Review: The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson

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Superheroes have always been Leia Birch Briggs’ weakness. One tequila-soaked night at a comics convention, the usually level-headed graphic novelist is swept off her barstool by a handsome and anonymous Batman. It turns out the caped crusader has left her with more than just a nice, fuzzy memory. She’s having a baby boy—an unexpected but not unhappy development in the thirty-eight year-old’s life. But before Leia can break the news of her impending single-motherhood (including the fact that her baby is biracial) to her conventional Southern family, her step-sister Rachel’s marriage implodes. Worse, she learns her beloved ninety-year-old grandmother, Birchie, is losing her mind, and she’s been hiding her dementia with the help of Wattie, her best friend since girlhood. Leia returns to Alabama to put her grandmother’s affairs in order, clean out the big Victorian that has been in the Birch family for generations, and tell her family that she’s pregnant. Yet just when Leia thinks she’s got it all under control, she learns that illness is not the only thing Birchie’s been hiding. Tucked in the attic is a dangerous secret with roots that reach all the way back to the Civil War. Its exposure threatens the family’s freedom and future, and it will change everything about how Leia sees herself and her sister, her son and his missing father, and the world she thinks she knows.

I’ve read and loved some of Joshilyn Jackson’s books, but my last one (Someone Else’s Love Story) was quite a disappointment, so it’s been a couple years without her stories. As soon as I saw this beautiful cover, though, I realized I wanted to read her books again. And I need to catch up!

The Almost Sisters was a thoroughly enjoyable novel, a weird mix of geek references and southern secrets that I found a bit incompatible, to be honest. On the other hand, I liked the book and I adore Jackson’s writing and her ability to make me care about the characters and their problems. She makes long books feel short. Despite the two very different storylines, I really loved the characters in this novel and was rooting for Leia from the very beginning. She was delightful.

The family dynamics were perhaps my favorite part of the novel, along with the Batman scenes. I admit that’s weird for me because I usually find myself more attracted to the mystery plot and the flashbacks, but while I definitely wanted to know what had happened, the book’s lack of focus on the secret made me shift my attention to the contemporary storyline.

This isn’t one of my favorites by her, mostly because I wish I had been more invested in the “secret” part, which by the time it got revealed, it was exactly what I was expecting. Still, it was a good read and I recommend it to fans of contemporary family dramas and southern stories. She’s always fun to read and this was maybe the funniest book she’s written: it still has plenty of drama, but it isn’t a dark book at all.

Edelweiss, William Morrow, 2017

Review: The Sisters Chase by @SarahEHealy ‏@hmhbooks

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The hardscrabble Chase women—Mary, Hannah, and their mother Diane—have been eking out a living running a tiny seaside motel that has been in the family for generations, inviting trouble into their lives for just as long. Eighteen-year-old Mary Chase is a force of nature: passionate, beautiful, and free-spirited. Her much younger sister, Hannah, whom Mary affectionately calls “Bunny,” is imaginative, her head full of the stories of princesses and adventures that Mary tells to give her a safe emotional place in the middle of their troubled world. But when Diane dies in a car accident, Mary discovers the motel is worth less than the back taxes they owe. With few options, Mary’s finely tuned instincts for survival kick in. As the sisters begin a cross-country journey in search of a better life, she will stop at nothing to protect Hannah. But Mary wants to protect herself, too, for the secrets she promised she would never tell—but now may be forced to reveal—hold the weight of unbearable loss. Vivid and suspenseful, The Sisters Chase is a whirlwind page-turner about the extreme lengths one family will go to find—and hold onto—love.

Every now and then, I like to read something different and fresh, a story that keeps me engaged despite not being a thriller, a mystery or even proper historical fiction. I told you a while ago that I loved White Oleander, and while they weren’t comparable in terms of plot, it did offer a similar vibe.

The book is set in the 70s, 80s and the beginning of the 90s and it tells the story of Mare and Hannah -Bunny-, two sisters whose mother has just died. Mary is eighteen years old when she decides that she and Bunny must leave the hotel their family owns and travel across the country, searching for the right place to live. Along the way, Mary and Bunny meet different people and visit old friends while we gradually discover their mysterious past. I don’t want to say too much.

This is a story about sisters and family and you know how much I love books that focus on sibling relationships. While reading The Sisters Chase (I started it on the train in the morning and finished it that very same evening), I felt like I was reading the book equivalent of a road-movie. A beautiful, poignant and nostalgic ride.

The Sisters Chase was a lovely read: the writing was gorgeous and it made me want to travel across America and discover tiny towns in the middle of nowhere. I loved that there were some surprises that in hindsight made complete sense, but what I enjoyed the most was the bond between the two sisters. And yes, I wish there had been more adventures and a bit of action, but I loved this tale for what it was.

This is one of those quiet stories that makes me want to read similar books and forget about crimes for a while. And that is definitely something.

ARC, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017

Review: Shadow Man by Alan Drew @AlanArthurDrew

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Detective Ben Wade has returned to his California hometown of Rancho Santa Elena for a quieter life. Suddenly the town, with its peaceful streets and excellent public schools, finds itself at the mercy of a serial killer who slips through windows and screen doors, shattering illusions of safety. As Ben and forensic specialist Natasha Betencourt struggle to stay one step ahead of the killer, Ben’s own world is rocked again by a teen’s suicide. Ben must decide how far he is willing to go, and how much he will risk, to rescue the town from a long-buried secret, as well as from a psychotic murderer.

This book wasn’t what I expected at all, an in a good way. Shadow Man is a contemporary drama and a mystery of sorts as well, although I wouldn’t say that the crime aspect is the main aspect of the story. Those looking for a fast-paced thriller won’t find it here. However, if you’re willing to give it a chance, I think you could end up really enjoying this little gem.

I warmed up to Ben Wade from the very beginning. Since that first scene with his daughter, I was sold. I loved their interaction. I highly enjoyed reading about Ben and his family, too: their struggles, their obvious love for each other. It was heartbreaking and realistic and I really felt for them. Wade was a tortured man, still fighting demons every day, but that made him even more interesting. The story was set in the 80s, but it could’ve also happened today, as the themes portrayed in this novel are equally important now.

I don’t want to say much about the plot, especially because I read a review on Goodreads where they spoiled the main idea. I think it’s not that hard to figure it out after a while, but I would’ve loved it if I hadn’t known what the book was about before reading it. And believe me, it was not an easy book to read, but it was beautifully written and everything was treated with delicacy.

There are two cases going on, one featuring a serial killer and the other revolving around a potential teenage suicide. It’s not that the serial killer aspect wasn’t interesting, but I didn’t think it was the main focus. I preferred reading about the other case, which was the one that made me more emotional. I remember feeling angry when the main character chose to do something that left me utterly confused. Fortunately, as it usually happens with great novels, it all makes sense in the end.

It is not a book that should be rushed through but rather savoured. I found it compelling and unforgettable and I’m still thinking about it even after a few days. Tragic and beautiful. Don’t miss it.

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Netgalley, Random House, 2017

The Lost Daughter of India (Sharon Maas)

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When Caroline meets Kamal the attraction is instant. He’s enchanting, charismatic and she can’t wait to set up a new life with him in India. Both their families are against the union but Caroline is convinced they’ll come round, especially when she gives birth to a beautiful daughter, Asha. Asha is an adorable child but Caroline, homesick and beginning to hate the remote Indian village they live in, struggles with motherhood. Kamal is hardly ever there and she feels more and more isolated. In the grips of severe depression Caroline flees back to America, leaving Asha behind. Ten years later … Caroline recovered from her illness, is consumed by thoughts of the daughter she abandoned. Desperate to find Asha, she reunites with Kamal, intent on tracking her down. Will they ever be able to find their lost daughter? If they have any chance, they must confront the painful truths of the past and a terrible secret that has been kept for many years, until now.

I remember wanting to read this book after reading Diana’s review. The cover didn’t do anything for me but I liked what she said about the story and I decided to read it. However, when it was finally time, I didn’t really remember what it was about and I mistakenly thought this would be similar to Dinah Jefferies’ Before The Rains. But I was so wrong!

So first things first, this is not a historical novel. Yes, part of it is set in the XXth century, but it doesn’t really focus on that. And it’s not a romance novel, either, although it does feature a love story. I’d say this is a contemporary novel that deals with heavy themes and is definitely not an easy read at all. Human trafficking, child prostitution, poverty, abuse… Not exactly what I was expecting.

But that was a great thing, as I absolutely loved this book. I liked that it wasn’t what I thought it would be, that the cover didn’t really do it justice, that it told an important story. I knew it from the very first chapters, as I was already engaged. I think you need to know that you will find it hard to understand Caroline and Kamal’s actions. I know I did. I mean, how could they give up their daughter just like that? Why didn’t they return more often? But once I got past that, I was completely on board with the story.

Perhaps, my favorite aspect of The Lost Daughter of India was the multiple perspectives. I know some of you don’t really enjoy them anymore, but this time I thought they gave the book more depth. Asha’s (the main protagonist) story was told from a first person perspective and you could actually believe you were reading a young girl’s thoughts. And then we had Kamal and Janiki’s tale, as well as my favorite, Caroline’s. Caroline wasn’t the best character (Janiki was!) but she was the most complex and interesting to read about in my opinion. I adored how the author described her initial dreams about India and the consequent disillusion. I deeply enjoyed reading about her relationship with Kamal and their determination to find Asha.

One thing that I found curious about The Lost Daughter of India was that the second part read like a real mystery/thriller novel. Okay, so I would never say this is a thriller, but it was full of suspense, as the characters got together and worked like proper detectives to try to find Asha’s whereabouts.

The weakest part for me, and probably the only thing I didn’t like about this book was the ending, mainly because I thought it was all too convenient. There were no loose ends at all, which felt kind of unrealistic. And no, I’m not really convinced about a certain relationship… please tell me I’m not the only one. Anyway, this is a great book and so different from what you could expect at first.

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Bookouture, 2017

‘Round Midnight (Laura McBride)

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Spanning the six decades when Las Vegas grew from a dusty gambling town into the melting pot metropolis it is today, ‘Round Midnight is the story of four women—one who falls in love, one who gets lucky, one whose heart is broken, and one who chooses happiness—whose lives change at the Midnight Room. June Stein and her husband open the El Capitan casino in the 1950s, and rocket to success after hiring a charismatic black singer to anchor their nightclub. Their fast-paced lifestyle runs aground as racial tensions mount. Honorata leaves the Philippines as a mail order bride to a Chicago businessman, then hits a jackpot at the Midnight Room when he takes her on a weekend trip to Las Vegas. Engracia, a Mexican immigrant whose lucky find at the Midnight Room leads to heartbreak, becomes enmeshed in Honorata’s secret when she opens her employer’s door to that Chicago businessman—and his gun. And then there is Coral, an African-American teacher who struggles with her own mysterious past. A favor for Honorata takes her to the Midnight Room, where she hits a jackpot of another kind. Mining the rich territory of motherhood and community, ‘Round Midnight is a story that mirrors the social transformation of our nation. Full of passion, heartbreak, heroism, longing, and suspense, it honors the reality of women’s lives.

‘Round Midnight is the second novel written by Laura McBride, whose debut We Are Called to Rise was critically acclaimed and quite big success (and I still haven’t read it!) I admit this was a case of cover love, pure and simple. Isn’t it gorgeous? And then I saw it was set in Las Vegas and in the 50s…

The book was divided into three different parts, all set in Vegas. Firstly it’s the 50s, with June, then the 90s with Honorata and Coral and then Engracia in the present time. But don’t worry if you miss June, Honorata and Coral, as they will keep showing up in the future, although they won’t be main characters.

My favorite storyline was June’s, maybe because it was the first, or perhaps because it was the one we got to spend more time with. And her tale was a great one, as it featured racism, love, and sacrifice. I really liked reading about her life and definitely wanted to know more, but then it was the 90s and she was not the center of the story anymore. I was a bit disappointed, although the other two sections were still interesting.

The writing was simply amazing in this novel. I loved how the author introduced every section (someone watching the main character from a distance) and the way the stories were told: it was beautifully written and easy to read at the same time. And those are the best ones in my humble opinion. When the writing doesn’t feel simplistic at all and yet it flows.

Still, something weird happened with this book. I was thoroughly captivated by the story and the pages flew by, but at the same time, I wasn’t feeling what I should. I think it lacked that essential ingredient that usually makes me fall in love with a book. I’m fully aware that it might only be me, as I’ve seen glowing reviews all around! It’s a really good book, believe me. It just didn’t touch me as I hoped.

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Netgalley, Touchstone, 2017