Quickie Review of The Girls

Author: Emma Cline

Published: June 14, 2016 by Random House

Length: 368 pages

Genre: Fiction, Thriller

Source: Library eBook

My rating: 4 1/2 stars

From GoodReads:

The GirlsNorthern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted.

There seems to be a theme in my reading choices in the last couple of months. For whatever reason cults and women’s experiences in cults are really interesting to me right now. The last book I reviewed, Troublemaker, is the true life story of Leah Remini and Scientology. This novel is a fictionalized story of a Manson style cult in the late ’60’s. The story is framed by the adult Evie remembering the events of that summer while staying at a friends isolated cabin in Northern California. She is joined by the friend’s son and his girlfriend which causes her to remember the events of that summer when as a fourteen year old girl she joined the cult.

This novel is intriguing, interesting, and disturbing. I felt a sense of menace and unease as I read the book. So if you are looking for a comforting read, The Girls is not it. So many books that feature women lately have featured women who are unlikable and do awful things. This novel fits into that Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train vibe. But it’s not a mystery or a thriller that needs to be solved. Anyone who is familiar with the Manson cult activities will know what happens in the story. What is different and interesting for me is the relationship between the girls in the cult. How they interact. Why they stay. Russell, the thinly veiled Manson figure, is less important in this story. Evie and Suzanne complicated connection is much more interesting. What is Evie looking for from Suzanne?

“I waited to be told what was good about me. I wondered later if this was why there were so many more women than men at the ranch. All that time I had spent readying myself, the articles had taught me life was really just a waiting room until someone noticed you–the boys had spent time becoming themselves.”

And Evie is seen by Suzanne. I like how this story explores how girls do interact and acknowledge each other. It reminds me of how difficult it is to be a girl in this world. The cult, and more specifically, Suzanne give Evie what she needs as a young girl. And this made me so uncomfortable as a reader because I knew what was coming. And Suzanne’s menace is frightening too. It’s not often that women in a novel are just as menacing as the men. And rather than being fascinated by the bad boy or even Russell, Evie is drawn to the bad girl. The toxic stew of girl crushes, menace, and desire for acknowledgement makes this a fascinating read for me.

But the scenes that take place in the current day are less pleasing. I don’t enjoy reading about the teen characters that show up and prompt Evie’s remembrances. I don’t really like how Evie relates and behaves with those teens. And the ending is frustrating.

Would I recommend it? Yes. If you are interested in female characters behaving badly, cults, and girls struggling  with coming of age then you will probably enjoy this book. I think it will end up in my top ten books of the year.

One more of my favorite lines from the book:

“I knew just being a girl in the world handicapped your ability to believe yourself.”

Have you read The Girls? What did you think of it? Are you planning to read it? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Quickie Review of Troublemaker: Surviving Scientology and Hollywood

Authors: Leah Remini and Rebecca Paley

Published: November 2015 by Ballantine Books

Length: 278 pages

Genre: Memoir

Source: Library eBook

My rating: 3 stars

From Goodreads:

Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and ScientologyLeah Remini has never been the type to hold her tongue. That willingness to speak her mind, stand her ground, and rattle the occasional cage has enabled this tough-talking girl from Brooklyn to forge an enduring and successful career in Hollywood. But being a troublemaker has come at a cost.

That was never more evident than in 2013, when Remini loudly and publicly broke with the Church of Scientology. Now, in this frank, funny, poignant memoir, the former King of Queens star opens up about that experience for the first time, revealing the in-depth details of her painful split with the church and its controversial practices.

The reason I read this book is because I watched her series about Scientology on A&E. I’m not a fan of her work on TV. I’ve never watched an episode of The King of Queens. But I am watching her reality show about what its like to leave Scientology, Leah Remini Sceintology and the Aftermath. And it will be hard to separate my thoughts and feelings about the series from this memoir. But I will try. Leah Remini and her story are intriguing. She seems to be a person who takes no guff from anyone, and that’s why its so interesting that she joined (actually grew up in) The Church of Scientology. The control that Scientology seems to exert on it’s members is appalling.

In the book Leah tells stories of how she rebelled against that pressure and stories about how she also supported their ideas from the time she was a little girl. And that rebellion against and then adherence to the religion becomes confusing and seems to hint at things that happened to her that she isn’t comfortable revealing when she was writing this memoir. I think after telling some of the horrific stories of abuse on her TV show she will eventually reveal more about her unpleasant experiences in Scientology.

She does confront in the book the privilege she had as a celebrity, but also how much time, energy, and the large amount of money she gave to Scientology over the years. She is invited to be a part of Tom Cruise’s inner circle and is invited to his wedding to Katie Holmes. She also is friends with many of the higher ups in Scientology, too. And she donates a large a mount of money to Scientology in addition to buying required courses and traveling to Florida during her work breaks to take courses there as well. And all of the courses and stays in Florida are not free. Scientology expects members to pay for all of these courses.

I could go on recounting everything that happens in the book, but then why would you read it? And I think if you are interested in cults you should read it. It’s not a perfect book, and there are a few things that stand out to me.  Leah writes about how she became an actress, but truthfully that’s not nearly as interesting as her experiences in Scientology. And the the gaps in the stories she doesn’t tell about her experiences in Scientology are obvious, especially after watching the series. Also, the book seems rather chatty in tone, which can be both charming and annoying as you read the book. I think the co-writer, Rebecca Paley, had a time wrangling all of the material into a coherent narrative. Which she does, by the way.

So, if you are looking for information detailing the Scientology and how it works, this book is not the book to read. This book is more focused on Leah Remini’s first months of confronting the cult she has recently left at the time. If you are looking for information, read Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear. But if you are interested in Leah Remini’s experiences in Scientology and how she became a part of it, then this is the book for you.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it and would you/did you watch the TV series? If you haven’t read the memoir or watched the series, would you?  Let me know in the comments below.

Quickie Review: Half-Resurrection Blues

Published: 2015 by ROC (an imprint of Penguin Books)

Length: 326 pages

Genre: Fiction, Urban Fantasy

Source: Book Riot Quarterly Box that I purchased

My rating: 4 stars

From Goodreads:

photo courtesy of me

Carlos Delacruz is one of the New York Council of the Dead’s most unusual agents—an inbetweener, partially resurrected from a death he barely recalls suffering, after a life that’s missing from his memory. He thinks he is one of a kind—until he encounters other entities walking the fine line between life and death.

One inbetweener is a sorcerer. He’s summoned a horde of implike ngks capable of eliminating spirits, and they’re spreading through the city like a plague. They’ve already taken out some of NYCOD’s finest, leaving Carlos desperate to stop their master before he opens up the entrada to the Underworld—which would destroy the balance between the living and the dead.

But in uncovering this man’s identity, Carlos confronts the truth of his own life—and death…

This isn’t a genre that I usually buy or read, but it came to me in my first Book Riot Quarterly Box back in March of 2015 and quickly took up residency on my TBR pile. Last year I participated in the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge and for one of the tasks I needed to read a book that is first in a series by a person of color. This book hits both of the criteria for that task. I finally read it the week before Christmas as one of the last books for the challenge. Much to my surprise, I love this book; I was blown away! What a fun, exciting read. In fact, it could, and maybe should, be on my Top 10 Reads of the year.

The story’s setting is Brooklyn, NY, and it’s haunted streets. The main character, Carlos Delacruz is only half alive making him someone who exists on fringes of the living and the dead. And he thinks he is the only one of his kind in existence: an inbetweener.  He is a member of a squad that “polices” the dead who inhabit Brooklyn. But one day he discovers he isn’t the only  one. There are more out there like him. And that is only the beginning of  the hero’s quest.  And so begins the wild ride through haunted Brooklyn. It’s faced paced and fascinating.The world Older overlays on real world Brooklyn is beautifully rendered. And the characteres that we are introduced to in this story are intriguing. I hope there is more of the teen Kia who works at Baba Eddie’s botánica in future books. Actually more of Baba Eddie, too. I love everyone associated with the shop. And Mama Esther, the house ghost, is interesting as well. I want to know more about her beginnings and why she is attached to that particular house. I’m so glad that there are at least two more of this series because I do want to visit Older’s Brooklyn again.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it and would you/did you read the rest of the series? If you haven’t read it, would you?  Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

Quickie Review of Good Morning, Midnight

Sasha Jensen has returned to Paris, the city of both her happiest moments and her most desperate. A friend has rescued her from the room in London where she had been trying to drink herself to death. Now her past lies in wait for her in cafes, bars, and dress shops coming to life again as vividly for the reader as it does for her, blurring all distinctions between nightmare and reality.

The past is no all that looms threateningly on Sasha’s horizon. She does not trust the future, even as she knows she must move into it. Whens she is picked by a young man, she begins to feel that she is still capable of desires and emotions. Few encounters in fiction have been so brilliantly conceived, and few have come to a more unforgettable end.   –Goodreads synopsis

Published: 1986 by Shoreline Books (originally published in 1937)

Length: 190 pages

Genre: fiction

Source: my bookcase

My rating: 3 1/2 stars

I read this book as a part of two reading challenges #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks and the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2016. It’s a book I’ve had hanging around my bookshelves since grad school. Jean Rhys is one of those underrated female authors and her books are almost unknown except for one: Wide Sargasso Sea. Wide Sargasso Sea is Rhys’ response to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. And it changed the way many readers understand Bronte’s classic novel.

Rhys is a modernist writer and she tends to write in the stream of consciousness style so it can be a bit difficult to read. So it took a bit for me to get into the book, plus it’s about a woman who is spiraling into madness. And I think I’m overly emphatic because the book just added to my own depression. And spoiler! the book doesn’t have a happy ending. I know that I’m not painting a positive review of the book, but I liked it. I would just say if you are someone who is an empathetic reader, you may want to read this in the summer when the sun is shinning, and it’s maybe easier to find a happy place while reading it.

What do you think? Would you enjoy this book? Have you read it? What did you think about it? Let me know in the comments below.

Review of You Will Know Me

From Goodreads:

You Will Know MeHow far will you go to achieve a dream? That’s the question a celebrated coach poses to Katie and Eric Knox after he sees their daughter Devon, a gymnastics prodigy and Olympic hopeful, compete. For the Knoxes there are no limits–until a violent death rocks their close-knit gymnastics community and everything they have worked so hard for is suddenly at risk.

As rumors swirl among the other parents, Katie tries frantically to hold her family together while also finding herself irresistibly drawn to the crime itself. What she uncovers–about her daughter’s fears, her own marriage, and herself–forces Katie to consider whether there’s any price she isn’t willing to pay to achieve Devon’s dream. 

This is an uncomfortable examination of the toxic mix of a talented, ambitious child, Devon, and her devoted and ambitious parents, Katie and Eric, in the highly competitive world of gymnastics. It begins with the murder of a beloved young man, Ryan, who is a part of the gym community. He’s killed in a hit and run that is not, as it turns out, an accident. This is the  story of how this death exposes all of the secrets of the gym community and Katie’s family. Katie, Devon’s mother, is the first person narrator of the story. She is deeply upset by Ryan’s murder and how everyone in the community reacts including both her daughter and husband. We slowly discover from Katie’s perspective the how the community and her daughter’s place in it as the potential  Olympian is seen by everyone.

Since it is told from Katie’s perspective we discover how little she acknowledges what is really going on in her own home. How she doesn’t really know her daughter. She also is slow to acknowledge how ambitious she is herself. An ambition that everyone else in the novel seems to see and know, except Katie. When we see how she ignores her son in favor of Devon that it starts to become glaringly apparent to the reader. Good grief, the boy comes down with Scarlett Fever and she leaves him home alone or with the neighbor to search out information about Devon more than once.

But what is interesting to me as a mother of a daughter is the relationship she has with Devon. How she takes care of everything for the child, but at the same time doesn’t really know her. Katie thinks to herself at one point “That’s what parenthood was about, wasn’t it? Slowly understanding your child less and less until she wasn’t yours anymore but herself.” Which is true I think for most parents. Even “helicopter” parents such as Katie and Eric.

It’s clear early on who killed Ryan, but it’s the why and how and who knew that makes this story interesting. The story is like an onion. It’s the intensity of high level gymnastics for the entire family, and by extension, everyone at the gym that’s fascinating. I wish I could have read this during the Olympics early this year while I was watching the gymnast competitions,and even the swimming and diving competitions. The girls are so young who are competing as adults (is 16 an adult?). And the gymnast look so young, disturbingly so. But this story would have given me a bit of insight into the world of Olympic competition. Finally, I have to say after reading this story I’m glad none of my children were “talented.” I’m not sure I would have wanted to sacrifice everything  in order for my kid to be “the best.”

I really enjoyed this book. I gave it 4 Stars on Goodreads.

Have you read You Will Know Me? What did you think of it? What other Megan Abbott books would you recommend? Or books about talented children? Let me know in the comments below!

 

 

 

 

Review of The Trespasser by Tana French

This is the the sixth book in Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad Thriller/Mystery series.

From Goodreads:

The Trespasser (Dublin Murder Squad, #6)Antoinette Conway, the tough, abrasive detective from The Secret Place, is still on the Murder squad, but only just. She’s partnered up with Stephen Moran now, and that’s going well – but the rest of her working life isn’t. Antoinette doesn’t play well with others, and there’s a vicious running campaign in the squad to get rid of her. She and Stephen pull a case that at first looks like a slam-dunk lovers’ tiff, but gradually they realise there’s more going on: someone on their own squad is trying to push them towards the obvious solution, away from nagging questions. They have to work out whether this is just an escalation in the drive to get rid of her – or whether there’s something deeper and darker going on.

Wow. What an interesting read. Tana French just gets better with each book in this series that she writes. Each of the Murder squad mysteries is a bit different. Different detectives from Murder Squad are featured in each novel. And all of the murders seem to have a connection in some way to the detectives assigned to the case. We get to see how the mysteries change and affect the detectives in a much more personal way than in most mystery novels. The Trespasser is no different.  And that is one reason I keep reading the stories. In this novel Antoinette, and her partner Stephen, don’t seem to have a personal connection to this murder. At first. This story is an entry into the thriller genre starring women who are antiheros. Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train are two that have really popularized that genre in the last 10 years or so. It’s not surprising that Tana French has written her own version of this type of novel.

Antoinette, the main character, is not a comfortable or likeable. She is brash, rough, and no-nonsense. There is no place setting in the novel where she feels comfortable. Not at work, not while searching for clues, and not in her own skin. She is never comfortable with the theories and ideas she has about this case.  Additionally, she is not a kind or particularly empathetic to the witnesses she interviews for this case she doesn’t have much patience. With another detective she does use the “Cool Girl” persona to try and connect with witnesses. (If you’ve read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn you know exactly what that means.) Does she want to solve the murder of Aislinn Murray and give her the justice she deserves? Yes, and this does make her a good detective. She does care. Does she feel a connection to Aislinn? Yes, and this also makes her uncomfortable, though she doesn’t want to admit it. Truthfully, her discomfort in almost every situation in the novel is one of the reasons I am interested in this story. And, in the end, her discomfort is addressed and resolved.

The pacing of the story is good. It keeps the reader off center. The subplot dovetails nicely into the main plot. While some might argue too neatly, I wouldn’t. Since this is written in the first person it’s easy to sympathize with Antoinette’s struggle to find the murder. And I really am still a bit surprised by the reveal. Is it successful entry into this genre of thrillers? Yes, it seems to me that it is. It seems to be an answer to Gillian Flynn’s and Paula Hawkins’ novels. French seems to be saying this is what happens when you concoct a mad scheme; you may not be successful. And I find that really interesting. Is it a perfect novel? No. Would I recommend it to others? Yes! Especially if you are a fan of the female antihero thrillers.

What do you think of Tana French’s The Trespassers? Will you read it or have you read it? What do you think? Have you read any other “Girl” thrillers? Let me know in the comments below.

Quickie Book Reviews

Looking back over September I realized that I wrote absolutely no book reviews. And one of my goals for September was to write at least one book review per week. So. Here it is the second week of October and I’ve yet to write a review. The last two book i read are both older books that everyone has all read y read, so I thought rather than write a review for each, why not just do a quickie review? So that is what I am doing today.

I Am America (And So Can You!)First up is I am America (And So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert, et al. I am a fan of The Colbert Report. I watched it almost every night. I enjoyed his brand of satire and how effectively he inhabited the character Stephen Colbert inhabited on the show. But. Reading it is much different than watching it. The book is like an extended version of his The Word bit. The intrusions of marginalia gets too much. Almost every paragraph has an aside. And it’s tiring. Another is issue for me is that it’s an election year. Probably the most awful election year in the history of world. And anything political is just too much to take for me right now. In another year this book might have been more of pleasure to read.

The Girl on the TrainNext The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. This book is marketed towards fans of Gone Girl, so it’s hard to not compare it to the other novel. And the comparisons between the two are fair. Both have thoroughly unlikable characters. In fact, it’s hard to find anyone in either novel who is even sympathetic. But I’ve been thinking about it for a few days, and I have to say I enjoy and like Gone Girl more than The Girl on the Train (TGOTT ). Both are twisty, twirly thrillers that feature awful, awful women, but I think the twist in TGOTT  is less shocking than you would expect. And Rachel, the protagonist, for me, is in a constant state of pathetic that never changes. And some of the twisty surprises seem even more convoluted than the needed to be, if that makes any sense. (I’m really trying to avoid spoilers here!) And that is something that I found in Gone Girl as well. The twists are there just to be a twist and aren’t as organic to the story as the could (should?) be. But, right now, female driven twisty thrillers are popular, so……there will be more of these novels. Will I read them? Probably. Because I do enjoy twists! (I’m reading Tana French’s twisty latest and I’m planning to write a proper review of it next week.)

So what do you think of the two books I reviewed? Have you read them? Do you agree or disagree with my reviews? Let me know in the comments below!