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Review: Eleanor Olyphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely FineEleanor Oliphant may think she’s completely fine. But spend a few pages with her and you’ll find out that she’s not quite as fine as she thinks she is.

Eleanor wants for nothing physically. Her regular job provides a steady income that allows her to provide for the basic human necessities as well as a few extras. For example, enough vodka to pass the hours of her weekend until it’s time to go back to work again. She has her weekly conversations with her Mummy and she looks forward to certain documentary programs on the radio or television.

Yes, Eleanor is doing just fine, thank you.

Except she’s not really. Emotionally distant from herself and those around her (at one point, Eleanor points out that her foster child upbringing taught her to stop “wanting” things that weren’t vital to her survival), Eleanor has finally found the man of her dreams. He’s the singer for an up and coming band and while the two haven’t met, Eleanor just knows that once they meet, it will be love at first sight and things will start being more than just “fine.” Continue reading

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Review: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

The Upside of UnrequitedWhile Molly Pescan-Suso has experienced 26 crushes in her life, she’s rarely acted on them. Entering the summer before her senior year, Molly yearns to find the right person to share a first kiss with and possibly take things from being a crush to actually being her significant other.

Now, Molly has two possible new crushes on her radar — the popular guy Wil and the fantasy t-shirt wearing, Reed. Which one, if either, will Molly chose makes up most of the drama and teen angst of The Upside of Unrequited.

Becky Albertalli caught my attention last year with the funny, entertaining and thought-provoking Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda. And while Simon has an Easter egg cameo in this book, overall Upside ranks as one of the more disappointing stories I’ve read lately. Much of my frustration with the novel comes from its first-person narrator, Molly. Albertalli tries her best to make Molly self-deprecating about her lack of romantic experience, chalking a lot of it up to a lack of confidence because of her body type. Molly’s own self-image isn’t necessarily the most positive as she repeatedly refuses to believe that anyone else would find her attractive, despite there being signs from that two potential crushes might be interested in more than just being an unrequited object of her affection.

I get what Albertalli is trying to do with Molly and giving us the perspective of someone who is an outsider, looking in at what the “popular” kids (including her own twin sister) are doing. But it felt like Unrequited was getting a bit redundant and hitting all the expected romantic comedy touchstones for Molly instead of giving us an authentic journey for her. In the end, it feels only like Molly comes out of her shell because a boy likes her and not because she realizes that she has inherent worth as a person regardless of her external appearance.

Albertalli fills Upside with a diverse group of characters, many of whom feel one-dimensional. Too many of them feel like they’re summed up by one or two characteristics instead of being fully realized characters.

It all adds up to a disappointing sophomore effort by Albertalli. Maybe my expectations were too high for this one. But I can’t help but feel like this one had potential that it never quite lived up to.

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Review: Lie to Me by J.T. Ellison

Lie to MeWith Gone Girl casting a huge shadow across the literary world, it seems like we get a potential “next Gone Girl” hitting the shelves every week.

On the surface, J.T. Ellison’s Lie to Me could be classified as another book trying to be the “next Gone Girl.” But that would sell her new psychological thriller short.

Ethan and Sutton Montclair appear to have a perfect life. Successful writing careers, the nice house, a perfect marriage. But if you pull back the layers a bit, things aren’t quite as perfect as they seem. Sutton is being harassed by a book blogger with an ax to grind, Ethan’s got a severe case of writer’s block and their marriage is on shaky ground from Ethan’s one-night stand and the death of their infant son. When Sutton vanishes one morning, leaving a note for Ethan not to try to find her, suspicion begins to fall firmly on Ethan. The discovery of a burned body that could be Sutton only ratchets up the scrutiny from the authorities and the media.

Ellison does a nice job of layering the tension in Lie to Me. As she peels away the layers of the Montclair marriage, we find out that neither Ethan nor Sutton is quite as innocent or as sweet as they portray themselves to the outside world.

While most of the novel is third-person narration, Ellison includes the occasional chapter from the first-person perspective of the mastermind of things. Determining who is speaking and what their vendetta is against the Montclairs really drives much of the novel
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That is until we get the big reveal and things kind of go off the rails a bit.

I won’t ruin anything for anyone. But I can honestly say the first two-thirds of this novel had me gripped, intrigued and not able to turn the pages fast enough to see what development would come next. And then we get to the big reveal and I couldn’t help but roll my eyes a bit. I wanted to make the jump with Ellison, but I just couldn’t.

That’s not to say that Lie to Me isn’t a good novel. It is very good. It’s just not a great one. And that’s a shame because, as I said, the first two-thirds of it are completely compelling.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received an ARC of this book as part of the Amazon Vine Program.

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Review: Final Girls by Riley Sager

Final GirlsReading Final Girls, I found myself more intrigued with who Riley Sager really was rather than if any of the characters in the novel would make it to the final page. I’m not sure if that says more about me as a reader or more about the book itself.

Honestly, it’s probably a bit of both.

Billed by Stephen King as the “first great thriller of 2017,” I went into Riley Sager’s Final Girls with a lot of hope. Quincy Carpenter is one of three women in the United States who is the sole survivor of a tragic, horror-movie-like massacre. Unable to recall any details about the attack, Quincy has spent the last decade moving on with her life, including a live-in boyfriend and starting her own cooking blog. But when one of the three “final girls” (named after the girl in the slasher film who makes it the ending credits) dies and another appears on Quincy’s doorstep after years of hiding, Quincy soon begins to question everything about her life, both the and now. Continue reading

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Review: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good LifeIn this world, there are only so many f*cks one person can or should give, argues Mark Manson. And determining which things are worth giving a f*ck about and which ones are is an important and necessary distinction.

Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck will not only help you determine which things are important to care about and put your passion behind but will also give you steps to determine if what you’re giving a f*ck about is really worth it. Manson even argues that failure, rejection, and pain are all part of being a better human being — provided that we take the time to learn from those setbacks.

On many levels, a lot of what Manson asserts in this self-help book isn’t breaking a lot of new ground. Instead, it’s a reminder to make sure you’ve got your priorities in the right places and that the things you give a f*ck about are really worth giving a f*ck about.

With its attention-grabbing title, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck isn’t exactly subtle. But it’s real, honest and authentic advice from Manson, delivered in a straightforward, readable and compelling style. His arguments and ideas will linger with you after you’ve read each chapter and the book — and that’s a good thing. It’s almost one of those books that demands to be read again in the near future to make sure the tune-up up Manson lays out is really working.

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Review: Orange Blossom Special by Sally Kilpatrick

Orange Blossom Special“As everyone had long feared, it was Tennessee football that finally killed Jerome Malcolm.”

With an opening line like that one, how could I possibly resist Sally Kilpatrick’s Orange Blossom Special?

The short answer is that I couldn’t.

When her husband of sixty year passes away, Edie Malcolm discovers that he has some very specific thoughts on how he and his estate should be distributed. In addition to leaving behind funding for two neighborhood friends to pursue a college education, Jerome wants to be cremated and have his ashes sprinkled in three places – the Ryman, General Robert Neyland’s grave and the orange and white checkerboard of the University of Tennessee end zone. And Jerome wants his wife, sister and the two college scholars to complete the scattering together.

So, the four of them pack into Jerome’s orange and white checkerboard painted hearse with Jerome safely stored inside a Carmen Miranda cookie jar and set out to fulfill his final wishes. Continue reading

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks: 3rd Doctor NovelisationIf there has been one glaring omission from the classic Doctor Who Target novels audiobooks line, it’s “The Day of the Daleks.” One of the first serials adapted by Terrance Dicks, “Day of the Daleks” was one of the first Target novels I read (though it was under the U.S. Pinnacle reprint, including the fantastically, ranting introduction by Harlan Ellison) and it’s easily one of the strongest adaptations the line ever produced.

And while I was delighted that the story was finally getting the audio treatment, part of me was still a bit nervous about visiting this old friend from my Target-obsessed days. Could it live up to the greatness associated with it in my memory?

The good news is that it not only lived up to my fond memories of it, it may have even exceeded them. Continue reading

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