Review: The Isaac Project by Sarah Monzon

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

Becky Sawyer’s life unravels in a single day. Not only does she catch her boyfriend, the man she hoped to marry, lip-locked with another woman, she also receives the gut-wrenching news that her grandfather, the man who raised her, is dying. His last wish? To see her happily married. Heartbroken, Becky seeks inspiration in the pages of the Holy Scriptures. And finds it in the story of Isaac and Rebekah.

If love couldn’t keep his parents together, Luke Masterson wonders what will make a marriage last. He decides to steer clear of all women—especially crazy ones like Becky Sawyer, who employs a friend to find her a husband. But when he feels the dogged promptings of the Holy Spirit to move across the country and marry a complete stranger, it seems love has little to do with it anyway.

With commitment their only foundation, and love constantly thwarted, can an arranged marriage find happiness in the twenty-first century?

I saw a really glowing review on The Isaac Project a few years back and have been wanting to read it ever since. It recently was offered for free on a Kindle deal and I snatched it up. Unfortunately, it fell far short of my expectations.

I loved the concept of the book. Based on the story of Isaac and Rebekah in the Bible (Genesis 24, for those interested), Becky asks her best friend to arrange a marriage for her so her dying grandfather can see her settled before he passes away. If you’re a reader that says “religion ruins a book” for you, then this is definitely not for you. The characters’ Christian faith is prevalent throughout the book. While I did like that aspect, it was a little heavy handed at times. I also found Becky to be really unlikable for the most part. She’s the one who asked for the arranged marriage and then she treated Luke terribly the majority of the time. Her refusal to communicate with him despite his multiple attempts to engage her drove me crazy

I wasn’t super impressed with the writing style. Monzon is apparently a big fan of similes and used them to describe pretty much everything. I should have made better notes of them, but one that stands out was as a whole paragraphs of a voice being compared to a “river in autumn” that was kind of ridiculous.

Overall, The Isaac Project had a great concept, but did not live up to it’s potential. The side plot dealing with Becky’s business felt thrown in and not very well developed, the imagery of the writing was way too forced, and the main character was pretty unlikable. I did enjoy Luke and his faith and the passage of cheesy Christian pick up lines (“You know why Solomon had so many wives? Because he never met you. Is your name Faith? Because you are the substance of things I’ve hoped for. Last night I was reading in the book of Numbers and I realized I didn’t have yours.”). You might enjoy this if you’re a fan of arranged marriages and Christian Fiction, but I would suggest waiting for it to go on sale again.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 2.5 Stars

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Review: How I Lost You by Jenny Blackhurst

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

A woman without a memory struggles to discover the truth about her past and her identity in this cerebral and dark thriller reminiscent of works by bestselling authors S.J. Watson and Ruth Ware.

I have no memory of what happened but I was told I killed my son. And you believe what your loved ones, your doctor and the police tell you, don’t you? My name is Emma Cartwright. Three years ago I was Susan Webster, and I murdered my twelve-week-old son Dylan. I was sent to Oakdale Psychiatric Institute for my crime, and four weeks ago I was released early on parole with a new identity, address, and a chance to rebuild my tattered life. This morning, I received an envelope addressed to Susan Webster. Inside it was a photograph of a toddler called Dylan. Now I am questioning everything I believe because if I have no memory of the event, how can I truly believe he’s dead? If there was the smallest chance your son was alive, what would you do to get him back?

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

How I Lost You will be available October 10, 2017. 

I really wanted to like this book. It definitely looks like it would be just my type. Unfortunately, it just didn’t really work for me.

The pacing felt off. It seemed to drag on and on until about the last quarter of the book. It took me five days to read this, which is kind of unheard of for me for a book of this size. By the end things started to happen at a faster, more suspenseful pace, but it couldn’t really save it.

The alternating POV and timeline, which I usually am a big fan of, didn’t work for me. The story was told mostly through Susan’s 1st person POV, which I liked, but mixed in were flashback chapters from a group of boys from their high school and college days. Though we know they are obviously involved with Susan’s predicament in some way or another, it takes awhile until a connection is revealed. Besides that, though, I found those portions kind of confusing. Part of the problem could have been that the formatting of the ARC was kind of messed up, which I imagine will be cleaned up in the final published version. But I also think it could’ve used a little more editing.

I did find Susan to be a mostly likable and sympathetic main character, though. I found her frustrating at times, but she had obviously been through a lot. I liked her loyalty to her friend, Cassie, even though I was suspicious of her at times. I also liked Nick, even though I didn’t really trust him, either. While there was obviously many suspicious characters, I’m glad I was wrong about a few of them.

Overall, there was just something missing for me in How I Lost You. While I did ultimately want to find out what really happened, I just didn’t care for most of it and found myself skimming a lot. I think that it could have benefited from a steadier pace in the beginning. I’m sure that there will definitely be people who will enjoy this, though, even if it wasn’t really for me.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 2.5 Stars

 

Review: Sociable by Rebecca Harrington

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I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

Sociable will be available March 27, 2018.

Synopsis from Good Reads:

The Assistants meets The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. in this exuberant comedy of manners set in the world of Internet media, a brilliantly irreverent novel about what it means to be young, broke, dumped, and scarily good at creating viral content.

When Elinor Tomlinson moved to New York with a degree in journalism she had visions of writing witty opinion pieces, marrying her journalist boyfriend, and attending glamorous parties with famously perverted writers. Instead, Elinor finds herself nannying for two small children who speak in short, high screams, sleeping on a foam pad in a weird apartment, and attending terrible parties with Harper’s interns wearing shapeless smocks. So when Elinor is offered a job at Journalism.ly, the digital media brainchild of a Silicon Valley celebrity, she jumps at the chance. Sure, her boyfriend is writing long think pieces about the electoral college for a real website while Elinor writes lists about sneakers and people at parties give her pitying glances when she reveals her employer, but at Journalism.ly Elinor discovers her true gift: She has a preternatural ability for writing sharable content. She is an overnight viral sensation! But Elinor’s success is not without cost. Elinor’s boyfriend dumps her, two male colleagues insist on “mentoring” her, and a piece she writes about her personal life lands her on local television. Broke, single, and consigned to move to a fifth-floor walkup, Elinor must ask herself: Is this the creative life she dreamed of? Can new love be found on Coffee Meets Bagel? And should she start wearing a smock? With wry humor and sharp intelligence, Sociable is a hilarious tale of one young woman’s search for happiness–and an inside look at life in the wild world of Internet media.

I am usually a sucker for books that deal with journalists or authors. It’s just one of those topics that will make me automatically want to read something. Unfortunately, it was not enough to save this book for me.

The synopsis describes the tone as “irreverent”, but it fell short on that front for me. There were a few humorous moments, but I felt like things should have been a little more exaggerated. I get what the author was trying to do in poking fun at Millennial culture and could appreciate the effort, but it didn’t take it nearly far enough to make any sort of impact. Elinor just ended up coming across as insufferable and not in a funny way. All of the other characters were just as unlikable, especially her boyfriend Mike. No one really grew and there wasn’t really anyone I wanted to root for. JW, the one “real” journalist at Journalism.ly, was the only character I really enjoyed reading about, but we saw less and less of him as the story went on.

There was one thing in the writing style that really bothered me. The story starts out with kind of a 1st Person Plural POV. “It was midway through the party…when we saw Elinor.” and We were in a small backyard…” (quotes taken from ARC). Then it completely abandons that style and seemingly goes to straight 3rd Person POV, with one exception. “Perhaps, the reader might be questioning…Reader, I don’t even know what to tell you.” (quotes taken from ARC). That is the only short part the reader is addressed and then the narrator uses “I” instead of “We” like in the beginning. If there is a purpose for those style choices, I did not understand it.

Overall, Sociable was just not for me. I think it had a relevant and interesting concept, but it wasn’t executed well. I’m giving it two stars instead of one because it was a quick, easy read and there were a few humorous moments I enjoyed.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 2 Stars

 

Review: Final Girls by Riley Sager

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

“The Final Girls need you. . . .  The Final Girls are tough, everything survivors should be.  But the new threat is clever, ominous, even closer than you suspect. You are about to gasp. You might drop the book. You may have to look over your shoulder. But you must keep reading.  This is the best book of 2017.”—Lisa Gardner, New York Times bestselling author of Find Her

Ten years ago, college student Quincy Carpenter went on vacation with five friends and came back alone, the only survivor of a horror movie–scale massacre. In an instant, she became a member of a club no one wants to belong to—a group of similar survivors known in the press as the Final Girls. Lisa, who lost nine sorority sisters to a college dropout’s knife; Sam, who went up against the Sack Man during her shift at the Nightlight Inn; and now Quincy, who ran bleeding through the woods to escape Pine Cottage and the man she refers to only as Him. The three girls are all attempting to put their nightmares behind them, and, with that, one another. Despite the media’s attempts, they never meet.

Now, Quincy is doing well—maybe even great, thanks to her Xanax prescription. She has a caring almost-fiancé, Jeff; a popular baking blog; a beautiful apartment; and a therapeutic presence in Coop, the police officer who saved her life all those years ago. Her memory won’t even allow her to recall the events of that night; the past is in the past.

That is, until Lisa, the first Final Girl, is found dead in her bathtub, wrists slit, and Sam, the second, appears on Quincy’s doorstep. Blowing through Quincy’s life like a whirlwind, Sam seems intent on making Quincy relive the past, with increasingly dire consequences, all of which makes Quincy question why Sam is really seeking her out. And when new details about Lisa’s death come to light, Quincy’s life becomes a race against time as she tries to unravel Sam’s truths from her lies, evade the police and hungry reporters, and, most crucially, remember what really happened at Pine Cottage, before what was started ten years ago is finished.

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review. 

Final Girls will be available July 11, 2017.

Well, then. This just might be my biggest disappointment of the year so far.

Let’s start with the things that I kind of liked. I thought the flashback chapters to what happened at the cottage were more entertaining than anything else. It reads very much like any number of horror movies and while it was basically just one big cliché, it was entertaining. There was also several chapters towards the end of the book where the writing was a little more suspenseful and even though I could guess pretty much everything that was happening, I didn’t want to put it down during that short time.

This book could’ve been a little better for me if the characters weren’t so dang annoying. I HATED them. Quincy was ok in the very beginning, but then Sam showed up and it just all went down hill from there. Sam was the clichéd bad girl psycho who was there to lead Quincy off the straight and narrow. But you can’t really feel that bad for Quincy because she was so easily manipulated and made so many bad decisions and she’s kind of a psycho herself. I spent the vast majority of this book being so unbearably annoyed by both Sam and Quincy that it just ruined the whole experience for me.

I know there are a lot of people that have really loved this book, so I’m sure I’m in the minority opinion here. But, as someone who has seen a good deal of horror movies and reads a lot of this genre, this was not very mysterious or thrilling. I also recently read another book that had a similar storyline with a girl who escapes a murderer and has no memory about what happened and the conclusion was pretty similar. Overall, this was a big disappointment for me.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 2 Stars

Review: The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

Lucy Hansson was ready for a perfect summer with her boyfriend, working at her childhood Bible camp on the lake. But when her mom’s cancer reappears, Lucy falters—in faith, in love, and in her ability to cope. When her boyfriend “pauses” their relationship and her summer job switches to a different camp—one for troubled kids—Lucy isn’t sure how much more she can handle. Attempting to accept a new normal, Lucy slowly regains footing among her vibrant, diverse coworkers, Sundays with her mom, and a crush on a fellow counselor. But when long-hidden family secrets emerge, can Lucy set aside her problems and discover what grace really means?

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

The Names They Gave Us will be available May 16, 2017.

When I think of Emery Lord books, I think of trying too hard.  Even though I’ve liked some of her other books (especially The Start of Me and You), I always feel like she just tries way too hard to be deep and meaningful. It comes across a little self-indulgent and melodramatic to me. While this book did have cute, funny, and even poignant moments, it still felt like it was trying too hard.

I felt like I should’ve found Lucy really relatable (pastor kids unite!), but I never fully connected with her. She was a mostly likable character, though. I mostly liked her group of friends at camp, though I wish they would’ve been developed just a bit more. I did really love Jones, Lucy’s new love interest. He was so sweet and I enjoyed pretty much every scene he was in. I also liked the camp setting and the kids there.

I have heard from people who are hesitant about this book because there is some religious content. If you are one of those people, I would say you might be slightly annoyed at times, but I don’t think it’s written in a way that will “ruin” the book for you. I have also heard from people who were very happy to see a “realistic” Christian character not be a complete psycho. To those people I would caution to not get too excited. Yes, the main character comes from a religious background and is not awful. However, this is NOT a Christian book and the overall message is not of Christian faith. There are definitely a few themes throughout that is congruent with the Christian faith, but at the end of the day the message is more one of universalism and the goodness of people. I mean, it’s still a hopeful message and is more than is in most YA, but I just want to caution my Christian friends.

Overall, The Names They Gave Us, was just ok for me. I felt like it was too long for what little was going on and a little repetitive and then it had a pretty abrupt ending. I did really enjoy Lucy and Jones’ slow burn romance, though. I think that Emery Lord fans will probably still enjoy it.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 2.5 Stars

Review: Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

Flynn’s girlfriend has disappeared. How can he uncover her secrets without revealing his own?

Flynn’s girlfriend, January, is missing. The cops are asking questions he can’t answer, and her friends are telling stories that don’t add up. All eyes are on Flynn—as January’s boyfriend, he must know something.

But Flynn has a secret of his own. And as he struggles to uncover the truth about January’s disappearance, he must also face the truth about himself.

I received a copy of this title from NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

I went into Last Seen Leaving without knowing anything really about it, other than the synopsis, and I was anticipating great suspense and mystery. I thought maybe Flynn’s big secret involved him being some type of psychopath or somehow directly responsible for whatever happened to January. Unfortunately, I think those expectations made me pretty disappointed in the story I actually got.

We figure out Flynn’s secret pretty quickly (by the second chapter), so I don’t feel it’s a spoiler to tell you what it is, but if you really don’t want to know, stop reading now…His big secret is that he’s gay. Which has nothing whatsoever to do with January’s disappearance. So I figured this was a Coming Out book. Which is a fine book to be, but just not the one I was expecting to be reading. However, as the story went on it still focused on the mystery of January’s disappearance with Flynn coming to terms with his sexuality being the secondary plotline and it ended up working for me. It wasn’t as angsty as I was fearing – in fact it almost seemed a little too easy? But, I thought it was handled pretty well and it made for a “diverse” character who was much more than just the one thing that makes him diverse.

While it did handle the Coming Out plotline well, it lacked on the mystery and suspense front for me. Flynn just kind of kept stumbling upon information and the only time we ever see the police is when they’re pointing fingers at him, which just made them seem kind of inept. Then Flynn would find all these things out and not tell anyone about it. I tried to cut him slack since he is only 15, but he was just so immature and often dumb with how he handled things that I found it really frustrating.

Though he often frustrated me, I did like Flynn and I liked his new friend/love interest Kaz (though the age difference did make me just slightly uncomfortable), but the rest of the characters were pretty underdeveloped or unlikable. Maybe my biggest complaint with the story is January. She was just an awful person and I didn’t really understand how sweet Flynn was such great friends with her. She was very childish and bratty and very dramatic. We also find out as the story goes on about how she misrepresents pretty much everyone in her life to everyone else. She tells Flynn awful things about the people at her new school that aren’t completely true and then she tells her new friend awful lies about Flynn. Other than a desire for drama, there was no explanation for that and it really bugged me.

For a debut, the writing was pretty good, though I did have a few issues with it as well. For the most part Flynn sounded like your average 15 year old boy, but occasionally he would randomly use much more sophisticated vocabulary and it just came across a little odd. Also, instead of saying January’s name whenever she was referred to, the phrase “my ex-girlfriend” was used about 1,000 times. Like, it could be a drinking game.

Overall, Last Seen Leaving was an ok read for me. The pacing was a little slow and the mystery and suspense aspects were not as well done as I would have liked. However, the subplot of Flynn coming to terms with being gay were pretty well done and did not overwhelm the overall plot, which is what I was afraid of when I first figured out what the big “secret” alluded to in the synopsis. I know the official synopsis is not the author’s fault, but I think it does the book a disservice by kind of misrepresenting how Flynn’s “secret” impacts the mystery (because it doesn’t).

Overall Rating (out of 5): 2.5 Stars

Review: The Regulars by Georgia Clark

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

A fierce, feisty, and “wonderfully entertaining” (Scott Westerfeld, author of Uglies) debut with a magical twist about three ordinary, regular girls who suddenly have their fantasies come true…or do they?

Best friends Evie, Krista, and Willow are just trying to make it through their mid-twenties in New York. They’re regular girls, with average looks and typical quarter-life crises: making it up the corporate ladder, making sense of online dating, and making rent.

Until they come across Pretty, a magic tincture that makes them, well…gorgeous. Like, supermodel gorgeous. And it’s certainly not their fault if the sudden gift of beauty causes unexpected doors to open for them.

But there’s a dark side to Pretty, too, and as the gloss fades for these modern-day Cinderellas, there’s just one question left:

What would you sacrifice to be Pretty?

Wildly irreverent, blatantly sexy, and observed with pitch-perfect wit, The Regulars is fresh “compulsive reading from a bright new voice” (Brenda Bowen, author of Enchanted August) in fiction, perfect for fans of Jennifer Close and Kevin Kwan.

I received a copy of The Regulars via NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

The Regulars will be available August 2, 2016

Addicting writing and short chapters helped make this a quick read, even though it was a little longer than it needed to be. I liked the style and I think the writing is what mostly compelled me to keep reading about these awful girls.

I appreciate a good character-driven story, but to really love one I either need to Love the characters or Love to Hate them. Unfortunately I felt slightly annoyed, but mostly ambivalent towards the characters in this book. While diverse (not all just straight, white girls), they were pretty clichéd – Evie: The Angry, Feminist, Bi-Sexual; Krista: The Good Time Girl that flakes out on all responsibility; Willow: The Artist with a Tortured Soul. I also felt the character growth was pretty much contained to the final chapters and was kind of too little too, late for me.

I was surprised at how Pretty ended up working. I thought it would just enhance their features to a traditionally beautiful level, but it straight up changes their appearance into a new person. Because of this they come up with fake names and ignore their normal lives. It bothered me that there was virtually no consequences whatsoever to this. I also wished that we would have learned a little more about the origin of Pretty and how it works, but it pretty much remains a huge mystery that none of the characters are all that concerned about.

While I like the overall theme of feminism and self-acceptance, it just wasn’t quite executed as well as I wanted it to be. The main characters were pretty selfish and kind of awful people and they didn’t really face any lasting consequences to any of the bad things they did while on Pretty. The ending felt way too easy and they’re only marginally better people than they were before.

Overall, The Regulars was a quick read with some addictive writing, but it’s unlikable characters made the book kind of hard to enjoy at times. I wish that the character growth would have been more pronounced and that they would have had to face some consequences of their poor decisions. This book wasn’t my cup of tea, but I think there are a lot of people who would really enjoy it.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 2.5 Stars