Book Review: My Best Friend’s Exorcism

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My Best Friend’s Exorcism

Grady Hendrix

Quirk Books

336 pages

Abby and Gretchen became best friends in the fifth grade over a failed ET birthday party at the roller rink. They are now in high school and part of a foursome of girls that all consider each other to be BFF (think Mean Girls meets Heathers). Until one night when Gretchen disappears during their middle of the night shenanigans. When they find her a few hours later, she seems different.

The other two girls blow it off, but Abby can tell right away that something has happened to Gretchen. As the weeks go by, her behavior becomes stranger and stranger. She can’t sleep, she stops caring about her appearance, and she even spews vomit exorcism style all over the front lawn of the school. It’s clear she is possessed by the devil, but no one believes Abby, so she is left on her own to help Gretchen.

This is not my typical fare, but I saw it on Litsy (another new obsession) and thought it seemed fun. I promptly reserved a copy at the library, and I’m so glad I did. This is definitely one of those books where the physical book is far superior to the ebook. It’s hard cover and modeled in the fashion of a yearbook. The endpaper even looks like that of a yearbook, with all the signatures, notes, and doodles teenagers often leave for one another. At the end of the book, there are even a few pages of yearbook ads with personalized messages. This, along with the abundance of 80s references, really made this book stand out.

As for the actual story, it was fun and different. I would consider this to be a good palate cleanser for when you’re in between heavier books.

Book Review: Enchanted Islands

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Enchanted Islands

Allison Amend

Nan A. Talese (publisher)

306 pages

Frances Frankowski was born to a poor immigrant family at the turn of the 20th century. She develops a friendship with a peer named Rosalie at a young age, and the two eventually run off together to start a new life away from their families. Enchanted Islands is interesting because it follows their friendship for decades, even though they grow apart and lead separate lives. Frances eventually marries a man named Ainslie Conway, an intelligence officer who needs a wife as part of his undercover assignment in the Galapagos Islands. It’s now WWII and tensions are high, but Frances is ready for a new adventure and hastily agrees to marry Ainslie.

The actual time in the Galapagos Islands only comprises about 1/3 of the book, but it was a nice change of pace from Frances’s city life and friendship with Rosalie. I still don’t completely understand why in the hell Ainslie would have been sent to a remote island to conduct war intelligence, but it was part of the mystery surrounding Frances’s life, because the truth is she dedicated years of her life to a mission she wasn’t really allowed to know much about. She risked her life for her country without knowing why.

I absolutely loved this book. It was a selection for Book of the Month (my new obsession) and I chose it pretty much for the gorgeous cover. Obviously the story sounded intriguing, but it is rare for me to choose a book with so few reviews and by an author I don’t know. I am so glad I chose this book though because it was a five star book for me, easily. I loved every facet and I thought the author did a good job as far as the proportions of Frances’s story. I read a few reviews that lamented the short length devoted to Frances’s time on the islands, but personally I enjoyed reading about her city life as well, so the juxtaposition of the two was perfect for me.

I also really enjoyed the love story between Ainslie and Frances and how imperfect it was. Fiction tends to provide the reader with a neat little romance, perfectly packaged, and I admired that Amend didn’t do that. I truly can’t imagine moving to a nearly deserted island with someone I barely know. Frances was brave in that regard, and perhaps a bit naïve as well.

Enchanted Islands is a phenomenal story about relationships and how humans interact, and how we hurt the ones we love even though we don’t mean to.

Book Review: Jane Steele

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Jane Steele

Lyndsay Faye

Headline Review

432 pages

Jane Steele is a new retelling of Jane Eyre, done in a sassy and clever way. Jane Steele was orphaned as a child and was forced to make her way in Victorian London. Jane is a hardened girl who has been forced to fend for herself, and she quickly learns how to stand up for herself, even if it means resorting to murder. Yes, Jane Eyre has been reimagined as a serial killer.

Eventually, Jane becomes a governess for Sahjara, who is the wars of Charles Thorpe. Charles has inherited Jane’s family mansion, and she has maneuvered her way into the household to determine whether she is the rightful heir, as her mother has led her to believe. As is expected though, she falls in love with Charles Thorpe. He has been hiding his own secrets, and their love is threatened by the pasts they’re withholding from one another.

Jane Steele is one of the best heroines I have read in recent memory. Her snappy dialogue had me laughing aloud, and I loved how brazen she was, while also being humble. And don’t even get me started on the love affair aspect of the book. It was one of those love angles that is so effortless for the reader. I was rooting for them the whole time and really wanted them to be together.

I don’t think it is necessary to have read Jane Eyre before reading Jane Steele. Admittedly, it has been so long since I read Jane Eyre that I honestly don’t remember many details. I feel that Jane Steele, while having been inspired by the original, is truly a standalone book.

Book Review: Cartwheel

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Cartwheel

Jennifer DuBois

Random House

368 pages

Cartwheel is a fictionalization account of the murder of Meredith Kercher. Amanda Knox was Meredith’s roommate abroad in Perugia, Italy and was convicted of homicide, along with her boyfriend at the time and another man who lived nearby. Knox’s conviction was eventually thrown out but the case garnered a lot of media attention, for obvious reasons.

I personally know quite a bit about the case, but am by no means an expert. There were very obvious parallels between the Amanda Knox case and Cartwheel, but at the same time there were many big differences. The biggest one was that Lily’s boyfriend Sebastien was not charged with a crime in the book. Sebastien was actually probably my biggest issue in Cartwheel. He was probably the most annoying character I have ever come across. I typically am not a reader that has to “like” the characters to enjoy a book, but my disdain for Sebastien really hampered my enjoyment of this book. I also thought Katy and Lily were annoying as well and the first half of the book really dragged for this reason.

Eventually, as the book gained momentum with Katy’s death and the continuing investigation (the book was not a linear narrative and the book actually begins with Lily’s family traveling to see her and then goes back and forth until the murder is eventually recounted), I started to warm up a little. Even so, I felt that there was so much build up but Katy’s relationship with Lily was never really explained, at least not to my satisfaction, and then the actual trial was barely mentioned.

I am not sure how I would have felt about Cartwheel had I not been familiar with the Amanda Knox case. I think I would have been just as annoyed with the characters, but it’s possible I would have viewed Lily a little differently. The pacing of the novel would still be an issue for me either way as well. I wish this had worked out better for me because I really love the idea of it, I just maybe expected too much with how it should be executed.

Book Review: Girls from Corona del Mar

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The Girls from Corona del Mar

Rufi Thorpe

Knopf

256 pages

Lorrie Ann and Mia have been best friends since they were young girls. The Girls from Corona del Mar chronicles their friendship from the age of 15 up through their early 30s. Like all friends, their relationship ebbs and flows. They are extremely close as teenagers but as they graduate and begin to lead separate lives, they go through long periods of not talking.

I know my synopsis is vague, especially given how much this book actually covers. It really packs a punch. There is a lot of focus on reproductive health. Pregnancies that end in both abortion and childbirth hold a lot of substance in The Girls from Corona del Mar and Lorrie Ann and Mia both dissected their own decisions at great lengths. It was very raw and very real. I felt like I was reading about two real women and the situations they found themselves in resonated with me completely.

I loved how flawed both characters were. There were times in the book that I thought they were both so wrong, and you could see that self awareness fighting through, and yet I could understand completely every decision they both made. Even Lorrie Ann’s relationship with her son Zach, and how everything ultimately played out, made sense to me, even though I agreed with Mia that Lorrie Ann made some awful decisions.

One thing to mention: this book had the most awful animal scene I have ever read. It was gut wrenching to read and really haunted me. Just something to be mindful of.

I raced through The Girls from Corona del Mar, and the closer I got towards the end, the more I tried to slow down and savor every moment. I would highly recommend this book, and I plan on reading the author’s newest book ASAP.

 

Book Review: Before the Fall

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Before the Fall

Noah Hawley

Grand Central Publishing

400 pages

August 23, 2015. A flight leaves Martha’s Vineyard for Teterboro Airport. On board is David Bateman, founder of A highly successful media company, along with his wife Maggie, and children Rachel and JJ. Also on board are Ben Kipling, an investor who has found himself in hot water over some business deals, as well as his wife Sarah. Also onboard is Scott Burroughs, an unknown artist who is re emerging after spending the last decade in a drunken stupor. Lastly, you have a three man flight crew and Gil Baruch, security for the Bateman family. The flight takes off shorty after 10 PM and disappears a short time later. Nothing is known about the flight until 8 hours later, when two lone survivors finally swim to shore.

Before the Fall was interesting because it was a mystery but it wasn’t necessarily the fast paced thrilled you would expect. The investigation continues for three weeks, with authorities searching for the wreckage to try and make sense of the catastrophe. Meanwhile, the two survivors aren’t able to offer much as to what happened. One was asleep at the time and one was knocked unconscious. There is no way to know if something on the airplane malfunctioned or if there was any type of pilot error without locating the actual plane. Meanwhile, you have David Bateman, whose line of work puts him in the spotlight, and not always in a positive way. Then you have Ben Kipling, who is facing a criminal indictment. There are so many possibilities as to what happened that my mind flew to all of them at one point or another.

The pacing of the book was interesting. At times I felt it wasn’t as effective as it could be. I would say 2/3 of the way through the book, I started to get a little bored. I think it got a little stagnant. They’d been searching and searching and searching and it began to feel a little redundant to me. What was interesting to me was how the author chose to introduce the characters. All of the eleven people on board were given at least a few pages to develop them as characters and go into their backgrounds and history. Hawley was very considerate about when and how it was done for each passenger, with quite a few of the characters not really being discussed until close to the end of the book. I thought that was genius. So although I did find myself slightly bored at one point, I thought the novel was very well crafted and overall, I was invested in the story.

Semi Spoiler** The ending was very abrupt and I am so thankful for that. As I was getting close to the end, I started thinking “Please don’t let the author tie this up with a neat little bow.” I imagined an epilogue where we are given an update on the two survivors, etc. and I really thought it would have been a huge error to do that. I know there are readers that get really fired up over abrupt endings but I am not one of them. I think this one was done well because we finally knew the answer as to why the plane crashed. There were still plenty of loose ends with the characters, but it only caused me to reflect on the book more.

I wouldn’t consider Before the Fall to be a thriller despite that it is a mystery. To me, it read much more like literary fiction with mystery elements interspersed. That may sound odd, and other readers may disagree. That is just how I personally took it. This book has had a lot of hype this year, deservedly so.

Book Review: Lust & Wonder

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Lust & Wonder

Augusten Burroughs

St. Martin’s Press

304 pages

Lust & Wonder is Burroughs’ newest memoir and it details his last three romantic relationships.

The first one seems like a throwaway compare to the other two because it was relatively short. Burroughs meets one of his favorite authors and is instantly enamored. It becomes obvious pretty quickly, especially to the reader, that these two guys aren’t a good fit, but Burroughs is so determined to make it work that he has a hard time admitting to himself that it is time to move on.

Burroughs’ next relationship is with Dennis and lasts and entire decade. Everything starts off well enough but then, once again, the reader becomes aware that this relationship is doomed. I almost didn’t want to believe it was as bad as Burroughs described it, because it just seemed so lonely and depressing. Nothing completely horrible happened, but it was obvious the pair didn’t bring anything good out of one another. The realization of how wrong they are for one another hits Burroughs out of nowhere and he immediately starts attempting to break up with Dennis. Meanwhile, Dennis admits he hasn’t been happy for the past eight years, yet still hopes to salvage the relationship. It was not to be though because . . .

The last part of the book deals with Burroughs’ relationship with his husband, Christopher. Christopher and Burroughs met ten years ago, right before Dennis came into the picture. Christopher is Burroughs’ agent and the two have a very close friendship, until one day when Burroughs realizes suddenly that he is madly in love with Christopher. I really have to hand it to Burroughs because he wastes no time. He immediately emails Christopher to profess his love. The book goes on to detail their relationship up until the present day.

Another interesting aspect of Lust & Wonder is how it chronicled Burroughs’ writing career. I have read almost all of his books, so it was fun to read about him actually writing them.

I think Augusten Burroughs may be my spirit animal. I just find his sardonic wit so damn funny. This was no different in Lust & Wonder, despite the heavy subject matter at times. Burroughs was also able to chronicle his relationships in a very genuine, honest way. It can’t be easy to share your most intimate thoughts and moments, and yet he did it in a way that was totally relatable to the reader. If you have been in at least one relationship, whether it be good or bad, you will be able to relate to this book.

 

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