Lie to Me

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After reviewing several romantic comedies over the past month, I decided it was time to read a thriller for a change.

Lie to Me by J.T. Ellison focuses on Ethan and Sutton Montclair, an attractive couple living in Tennessee. Both have enjoyed successful careers as authors, but several setbacks over the past few years has caused tension in their marriage. When Ethan wakes up one day to find that Sutton is missing and has left a note behind, the mystery begins as to whether Sutton disappeared on her own accord.

The story unfolds through third person perspectives of Ethan, Sutton, a detective, and a first person narrative from an unidentified antagonist. The chapters also flash back and forth between the present time and the time when Ethan and Sutton meet, with that particular night being told from each of their perspectives.

I’ve read a lot of J.T. Ellison’s previous thriller novels, including her Samantha Owens series and more recently, Tear Me Apart. This is the first one that I felt I just couldn’t get into because the story felt familiar. It felt like a re-telling of the plot of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, which involves the disappearance of a wife in similar circumstances. The story concludes differently than Flynn’s novel, but I just felt the plot was too similar to hold my interest.

Overall, Lie to Me is a decent read, but it’s not my favorite novel of J.T. Ellison’s.

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The Little Bookshop on the Seine

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Bookstores are a common setting in many modern-day novels. The Little Bookshop on the Seine by Rebecca Raisin uses this as a setting, but pairs it with important themes.

Sarah Smith’s life has revolved around books from the time she was little, so it seems normal that she would open up a bookshop in her Connecticut hometown. She is content living her small town life with her circle of close friends and having a semi-long distance relationship with her boyfriend Ridge Warner, but sometimes longs for adventure. When her French friend Sophie, who runs a bookstore along the River Seine in Paris, offers to trade places with Sarah for a couple of months, Sarah jumps at the chance to visit a city she’s always dreamed of. But her expectations of living in the City of Lights are far from what she actually faces when there- culture shock, difficult coworkers, just to name a few.

The character development of Sarah was great to follow along with. She’s used to running her bookstore solo and being her own boss, but is faced with a pushy and reluctant staff when she arrives at Sophie’s bookstore. She is forced to venture outside of her comfort zone to stand up for herself and take charge, in the process improving her self-confidence. Her experiences are important lessons in learning to advocate for yourself, not letting others tell you what to do, and surprising yourself with what you are capable of doing. I feel like this is something one can learn when moving to a new city or country, having to find friends, find a job and overall be self-sufficient.

There were parts of the book that I felt were a little rushed or seemed to drop off in the middle of important events when I wanted to know more about what happened. However, the romantic subplot in the book turned our differently than what I expected, and Rebecca Raisin did a good job of capturing the essence of Paris.

I recommend this book to those who love Paris, bookshops and how living in a foreign city can teach you important life lessons.

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The Rosie Project

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Happy official summer! Today I’m going to review yet another book I found at my hometown book store that turned out to be quite different than the ones I’ve read lately: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion.

Set in Australia, Don Tillman is a professor of genetics. His life revolves around structure, scheduling precise times for eating, exercising, socializing, work, and more. The one part of his life that he’s trying to improve is his romantic life. Having been unsuccessful in finding someone suitable, he decides to develop a questionnaire in order to find somebody who meets his criteria. But Don’s plan goes in another direction when his best friend Gene introduces him to Rosie, a graduate student who is the opposite of what he’s looking for. Yet Don finds himself drawn to Rosie as she begins to challenge Don’s routine-driven life.

This book’s first-person narrative is very unique due to Don’s voice. Since he supposedly has Asperger’s syndrome, he focuses on observations and details of people. He categorizes someone by their approximate age, height and even BMI (Body Mass Index.) I felt like my brain had to process reading this book a certain way in order to follow along with the story. I didn’t see in a negative light, but rather a reminder of the diversity of perspectives that different people have in the world.

I also appreciated how the novel was set in Australia, as I’ve only read a handful of novels set in this country. There is a part in the book where Don and Rosie travel to New York City, and it was cool to read about their experience and perception of the United States. I recommend this novel to those who are looking for a different, unique story.

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The Names They Gave Us

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Another one of my recent lunch break reads is this book by Emery Lord. I had previously reviewed her books Open Road Summer and When We Collided. It’s been a few years since I read her work, so I decided to check out another one of her novels.

The Names They Gave Us is the story of Lucy Hansson, an only child whose pastor father and nurse mother have raised her in the church. The summer before her senior year, Lucy finds her faith badly shaken when her mother is once again diagnosed with cancer and her boyfriend Lukas decides to “pause” their relationship for the season. This is soon followed by her becoming a counselor at Daybreak, the secular camp across the lake from her family’s religion camp. Anxious about her mother’s diagnoses and her unfamiliar surroundings, Lucy struggles with pretending that everything is fine. However, her willingness to try new thing starts to show results, including making new friends, and learning not to be judgmental of other people’s backgrounds.

This is the first book I’ve read in a while that includes a theme focused on religion. The YA author Jenny B. Jones makes faith a central part of her theme in the Katie Parker series, and the topic is handled similarly in Lord’s novel. Lucy’s faith is part of her character and who she is as a person, and the presence of it is not meant to persuade the reader from swaying from his or her own beliefs. Lucy’s experiences at Daybreak allow her to explore a world different from the one she knew and learn lessons of self-discovery.

I did feel like there were some parts of the story that could’ve been developed a little more, and the ending seemed a little rushed, but overall, this is a pretty good read.

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This is Home

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The second novel I read over Christmas break is This is Home by Lisa Duffy. This book explores themes of PTSD, family and finding your place in this world.

The town of Paradise, Massachusetts might sound appealing, but to 16-year-old Libby Winters, it’s anything but. Since her mother died of cancer, financial strains have caused Libby and her father Bent to have to move into the middle apartment of Libby’s aunt triple-decker house. Libby’s two aunts Lucy and Desiree live in the top apartment. The bottom tenant is Quinn Ellis, a young woman whose soldier husband has been missing since leaving one night after a fight and showing signs of PTSD. While Libby and Quinn are initially wary of each other, their paths begin to cross in more ways than one.

The story’s narrative is a little different. It’s done in alternating perspectives between Libby and Quinn, but Libby’s is written in first person and Quinn’s is told in third person. I’ve only seen this technique in a handful of other novels, and made for a unique structure.

I found the story itself to be okay, somewhat predictable and cliche. There are some important messages through its character development. For Quinn, being by herself for the first time emphasizes the importance of self-discovery and new experiences. For Libby, having to deal with the death of her mother is about coping and being resilient.

Overall, this is a good read for a trip or work lunch break, but I would recommend borrowing it from the library.

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The Silence Between Us

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Happy New Year! The holidays were fun for me, spending time with family and traveling to Los Angeles for New Year’s. I had the chance to read two books, the first being The Silence Between Us by Alison Gervais, and the subject of today’s review.

Maya Harris, her mother and her younger brother have just moved to Colorado from New Jersey. Deaf since the age of 13, Maya has to attend a hearing school for her senior year of high school. Despite having interpreter Kathleen who helps her navigate her classes, Maya still feels out of place among her peers. But with the help of new friends Nina and Beau, she begins to find her way, focusing on her studies and her college future. When Beau begins learning sign language to communicate with Maya, she tries to figure out what his intentions are and the complicated dynamic of their two different worlds.

I absolutely loved this book because of several reasons. First of all, it has a Deaf protagonist, which you don’t see in a lot of YA novels. Second, the story offers an honest portrayal of American Sign Language, or ASL. When Maya or another person signs, the sentences are translated in a structure that ASL uses, different from normal English sentences. An example is, “FRIEND ASK ME IF I WORK WITH HER TODAY FOR M-I-D-T-E-R-M, I explained. WE PARTNERS. (p. 83). It created a different kind of dialogue than I’m used to and made for some interesting interactions, especially for the chemistry scenes between Maya and Beau.

Maya also experiences the misconceptions that people have about those who are Deaf. There are a few incidents throughout the story that involve others questioning her capability of doing certain activities due to her “disability” and whether she wants a cochlear implant. Maya doesn’t hesitate to set them straight that people who are Deaf can live fulfilling and successful lives. Gervais clearly did her research when writing this novel.

I recommend The Silence Between Us to everybody because of its realistic portrayal of a Deaf teenager and the opportunity to learn more about the Deaf community in general.

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My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories

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I hope everyone is having a great holiday season. Thank you for the great response to my previous review. It got the most likes ever for a post and my blog has now hit more than 50 followers. Thank you to everyone!

This time around, I decided to look for an anthology novel set during the holidays, which comprises of separate authors each contributing a short story. I’ve reviewed anthologies before, such as Let it Snow, and enjoy how each author offers a different writing style and characters.

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories features various YA authors, including Gayle Forman, Jenny Han, and Rainbow Rowell. The genres are a mix of real life and fantasy, and contain characters that have different experiences against the holiday backdrop. This includes a character whose holiday spirit is not that good due her parent’s recent divorce, a girl who was raised by Santa Claus after being left in his sleigh as a baby, and a college freshmen whose Jewish heritage makes her feel out of place among her Christmas-celebrating classmates. I liked how some of the stories depicted how the holiday season is not perfect for everyone, as there can be several different situations people are going through that others may not realize.

I enjoyed a lot of the stories, but felt that some were “incomplete,” as if the plots were too large for a short story and could have made a great concept for a full-length novella or novel. Also, unlike Let It Snow, the characters in the stories are unrelated, so I sometimes found it hard to keep track of who was who. The genres shifts also made it hard to initially know whether the story was set on Earth or in a fantasy world.

Overall, this is a nice read for the holiday season, but I do plan to check out some of the authors’ individual works in order to get more into their stories and styles.

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The Haunting of Hill House

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Warning: Minor spoilers for both this novel and the TV series.

The paranormal can be an interesting topic to many. It usually deals with ghosts, but there can be more to the history behind the presence. It’s also the basis of countless TV shows, stories, and books, including the Haunting of Hill House.

The Haunting of Hill House is a 1959 novel by Shirley Jackson. Most people nowadays know it as the basis of the popular Netflix series released last October. The book, like the series, takes place in Hill House, an old, isolated mansion set upon the hills. But the circumstances of the novel differ a lot from the TV series.

As part of a research project, Dr. John Montague decides to rent out Hill House for the summer and document the paranormal occurrences. He invites a select number of guests to live on the property so he can observe if they are affected by the supposed haunting. They include Hill House heir Luke Sanderson, shy recluse Eleanor Vance and bold artist Theodora. These are the names of three of the children in the TV version, but they are not related in the book.

I found that Jackson focuses more on psychological part of the haunting, which particularly effects emotionally vulnerable Eleanor. This parallels the TV series, which shows how the haunting affected all five of the Crain children. In the novel, though, Hugh Crain is mentioned as the original owner of the house, versus him just renovating it like in the TV series.

Since the novel was written 60 years ago, Jackson’s writing style uses some old terms that I wasn’t familiar with. For example, Mrs. Montague, Dr. Montague’s wife and a minor character, uses a “planchette” as a way to contact the spirits. Planchette is a board similar to an Ouija board, as I discovered.

When it comes to certain stories, writing them is different than seeing them on screen. For stories involving ghosts, filmmakers are able to visually show the entities and employ tactics such as “jump scares” to startle the viewer. But for writers, the horror elements have to be written in a way that makes them effective to the reader. This can be a difficult task, but Jackson successfully does this throughout the story, especially during an encounter where there is banging on the walls and against the doors of the bedrooms.

Although this novel is not what I expected it to be, it was a good read. It’s also reassuring to know that a piece of literature from 60 years ago is still profound enough to inspire a modern day adaptation.

Gone

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This is actually a book I first read years ago as a high schooler, but realized I had never done a review on.

Gone, the first book in a series by Michael Grant, tells a story of power and authority with supernatural elements. One day in the town of Perdido Beach, California, everybody age 15 and over suddenly disappears into thin air. At the same time, a dome-shaped barrier forms over the town, preventing anyone from leaving and jamming all communication sources. Sam Temple and his friends Quinn and Edilio, along with Sam’s love interest Astrid, try to discover the meaning behind the sudden occurrence. Meanwhile, life in the town is thrown into chaos as children attempt to function without adults. Sam is seen as a leader but is at odds with Caine, the rival leader of the students from the elite Coates Academy. Elsewhere, a mysterious creature known as “The Darkness” threatens to wreak havoc on the already chaotic town.

One element I liked about this novel was Grant’s use of setting. He provides a map of Perdido Beach at the front of the book, which gives the reader an idea of the area and how it affects the characters in unexpected ways. For example, the desert, usually seen as a somewhat desolate place, is used in a story of survival for supporting character Lana. A power plant, commonly associated with feelings of danger and elusiveness, becomes a major plot point in the supernatural element of the story.

Another defining element of the novel is seeing how people’s personalities and skills help them survive and function in a society devoid of adults. Lana’s headstrong nature formerly got her into trouble, but now helps her outwit the danger she experiences and help Sam and his group with their journey. Another supporting character, Albert, uses his family-taught cooking skills to take over a local restaurant. Futhermore, some of the children develop supernatural powers which provide both positive and negative ways.

At over 500 pages, this is a long book to read, but I definitely recommend it due to its strong character development and successful mix of genres.

Wonder

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Welcome back to my blog! Today I decided to review something a little different, Wonder by R.J. Palacio.

August “Auggie” Pullman is a 10-year-old boy who lives in New York City with his mother, father, older sister, and dog Daisy. He is intelligent and a fan of Star Wars. He also has a medical condition that has cause After being homeschooled his entire life, Auggie is enrolled at Beecher Prep School by his parents. He’s nervous to start fifth grade at a real school, but begins to make friends with others and realizes that he is truly a “wonder.”

The story is told from several different points of view, which was a great way of showing how each person has a different way of viewing Auggie’s situation. Auggie himself is used to people’s reactions when they first see him, although it still does bother him a little bit. Auggie’s sister Via, who is used to Auggie getting his parent’s attention and isn’t afraid of standing up for him. There’s Summer, the girl who decides to sit with Auggie at lunch the first day and becomes his first friend. Julian is the bully, who constantly teases Auggie and tries to turn others against him. I could relate to the characters because it reminded me of people I knew during my grade school years.

I was interested to find out that this was RJ Palacio’s debut novel, considering how well it was written. According to her official website, she got the idea for the novel after an experience she had with her young sons who got upset after seeing a child with a facial deformity. I always like it when authors use real-life experiences in their fiction because its makes the story and characters more relatable.

Although this is a novel marketed toward grade schoolers, I recommend Wonder because it can teach both children and adults important lessons on acceptance and the uniqueness of others.

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