Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Review: "House of Echoes" by Brendan Duffy

A special thank you to Random House Publishing Group/Ballantine, and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. 

Title: House of Echoes
Author: Brendan Duffy
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group/Ballantine
Pub Date: April 14, 2015

In this debut thriller, Ben and Caroline Tierney have bought the Crofts, an old stone mansion near the village of Swannhaven in the mountains of remote upstate New York. They plan to turn it into a destination inn. They think that remodeling the house will provide their family with the stability they all need. Ben is a novelist, Caroline recently lost her banking job and has been battling her bi-polar disorder. Their older son is Charlie, who was being bullied in his school. After a bullying incident in which Charlie was missing, the family decides to get out of the city.

At first, the move seems like a good idea. Caroline's bi-polar symptoms are under control and she is throwing herself into the renovations on the inn. Charlie is enjoying exploring the woods surrounding the home, and Ben has found a topic for his next book. However, things began to turn quickly. Ben is finding dead animals left on their door step. Charlie isn't telling his parents about the "Watcher" mysterious person that he thinks he sees in the woods. Caroline is hiding the fact that she is going off her meds. This soon leads to tension that is set to tear everything apart.

Ben starts to interact with townspeople and begins to explore the history of the house and the Swann family. He discovers that the house has been the site of mysterious events like deadly fires, missing children, and even a winter of starvation. But what does this have to do with his family?

Overall, this book was good. It definitely felt like a gothic thriller, and more than once, I found myself comparing the feeling of the book to "The Shining" by Stephen King. But that is a generous comparison. This book is definitely not scary, and I had the "secret" of the house and town figured out in the first 100 or so pages. I was not a big fan of any of the characters either; Caroline was an over-the-top paranoiac and Ben comes across as "poor pitiful me -- I have to put up with a wimpy kid and a crazy wife." The story was good, but I felt that the inclusion of the "letters" from residents of the house back in the 1700's didn't really add anything to the book (whereas normally, I love details like that). I also felt that the "relationship" between "The Watcher" and Charlie was farfetched. I don't think that a child this young would do the things that Charlie does and keep secrets about it. Lastly, I didn't think that the very graphic descriptions of the dead animals was necessary. 

With summer coming, this could be a good beach read: fast, without too much thinking involved.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Review: "Exhuming Mary McCarthy" by Jessica Lamirand

Disclosure: I was provided with this ebook via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Title: Exhuming Mary McCarthy
Author: Jessica Lamirand
Publisher: Ambient Light Publishers
Pub. Date: Mar. 10, 2015

I had really high hopes for Exhuming Mary McCarthy. I was a college student in the 90's just like the author so I was looking forward to reliving that experience by reading this book. However, the pleasure of reading about experiences that were so similar to mine were overshadowed by the sheer volume of this memoir. 500 pages? Seriously? After a short while, the retelling of her story became tedious. Every party, every outfit, every random boy that the Group had a crush on -- all of these were told in excruciating detail. I feel like all of the minutia got in the way of what could have been a really good book.

I could relate to a lot of the college experiences that Jessica writes about. The unrequited crushes, the group of friends that you feel like will last forever, the unsure feeling you have about your classes, and all of this against the grunge soundtrack of the 90's-- I felt like this book could have been my story. But again, it was just too much. Even if the book was cut by a third, she could have told the story (which boils down to "The Group" of friends and how they change over the four years of college) in a more concise and more engaging memoir. As it is, this book just felt like a long slog through a whole lot of nothing.

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Friday, April 10, 2015

Review: "The Sham" by Ellen Allen

Disclosure: I was provided this ebook via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Title: The Sham
Author: Ellen Allen
Publisher: Ellen Allen
Pub. Date: Dec. 4, 2014

From the publisher --
Eighteen-year-old Emily Heath would love to leave her dead-end town, known locally as "The Sham", with her boyfriend, Jack, but he's very, very sick; his body is failing and his brain is shutting down. He's also in hiding, under suspicion of murder. Six months' ago, strange signs were painted across town in a dialect no one has spoken for decades and one of Emily's classmates washed up in the local floods.

Emily has never trusted her instincts and now they're pulling her towards Jack, who the police think is a sham himself, someone else entirely. As the town wakes to discover new signs plastered across its walls, Emily must decide who and what she trusts, and fast: local vigilantes are hunting Jack; the floods, the police, and her parents are blocking her path; and the town doesn't need another dead body.

I am at a loss as to how to review The Sham. Based on the publisher's description, this book sounded like it was right up my alley. Mystery, strange characters, missing girls -- sounds like a winner. But it wasn't.

My first problem with the book came right in the beginning. There is a very violent and disturbing scene involving teens and violence against a child and an animal. I am not a prudish reader by any stretch, but I am vehemently opposed to writers explicitly describing child abuse and animal abuse. I believe that there were other ways that the writer could have shown the bullying and hateful nature of the teen girls without resorting to a scene like this. Just based on the first chapter alone, I am surprised that this book is considered a YA novel.

The rest of the book was difficult as well, not for the content, but the writing. The writing style was choppy and made the story hard to follow. While I liked the character of Emily (she was well-written and actually came across as a real teenager), the character of Jack is another story. His odd behavior, his disjointed memories -- basically everything about him -- is not believable at all. I realize that Jack's characteristics are a big part of the story, but I felt like he was more of a cartoon than a character. After just a little while, I didn't really care what happened to the characters in the story.

I really, really wanted to like this book. While the elements that I normally love in a story were there, they just didn't come together in a way to make it enjoyable. Did the explicit violence color my opinion? Maybe, but even without that scence, I still don't think The Sham would have my cup of tea.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Review: "The Sound of Glass" by Karen White

Disclosure: This ARC ebook was provided to me via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Title: The Sound of Glass
Author: Karen White
Publisher: NAL
Pub. Date: May 12, 2015

The Sound of Glass is the latest from southern author Karen White, author of previous bestsellers including The Color of Light and Sea Change. Set in South Carolina, this book explores family secrets that will forever change a young widow's life.

Merritt Heyward has recently lost her firefighter husband when she is notified that she has inherited a house that belonged to her husband's grandmother. Merritt, looking to start a new life, moves from Maine to coastal South Carolina. This already difficult situation is made even worse by the arrival of her hated stepmother and her 10 year old half brother she has never known.

As Merritt begins to renovate the house, she uncovers numerous secrets about her husband's family that will have numerous long-reaching effects on her already complicated life. Will she ever be able to heal?

I have read and enjoyed most of White's previous novels, but this one completely blew me away! The Sound of Glass is not your average no-brainer "beach read" -- it deals with serious issues like domestic violence, phobias, and life-threatening illness, and death. However, it's not all gloom and doom. There is love, redemption, and hope, mystery, and even a hint of romance. The characters are likeable and the setting of Beaufort, SC is described in beautiful, luscious detail. White seemlessly weaves all of these elements into one amazing story.

As a southerner, I am a big fan of southern literature. I feel like Karen White is one of the best modern southern authors. She does a fantastic job of bringing her love of the coastal regions to life for her readers. She fully develops her characters, making them as real as possible, avoiding cliched southern stereotypes. There's no redneck guys with shotguns or delicate southern belles. She actually shows the people of the south as we truly are: educated, modern, and resilient.

The Sound of Glass is a perfect example of White's writing expertise and I highly recommend it!