Review: Providence by Caroline Kepnes

My Rating: 2 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A propulsive new thriller about the obsessive nature of love when an intensifying relationship between best friends is disrupted by a kidnapping.

Growing up as best friends in small-town New Hampshire, Jon and Chloe are the only ones who truly understand each other, though they can never find the words to tell one another the depth of their feelings. When Jon is finally ready to confess his feelings, he’s suddenly kidnapped by his substitute teacher who is obsessed with H.P. Lovecraft and has a plot to save humanity.

Mourning the disappearance of Jon and facing the reality he may never return, Chloe tries to navigate the rites of entering young adulthood and “fit in” with the popular crowd, but thoughts of Jon are never far away.

When Jon finally escapes, he discovers he now has an uncontrollable power that endangers anyone he has intense feelings for. He runs away to protect Chloe and find the answers to his new identity–but he’s soon being tracked by a detective who is fascinated by a series of vigilante killings that appear connected.

Whisking us on a journey through New England and crashing these characters’ lives together in the most unexpected ways, Kepnes explores the complex relationship between love and identity, unrequited passion and obsession, self-preservation and self-destruction, and how the lines are often blurred between the two.

My Thoughts:

The plot of Providence is not one I’d usually go for. But I’d heard great things about Kepnes’s writing and this book was a much buzzed book for this summer, so I thought I’d give it a try. The kidnapping storyline was interesting but never fully resolved. The point of view shifts every chapter and it would have helped to hear more from the teacher who kidnaps Jon. I realize that part of Jon’s struggle was in not being able to talk to Jon about what happened, but the reader still needed to know more. Personally, I don’t like when stories are too ambiguous. I prefer when authors actually acknowledge the character’s motivations.

I also think there were big pacing issues throughout the story. Providence starts off pretty strong but all of a sudden Kepnes introduces a new character, Eggs, who is a police officer. To be quite frank, it felt like the story came to a crashing halt once Eggs appeared. It was impossible to connect with Eggs on any level. His entrance into the story felt too abrupt and out of place. From there, Providence becomes a different book. Chock full of references, nods, and allusions to H.P. Lovecraft, Providence is a story that doesn’t know what it wants to be. Kepnes tries to explain the Lovecraft references, but as a reader who has never read Lovecraft, I’m sure I missed a lot. I’m struggling to understand why Kepnes thought this particular story should be told. The story just sort of…ends. What was the point of all this? Why did Jon, his friends, and his family need to suffer?

On Goodreads, this Providence is being categorized as a thriller. But I’m not sure I’d agree with that classification. It’s like this book wanted to be a thriller but never fully connected with the genre. Providence lacks the pulse, drive, and intensity of a thriller. It’s certainly not a mystery, though, and I don’t think there are enough sci-fi elements to put it squarely in that genre, either. I can appreciate Kepnes’s attempts to blur genres but, ultimately, I don’t think it was successful.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I thought this book was okay. It’s considerably harder to review a book that’s only okay because there’s a lack of extreme feeling one way or the other. This was my first Kepnes book and I’m hesitant to read her first novel, You, just because Providence was so lacking. Although I understand that the two are incredibly different from one another, so perhaps You is the better novel. There was something about this book that made me want to keep turning the pages and finish, but I think I wanted to know the point of the story. And unfortunately, there isn’t a point. I would not recommend this book.

This book is…

slow

open-ended

a mix of thriller and sci-fi

abrupt

lackluster

Publisher: Lenny

Genre: thriller

Page Count: 400

ISBN: 0399591435

Available here from IndieBound.

Are you excited to read Providence? What book would you recommend with sci-fi elements?

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Review: What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

My Rating: 2 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

When Evie’s father returned home from World War II, the family fell back into its normal life pretty quickly. But Joe Spooner brought more back with him than just good war stories. When movie-star handsome Peter Coleridge, a young ex-GI who served in Joe’s company in postwar Austria, shows up, Evie is suddenly caught in a complicated web of lies that she only slowly recognizes. She finds herself falling for Peter, ignoring the secrets that surround him . . . until a tragedy occurs that shatters her family and breaks her life in two.

My Thoughts:

For such a short book, I thought the plot dragged on for the first two-thirds of the story until What I Saw becomes a very different book during the last third. Many of the plot developments felt entirely unnecessary and unrealistic. Anyone paying a smidgen of attention will spot the “tragedy” coming from a mile away and feel totally underwhelmed. Evie’s relationship with Peter is horrendously inappropriate, regardless of the time period. A fifteen year old should never, ever be pursued by someone in their twenties. And because I was never able to look past this plot point, I felt Evie and Peter’s relationship was ridiculous and I actively wanted them to separate.

I found Evie’s characterization to be inconsistent. At times she behaved like a twelve year old, and at others was spouting profound comments like a grown adult. The characters in this story are largely forgettable and incredibly unlikeable. I felt zero sympathy for any character save the protagonist and narrator, Evie. And I only felt a little sorry for her because at fifteen, she’s only a child who shouldn’t necessarily know better. But the adults in What I Saw are awful to themselves and to one another. Evie’s mother, Beverly, was particularly frustrating as she would act under the pretense of Eve’s best interests, and then do something else to undermine Evie’s emotional health and well-being. Both of Evie’s parents are abusive and are perpetuating cycles of abuse.

I am pleased that Blundell touched on the Anti-Semitism prevalent after WWII. One storyline surrounding the Graysons reveals the hateful attitudes towards the Jewish community that still hasn’t gone away. I think Anti-Semitism is an often overlooked form of discrimination and Blundell did a good job of providing some historical context in this book for discrimination and the many shapes it takes.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I thought this book was okay. Thankfully, this is a quick read and I started and finished What I Saw in an afternoon. I liked the setting and the hints of post war glamour mixed with a still recovering country. I am left unclear as to why Blundell thought this particular story needed to be told. I would not recommend this book.

This book is…

forgettable

a coming of age story

troubling

a quick read

predictable

This book contains content warnings for…

sexual assault of a minor

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Genre: young adult

Page Count: 284

ISBN: 0439903467

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read What I Saw and How I Lied? What YA historical fiction would you recommend?

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Review: The Strays by Emily Bitto

My Rating: 2 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

On her first day at a new school, Lily meets Eva, one of the daughters of the infamous avant-garde painter Evan Trentham. He and his wife are attempting to escape the stifling conservatism of 1930s Australia by inviting other like-minded artists to live and work with them at their family home. As Lily’s friendship with Eva grows, she becomes infatuated with this makeshift family and longs to truly be a part of it.

Looking back on those years later in life, Lily realises that this utopian circle involved the same themes as Evan Trentham’s art: Faustian bargains and terrible recompense; spectacular fortunes and falls from grace. Yet it was not Evan, nor the other artists he gathered around him, but his own daughters, who paid the debt that was owing.

The Strays is an engrossing story of ambition, sacrifice and compromised loyalties from an exciting new talent.

My Thoughts:

This was a challenging review to write and so this is going to be a brief one. I thought this book was disappointing at times, mainly because I wish Bitto expanded more. At only 240 pages, The Strays leaves the reader frequently wondering what happened. Many moments were referred to only in passing, rather than letting the reader be a full participant.

Most of this story takes place at an artist colony and the adults are…horrible. The parents do no real parenting, which was very annoying. I dislike the stereotype of artists being incompetent, lazy, and drunk and/or high. It was difficult to understand Lily or Eva’s fascination with these adults as they offered very little for these girls. Then when some extremely inappropriate and illegal relationships occur, nothing really happens. Eva’s parents fail miserably to take care of their daughters and the reader is left not knowing what really transpired. Later still, something disastrous happens again to Eva but just what, exactly, is not at all clear to the reader.

I think a lot of positive reviews focus on the relationship between Lily and Eva, but personally I didn’t see what all the fuss is about. I thought their interactions seemed more mature than was appropriate for their ages and all they ever seemed to do was change their clothes a lot, sneak out of Eva’s family’s house, smoke, and drink. They didn’t share their deep dark secrets. They barely spoke to each other, really. I think my frustration with their friendship was that it didn’t feel real to me. It felt like an author trying to be profound instead of writing truth. None of these girls reminded me of myself or anyone I know, which distanced me from the story.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I thought this book was fine. I’ve been struggling with how best to word my thoughts. It’s been a while since I’ve felt so… ‘whelmed’ by a book. It’s not great and it’s not horrible. I would only recommend this if you really enjoy quiet coming of age stories, and even then, just borrow it from the library.

This book is…

quiet

dark

mediocre

loving

blissfully short

Publisher: Twelve

Genre: literary fiction

Page Count: 240

ISBN: 1455537721

Available here from Book Depository.

Have you read The Strays? What book did you read this weekend?

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Review: As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner

ATTENTION: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

My Rating: 2 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

From the acclaimed author of Secrets of a Charmed Life and A Bridge Across the Ocean comes a new novel set in Philadelphia during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, which tells the story of a family reborn through loss and love.

In 1918, Philadelphia was a city teeming with promise. Even as its young men went off to fight in the Great War, there were opportunities for a fresh start on its cobblestone streets. Into this bustling town, came Pauline Bright and her husband, filled with hope that they could now give their three daughters–Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa–a chance at a better life.

But just months after they arrive, the Spanish Flu reaches the shores of America. As the pandemic claims more than twelve thousand victims in their adopted city, they find their lives left with a world that looks nothing like the one they knew. But even as they lose loved ones, they take in a baby orphaned by the disease who becomes their single source of hope. Amidst the tragedy and challenges, they learn what they cannot live without–and what they are willing to do about it.

As Bright as Heaven is the compelling story of a mother and her daughters who find themselves in a harsh world, not of their making, which will either crush their resolve to survive or purify it.

My Thoughts:

This book moved incredibly slowly and after reading over 200 pages, it felt like the plot was going nowhere. There were several events that did not need to be mentioned at all, and the deletion of these would have gone a long way towards picking up the pace and cutting down the overall length. While I thought the plot seemed interesting, Meissner did not do enough with the story. Meissner also did an awful lot of telling and not showing. Rather than witness a character overcome an obstacle, we were merely told it happened in one sentence. Rather than witness a character go through an emotional journey or experience, we were told it happened in a line. This is poor storytelling and only serves to keep the reader at a distance from the material. I felt no connections to this story or any characters.

It seemed to me that many characters did things that were very out of character. When Willa gets the flu and Pauline tends to her, Pauline neglects to take proper precautions for days and ultimately dies while Willa survives. After Pauline’s vigilance towards other flu patients, I find it shocking that she would so willingly and stupidly risk her life like that, knowing she has two other children to care for. And I’m still fuming that Meissner killed off Pauline under the pretense of reuniting her with her dead son in heaven. As someone whose mother did die, I can tell you that it’s infuriating to think and be told she’s in a better place. Pauline should have lived with her remaining children and survived.

I found Maggie incredibly infuriating. It seems that Meissner couldn’t decide if she should be mature or immature. On the one hand, her bizarre crush on the older soldier next door was unfounded in any real interactions and proved to make Maggie into a foolish child. And the entire Maggie taking Alex situation was simply odd. She turned someone else’s child into her pet, taking him and demanding to keep him because she wanted him. This was so incredibly immature and, well, ridiculous.

Granted I only read about half of the book, but the representation I did read was infuriating. And by that, I mean the overall lack of it. There was an overwhelming amount of white people in this story, which doesn’t entirely make sense seeing that this book takes place in Philadelphia in the twentieth century. People of color existed and should have been represented in this story. Virtually the only people of color that were mentioned were made off to be unintelligent, illiterate in English, desperately poor, and desperately in need of white saviors, of which Meissner provided plenty. While the story was told by the women and girls of the central family, the book was still overwhelmingly about men and their actions. I’m also not sure if Fred was supposed to be coded as gay because he lived alone and never took a wife or had children, but maybe I’m reading into that in the hopes that at least one character in this book wasn’t heterosexual.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I thought this book was exceptionally disappointing. I really enjoyed Meissner’s earlier book, Secrets of a Charmed Life, but I did not think this new one lives up to it or the hype. I would not recommend this book and would not read any other book of hers.

This book is…

slow

surface level

too long

trying too hard

boring

Publisher: Berkley Books

Genre: historical fiction

Page Count: 400

ISBN: 0399585966

Available here from Book Depository.

Have you read As Bright As Heaven? Do you ever stop reading a book halfway through?

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Review: A Duke in Shining Armor by Loretta Chase

My Rating: 2/5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Not all dukes are created equal. Most are upstanding members of Society. And then there’s the trio known as Their Dis-Graces.

Hugh Philemon Ancaster, seventh Duke of Ripley, will never win prizes for virtue. But even he draws the line at running off with his best friend’s bride. All he’s trying to do is recapture the slightly inebriated Lady Olympia Hightower and return her to her intended bridegroom.

For reasons that elude her, bookish, bespectacled Olympia is supposed to marry a gorgeous rake of a duke. The ton is flabbergasted. Her family’s ecstatic. And Olympia? She’s climbing out of a window, bent on a getaway. But tall, dark, and exasperating Ripley is hot on her trail, determined to bring her back to his friend. For once, the world-famous hellion is trying to do the honorable thing.

So why does Olympia have to make it so deliciously difficult for him . . . ?

My Thoughts:

I enjoy reading romance novels. Really, I do! I find them to be a wonderful example of escapism. I typically read historical ones and delight in reading about elaborate wardrobes, outdated codes of behavior, and the eventual union between two headstrong individuals who swore they would never get married. And yet, when I read A Duke in Shining Armor, I found myself quite disappointed.

The characters are uninspired. Our hero, Ripley, is supposed to be a despicable arrogant man. Spoiler alert? He’s charming, confident, and borderline boring. The plot is slow going. It took FOREVER for Ripley and Olympia to arrive at their destination with about 500 unnecessary speed bumps along the way. Considering that this book’s book is a runaway bride, there’s absolutely no running or real sense of urgency. And the romance doesn’t even sizzle! It took far too long for Ripley and Olympia to kiss, thus robbing this reader of any enjoyment.

I think my biggest issue with this book is that it felt remarkably rooted in patriarchal norms and standards. And yes, all historical romance novels are purely based on their setting, but this one actually contained a duel. An honest to god duel over a woman occurred because each man had to defend her honor. To make matters worse, the duel wasn’t even exciting. The whole thing was eye-roll inducing. This book also feature a considerable amount of language surrounding the notion that there exists a certain kind of woman who can tame a man. This idea is inherently sexist because women do not exist to be gatekeepers for male behavior. What’s even more troubling is that this book presents that idea as reasonable.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I thought this book was mediocre. It was by no means bad, but it also wasn’t great. This was my first book by Chase and I don’t think I’ll continue with more of her work. As such, I would not recommend this book.

This book is…

slow

patriarchal

easily skimmed

lackluster in the description of romance

forgettable

Publisher: Avon

Genre: fiction

Page Count: 400

ISBN: 0062457381

Available here from Book Depository.

Have you read A Duke in Shining Armor? Do you enjoy reading romance novels?

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