this high standard throughout the years, and this one didn’t quite live up to it.

The beginning of Turtles All the Way Down did grab me pretty quickly. I thought the characters were interesting, and I thought that I would find more out about their characters. However, as the book went on, I couldn’t connect to the characters in a way that I thought I would. I really liked Aza’s character, she probably is the reason I gave this a higher a rating. It just was hard to see these characters the way they were written.

Second, the story line was a little weird. I feel like the missing father didn’t really have a lot to do with the book. Of course this plays a big part of the story, but I couldn’t really connect them and Aza. I feel like there were a lot of missed connections.

I have read countless young adult books with mental illness and mental health as their genres and I feel like John Green did a great job inserting his own OCD into Aza’s character. However, I still couldn’t get a direct feel from her character. There was something about her that was just so tough to read, I couldn’t figure it out. The ending was a little spark of something to get something else going for this book, but unfortunately, it was the end and I wish there was something else to add to it.

For the next John Green book I read, I want to not have my expectations so high. Every book is a new book. I took my previous ratings from his other books and I automatically set this book to a really high standard. I think a lot of people did the same thing I did, and I feel like that probably hurt this book more in the long run.