Book Review: Sometimes I Lie

81rTFncO0xL.jpg

Ever since the popularity of Gone Girl, books like this–unreliable women narrators–have been on the scene.  I’m just surprised this book didn’t have the word girl in it. I love unreliable narrators, but don’t have your character tell me that “sometimes I lie.”  

Let me figure that out.  

Sometimes I Lie promised to deliver, and it did, right up till the end.  The writing wasn’t stellar (e.g. using that ridiculous quote about being a human being, not a human doing), but the story compensated for the most part.  

Part of the problem with many of these books is that all or most of the women are either evil or dumb.  One is an emotionally-abusive alcoholic, another is a total psycho, and yet another is a fake (but real) bitch; to be fair, the men aren’t much better.  Everyone is shitty in this.

It takes a talented author to strategically place clues in such a way that we don’t notice them until the end–when everything crystallizes.  The clue that solves the case should be like a microscopic piece of DNA that blows it all wide open, giving us that “aha” moment. However, the author having a character go by more than one name (unless both names are connected in some way) is lazy and downright misleading.  

The Wife Between Us (which I didn’t bother reviewing as it was written by two authors) did the same thing.  

This book was separated into three separate time frames:  The diary of a 10-year-old, “walking Amber,” and “comatose Amber.”  There were plenty of dream sequences (i.e. filler) that we’re led to believe are real, only to be told, “Just kidding, never mind.”  It pisses you off.  

I was also led to believe that Amber and her husband, Paul, didn’t even like each other anymore, but then all of a sudden, they’re in love again–from cold to hot in 180 seconds.  

Furthermore, Madeline’s reveal didn’t pack a punch (who cares about this lady anyway?), and the old boyfriend didn’t add anything to the story.  I found it hard to believe that the ex would stay out of Amber’s life for twenty years only to start stalking her again. Reminded me of an episode of “Law & Order:  SVU,” so it must happen, right? Jo’s origin, however, surprised me, though she wasn’t a strong enough character for it to be intriguing.

A lot of women don’t like rape as a plot device; I just don’t like graphic scenes (leave it to the imagination, please) because then they comes acoss as trying to be titillating which is reprehensible.   

I did not care for the little lists (I found them quite silly); I love nursery rhymes as much as anyone else, but just state that a character is singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”–don’t spell it out, for I just end up skipping over those stanzas.  At least put a new spin on an old rhyme or better yet, create a new one (but keep them divided into couplets–most people don’t want to read poetry in a novel; it can stagnate a story, though it was done beautifully in The Wife Between Us).

Sometimes I Lie would’ve been better had been written in the third-person; with first-person, the character has to be incredibly compelling–either relatable or interesting.  Amber is neither until the end, when she seemingly snaps out of whatever funk she’s been in for years to suddenly become this commanding presence–almost as if killing something (or someone–don’t want to spoil it) brings something inside her back to life.  

There were a few loose threads:  I never figured out why she didn’t like her mother–the woman Amber was describing as an adult did not sound at all like the woman described in the diaries.  Did Taylor really tell her to do it?  And who sent the bracelet at the end?  This is where you absolutely do not leave the rest of the reader’s imagination.  You’re the writer–wrap it up!

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32326398-sometimes-i-lie

Advertisements

Book Review: The Girl Before

28016509._UY1330_SS1330_

This book was absolutely unputdownable.  It also had a strange effect on me:  It put me into decluttering mode, bigtime, and I’m already a minimalist (which is not about having nothing but about having just the right amount).  The Girl Before made me think of all the clutter in my life, including the clutter inside my head as well as virtual clutter.  

The questionnaire scattered throughout was a novel idea (no pun intended)–a nice change from opening a chapter with a quote that someone else said.

Here is just a glimpse of the great writing in The Girl Before (p. 170):  Sometimes I have a sense that this house–our relationship in it, with it, with each other–is like a palimpsest or a pentimento, that however much we try to overpaint Emma Matthews, she keeps tiptoeing back; a faint image, an enigmatic smile, stealing its way into the corner of the frame.

Any book that gets me to learn a new word must have something going for it.  

I found it interesting that there were no quotation marks in Emma’s story, and even more surprising that it look me halfway through the book to notice this.  Is this a UK thing? I remember reading Harlequin Presents (a long time ago, so don’t judge) when apostrophes were used instead of quotations.  I am curious what the symbolism was concerning this.

Edward Monkford (what a pretentious name) evokes an image of Howard Roark from Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead; other goodreads reviewers have said Christian Grey (I’ve seen the movies but never read the books and don’t care to).  His crazy house rules were fascinating–like the technology that controlled the house was fascinating. The concept that a house can change the way you live–actually help you live a better life–was fascinating, but Monkford himself was not.  He was a pig–just a well-spoken, better-dressed, affluent pig. (I guess you really can put lipstick on a pig, if you got enough to smear it with.)  

The women, Emma (THEN) and Jane (NOW), are both incredibly stupid because they think with their sex and not their brains.  Emma seemed like a closet hoarder who called her paramour “Daddy” (ew) and liked angry sex (even when the anger was directed at her).  She was a freak (yet we are told that she has charm). 

Compared to her, Jane was milquetoast.

Even though the women were not portrayed positively, it’s fairly realistic as a lot of women choose to have babies with losers (because they don’t need a man and think their sons and daughters don’t need a father).  Sometimes, they even marry these losers and put them above their children. It’s incredible how many male inmates (who are in prison for murdering women) get fan letters from women–women they’ve never even met.  

I never knew whether Emma’s last story was for real but it doesn’t matter.  THEN & NOW were both enjoyable.

But, back to Monkford:  A lot of women like egotistical, controlling men because they see it as take-charge masculinity.  Monkford is one of those ruthless corporate types who is also a temperamental artist (an explosive combination) who would blow up a perfectly decent development that would provide affordable housing to families if it had his name on it, but there was something about the aesthetics (just like the idealistic, anti-hero Roark) that didn’t align with his vision.  Furthermore, Monkford uses women until he uses them up (after all, he finds them so easily). He is incapable of love, for he can’t even love his own, imperfect kin. He likes his women damaged (and in the beginning anew stage), so he can turn them into blank canvases he can manipulate. His structures may be beautiful, but I didn’t get the impression they were very green.  All that extra, empty space has to be heated and cooled.

Monkford was such a commanding presence in the book that the other male characters barely registered.

The ending was weak, but the journey was so intriguing, the destination didn’t matter (it just knocked off a star).  It had the mysterious feel of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, which I appreciated, but the nightshades of Gone Girl came out of the blue, for there was a turn in one of the character’s motives that wasn’t led up to or hinted at in any way.  I understand the author doesn’t want the reader to figure out everything too soon–in case the reader loses interest, but if the writing’s good, your reader won’t; a well-written story always trumps a twist ending.  What’s more, when the true villain is revealed, it’s anticlimactic, for it seemed I found out at the same time the author did.  

Jane could’ve used a little more to wrap up her story but then we’re introduced to Astrid, and the story stops (and, I’m sure, begins again there).  I did, however, like the tie-in to the title in the last part of her story. Nicely done!  

Besides being unputdownable, The Girl Before has immense readability.  

One gripe that has nothing to do with the book:  I don’t like authors going by different names.  What is the point of this? Are they not allowed to cross genres with the same name?  There is another author who does this, and I find it irritating.  

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28016509-the-girl-before

Book Review: A Stranger in the House

412656NDUuL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

After reading Lapena’s The Couple Next Door, I was expecting the same tightly-woven and twisty plot.  

Such was not the case (no pun intended) with this one.

Lapena is not one for sympathetic characters or happy endings, which is fine if the plot is good.  Unreliable narrators are awesome plot devices but not for mysteries because part of the fun is putting the pieces together; when the pieces don’t factor in to the puzzle at all but are rather imaginary pieces, then it’s pointless–there is no need for foreshadowing because it’s going to be a total surprise with no clues leading up to it.  In other words, everything we’ve read up until such-and-such point could be a total lie.

I agree with some other goodreads reviewers that the amnesia angle (like evil twins) is overused, but nevertheless, it’s always fun.  Lapena is obviously a fan of Hitchcock with her shades of Rear Window, but Stranger was lackluster.  

I don’t mind the immediacy of the present tense, but Lapena should brush up on comma rules.   She does more telling than she should, but there are enough scenes with dialogue that it’s forgivable.

The character of Tom was quite awful.  His initial reaction to his wife not being home (when she obviously left in a hurry) wasn’t one of worry but of anger.  Maybe he has secrets of his own.  Supposedly, Karen was in love with him (we are told this, or rather, she tells us this), but I just didn’t get that vibe.  He just happened to be a handy, cheating sap.  

Brigid was the only interesting character.  I thought it was hilarious that she hated Karen for not  caring about her knitting blog. (Karen didn’t knit and yarn didn’t really seem to be her fabric–she was more the blazer type.)  I didn’t like Brigid, yet she was the only one I felt for in the end.

I’m not sure what purpose Brigid’s husband played and why it was important that he was a funeral director/undertaker except maybe it was symbolic that because he dealt with death so much, he couldn’t possibly spark a life.  Maybe he made Brigid die inside, and that’s why she had issues, though honestly, we’re only privy to him through her warped filter.

I’d swear Lapena was a cop in another life because in her books, there are basically two kinds of people:  the guilty (where no one is completely innocent) and the cops. However, the cops only seem innocent because we don’t know anything about their personal lives (like “Dragnet”; unlike “Law and Order”).

 I liked that Rasbach was back on the case–he is definitely one I’d like to know more about but not if Lapena would do his character an injustice.  He’s almost more of an entity–a representation in human form of the right side of the law–than he is a character. He did, however, have a great idea:  get a background check done on anyone you are seriously dating.  

If Lapena could just differentiate her minor characters more–the cops and the lawyer were interchangeable when it came to personalities; there is really nothing but their names to distinguish them from one another.  

I don’t recommend this book, but neither did I feel it was a waste of time.  It was…an experience.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33984056-a-stranger-in-the-house?from_search=true

Book Review: Then She Was Gone

then she was gone.jpg

It isn’t often that I come across a character who is shown to have very specific thoughts about life in general rather than just thoughts that pertain to the story.  The characterization of the grieving mother was well-done, though it seemed strange that she would fixate on a man she just met after having been celibate for so long.  The status of her daughter’s disappearance had not yet been determined, so it didn’t make sense to show her moving on before that. 

I liked Laurel, even though her judgment (e.g. jumping in the sack on the second date) was questionable.

The author tells us (through another character) why Hanna was the way she was towards her mother, but we aren’t shown the interaction needed to substantiate this.  Also, the mystery of Hanna’s boyfriend wasn’t fully explored.

There needed to be more to Noelle’s story–like why she was the way she was; however, the characters of Kate and Sara-Jade Virtue were extraneous. 

Even though I always knew whose “turn” it was, I was so deeply engrossed in Laurel’s POV, I found it rather jarring when another character decided to tell their story; as it turned out, each character’s story was equally engrossing.

I’m glad that the perpetrator got their just desserts, and I felt for the strange little girl that Poppy was–wanting to drink champagne and talking (rather matter-of-factly) about how other kids thought she’s a bitch.  Her lack of emotional intelligence at such a young age made me feel sorry for her, but at least we were privy to her backstory (unlike Noelle’s). 

I’m glad that the wrap-up didn’t have the perp’s and the vic’s families keeping in touch or worse, becoming friends (I’ve always found that a little distasteful), even though the perp’s family were good people. 

The plot was intricate, though I didn’t feel that the perp’s motives with Ellie were strong enough;  then again, people have done more for less. 

What made me sad was that it seemed like Laurel was the only one who was affected by Ellie’s disappearance for Ellie’s sake, rather than just for how it affected them.  

Floyd’s swan song at the denouement brought it all together, though Ellie’s letter could’ve used a pinch more poignancy.

What sets this book apart from other mystery/suspense novels were the truths that were woven into it in the form of memorable quotes:

p. 20:  Neither of them were setting the world alight but then whose children did?  All those hopes and dreams and talk of ballerinas and pop stars, concert pianists and boundary-breaking scientists.  They all ended up in an office. All of them.

p. 131:  And then her child had died and she had found that somehow, incredibly, she could live without her, that she had woken every morning for a hundred days, a thousand days, three thousand days and she had lived without her.

p. 225:  “You won’t understand how much I love you until you’re a mother yourself.”

Then She Was Gone is primarily a thriller but with a strong focus on a mother and the daughter who was left behind, as well as the mother’s mother who is waiting for her child to be happy again (sadly, it seems this can only happen with finding romantic love).  The romance angle left me cold, especially with the way Floyd was so fixated on ten-year-old Poppy, seeing her as more his creation than his child–like a broken toy he had tinkered with for years until she was finally working properly–a toy good enough to give back to its rightful owner as atonement for someone else’s sins.

 

Book Review: The Couple Next Door

The-Couple-Next-Door-by-Shari-Lapena.jpg

The most amazing thing about this book was that it was a great read without a single sympathetic character (the detective doesn’t count because we never get to know him).  I loved that it was written in present tense–it was almost like an extended episode of “Dragnet”/police procedural–except told from different points-of-view (though I still think writing from different points-of-view is lazy and takes some of the mystery away).

As it so often happens, I couldn’t figure out why Marco and Anne fell in love with each other, but then, this book wasn’t about that; it didn’t make you care about them as a couple–only about what happened to their baby.  The fact that these parents would leave their baby home alone (monitor or not) while at a drinking and dinner party next door, even with them going so far as to check on her every five minutes, seemed neglectful at worst and poor judgment at best.

Though I could sympathize with Anne adjusting to her new role, and though I realize not every character is a God-fearing Christian (nor would I want them to be), but the use of of g-d always hits a sour note; it never adds anything to a story but rather, it takes something away from it.   

Detective Rasbach was basically Joe Friday–a blank canvas whose whole life is police work, whose vocation is his identity.  Strangely, he was my favorite character, and I hope Lapena uses him in all her books.

Lapena did a great job in making sure there weren’t too many characters in the book, though there could’ve been more sensory details–even a sense of place.  This story seemed like it was happening anytime, anywhere, and what man, if he’s committing adultery in the twenty-first century, has a book of matches? Isn’t that so 1950’s?  And what’s with leaving the window open while your baby is sleeping? Marco and Anne are well-to-do–they have air conditioning.

The plot was an ingenious one, and the denouement was fantastic, though I think the epilogue was anticlimactic.  The author wrote what she wanted to happen rather than what would’ve made a better story.

However, this was incredibly well-done for a debut novel–a little foreshadowing would’ve made it shine.  

I look forward to more of Ms. Lapena’s works.

Book Review: The Husband’s Secret

17802724

Is it possible to enjoy a book even if you don’t like (or relate to) any of the (main) characters?

Yes, for such was the case with The Husband’s Secret.

Because the plot was compelling (e.g. The DaVinci Code), I couldn’t put it down.  Compelling characters, however, give a book “re-readability,” so this story was a one-time read.

One of the most frustrating things about this book was the hook; it hooked, but it took a helluva long time for Cecilia to get around to opening that letter.  But, this nasty little trick kept me reading when I should’ve been sleeping. Another reviewer pointed out that this letter over which there’s all this brouhaha, we don’t even get to read in its entirety.

This book would’ve been improved if all that business about the Berlin Wall had been scrapped.  I didn’t need a boring history lesson that had little to do with the book. I get it: If a kid has a hobby, like collecting rocks, mention a few interesting factoids to “make it real,” but don’t include a lengthy geology lesson.  

Now I’m going to say something about women authors, many of whom are guilty of this:  They portray a fat woman (never a fat man) as never being able to attract a man; even the heavy ones (authors) do this.  Truth: A lot of fatties have sexual relationships and even get married (and not even always to other fatties).

On Rachel:  She was a total jerk to her daughter-in-law (who seemed like a decent person); rather, Rachel lavished all her love on her grandson but didn’t bother trying to love his mother; all the love she gave her grandson, she withheld from her son.  She wasn’t just a mom who made mistakes; she was a bad mother.

When we go back to Janie’s (Rachel’s daughter’s) time in 1984, and she mentions she wishes she could text or email, it’s so false, as there was no way this teenage girl was thinking about how she wished she could do something that didn’t exist yet, unless her character was the type to dream stuff like this up.

On Cecelia:  Extremely self-absorbed.  Her husband’s (John-Paul’s) self-flagellation was obnoxious.  I could not bear either one of them. She was a terrible person, too.

On Tess:  The least interesting of the three protagonists but the least whacked.  

The premise of her story didn’t seem real but rather, a random plot device thrown in, and her revelation about something she’s been suffering but never had a name for wasn’t that earth-quaking.  

I do think her description of her relationship with her “best friend”–with whom she snickered at the other players of life on the sidelines–was a great one, but it went beyond that:  Even if I didn’t feel my friend was a threat (in this case, because she was fat), I still wouldn’t want another woman living in my home with me and my husband.

That’s just weird.  Wouldn’t you want privacy?

I didn’t like Tess’s husband (what a ninny!), but she should have told him what transpired after she left; he started it but did she ever finish it.  Talk about taking advantage of a bad situation!

My biggest beef was that the storyline with Tess and Connor just didn’t tie in that strongly with the other ones.  (I think Moriarty was just trying to follow the “rule of three.”) It was also the weakest and the least interesting of the three stories.

I found it hard to swallow that when Rachel finds out who the murderer is, she was okay with letting him/her go–even though she JUST tried offing the wrong person?!  I guess she felt she’d already gotten her vengeance sans the justice.

This book lacked all the charm and humor of Big Little Lies (I’m already sucked into the TV-series) and characters I could care about.  There may have been a few stereotypes in Lies, but at least they were grounded in reality.  The only characters I liked in this book were the minor ones, but maybe I just didn’t get to know them well enough (except for Connor, who was just an all-around nice guy).  

I thought the epilogue was interesting, though I do wish the truth about Janie had been revealed to the characters and not just the readers.  The alternate histories were rather fun–made me think a little bit about all that can happen when you zig rather than zag–even though I’m not sure they were necessary.

Though Secret was an interesting read, I prefer Moriarty’s light touch to her maudlin one.

Book Review: Death by Chocolate

601034

These books are as guilty a pleasure as a box of Russell Stover’s (especially if they’re full of Roman nougats).  Death by Chocolate was the first book I’d read in this series (I’ve since read three), and they’ve all been entertaining.

Being a lover of Southern fiction, I was a bit disappointed these were set on the West Coast.  However, I think if the author added a few extra details besides the types of flowers that grow in San Carmelita, California, and what the buildings look like (such as naming some actual haunts, fictional or otherwise), that might endear me more to that side of the country.

The way these books are “teased,” I was led to believe that food (especially the sweet kind) would play more of a central role, but sweets just happen to be what the main character likes to make and eat.

I love that the Savannah Reid character is a plus-sized woman who is comfortable in her own body (and is still attractive to other men); what’s more, I love that she happens to be single and not worried about old maidenhood or her biological clock ticking (even though the latter I could relate to).  Her “partner-in-law,” Dirk Coulter, is a loveable curmudgeon without coming across as a stereotype. These two characters are well-developed, even though Savannah’s calling people “boy,” “girl,” and “sugar” and such can be a bit much sometimes (a la Paula Deen).

Savannah’s assistant, Tammy, is like a carbon copy of Nancy Drew; she’s rather bland and uninteresting, not to mention a bit of a broken record, calling everything Savannah eats “crap” because it isn’t healthy like her crap.  But, people who are really into clean eating tend to be annoyingly vocal about it, so that’s realistic. Of all the five main characters, she adds the least but just enough.

Ryan and John are loveable–who wouldn’t want them for friends?  Even though they’re almost too perfect, they are way more believable than Savannah’s siblings, who are more caricatures than characters; I think the author tries too hard to show that Savannah comes from a dysfunctional Southern family because damn, are her siblings over the top (a la Peg Bundy).

I do enjoy the references to Granny Reid (though she needs more unique adages).  I hope I will read a book where Savannah goes back home to McGill, Georgia, and gets some “sage wisdom” (pardon the cliche) or unravels some interesting yarns.

As for Savannah’s cats, Diamante and Cleopatra (why do all single women have to have “fur babies,” though thank God, that phrase isn’t used in these books, though Savannah does refer to herself as their mother), they’re about as interesting as most cats (which is not very).

The author’s ideas of The Deep South seem to come from books and movies and her imagination rather from actually living there.  I’ve read up on Sonja Massie/G.A. McKevett, and, according to several bios, she has never lived anywhere near the South. I think it takes an exceptionally skilled writer to be able to capture Southern culture without having lived in it (visiting doesn’t count), but maybe that’s why the books aren’t actually set in the South, so that was a good call.

If the author would keep Savannah’s relatives in Georgia (with the exception of Gran), the books would be better because those storylines add absolutely nothing.  The real fun is in the relationships that Savannah has with her friends and the mysteries themselves, which are pretty good, even though they lack that “twist” element we Americans have almost come to expect (thanks a lot, O’Henry).

What I like about these books is that the quality of each one has been consistent.  Maybe that’s because this is a series, but still, that’s important.

I hope Savannah will eventually stop being a doormat when it comes to her family (like kicking her sister out of her house for ordering porn and making her pay for it).  This might be the reason why I don’t like her family in the books. Are they all as screwed up as Savannah isn’t? I guess I’ll find out when I catch up.

When it comes to Savannah’s parents, I’m finding it hard to believe that the same woman and the same man bred nine children, only to have them taken away by the State as being unfit.  Usually, women like that have a ton of kids by different dads, so that’s one redeeming quality her parents had.

The profanity in these books is pretty mild, which I appreciate.  These are stories I’d feel comfortable with my teenage daughter reading–when that time comes.