Category Archives: mystery

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

manhattanbeachI was eager to read the next novel by Jennifer Egan after loving A Visit from the Goon Squad, which was intriguingly constructed and unique. That story spun from character to character and wove a beautiful, interconnected web. To her credit, Egan tried to establish a similar web with Manhattan Beach, but it mostly fell flat for me. In contrast to the other, the reader spends their time reading the perspectives of three characters instead of a wider multitude and the character spins aren’t as great. While Egan clearly excelled at writing some of the characters, not all of them seemed fully developed. 
Manhattan Beach mostly takes place during the 1940s, but weaves to times before then occasionally, and the war is perpetually on the horizon. A theme of water moves throughout the entire novel with our three main characters all meeting at the beach for the first time, two of the characters diving together to find clues about a third, and one working on a ship.
The main characters are Eddie, the patriarch of an Irish family in Brooklyn who eventually becomes involved with the shadow world aka organized crime, Eddie’s daughter Anna who we follow from youth to her early 20s where she aspires to be a civilian diver at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and Dexter Styles, a prominent figure within New York’s shadow world who employs Eddie. In addition to our three central characters, so many characters are mentioned in passing (particularly those related to Dexter Styles) that it was hard to keep track of who they are, why they matter, and what their relevant traits are when they’re reintroduced. 
I liked all of the bits from Eddie’s perspective the best and if we had followed him throughout the entire novel instead, this book very well could have garnered 5 stars from me. There’s a moving scene with Eddie on a raft that will stay with me for weeks. Aside from Eddie’s bits, the novel trudges along slowly and picks up in the last 100 pages (though it seems like other reviewers disagree with me and felt like the first 100 pages were the most engaging).
Overall, the novel was well written, but the story arcs and setting just weren’t for me. I haven’t been a fan of historical fiction in over a decade (remember that Dear America diary series? *swoon*) and this book didn’t incite me to switch back into the historical fiction appreciation camp. When I was more interested in this genre, I was partial to historical pieces that aren’t based in America so it’s very possible I could’ve liked something like this had it been situated elsewhere, but I simply didn’t find this story all that interesting. If you’re an Egan fan with a hunkering for some NYC historical fiction, this will be great. If you’re not… well, you’re not. 
My favorite quote from the novel is, of course from one of Eddie’s bits, when he is reflecting on his relationship with his daughter Anna:
“It was as if being his daughter had blinded her uniquely, as if anyone else — everyone — had seen and known him in a way she could not.”
Manhattan Beach will be released at physical and digital U.S. bookstores on October 3, 2017! 
Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book for free from Scribner via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Scribner or NetGalley.
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Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel

lastnightinmontrealI’m slowly making my way through reading other works by the authors who dominated the list of my 5 favorite reads of 2016: I’m currently reading an ARC of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s newest collection, We Were 8 Years in Power; I scooped up Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild, in a bookshop last week; and I finally tackled Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel despite snagging it in February.

While I absolutely adore Mandel’s writing style (she has some of the prettiest prose I’ve ever stumbled across), this book was not as breathtaking as Station Eleven. I fell in love with several sentences throughout the novel, but the story as a whole simply didn’t move me in the same way. All of that said, it was still an interesting novel that I pored through incredibly quickly and didn’t find myself bored along the way… but if I was going to recommend one of Mandel’s works to you, I would forcefully push Station Eleven into your lap and leave Last Night in Montreal on the bookshelf for you to pick up on your own when the winds call you that way.

Is this review a little harsh for me actually enjoying the book? Yes! I think I just have a hard time comparing it to Mandel’s other riveting work, but this was still good. In the same way that Station Eleven weaves around narrators and individual lives, Last Night in Montreal largely shifts between four narrators and weaves in and out of the present and when a big event happened in the lives of one of the narrators.

Our main narrator, Eli, is perturbed when his girlfriend Lilia, another one of our narrators, abruptly disappears. But disappearing has been one of the only constants in her life since she was about seven years old and abducted from her home by her father. The private investigator attempting to track Lilia’s whereabouts is one of our other narrators, as is his daughter, Michaela, who is nearly the same age as Lilia. The main portions of the tale revolve around getting us to understand the nature of Lilia’s abduction, why she can’t seem to stay in one place, Eli’s grappling with Lilia being a loose thread, yet more connected to her purpose than the stationary Eli who talks about creating great things, but never seems to actually create anything, and Michaela who is attempting to understand her father’s motivations and the dissolution of her own family system. I was able to predict one of the bigger mysteries and felt like Mandel could’ve used her beautiful words to paint a more colorful picture instead of leaving the reader with a muted, vague, somewhat empty canvas of an explanation for one of the bigger questions in the novel, but I enjoyed the ride anyway. 

Mini Review: Afterlife with Archie, Vol. 1: Escape from Riverdale

afterlifewitharchieI snapped this little number up from The Strand after a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day as a quick, colorful read that would distract me from my nightmare day. It achieved its goal!! Huzzah! I’m relatively new to the world of comics so take my review for this with a grain of salt, but I thought it was a well constructed — particularly the scene that involves Archie and his father (woof! that blew me away!). I never would’ve picked this up if I wasn’t Riverdale trash and looking for hints about where the plot line might go, seeing as how Riverdale’s showrunner is also the writer of this series. That said, I found Sabrina’s story in the very first few pages to tug at my mind strings a bit more than the Archie characters so I guess I’ll have to scoop up The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina in the soon-ish future. I’ll probably keep reading this as the volumes continue to be released, but don’t really recommend it to people outside of the communal Riverdale trash heap.

Mini Review: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

biglittleliesBig Little Lies was a delightful & quick read that I recommend for anyone interested in pop thrillers. Of the pop thrillers I’ve read (Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train), Big Little Lies is by far the best of the batch! Lots of little jokes are wormed in around the several disasters that crop up throughout the book. I was able to predict the biggest plot twist, but everyone I know who has read it wasn’t able to. Despite being able to predict the big twist, I was still extremely satisfied with how the book wrapped up, a rare feeling when figuring out a plot point before you’re meant to. There are lots of funny bits about family life in suburbia and a slew of delightful characters that made me want to constantly return to this book as a distraction from real life. Plus, there are plenty of true facts about domestic, physical, and emotional abuse woven throughout the novel that will hopefully help readers understand how these terrible things can take multiple forms and cause readers to be more aware of these very serious, but unfortunately very common issues that plague so many.

If you or someone you know may be in a situation that involves domestic violence or abuse, please visit this website for a list of resources.

Mini Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

girlonthetrainI’ve decided to start posting mini reviews of books that I read, but don’t desire to write a full fledged review of on my blog. As I mentioned in my 2016 Book Goals post, I’m hoping to post 26 full reviews on my site this year — half of the goal that I aimed for in 2015. This is in part so I can focus on other projects (like my podcast!) and because while I might be able to read 52 books in one year, writing reviews of 52 books was an insurmountable mountain for me. Thus, I’m going to start posting mini reviews on my blog to balance the lengthier 26 reviews I’m aiming to post this year. The shorter reviews will either be dedicated to books that I felt ambivalent about while reading (aka I didn’t necessarily love or hate the book) or books that are wildly popular (like this review) and you a) have likely already read it or b) have decided whether or not you’re going to read it already. So without further adieu, here is my very first mini review of The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. 

I give this book 3.5/5 stars. This book was an extremely quick read and was very easy to jump back into after putting it down, no matter what’s going on around you aka this is a good book to read on a train! It was a decent thriller that I didn’t figure out until right before the big reveal… but I also wasn’t super curious to find out what the big reveal actually was. Was the book engaging while it was in my hands? Yes. Was it dominating my thoughts whenever I wasn’t reading it as I want mysteries to do? No. Will I remember the details of this book two months from now? Probably not.

I’ve never seen a title on GoodReads be reviewed by so many of my friends, aside from the Harry Potter series maybe, so obviously there’s something in this book that captivates a large number of people (side note: this article detailing the book’s wild success on GoodReads is worth a read of its own). I bumped it up on my To-Read list because of a strong-sell from a friend and because a promo photo of Emily Blunt starring in the film version was released. This book will be talked about a lot so I’m happy to have read it so I can participate in discussions with peers, but overall, I kind of wish this girl (me) had picked a different book to read on the train.

Publication Date: 13 January 2015 by Riverhead Books. Format: Hardcover.

Author: Paula Hawkins web/@twitter/facebook

we were liars by e. lockhart

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

This review is specifically for the audiobook version of We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, performed by Ariadne Meyers. This book came recommended for me from Krystal, one of my current pen pals and past high school friends. I love, love, love receiving book recommendations from my letter buddies (Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan was also recommended to me this way) because it manages to add a bit more magic to the joy of receiving letters from friends.

Most of my friends who read YA fiction have raved about this book and told me that it would keep me guessing until the very end when the narrator reveals all. Needless to say, I had some high expectations of this book to thoroughly entertain me through each chapter and to keep me guessing and mentally engaged until the very end. Unfortunately, I feel like the audiobook of this novel doesn’t do the story justice.

The novel jumps through time very frequently, but that is much harder to follow in audiobook format because the cues that indicate that a time shift has happened are not as obvious when you hear the time change only repeated once versus reading the date on a page. Because of this, it took me a while to even notice that the timeline wasn’t continuous; this also eliminated some of the mystery that inherently surrounds the storyline, which I’m sure is much more captivating in print or ebook format. Since it was so easy to become disengaged from the book, I wasn’t trying to predict the ending of the novel while I was listening, and subsequently wasn’t shocked when the twist of the book was revealed. I didn’t predict the twist ending, but I also didn’t care enough to be surprised when I heard it.

Some of the characters differ from the typical characters that are often portrayed in YA novels, which was pretty interesting. The central character seems to be more socially and culturally aware than other YA protagonists I’ve encountered, but at times, the text describing the main character seems a little forced and unnatural. That said, if you enjoy YA fiction, I recommend reading this in print or ebook format.

As an aside, if you enjoy sending and receiving mail as much as I do, I recommend signing up for this extremely fun mail subscription box called Happy Mail.

Publication Date: 13 May 2014 by Delacorte Press. Format: Digital Audiobook from Listening Library.

Author: E. Lockhart web/@twitter/tumblr/pinterest

Narrator: Ariadne Meyers listening library catalog