Book Reviews: August and September 2016

perfect days review, purple hibiscus review, under the harrow, jane steele review, book reviews, august book reviews, september book reviews

Under the Harrow*

Throughout the week, Nora has been looking forward to spending the weekend at her sister’s house in the country. However, when she arrives at Rachel’s house, she’s greeted with a shocking scene- Rachel has been brutally murdered. As Nora drowns in grief, she becomes obsessed with finding her sister’s killer.

I really liked that this is more of a psychological thriller. It’s written in first-person perspective throughout, so we are really in Nora’s head as she struggles to accept what’s happened to her sister. Berry does a great job of creating an eerie and unsettling atmosphere, giving me that same feeling of unease that you get when you sense someone is behind you.

That being said, the chapters are comprised of shorter, choppier sentences with a stream-of-consciousness feel, which isn’t my favorite writing style. For me, that created some distance and prevented me from connecting with the characters fully.

As the story unfolds, the reader learns that Nora and Rachel had a close, but fraught relationship, as many sisters do. I found the exploration of this sister relationship quite fascinating, particularly since both sisters are flawed.

Nora’s world is completely shaken after her sister’s death and the description of her thoughts and feelings felt true to me. Although I struggled to connect in certain sections, there are parts of this novel that I felt were well done. I’ll be keeping an eye out for future work from Flynn Berry.

Jane Steele

YAAAAASSSSSSSS!

Ok, now for actual coherent thoughts. I’ve wanted to read this book since the beginning of the year and I’m so glad that I finally got around to it. A novel inspired by Jane Eyre with Jane as a feminist murderess? Yes, please, sign me up!

I love the original Jane Eyre and was really curious to see how Faye would handle this story. The answer is very, very well. This line from very early in the book says it all: “Reader, I murdered him.” So simple and so good!

There are lots of tidbits like that sprinkled throughout the book- references to the original text that will have you nodding along in agreement if you’ve read Jane Eyre. But Jane Steele is also her own, fully-formed character. She shares some personality traits with Jane Eyre, but differs in other areas, which I’ll let you discover when you read this book. Also, to be clear, Jane Steele is a straight-up serial killer. And yet, I love her.

This might be blasphemous for those who ship hard for Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, but I feel that Jane Steele and Mr. Thornfield, Jane Steele’s love interest in this book, are a better match (agree or disagree? Let’s discuss this).

I think the key with a retelling (of sorts) is to treat the original text with respect, while still creating a unique story, and Faye has done a brilliant job in both areas. This was a truly enjoyable read that I would recommend to those who liked Jane Eyre.

Perfect Days

Boy meets girl. Boy thinks girl is perfect and everything he’s every wanted. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy kidnaps girl so that he can force her to fall in love with him. Uhhhh, wait a minute…

The scariest part of this book is Teo’s psychopathic behavior. He knows how he is supposed to act, but has no problem twisting the narrative to support his desires. There are certain moments in this book that made my jaw drop or made me think, “How can he get away with this?”

Something about the writing threw me off though. I’m not sure if something was lost in translation, but the writing felt stilted to me. Despite that, this was a quick read (one particular scene stands out and still makes me a bit queasy when I think about it!) that I’d recommend to some people for it’s uniquely disturbing nature alone.

The Rosie Project

I’m glad this is being adapted into a movie because this is the kind of light, enjoyable romantic comedy that I’m a total sucker for. Don, a professor of genetics, has developed the perfect solution to his quest for a partner. He’s created a tailored questionnaire that will weed out all of the highly unsuitable matches and hopefully lead him to his ideal mate. Then he meets Rosie, who’s not at all suitable in most areas. I bet you can guess where this is heading!

Although this is very predictable, it was also a lot of fun. This is a good summer read- breezy, decently written, and fun. I couldn’t help but chuckle at some of Don and Rosie’s personality traits and certain scenes that I feel will translate well on the big screen.

Rosie’s character felt like a bit of a manic pixie dream girl, but from time to time she did call out Don on his sexist behavior, which I liked. Also, there were opinions expressed by certain characters that rubbed me the wrong way, but I reminded myself that the characters’s views do not necessarily equal the author’s views.

In the end though, I liked this novel, and plan to watch the movie whenever it comes out!

The Raven King

The fourth book in the Raven Cycle series continued the formula that I love the most: the gang working together on a singular quest. I really enjoyed reading this final book in the series and it made me remember the wonder and delight I felt when I read the first book.

I know I’ve mentioned this before in a review of one of the earlier books in the series, but I truly admire the author’s ability to establish a certain mood and ambience with her words. Her writing really lends itself to the otherworldly nature of the events that take place throughout the series. Since she created such a vivid environment that I’ve become very familiar with while reading the series, finishing this final book really felt like coming home again.

I was satisfied with the conclusion of the series. For me, it was surprising, but not shocking, and if I’d considered it more thoroughly, I feel like I would have realized what they would find on the hunt for Glendower. There were also some moments that had been building up for several books and I was really glad that they were finally explored here. I could certainly read more pages about this world and these characters, and I do feel like the author has left enough ambiguity to create a spinoff series (I believe she’s confirmed that she’s working on a trilogy from Ronan’s perspective).

The Widow

For quite a while, Jean suspects that her husband has done some bad things. Despite this, she remains by his side and defends him against his accusers. However, when her husband dies, there’s no reason to be quiet anymore. Jean is a widow, finally free of her husband, and can say whatever she wants…

This book was so straightforward. Like, way too straightforward for a thriller. Let me clarify- I mean way too straightforward for a book that’s been compared to Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. I knew right away that Glen, Jean’s husband, was a bad man, and my opinion of him didn’t change throughout the novel. He’s controlling, sexist, and emotionally manipulative.

The book is told from a few different perspectives, including Jean, a reporter named Kate, and the detective working on the case. In Jean’s chapters, I think we’re meant to see a woman rediscovering herself after being freed from her husband, but what I really saw was a woman that remained a puppet, rather than the orchestrator of her own life.

Despite the fact that I continued to turn the pages, I was not emotionally invested in this story. The writing was fine, the characters were fine, and the setting was fine, but there was nothing in this thriller to thrill me. After reading this, I craved a book with some real intrigue!

Purple Hibiscus

Before reading this, I was certain that I would love this book, and I was right. Let’s just take a moment to bask in the glory of Adichie’s writing. Reading her words makes me actually want to act out the *raised hands* emoji in real life.

Kambili and her brother Jaja grow up in a strict household, with a father who has strong beliefs about religion and about what is proper. When Kambili and Jaja visit their aunt in Nsukka, they are exposed to a world filled with laughter, love, and endless possibilities.

First of all, there’s so much that I identify with in this book. My parents are also Nigerian and I also felt like I grew up in a strict household (or at least, it was much more strict than most of the other kids I knew, but not nearly at the level that Kambili and Jaja experience in this novel). So I completely understand that feeling of wanting to break free and follow a different path (and who hasn’t experienced that feeling from time to time?).

Kambili is awkward and tongue-tied because she has been raised in a home where silence is much more common than expressing your thoughts or opinions. It’s such a powerful feeling to recognize parts of yourself in a character. There are so many times when Kambili is straining to say or do the right thing, the thing that other people view as “normal,” and I can understand that feeling. At times, Kambili feels inadequate because her view of the world has been limited, and I know that feeling as well.

This is a story about family, about religion, about growing up. Adichie explores the relationships between parents and children, and siblings, and considers how we can still love the people that hurt us the most. We also watch Kambili come of age in this novel, and throughout I was cheering her on and hoping that she would find the freedom she didn’t even know she needed.

There’s so much more I could say about this novel (if you’ve read this book, let’s talk in the comments below!). The writing is absolutely beautiful, the characters are deep and real, and the setting is wonderfully evocative. In short, if you haven’t read any of Adichie’s work yet, what are you waiting for?

Tipping the Velvet

This is the first Sarah Waters book that I’ve ever read, but I think I can safely call myself a fan of her work. This book was beautifully written and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Nan is an ordinary girl living in the seaside town of Whitsable in the late 1800s. In her spare time, she loves venturing to the music hall. On one of these trips, she sees Kitty Butler, a saucy, male impersonator, for the first time. Nan is thoroughly captivated by Kitty’s demeanor and performance, and once the two actually meet, Nan’s life will never be the same.

Did I mention how much I loved this novel? The writing is so wonderfully descriptive and wistful. Nan’s family is in the oyster business, and when Waters writes about preparing the oysters, I can nearly taste them in my mouth. The descriptions of the hustle and bustle of London were fascinating and gave me further insight into that time period. I also loved the use of Victorian slang and sometimes paused to look up these words that were entirely new to me.

I’m a secret romantic (or maybe everyone already knows by now), so I loved the slow burn of these two young women falling in love. All of the sweetness and the pain and the uncertainty of first love is captured in this story. On top of that, it’s a love that must be kept secret because it’s considered “unnatural,” which of course makes things even more complicated. There are quite a few sensual scenes in this book, but they don’t feel like they were included for shock value, but instead to show the natural progression of the relationship between these two women.

What I found most astonishing was Nan’s transformation over the course of this novel. I could not have predicted that the Nan we meet at the beginning of the story would end up where she does. Nan is around eighteen when the novel begins and we witness her becoming her own person, which is rather exciting. Physical transformation is also explored, as Nancy falls in love with a woman who dresses like a man. In fact, the act of transformation through clothing is an important theme throughout the book.

So, in short, I loved the history, the romance, the discussion of gender roles, and pretty much this entire book. I found this to be an immersive reading experience. I’d look up from the book after a while and realize that I’d been reading for an hour or more (usually when I should have been in bed, asleep!). I already cannot wait for my next Sarah Waters novel.

*Disclaimer: Under the Harrow was sent to me by the publisher for review purposes, but these are my honest thoughts and opinions. 

  • Yesssss! So glad you liked Jane Steele too! I shouldn’t say this, but I’m going to: I think I loved it more than the original. I totally agree that Jane and Mr. Thornfield are a better match! And she’s such a freaking bad ass! I had no idea The Rosie Project was being turned into a movie!!!! That book was great!
    ~Sara

    • You can totally say that! I think Jane Steele is a lot more fun than the original, but of course Jane Eyre has its strengths too. I also loved that Jane Steele was a badass, and I loved her dry, sarcastic humor. I think The Rosie Project will be a fun movie! I remember reading the the rights sold a while ago, but I’m not sure when the release date is. I’ll keep an eye out for more info though!