Catching Up on Reviews

Side Effects May VarySide Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy

What if you were diagnosed with cancer and only given a few months to live? Would you create a bucket list and start crossing things off it? And what if some of the things on that bucket list weren’t necessarily the most positive things — including getting revenge on your ex-boyfriend and the girl he’d been cheating on you with?

Sixteen year old Alice faces the possibility that she won’t make it to her next birthday and decides she wants to wrap up all her unfinished business before her time on Earth is done. She enlists the help of her long-time friend Harvey, who has carried a torch for Alice for years. As the two cross-off items on Alice’s list, including humiliation for the ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend, they slowly begin to grow closer and fall for each other.

But then, Alice’s cancer goes into remission and she’s suddenly forced to live with the consequences of her actions, including her profession that she will miss Harvey the most. Instead of seeing this as a second chance for life and happiness with Harvey, Alice withdraws further into herself and falls back into some of her bad pre-diagnosis habits, including ditching school and hooking up with a random guy under the bleachers each day instead of going to class.

Julie Murphy’s Side Effects May Vary gives us point of view chapters from both Alice and Harvey’s perspective, allowing us to understand how they’re acting, even if we don’t necessarily understand it. Alice’s anger and confusion at what’s happening to her is natural and works well. The added fact that just before she found out about the diagnosis she secretly saw her mother having an affair with another man only adds to the overall teenage angst of the novel.

And yet, Murphy never allows either Harvey or Alice to succumb too much to that angst. Harvey does begin a relationship with another girl (the twin sister of his best friend) once Alice begins to reject him in her post-cancer world. And while you can see where this is probably headed from the first date between these two, Murphy wisely doesn’t allow it to become overly predictable.

The Almost TruthThe Almost Truth by Eileen Cook

Sadie’s grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, but she’s learned a few things from her con artist father. But even Sadie couldn’t see it coming when her mother raided her college savings account to help with her father’s prison appeal and a few necessary household repairs.

Seeing her dream of going to a prestigious college and escaping her life, Sadie scrambles to find a way to get that money back before the start of her freshman fall semester. To do this, Sadie decides she will use her natural skills at running scams to convince a wealthy family whose daughter vanished years ago that she has information on the disappearance. Sadie’s goal is to hopefully get enough money to replenish her account and head to college.

But there’s more to the plan than meets the eye. Sadie soon becomes involved in a love triangle with her oldest friend and a new, wealthy young man to the island. As Sadie is torn between the two, she finds she has feelings for both –even if she just started out flirting with the new boy to get in good with the family with the missing daughter. Of course, there’s more to the scam than meets the eye and Sadie will soon begin to uncover things about herself and her past that she may not necessarily need or want to know.

Eileen Cook’s The Almost Truth is a interesting novel because it gives us a heroine who isn’t necessarily the most likable or trustworthy. While it’s easy to understand Sadie’s motivation to better herself, it’s not always easy to understand the means by which she goes about doing it. Luckily, Cook keeps her likable enough and with just enough of a conscience that we don’t turn completely against her. And it’s nice that Cook lays out Sadie’s motivation and drive early in the book and there are times when her desperation to get of her current situation are almost palatable.

Which Brings Me to You: A Novel in ConfessionsWhich Brings Me to You: A Novel in Confessions by Steve Almond

John and Jane meet at a wedding and find themselves instantly attracted to each other. When their attempted tryst in the coat room goes awry, the two decide there could be something more to them than just a post-wedding fling and decide to try something different — writing confessional letters about their various relationships to each other.

Once they reach the end of the confessionals, they can decide if a long distance relationship between the two of them is worth pursuing.

And so we’re treated to alternating confessions of all the good and bad things that each has done in various relationships up to that point. Included in that are threesomes, boorish behavior and broken hearts along with all the salient details you can possibly want or expect.

And yet somehow by halfway through Which Brings Me To You, I found myself growing less and less enchanted with both parties. The hook of the confessional letters loses its appeal by the mid-point of the novel (or in this case the audio book) and I found myself continuing to listen and beginning to root for these two not to only not get together with each other but anyone else ever.

No Safety in NumbersNo Safety in Numbers by Dayna Lorentz

What if the end of the world came and you were locked in a mall?

That’s kind of the premise of No Safety in Numbers, a novel that desperately wants to channel the dystopian vibe of The Hunger Games but never quite seems to get there.

Part of my dislike of the novel could be that much of it feels like its treading water, setting up things for the second and third book of the series. Another could be that there aren’t any characters I found myself rooting for or wanting to cheer on to live past the final page.

There are two more installments to this series but I don’t think I’ll be in any rush to get to them.


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