Sunday, June 19, 2016

Recently Read: In-Depth Reviews - June 2016 Edition

I wanted to get this post up earlier today, but this has been a busy weekend and that means I kind of dropped the ball on blog related stuff. I usually try to schedule things in advance (especially during the week), but I needed to put the finishing touches on a couple of these reviews, edit the post, and finish my graphics. And, of course, I waited until the last minute to do these things.

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Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes - 448 pages

Completed on 05/12/2016

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I'm one of those people who really enjoyed You. (My review can be found here, if you're interested.) I love when an author can make me like an unlikable character, and Caroline Kepnes did just that.

Unfortunately, I didn't get the same feeling with Hidden Bodies.

I partially blame this on the fact that so much time had passed since I read You that sometimes I had trouble remembering some of the events referenced. I generally think I have a pretty good memory, but I read a lot of books ... So it's not that surprising that I wouldn't remember every detail from a book I read last August. (And, since I keep crazy records of my reading, I can tell you that I read 48 books between You and Hidden Bodies. Looking at it that way, I'm impressed that I actually remembered as much as I did about the first book!)

I also didn't feel like I ever really connected with Hidden Bodies the way I connected with You. There were a lot of laugh out loud moments for me in You (though maybe I shouldn't admit to that since that might make me sound like a fucked up psycho). The humor in Hidden Bodies felt much more forced. And, to be honest, I just didn't find Joe as likable this time around.

I discussed this book a bit with Erin, and I think that helped me pinpoint why I didn't like Hidden Bodies as much as I liked You. Although it took me a little while to get used to reading something written in second person (I've only read a handful of books written this way), I thought Kepnes did a great job opening up Joe's twisted mind. The pacing was excellent, I loved the dark humor, and the story intrigued me.

Joe's voice in Hidden Bodies, on the other hand, didn't seem as interesting or original. It felt a little flat ... Like he was trying a little too hard to be the next Patrick Bateman. (And, if he was, he failed.) I also felt like the plot of Hidden Bodies fell into the same tired category that many TV shows fall into: they do a "location" shoot and it just doesn't really work. (At least not for me. Those are my absolute least favorite episodes of any show.) I understand why he moved to California, but it became a "Joe Goes to Hollywood" kind of thing and I just didn't get much out of it.

I realize that all of this makes it sound like I didn't like this book at all, but that's not the case. I'd say that I mostly enjoyed it (enough to give it a 3 star rating), and I liked that it was a really easy, quick read. I think my problem was that I was comparing it to You a little too much. Yes, it's a sequel written by the same author, but they're still different books.

Basically, my verdict is this: Hidden Bodies was a decent way to pass the time. I liked some parts of the book, but I didn't think it was as good as You. I was a little disappointed that I didn't enjoy it more than I did, though, especially after waiting for several months to get it from the library.

The Light of the Fireflies by Paul Pen - 327 pages

Completed on 05/17/2016

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My library has been very awesome lately, ordering several of the books I've recently requested they purchase. I requested The Light of the Fireflies in April, and it was ordered and available within just a couple of weeks!

As you can probably tell from the 3 star rating, I unfortunately wasn't blown away. 3 stars is not a bad rating (and I swear that one of these days I'm going to write a post inspired by Kristen and Steph on my book rating system), but it's also not an "Oh my God, this book was so amazing and I think everyone should read it" kind of rating.

The Light of the Fireflies was translated from Spanish, and I thought the translator (Simon Bruni) did a good job. Sometimes the writing in novels that are translated from another language can feel a little awkward (I've definitely read a few like that!), but that was thankfully not the case here.

I've seen at least a couple of Goodreads reviews mention that this novel is a lot like Room, but, while there are a few similarities, I thought they were very different. (And that's a good thing because I'm one of the very few people out there who absolutely hated Room.) The Light of the Fireflies, like Room, is told through the eyes of a young boy who has never experienced the outside world. But, other than the fact that the mother is also locked in with the boy in both books, that's where the similarities end.

One of the main reasons I hated Room is, oddly enough, one of the main reasons I enjoyed The Light of the Fireflies. While the young narrator in Room got on my nerves, I thought Pen made a smart choice in choosing the young boy to narrate The Light of the Fireflies because he didn't know anything of life "before" ... His mother found out she was pregnant with him after the family was locked in the basement. Seeing their situation through his innocent eyes made me want to keep turning the pages to unravel the secrets his family kept from him.

I also appreciated that readers are given the story of life "before" about halfway through the book. Things began to click into place at that point, including some of the more unusual family dynamics. Their strange situation is also fully explained, but I had some mixed feelings about that.

My biggest problem with this book was the big reveal: I was honestly kind of let down. While it did come as a surprise (which I appreciated), it was just kind of like, "Huh. Um, well, okay then." I'm pretty sure that was exactly what ran through my head as I was reading. Obviously I can't go into it very much without giving away spoilers, but it just wasn't the type of twist I was hoping for, I guess. (Though, like I said, kudos to the author for coming up with something that did completely take me by surprise.)

This book was dark and disturbing (which, as many of you know, is my favorite kind of book!), but it didn't wow me the way I thought it would. Still, it was an interesting story of an extremely dysfunctional family, and I definitely don't feel like I wasted my time on it.

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh - 369 pages

Completed on 05/23/2016

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When I started this book, I was worried I wasn't going to enjoy it as much as I thought I would. I had high hopes for it after reading Erin's review, so when it took me a little longer to get into it than I anticipated, I thought it might not work for me.

Just as I was beginning to resign myself to an "okay" book, everything changed. It was like a slap in the face: instead of going along the way I thought it would, things got twisted around and I realized nothing was as it seemed.

Erin's descriptions of this book were spot on. You think you know what's going on, and then, just as suddenly, you realize you're completely wrong about pretty much everything. And, really, that's the way a good thriller should be written.

Mackintosh is a former member of the police force, and that really shines through in this story. I loved that she was able to weave in her knowledge of the law and the way investigations are handled. It was also interesting to me to find that the inspiration for this book came from an actual case she had worked on. It made the story feel a little more realistic, even if a few things felt completely unbelievable.

I went in knowing very little about the plot, and I definitely think that's the way to go. I will note, though, that this book deals with some difficult topics. If you're feeling particularly sensitive, it may not be the right book for you. (I may unintentionally spoil some things if I go into more detail here, but if you read this and have concerns, leave a comment and I'll tell you a little more in an email. Just make sure you're not a no-reply blogger!)

So why only 4 stars instead of 5? Mostly because it took me so long to really get into it. Once I did, though, I couldn't put it down!

Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas - 363 pages

Completed on 05/29/2016

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Sometimes I'll pick up a book with only a vague sense of what it's about. I mean, I really like looking through summaries and reviews on Goodreads when I'm searching for new things to add to my seemingly endless "To Read" list ... But once in a while, I don't feel like combing through all the shit. Sometimes I just quickly skim the summary, and, if it sounds at least somewhat interesting, I'll add it to my list.

Mother, Mother was one of those books. It got bumped to the top of the list during Erin's last book challenge, but I didn't get to it until after the challenge ended. (I still finished the challenge and read 4 bonus round picks, though, so I'm happy with my results!) It wasn't a book I was dying to read, but I also didn't have super high expectations ... So that was kind of nice.

I'll be completely honest and say that it took a long time for me to become fully invested in this book and its characters. The characters weren't particularly likable, but that wasn't the reason it took me so long to care about what happened to them. I don't know if I could pinpoint what it was exactly that made me feel very "meh" about them (and the book in general) for so long, but I do remember thinking that the beginning of the book felt like it had been written for a YA audience.

I didn't really get into YA books until last summer, but I've grown to like them (many of them, anyway) much more than I thought I would. I can appreciate YA on a different level because I know, going in, that it was intended for a younger audience. That being said, when I'm reading a book (like Mother, Mother) that has been categorized as "adult fiction," I expect it to read that way.

About halfway through the book, things started to turn around. I felt like Zailckas was telling (as opposed to showing) readers just how fucked up the matriarch of the Hurst family was in the beginning, but as the story progressed, she began to back away a bit and allowed Josephine's controlling, manipulative nature to speak for itself.

Zailckas also managed to shock me with a twist that I really wasn't expecting. After thinking about it more, I'm kind of surprised I didn't see it coming ... The clues were there. I think because I was reading it as more of a dysfunctional family drama than a psychological thriller, I wasn't really expecting any kind of twist or big reveal.

Although the ending was just so-so for me, Josephine's craziness and the surprise I felt over the twist was enough to bump my rating up to 3 stars. I wouldn't say I absolutely loved this book, but, when it finally picked up for me, I was both entertained and appalled by the way things played out.

Hurt People by Cote Smith - 321 pages

Completed on 06/01/2016

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I was initially drawn to Hurt People because I thought the cover was interesting. I noticed it when I was searching the "New Release" section of my library's website, and I immediately put a hold on it when I read the summary.

Several reviews on Goodreads refer to this book as a "slow burn," and I think that's 100% accurate. And, while it definitely wasn't a fast-paced thriller, I found myself completely captivated by the story. I stayed up until 2:00 a.m. two nights in a row reading it, stopping only because I knew I probably wouldn't be able to drag myself out of bed for work in the morning if I was up any later.

As I read, I often felt this sense of dread building in the pit of my stomach. I knew exactly where at least part of the story was likely to lead, but that did nothing to lessen that sickening feeling. This is a horrifying book, not because it involves tons of gore or the creepiness of something supernatural, but because it tells a story that feels all too real.

Like The Light of the FirefliesHurt People is narrated by a very young boy and, once again, it works well. Readers are only given a glimpse of certain things that don't always make much sense to the young narrator. Loss of innocence is definitely one of the major themes, so seeing the events of the novel through the eyes of a little boy is the perfect way to get that idea across.

I genuinely grew to care about many of the characters in Hurt People. The parents were flawed in very realistic ways, and the anger and confusion the boys felt about their separation felt genuine. It was nearly flawless, and I'm honestly impressed that this is Cote Smith's first novel. I can't wait to see what he comes up with in the future!

Wreckage by Emily Bleeker - 294 pages

Completed on 06/06/2016

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I'm one of the few people who didn't like Lost. I didn't watch it while it was on TV, but I watched the first season and about half of the second season on Netflix before completely giving up on it. It was just too over-the-top for me.

It may be surprising, then, that I was really drawn to Wreckage, a novel that centers around a plane crash that leaves survivors stranded on a remote island. I was so drawn to this book, in fact, that I put in a request at my library to order it. When they didn't, I opted to buy it myself. I just had to read it!

And, while it definitely wasn't what I was expecting, it was well worth the money. (Okay, technically it was free since I used a gift card to buy it ... But I gladly would have paid money for it!)

Like LostWreckage definitely had its over-the-top moments. There were a few times when I felt like rolling my eyes over some of the overly dramatic events and some of the things the two main characters, Lillian and Dave, felt they needed to lie about regarding the plane crash and their time on the island. The book also started off really strong and then sort of fizzled out by the end, which was more than disappointing.

But Wreckage still somehow proved its worth to me. (I did give it 4 stars, after all.) I loved the pacing of the novel ... Bleeker seemed to always know just how much she should reveal as the characters relived their experiences. I know that some people really don't like books told from multiple points of view or books that alternate between the past and present, but it was definitely the right choice to utilize both of these techniques in Wreckage. I liked knowing both versions of the story (the truth and the edited version), as well as what was going on inside the two main characters' heads before and after their time on the island.

If you want a realistic depiction of a fight for survival, you'll be pretty disappointed with Wreckage. It's just not that kind of book. It's also not a true "suspense" novel. I found myself eager to discover what Lillian and Dave were hiding, but, in the end, most of their lies were either unnecessary or just slight revisions of the truth. And, honestly, the only major plot twist was something that was (in my opinion) kind of weird and not something that really tied in with the main plot of the story. It was tied in with a subplot, and, unfortunately, annoyed me when it was revealed near the end of the book. (It was one of a few reasons I thought the ending wasn't that great.)

This is the kind of book that simply offers a great escape from everyday life. While I wouldn't categorize it as "light and fluffy" (it definitely has a few darker moments!), it's not the kind of book that requires a lot of thought. It's a quick and easy read that not only shines a light on what it might be like to be hounded by the media after surviving a horrific event, but also throws in a little action/adventure, intrigue, and even some romance. And, despite all its flaws, I really enjoyed Wreckage.

The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter - 200 pages

Completed on 06/09/2016

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To be perfectly honest, I don't really know what to say about this book. While the actual writing was lovely, the story itself wasn't really much of a story at all.

The Magic Toyshop has literally been sitting unread on my bookshelf for at least 5 or 6 years. I ordered it online years ago because it sounded like a really unusual, dark novel filled with surreal events. And, while it definitely had all of those elements, the execution left a lot to be desired.

I didn't enjoy this book because I was never able to really get into it. It was very short, but it probably would have taken me a couple of weeks to finish it if I hadn't forced myself to get through it in order to move on to something else. I didn't really care about any of the characters, and even felt like Melanie's two younger siblings were completely unnecessary additions to the story. I thought some of the imagery was haunting and beautiful, but I kept expecting it to all lead to a satisfying (or, at the very least, interesting) conclusion. It didn't. It just ended abruptly, and I was left thinking, "That's it?"

As I read, I kept thinking, "Maybe it will get better. Maybe something interesting will happen." I should have known better.

Many of you know that I can't bring myself to quit a book. I just can't. It's even worse if it's a book I purchased because then I feel like I have to read it ... After all, I spent hard earned money on it! That was definitely the case this time around. I wanted so badly to like The Magic Toyshop, but I just couldn't. Honestly, the only thing saving it from a 1 star rating was Carter's beautiful, poetic writing. Otherwise, it just felt like a waste of time.


  1. I enjoyed both YOU and Hidden Bodies, but I agree with you that HB was a little lacking in something... It took me a while to figure out my feelings, but this is what I came up with for myself. YOU was so unique and novel, it was like nothing I had ever read before. Innovative and fresh! I, too, must give credit to an author who could write about a sociopath and write about him in a way to where I was rooting for him. I wanted Joe to be happy! With HB, I knew what to expect in general. I was already familiar with Joe's thought processes and how the book would be written. The novelty was gone and it feel somewhat flat in comparison to YOU. But, having said all that, if there is a third installment, I will read it. I'm curious about Joe and what's going to happen.

    I Let You Go is on my TBR and I'm trying to make it work for one of these book challenges. I might work it in as the freebie.

    Have a good one!

  2. I had the opposite location thing with Hidden Bodies...because Joe hated LA and everything about it...then he went a little LA himself and struggled with it, I liked it. I didn't expect to like it as much as You, but I ended up liking it more in some ways. Was it as loved by me? No. I don't think Kepnes will top You and I don't think further Joe stories will be the same because they just can't be.