Review: The Flood Girls by Richard Fifield

25814284*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Flood Girls

Author: Richard Fiflield

Publisher: Gallery Books

Publication Date: February 2, 2016

ISBN: 9781476797380

The Flood Girls
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Welcome to Quinn, Montana, population: 956. A town where nearly all of the volunteer firemen are named Jim, where The Dirty Shame—the only bar in town—refuses to serve mixed drinks (too much work), where the locals hate the newcomers (then again, they hate the locals, too), and where the town softball team has never even come close to having a winning season. Until now. Rachel Flood has snuck back into town after leaving behind a trail of chaos nine years prior. She’s here to make amends, but nobody wants to hear it, especially her mother, Laverna. But with the help of a local boy named Jake and a little soul-searching, she just might make things right. In the spirit of Empire Falls and A League of Their Own, with the caustic wit of Where’d You Go, Bernadette thrown in for good measure, Richard Fifield’s hilarious and heartwarming debut will have you laughing through tears.

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What caught me most about this book right off the back was not the synopsis. It was the cover. I love this cover. The retro vibe made me instantly want to open the book and it set the tone for the story inside.This wonderful cover prefaces a story full of colourful characters in a town that is far removed from metropolitan life, but is full of family drama, long-held grudges, but also lifelong friendships. It’s a funny story with a touching arc and great character development.

The story isn’t normally the kind of story I’m into, but it was a nice change. The characters are pretty rough-and-tumble. They don’t take crap from anyone. They’re crass, dirty, raw, and unfiltered. But they never apologies for they who they are and that’s what binds them together. Fifield captures the essence of a small American town where glitz and glam are the furthest thing from everyone’s mind, but what matters deep down are the relationships that people form with each other. Beneath the tough exterior lies true acceptance and loyalty that one won’t find anywhere else.

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Review: The Widow by Fiona Barton

25734248*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. *

Title: The Widow

Author: Fiona Barton

Publisher: New American Library

Publication Date: February 16, 2016

ISBN: 9781101990261

The Widow

Synopsis from Goodreads:
When the police started asking questions, Jean Taylor turned into a different woman. One who enabled her and her husband to carry on, when more bad things began to happen…But that woman’s husband died last week. And Jean doesn’t have to be her anymore. There’s a lot Jean hasn’t said over the years about the crime her husband was suspected of committing. She was too busy being the perfect wife, standing by her man while living with the accusing glares and the anonymous harassment. Now there’s no reason to stay quiet. There are people who want to hear her story. They want to know what it was like living with that man. She can tell them that there were secrets. There always are in a marriage. The truth—that’s all anyone wants. But the one lesson Jean has learned in the last few years is that she can make people believe anything…

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I’d recently read Girl on the Train so I was pretty excited to give another crime thriller a try. It’s not my normal genre, so I’m always a bit apprehensive trying something new. I was pleasantly surprised with Barton’s novel. This is the story of a missing toddler. No one knows what’s happened to little Bella. She disappears one day and suddenly Jean Taylor wakes up to her husband wrapped up in the middle of a child abduction case. Her life, although far from perfect, is turned upside down and her husband, Glen, is at the centre of this horrendous crime.

This story combines the perspectives of the many people wrapped up in the case–the widow, the mother, the reporter, the detective, the accused–so perhaps The Widow is not the most encompassing title. What I really enjoyed were the various perspectives this story presents. It creates intensity because we don’t know whose story to believe. Each character presents their own perception of the crime, constructed or confused. Each narrator is unreliable because we cannot know if they’re telling the truth, concocting a lie, or they have no clue as to what actually happened. I believe that by presenting the story in this way, Barton creates a realistic tense and befuddled atmosphere.

The Widow is a thrilling and often devastating story. It’s one that you just can’t put down because you have to know the end. Perhaps I’ll keep up with this trend of reading thrillers.

Review: And Again by Jessica Chiarella

25110965*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: And Again

Author: Jessica Chiarella

Publisher: Touchstone

Publication Date: January 12, 2016

ISBN: 9781501116100

And Again
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Would you live your life differently if you were given a second chance? Hannah, David, Connie, and Linda—four terminally ill patients—have been selected for the SUBlife pilot program, which will grant them brand-new, genetically perfect bodies that are exact copies of their former selves—without a single imperfection. Blemishes, scars, freckles, and wrinkles have all disappeared, their fingerprints are different, their vision is impeccable, and most importantly, their illnesses have been cured. But the fresh start they’ve been given is anything but perfect. Without their old bodies, their new physical identities have been lost. Hannah, an artistic prodigy, has to relearn how to hold a brush; David, a Congressman, grapples with his old habits; Connie, an actress whose stunning looks are restored after a protracted illness, tries to navigate an industry obsessed with physical beauty; and Linda, who spent eight years paralyzed after a car accident, now struggles to reconnect with a family that seems to have built a new life without her. As each tries to re-enter their previous lives and relationships they are faced with the question: how much of your identity rests not just in your mind, but in your heart, your body?

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I love reading books that raise questions of ethics and morality in regards to altering the human body to defy death. Not only are these books prevalent in today’s world where we have discussions of printing organs with 3-D printers, but they speak to the future as we move further and further forward with scientific advancement. Chiarella’s story presents a world just like our own with 4 people chosen to test out a new program called SUBlife. These patients were terminally ill or had totally ruined bodies. They and their families would give anything for a second chance at life. Through the SUBlife program, they defy death and gain their lives back. However, in gaining back their lives, they lose themselves.

Each of subjects in the SUBlife project were about to lose everything, but this second chance brings everything they’ve ever known into question. They have to deal with families who have already accepted their death, they need to relearn the skills they’d mastered in their previous bodies, and they need to learn how to navigate the everyday lives they’d previously inhabited as totally remade people. I loved the in depth scrutiny of each character’s life. We see how their relationships change, grow, and are compromised in their new lives. Their introspection gives us insight into how they handle the change, what they feel and how they think. We get to know the characters in an intimate way.

What I would have loved to see more of is the struggle to gain FDA approval for SUBlife–the success or failure of the program and the anger of Christian protesters making a stand again the “unnatural” program. The book touches on these points, but really chooses to focus on character development rather than these subplots. I know what you’re thinking, I’m the girl that always harps on character development. Yes, this book does an excellent job of exploring the character changes–growth and setbacks. But there are such interesting subplots that arise, I wouldn’t have minded an extra hundred pages or so to explore these further.

Overall, I’m glad this was the book to kick off my 2016. I hope you’ll enjoy it just as much as I did. 🙂

Review: Sanctuary Bay

25663880 (1)* I received this book on NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. *

Title: Santuary Bay

Author: Laura Burns and Melinda Meta

Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin

Publication Date: January 19, 2015

ISBN: 9781250051363

Sanctuary Bay: A Novel

Synopsis from Goodreads:
In this genre-bending YA thriller, will Sarah Merson’s shiny new prep school change her life forever or bring it to a dark and sinister end? When Sarah Merson receives the opportunity of a lifetime to attend the most elite prep school in the country-Sanctuary Bay Academy-it seems almost too good to be true. But, after years of bouncing from foster home to foster home, escaping to its tranquil setting, nestled deep in Swans Island, couldn’t sound more appealing. Swiftly thrown into a world of privilege and secrets, Sarah quickly realizes finding herself noticed by class charmer, Nate, as well as her roommate’s dangerously attentive boyfriend, Ethan, are the least of her worries. When her roommate suddenly goes missing, she finds herself in a race against time, not only to find her, but to save herself and discover the dark truth behind Sanctuary Bay’s glossy reputation.

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I can’t say that I loved Sanctuary Bay, but nor did I hate it. It’s one of those books that was certainly an interesting read. It was quick, light, and easy, so it’s perfect if that’s what you’re looking for. It’s a fast moving novel, driven by the uncertainty of what might happen next and there are some surprising and completely unexpected twists. In the end, there were too many things that I couldn’t get on board with that got in the way of me really enjoying this novel.

Firstly, Sarah Merson is an fascinating character with her eidetic memory and the trances that make her relive many awful things from her past, however she  doesn’t quite come alive in this story. It’s hard to get a sense of who she really is besides the fact that she has a chip on her shoulder towards anyone of affluence. She’s quick to judge, and doesn’t try to change her tendency to jump to conclusions although time and time again she realizes she’s pegged someone incorrectly. I appreciate this character flaw as it’s always refreshing to see characters who aren’t fully perfect. She has the  trait of identifying everyone first and foremost on race, which I found really odd because this isn’t tied to any outstanding, particular incident involving race in her past. And this tendency soon disappears into the story, as if the author wants to prove a point or to initiate a discussion, but then forgets to continue doing halfway through the book. She then continues to check little boxes, almost turning the people around her into stock characters with a mental checklist. Perhaps this is part of her judgement process, however I’m not sure what it’s supposed to achieve for her as both an imagined character and a real person within her story.

Secondly, the conflict is quite over the top, that even if we suspend disbelief, it’s hard to accept that there is no one questioning what’s going on at this school. No employees speak out against it, there are no teachers who oppose it, and of course no one on the outside world knows about it. The main villain who we only meet for a second, reveals all of the information about the secret operation that the school has been trying to hard to hide, without a second though. While I think that there’s in incredible potential for this story to be great–aspects of mind control, skull and bones societies, potentially haunted asylums–I think it fell short with it’s 2D characters, poor dialogue, and lack of character development.

Now, if you take it at face value and if you’re only looking for a quick read, then I can understand why it’s received such good ratings on Goodreads. Many people have really enjoyed this book, and it does have many merits. I seem to be in the minority in not enjoying this novel as much. I hope you’ll find it a more exciting read than I did.