Review: The Secrets on Chicory Lane by @RaymondBenson @skyhorsepub

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Sixty-one-year-old Shelby Truman, a romance novelist, has received a request to visit her childhood friend, Eddie, who is on Death Row. Though mentally ill, Eddie is scheduled to be executed for the disturbing, brutal murders of his wife and unborn child. As Shelby travels home to Texas for the unnerving reunion, she steps back into memories of her past, recalling her five-decade-long relationship with Eddie in order to understand what led the beautiful but troubled boy who lived across the street to become a murderer. Shelby and Eddie used to visit an abandoned fallout shelter in his backyard, their “secret hiding place” where they could escape Eddie’s abusive father, enjoy innocent playtime, and, later, adolescent explorations. As they grow increasingly close, a tragedy occurs one July fourth, an event that sets in motion a lifelong struggle against an Evil–with a capital “E”–that has corrupted their all-American neighborhood. With only a few days left for Eddie to live, Shelby braces herself for a reunion that promises to shed light on the traumatic events that transpired on her street, changing everything Shelby thought she knew about the boy on Chicory Lane.

I don’t know what I expected from The Secrets on Chicory Lane but it was definitely not what I got. And I don’t really know how to describe this book. Is it a mystery? Not really. But it’s definitely suspenseful. And it’s also sad and memorable and it won’t leave anyone indifferent.

I admit I wasn’t sure I would like it when I started reading. The writing was not what I expected and at first, I didn’t feel I’d enjoy the novel’s structure. This was a weird one. The narration was told entirely from Shelby’s point of view, only she tells us her life story instead of focusing on the present matters. I thought the present would be important, but it was not. Yes, we know that Shelby is traveling to Texas, but what actually matters are her thoughts, as she recalls her relationship with Eddie during five decades, from the time when they were kids until the last time she saw him during the trial.

While I didn’t think much of it during the first chapter, as soon as I started reading about Eddie and Shelby’s relationship, I was hooked. Theirs was one unforgettable tale and I was so immersed in their story that I almost didn’t want to finish the book. Shelby was a character that grew on me as I got to know her better. I definitely thought she made some mistakes (who hasn’t?) but she was a good person overall. Eddie… truthfully, I didn’t like him from the very first moment he was introduced, but I felt sad for him anyway.

As much as I liked The Secrets On Chicory Lane, I can’t say I was surprised by how the story progressed. I thought I knew what had happened and eventually, I was right. It was still heartbreaking and it definitely made me feel uneasy, but I believe it was the right way to finish the story.

This is not a happy book by any means and it touches several themes that make it a tough read sometimes. This book makes you reflect on how childhood experiences can affect our life paths, and how easily things could’ve been different.

Netgalley, Skyhorse Publishing, 2017

 

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Book vs Film #3 Practical Magic

For more than two hundred years, the Owens women have been blamed for everything that has gone wrong in their Massachusetts town. Gillian and Sally have endured that fate as well: as children, the sisters were forever outsiders, taunted, talked about, pointed at. Their elderly aunts almost seemed to encourage the whispers of witchery, with their musty house and their exotic concoctions and their crowd of black cats. But all Gillian and Sally wanted was to escape. One will do so by marrying, the other by running away. But the bonds they share will bring them back—almost as if by magic…

I wrote on my The Rules of Magic review that I hadn’t liked Practical Magic that much when I read it years ago. So while I’m aware my experience with the book might be different now (I like to believe I’ve grown up haha), I think I’ll choose the film this time, too.

I think this was yet another one of those times when my expectations were too high because I had seen and loved the movie first. In fact, Practical Magic is still today one of my favorite movies. I don’t care if it’s too 90s, too corny or old-fashioned, I try to watch it once a year and it makes me feel so happy ❤ (I think it might be that time of the year now?).

When you fall in love with a film like that, you expect the book to make you feel the same way. Unfortunately for me, the book is WAY different. In fact, the novel is so different that it was like the screenwriter had decided to create a whole different story. And I liked that one better.

None of my favorite moments were in the book. The relationship between the two sisters felt too cold, there was no love spell or “curse”. Gillian and Sally were pretty unlikable and the aunts barely had any presence. There was no “sorority” feel and I didn’t get emotional at the end. Safe to say, I was pretty disappointed.

I get that this book is loved by many people, so I’m not saying it’s a bad book at all, it just wasn’t what I expected. Do you like the book? Or do you prefer the film?

Book vs Film #2 Brooklyn

Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the hard years following World War Two. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis in America — to live and work in a Brooklyn neighborhood “just like Ireland” — she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind. Eilis finds work in a department store on Fulton Street, and when she least expects it, finds love. Tony, who loves the Dodgers and his big Italian family, slowly wins her over with patient charm. But just as Eilis begins to fall in love with Tony, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her future.

I already talked about this film/book in another post, but I wanted to feature it in this new meme. This is one of those cases where I watched the film, fell in love with it and decided to read the book hoping to feel the same. Spoiler: I didn’t.

I watched the Brooklyn film back in 2015 and I’ve watched it probably 3 times more ever since (and I still want to watch it again). I’m fully aware that this is a rather “simple” film, in the sense that it’s not an epic romantic drama like Titanic or even The Notebook. Some people have told me that: “yes, it was okay, just nothing special”. But when I watched this movie, I hadn’t watched a romantic flick where I rooted so much for the characters in a very LONG time. I had already made my mind when I watched the trailer, as I remember thinking: this Italian “fella” is so cute. And sometimes, a story is justs perfect for you.

The story features various ingredients I really enjoy (no murders this time haha!): Irish immigrants in New York, Brooklyn (I’m completely in love with the Brooklyn area), Italian accents, Irish accents, the 50s, Sunday dances, genuinely good guys who are gentle, kind and funny…

The book wasn’t bad and I would’ve probably liked it better had I read it before watching the film. It just was so different, I found it rather “cold” and I didn’t care about the characters that much. The relationships didn’t feel genuine, I felt like Eilis didn’t really like any of the guys and I certainly want to feel something when I’m reading about a romantic relationship. Underwhelmed was the perfect word to describe my feelings while reading the novel.

So this time, the film is a clear winner. Saoirse Ronan was fantastic, and I want to be Eilis and have Emory Cohen’s Tony fall in love with me. Also, I can’t watch the final monologue without bawling like a baby.

Review: The Wardrobe Mistress by @MeghanMasterson @StMartinsPress

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It’s Giselle Aubry’s first time at court in Versailles. At sixteen, she is one of Marie Antoinette’s newest undertirewomen, and in awe of the glamorous queen and her opulent palace life. A budding designer, it’s a dream come true to work with the beautiful fabrics and jewels in the queen’s wardrobe. But every few weeks she returns home to visit her family in the Parisian countryside where rumors of revolution are growing stronger. From her position working in the royal household, Giselle is poised to see both sides of the revolutionary tensions erupting throughout Paris. When her uncle, a retired member of the secret du roi, a spy ring that worked for the old King, Louis XV, suggests that she casually report the Queen s actions back to him as a game, she leaps at the chance. Spying seems like an adventure and an exciting way to privately support the revolution taking the countryside by storm. She also enjoys using her insight from Versailles in lively debates with Leon Gauvain, the handsome and idealistic revolutionary who courts her. But as the revolution continues to gain momentum, and Giselle grows closer to the Queen, becoming one of the few trusted servants, she finds herself dangerously torn. Violence is escalating; she must choose where her loyalty truly lies, or risk losing everything…maybe even her head.

I knew as soon as I started this book that it was unlike anything I’d read before. Maybe because of the times (late XVIII) or the fact that it was set in Paris, France. However, I’ve recently loved books based on real characters and the early reviews of this one helped me decide to read it. I was convinced.

The first thing you’ll notice when reading this novel is that Meghan Masterson’s writing feels both lyrical and easy to read. Based on the setting, I was afraid it was going to take me a while to get into the story, but instead I was quickly captivated by Giselle, the revolution, and her castle life. It is so different from what we’re used to that I simply wanted to know more and more.

This was my first book about the French Revolution and I must say I actually learnt a lot, something I always appreciate, especially if I’m enjoying myself at the same time. The Wardrobe Mistress was a thoroughly entertaining book and it certainly had a bit of everything: mystery, friendsip, love… And in addition, it was fun and sad when it had to be.

My only concern was that I thought the novel had its dose of cheesy moments, which I’m not really a fan of. Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely wanted Giselle and Leon to be together, but that included plenty of eye-rolling moments from my part. Oh boy, they could be saccharine. Despite those “harlequin-romantic-scenes”, I want to say I LOVED both characters and they were really well-written, as their actions made complete sense at all times. Giselle was strong and vulnerable and even though she made some mistakes, I think I would’ve done the same. It’s so easy to judge if you’re just an outsider. On the other hand, I have a weakness for the rebellious revolutionary type, so Leon was pretty much perfect from my point of view.

If you’re looking for a quick-paced, entertaining historical novel featuring some romance as well, this is the ideal book for you. The Wardrobe Mistress proves that you can learn about history and enormously enjoy yourself at the same time.

Netgalley, St Martin’s Press, 2017

Review: Hold Back The Stars by Katie Khan

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After the catastrophic destruction of the Middle East and the United States, Europe has become a utopia and, every three years, the European population must rotate into different multicultural communities, living as individuals responsible for their own actions. While living in this paradise, Max meets Carys and immediately feels a spark of attraction. He quickly realizes, however, that Carys is someone he might want to stay with long-term, which is impossible in this new world. As their relationship plays out, the connections between their time on Earth and their present dilemma in space become clear. When their air ticks dangerously low, one is offered the chance of salvation—but who will take it? An original and daring exploration of the impact of first love and how the choices we make can change the fate of everyone around us, this is an unforgettable read.

Sometimes, you need a book that is different from your usual genre. A book outside your comfort zone. And that is what Hold Back The Stars was for me. I’ve stated multiple times that I watch plenty of sci-fi films and I love them. However, when it comes to reading, sci-fi it’s not a genre that I find particularly appealing, maybe because I prefer to watch the story take place on a screen. Still, every now and then, there are some titles that catch my attention and Hold Back The Stars was one of them. It came highly recommended, part Gravity, part One Day, two stories that I quite enjoyed back in the day. And this book ended up being quite a unique read for me.

This is a love story, plain and simple. It’s basically like the Gravity film, but with romance and a lot of flashbacks. I know it will sound weird because I usually love flashbacks, but in Hold Back The Stars, their present scenes were my favorite part. There were tension and great dialogue, and I couldn’t wait to know what happened next.

At times, I wish I could have read two different books, one focused on Carys and Max in space and another one dedicated to exploring Europia’s world. I find utopian/dystopian realities fascinating and the universe created by Katie Khan was incredibly attractive, but I felt like we were never given enough of it. I enjoyed both Carys and Max’s perspectives, as they were really likable characters and I wished the best for them. So yes, of course I wanted them to be together, but I didn’t fall in love with them or their relationship.

The ending is probably what made the whole story more meaningful for me. I had no idea of what was going on and I was confused but fascinated at the same time. I know some of you disagree because it’s a risky technique and it won’t be for everyone, but I love to be surprised and Hold Back The Stars managed just that.

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Netgalley, Gallery Books 2017