Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber

BLOG“The only thing more dangerous than a lie…is the truth.”

Recently, I listened to the Serial podcast for the first time and was completely hooked. So when I read the premise of Are You Sleeping I had to read it right away. This psychological thriller focuses on an old murder case that becomes the subject of a wildly popular podcast, and slowly unravels the lives of those involved. Josie Buhrman has done everything she can to escape that time in her life and the attention that came with it. The murder of her father shocked the town, and soon after her mother ran away to join a cult, and the relationship between the two sisters fractured, seemingly beyond repair. Ten years later, Josie is living a completely new life in New York, when a new podcast that is attempting to reexamine the case of her father’s murder becomes a mega-hit. This not only brings unwanted attention, but also raises many doubts regarding the case that Josie has been struggling with.

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“Reconsidered: The Chuck Buhrman Murder was splashed in bold red letters across a fuzzy black-and-white picture of my father. It was the headshot he had used for work, the one where he looked less like an actual college professor and more like a caricature of one, with his tweed jacket, crooked eyeglasses, and thick black beard. The faint twinkle in his eyes threatened to undo me. Daddy.”

Are You Sleeping is told from Josie’s perspective, along with transcripts of the podcast and tweets/messages of its many listeners. It is a fairly quick, easy read and one that I thoroughly enjoyed. The storyline is interesting and the way the author incorporates the podcast and social media is very well done, adding to the already compelling nature of the mystery itself. A large part of the novel is dedicated to examining the dynamics of Josie’s family, so there are times where it doesn’t feel too much like a mystery/thriller. However, it is all very readable that you can’t help but be completely immersed in the storytelling. This is a solid escape read and a good mystery.

I Found You by Lisa Jewell

IMG_5921“In a windswept British seaside town, single mom Alice Lake finds a man sitting on the beach outside her house. He has no name, no jacket, and no idea how he got there. Against her better judgment, she invites him inside.”

A man with no memory of who he is. A single mother who takes him in against her better judgment. A young newlywed whose husband has gone missing. And a two decade old tragedy that comes to surface. These components create an intriguing mystery that captivates as it seamlessly travels between different perspectives and time periods.

Alice is a single mother living in a British seaside town, and one day notices a man sitting on the beach outside her home. She soon discovers that he has no idea who he is or where he comes from, and with much trepidation, she decides to invite him in.

During this time, in London, twenty-one-year-old Lily Monrose is desperate to find her missing husband who failed to come home from work. Having been married only three weeks and new to the country, she is very much alone, and soon learns from the police that her husband never existed.

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Twenty-three years prior these events, young teens Kirsty and Gray are at their cottage for the summer holidays, when young man starts paying extra attention to Kirsty. This leaves Gray very uncomfortable. There is something about the situation, and this man, that simply does not seem right.

I Found You is a compelling novel with interesting characters, and is very easy to get lost in. Each perspective and timeline is intriguing in its own way and the pieces assemble quite nicely to reveal the big picture. If you enjoy mystery and character driven novels, this is a great choice. I wouldn’t go into it expecting a fast-paced thriller with lots of twists and turns because it could be end up being disappointing. Overall, a well-written and page-turning novel that is definitely worth a read.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

IMG_5702“I suppose one of the reasons we’re all able to continue to exist for our allotted span in this green and blue vale of tears is that there is always, however remote it might seem, the possibility of change.”

Yes, Eleanor Oliphant is completely and utterly fine, thank you very much. She leads a well structured life, with a set routine that consists of frozen pizza and vodka on the weekends and weekly chats with Mummy. Her job is one that she has held for many years, since graduation in fact, and she is content to be just where she is with things just the way they are. Or maybe not. When Eleanor meets Raymond, the new IT guy at the office, she is not impressed with his manners or hygiene. However, an unlikely friendship forms after they save Sammy, an elderly man who fell on the sidewalk. Soon, Eleanor finds herself stepping outside of her well structured routine, and slowly facing her past and healing long-hidden wounds.

“I simply didn’t know how to make things better. I could not solve the puzzle of me.”

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Eleanor Oliphant is a protagonist that will stick with me for quite some time. I tend to be hesitant to read books with, what might seem like, rather irritating main characters. On the surface, Eleanor is not very likeable as she significantly lacks any social awareness. However, the author does a fantastic job of introducing her as a character and then slowly revealing her past, which unveils the reasons for her being the way she is and her struggles. There are plenty of humorous moments in the novel and plenty of heartbreaking ones. The more I got to know Eleanor the more invested I became in her journey and efforts to come to terms with the past, while bettering her present. As the story progressed I simply couldn’t help but root for Eleanor Oliphant. This novel is emotional, incredibly endearing, and one that I will happily keep rereading.

Chasing Eveline by Leslie Hauser

BLOG“She said, ‘People don’t know what they like until they hear it. And that is the magic of music. Every song is a possibility, and all it takes is the right chord or the right beat and the heart is hooked.”

Sixteen-year-old Ivy Higgins has been dealing with the absence of her mother for two years, ever since she walked out on her and her father. This had a deep impact on Ivy as well as her dad who had to find a way to carry on on their own. But with the passing of time, Ivy’s connection to her mother begins to fade as memories and past moments become more blurred and distant. The one thing she and her mother shared was a love of an 80’s band called Chasing Eveline, which at one time helped Ivy get through the loss and now serves as her one remaining connection. It is a connection she fears to lose, and feels the only possibility of finding her mom would be at a Chasing Eveline concert. The only problem is that the Irish rock band has been broken up since 1989, and the odds of a reunion are very slim. With the help of her best friend, Matt, Ivy sets out to do the seemingly impossible in reuniting the band for at least one more performance.

Chasing Eveline is a sweet and touching novel that really grabbed me as the story unfolded. Ivy and Matt are pretty typical teenagers with a strong and supportive friendship that felt really nice and genuine. There are parts of the novel that focus mostly on their attempts at creating buzz for the band and earning money, with varying success, which provides a humorous element to the story. However, where the story really shines is as it unfolds further and we begin to experience the connection between Ivy and her dad as she is struggling to maintain a connection to her mom. There are lighthearted moments, and moments that delve deeper. The use of music throughout is very well done, and the way the author describes songs and lyrics as they are being listened to perfectly encapsulates the experience of the characters. Chasing Eveline is an enjoyable, endearing story, and a great option for music fans.

*E-copy provided by publisher for an unbiased review.

Sourdough by Robin Sloan

BLOG“Here’s a thing I believe about people my age: we are the children of Hogwarts, and more than anything, we just want to be sorted.”

How do you describe a book like Sourdough? When I first read the synopsis I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but I did know two things: it sounded odd and quirky, which I really like in books, and it is written by the author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, which I liked very much. So I was quite happy to sit down and enjoy the journey, one that turned out to be thoroughly enjoyable and as odd and quirky as the synopsis.

Sourdough follows Lois Cleary, a software engineer at a robotics company. It is a position she gladly accepted but her new life in San Francisco leaves much to be desired, as her days are consumed by work and leave her mentally exhausted. Her one enjoyment comes from a sandwich shop with mouthwatering food, which becomes a daily indulgence and leads to a friendship with the two brothers who run it. When the shop closes, Lois is gifted the starter for the delicious sourdough bread, and she soon discovers a love of baking that leads her on an adventure that includes a secret and innovative farmers market.

I found this to be such an enjoyable novel and couldn’t help but smile throughout. It is quirky with compelling characters and a surprising amount of depth. Lois’ experiences and feelings towards her work are very relatable as she grapples with reality versus expectation, finding passion in life, and a sense of community in a new place. I am a big fan of Robin Sloan’s writing style, which I enjoyed in Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore and was happy to find again in Sourdough. This is a fun and at times thought-provoking novel that I would recommend to fans of odd and quirky reads.

Sidenote: do not read while hungry, and beware that it will make you want to take up baking. 😉

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

IMG_5536“Illness isolates; the isolated become invisible; the invisible become forgotten. But the snail… the snail kept my spirit from evaporating.”

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is a unique and beautiful story of Elizabeth Tova Bailey’s  observations of a snail that made a home on her nightstand. A mysterious illness drastically changes Elizabeth’s life, keeping her bedridden and detached from everything that once brought familiarity and comfort. The lack of mobility results in isolation and lengthy days, with a common woodland snail as an unexpected form of fascination and interest.

“We are all hostages of time. We each have the same number of minutes and hours to live within a day, yet to me it didn’t feel equally doled out. My illness brought me such an abundance of time that time was nearly all I had. My friends had so little time that I often wished I could give them what time I could not use. It was perplexing how in losing health I had gained something so coveted but to so little purpose.”

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With the illness, Elizabeth lacked the strength to hold a book and was sensitive to the noisiness of a television, so the little snail was a welcome and surprising new companion. The book is incredibly well written and a provides a nice, quiet journey. The focus is mainly on the snail and the author’s observations, along with everything she learns about the snail from her research. Elizabeth’s illness and other people are more in the background, which results in a very powerful story as a whole. One that is a beautiful message of finding connection and hope in the midst of incredible loss.

“Survival often depends on a specific focus: A relationship, a belief, or a hope balanced on the edge of possibility. Or something more ephemeral: the way the sun passes through the hard seemingly impenetrable glass of a window and warms the blanket, or how the wind, invisible but for its wake, is so loud one can hear it through the insulated walls of a house.”

The Lightkeeper’s Daughters by Jean E. Pendziwol

IMG_5389Though her mind is still sharp, Elizabeth’s eyes have failed. No longer able to linger over her beloved books or gaze at the paintings that move her spirit, she fills the void with music and memories of her family—a past that suddenly becomes all too present when her late father’s journals are found amid the ruins of an old shipwreck.”

Elizabeth’s past is both painful and heartbreaking, with many questions that she never got answers to while growing up on Porphyry Island on Lake Superior. The discovery of her late father’s journals may possibly bring answers and closure to some difficult chapters in her life. Around the time the journals make their way back into her life, she meets Morgan, a teenage girl doing community service at Elizabeth’s retirement home. The two strike up a rapport and Morgan takes up the task of reading the journal entries to Elizabeth, which leads to the uncovering of long buried secrets and an unexpected connection between Morgan and Elizabeth.

The Lightkeeper’s Daughters is told from the perspectives of both Elizabeth and Morgan. We slowly learn about the past of each character, but the majority of the novel is Elizabeth recounting her life on Porphyry Island with her twin sister, two brothers, and parents. It took me a little while to get into the story, but once it came to Elizabeth’s flashbacks I was completely immersed in the events that unfolded. The environment and solitude of the island is really well portrayed and it is easy to imagine the lives and challenges faced by the family. There is a mystery aspect to the novel that carries the story forward and adds to the overall intrigue. A lot is unveiled towards the end, and while it is interesting I couldn’t help but feel it was a bit overly complicated, and as a result lacked the punch of a good reveal. The premise, setting, and descriptions are well done and there is a lot to be enjoyed with this novel, although the resolution and conclusion ultimately felt unsatisfying and unnecessarily intricate.