Review: The Elizas by Sara Shepard

theelizasThe Elizas by Sara Shepard

My Rating: 3.5/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: April 17th, 2018

Publisher: Atria Books

Pages: 352 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: When debut novelist Eliza Fontaine is found at the bottom of a hotel pool, her family at first assumes that it’s just another failed suicide attempt. But Eliza swears she was pushed, and her rescuer is the only witness. 

Desperate to find out who attacked her, Eliza takes it upon herself to investigate. But as the publication date for her novel draws closer, Eliza finds more questions than answers. Like why are her editor, agent, and family mixing up events from her novel with events from her life? Her novel is completely fictional, isn’t it? 

The deeper Eliza goes into her investigation while struggling with memory loss, the closer her life starts to resemble her novel until the line between reality and fiction starts to blur and she can no longer tell where her protagonist’s life ends and hers begins.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

Though I’ve known about her work for years, this is the first novel by Sara Shepard that I’ve ever read—and I ended up being pleasantly surprised by this particular story. It is a pretty solid young adult thriller. Being quite a huge fan of suspenseful mysteries—particularly any type with unreliable or biased narrators—this caught my attention immediately. I am much more used to reading adult psychological thrillers, and this is not quite on par with the plot structure and intensity of many of those. As it is a young adult novel, it is a bit less complex and much lighter, so it’s important to note that going in. However, The Elizas is an entertaining and heart-pounding story that is sure to hook its intended audience.

In this novel, we follow a young woman named Eliza Fontaine, a debut novelist whose book release date is rapidly approaching. But life takes a strange turn when she is pulled from the bottom of a hotel pool. Her family believes it to be just another suicide attempt—she insists it was an attempted murder. With only one person on her side, and what seems like the whole world trying to convince her she’s just insane, Eliza must investigate the attack herself.

However, as she struggles to regain lost memories, every avenue she explores only ends up raising even more questions. And suddenly, her novel is starting to sound less like a story and more like her life. Told in chapters that alternate between Eliza’s point of view and excerpts from her book, The Dots, the parallels become undeniable, and the line between reality and fiction becomes increasingly blurry.

I’ll admit, it took me quite some time to fully immerse myself in this novel. The first half of Eliza’s story plays out very slowly, and is often times extremely repetitive. This makes sense in the grand scheme of things, since we are primarily dealing with her attempting to regain memories she cannot seem to unlock. But I still feel that her plotline is in need of more events—however small—to help us become more invested in her as a character. For awhile, I found myself being much more interested in the excerpts from The Dots instead of the main storyline, though both are equally important.

The narrative came across as a bit choppy to me in the beginning—it feels like things are repeating and going nowhere, there is a sudden heightening of the tension, and then we are back to the same circumstances. This is obviously congruent with the situation of someone dealing with memory loss, so I completely understand the effect that Shepard is going for. However, I do wish there had been a tiny bit more added to Eliza’s experiences, just to gradually pull the reader deeper into her life throughout the novel as a whole.

Unreliable narrators are, by nature, inconsistent, and always add a good amount of confusion into the process of getting to know who they are, as well as what is truly going on. Eliza is especially unpredictable all the way through—but at the start, her personality comes across like Shepard can’t decide what to do with her instead of what might be naturally erratic for her mental state. In general, though, I do think Shepard really captures and deals with all the physical and mental health aspects of this novel clearly and believably.

Even with the initial lagging of the main plotline, Shepard manages to build quite a lot of suspense in both stories. She sprinkles just enough intrigue into most of the early chapters, and I was always at least a little curious to find out what would happen next. The switching between Eliza’s point of view and the excerpts from The Dots added a great deal to the tension building up as things progressed. And, despite it being a little rocky at first, I did consistently become more and more hooked.

That second half though—oh boy. I was absolutely riveted to every page. Every aspect of the story escalates so quickly, and even though I had predicted some of the ending, it still had me on the edge of my seat. For me, Shepard ended in the strongest way possible—she made every last bit pack a punch, and threw in a few surprisingly powerful twists. Though it is not hard to guess most of what is going on and roughly how things will shake out, there are plenty of details that you most likely will not see coming. That, coupled with the strength of the overall reveal, truly enriches the novel as a whole.

Shepard also does a relatively good job with her character creation. They are all very clearly described and, aside from Eliza, have static personalities the whole way through. This means that not all of the characters are very multi-dimensional, but they are still depicted well and fit very nicely into the plot. Eliza is definitely a dynamic character—our view of her is constantly changing and building until everything is fully revealed in the end. And the majority of the relationships between Eliza and the others are highly realistic and comprehensible.

The one element that I never got fully on board with was the romance. In the first place, it was a severe case of insta-love. When they first meet, Eliza goes from describing him like he is sort of gross and creepy to abruptly feeling incredibly turned on basically by her sudden thought of them having sex. Over the short time they initially spend together, she goes back to showing little interest in him, while he is awkwardly proclaiming his undying love for her. And voila, they are now a couple. Though their relationship was sweeter toward the end, I spent most of it trying to comprehend how it happened, while occasionally feeling mildly disturbed.

I found Shepard’s writing style to be fairly strong. It didn’t particularly stand out or completely captivate me, but it flows well for the narrative she weaves and is very easy to read. She crafts a good mystery, following up on all the various threads to the point were I couldn’t personally think of anything left completely unexplained. Shepard also writes very cinematically—her descriptions are vivid, and the interactions between characters were stellar. We are able to clearly visualize everything playing out, and distinctly feel the clarity that Eliza is slowly experiencing.

Overall, if this sounds good to you—or if you’re looking for a quick thriller—I would highly recommend giving this novel a try, especially if you are a young adult reader. While, like I said, it’s not going to have the intensity and depth of an adult psychological thriller, and it isn’t entirely unpredictable, it really does have a lot going for it. It is gripping enough to pull a mystery fan in, and just chilling enough to make for an entertaining read. As for me, I ended up enjoying this story more than I thought I would, and I am definitely interested in reading some more of Shepard’s work.

3.5 TARDISes

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Mini Review: Be a Unicorn & Live Life on the Bright Side by Sarah Ford

beaunicornBe a Unicorn & Live Life on the Bright Side by Sarah Ford

My Rating: 4/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: November 14th, 2017

Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing

Pages: 96 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon

Synopsis: This little book of positivity features everyone’s favorite mythical creature. Each adorably illustrated spread includes a funny or inspiring piece of advice, reminding you to follow your dreams, and always think unicorn. The perfect gift for a friend in need of a boost, this cute and covetable book is bound to spread smiles wherever it goes!

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

This was an absolutely adorable and fun read that I really needed in my life at the moment. With the cute and colorful illustrations and the hilarious snippets about life that accompany them, this little book greatly picked up my spirits. It’s a very feel-good book that delivers laughs in bite-sized pieces with very fitting pictures that only continue to add to the delightful and positive message. It portrays fairly deep ideas in a very comical format, and I think it would be very difficult to complete this book without a smile on your face.

The wisdom of a unicorn is very well-rounded, and its view of life is very optimistic. Unicorn lives in the moment and knows how to properly care for himself. He finds the good in everything, takes time to savor every experience—good and bad—of his live, and loves himself for who he is. Unicorn demonstrates actions of self-care that we should all be including in our lives, dispensed in a humorous and highly enjoyable way.

The quirky style and vivid coloring of the illustrations added another layer to this sweet little book. It’s one of those books that you can pick up whenever you need to boost your mood and read a few excerpts just to brighten your day. It is overall a very random collection of affirmative little vignettes, which is a format that I really loved. The only complaint I have is I really wish it was longer because I was enjoying it so much. I will probably return to this book whenever I need a laugh.

4.0 TARDISes

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Mini Review: The Road Between by Courtney Peppernell

theroadbetweenThe Road Between by Courtney Peppernell

My Rating: 5/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: August 29th, 2017

Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing

Pages: 288 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: The Road Between is poetry well-lived.

Poetry for the soul that walks the fine line between losing yourself in the world and finding yourself again, often in the smallest of moments. Courtney Peppernell is the bestselling author of Pillow Thoughts, a collection of poetry and prose about heartbreak, love, and emotion.

Make a cup of tea, find your place, and lose yourself in the pages.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

Courtney Peppernell has quickly become one of my new favorite authors. This was yet another beautiful collection that truly spoke to me. Peppernell has a great talent for creating short and deceptively simple poetry that has a much deeper underlying meaning. Her striking prose flows perfectly, and each line packs a strong emotional punch. This particular collection is about the journeys that life presents all of us. Specifically, these poems deal with the process of finding yourself again after becoming separated from it along the way—how we have to carefully piece ourselves back together until we feel whole.

The theme of finding oneself is something that, at this time in my life, really speaks to me. I’ve definitely been taking this exact journey over the last few years, feeling like I had lost touch with myself and trying to figure out who I am and what I need in my life. I’ve been feeling a deep need to settle into and truly come to terms with every aspect of myself. It’s this sort of work that I can connect to very easily—that makes me feel more confident in who I’ve discovered that I am and what love means to me. Peppernell’s words are wonderfully profound and they deeply touched me.

I always think it’s fantastic to see more LGBT+ work coming into the the literary world. Even though many of the poems that focus on love deal with a romance between two women, I believe these poems will speak to anyone, no matter their orientation and how they love. Love is love—it is a universal subject that can touch the hearts and souls of all of us. I’ve already gone ahead and purchased her two novels and I absolutely can’t wait to read more of her work.

5.0 TARDISes

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Mini Review: A Candle From The Far East by Y.T. Kim

acandlefromthefareastA Candle From The Far East by Y.T. Kim

My Rating: 2/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: October 3rd, 2017

Publisher: Mill City Press

Pages: 114 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads

Synopsis: In his first collection of English poems, Korean writer Young-Tae Kim (Y.T. Kim) presents a remarkable anthology of work with themes ranging from political musings on an international scale to living well in an increasingly global world. Kim offers a unique blend of the modern and traditional, as overtones of the poet’s Eastern cultural roots permeate each page.

In addition to musings on present-day society, A Candle from the Far East (Poems) offers reflections on more emotional themes—such as the growth of deep and profound love, alienation of once close friendships over time, and finding purpose through spiritual growth—culminating in a beautifully rich collection of works that have universal applicability. The end result is a collection that readers will turn to time and time again and one that successfully shares wisdom and contributes to the well-being of all.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

While I can appreciate the themes and meanings Kim tried to convey through his poetry, I personally did not get caught up in his writing. There were only a small number of poems that really resonated for me. This collection ranges from reflections on Kim’s personal life to commentary on history, modern technology, and the current state of our society and the world as a whole. Even though these are all interesting topics, there were many poems that felt less like poetry and more like reading a textbook or list of facts—this took away from the fluidity of the writing.

The poems that focused on history or his more intimate thoughts on his own experiences spoke to me the most. The history aspect, as well as the wonderful photographs that accompanied it, really caught my attention. In just small snippets of text, I felt that I learned a lot of new information I hadn’t come across before. His short reflections on his own life were the most poetic of the collection. Kim created beautiful snapshots of his view of the world around him as well as his relationships with family and friends. Again, the placement of pictures coinciding with these poems really brought his meaning to life.

As for the actual writing itself, apart from a few select instances, I found the overall flow of these poems to be quite rough and choppy. There were some attempts at rhyming that really did not come across well and ended up being a detriment to the piece. There were many occasions where I felt as if I were reading a list of facts rather than poetry, so many of the poems were quite stilted. The moments where he focused on subjects like A.I. just did not come across like poetry in my opinion, and I found myself skimming through these.

Of course, poetry is always subjective, and my personal experience is going to be unique to me. Therefore, I still encourage you to check out this collection if it appeals to you. Kim’s talent is obvious, and I’m sure his poetry will touch the lives of readers for whom the depth of the work is more easily accessible than it was for me.

2.0 TARDISes

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Mini Review: The Chaos of Longing by K.Y. Robinson

thechaosoflongingThe Chaos of Longing by K.Y. Robinson

My Rating: 2.5/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: May 31st, 2016

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing

Pages: 118 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: The Chaos of Longing is a prose and poetry collection draped in raw honesty, ache, and eroticism. The collection explores trauma, love, heartbreak, and the realizations from it all.

The book is divided into four sections. “Inception” briefly examines formative years and its effects on how one loves. “Longing” reflects on love and sexuality. “Chaos” explores toxic relationships, unrequited love, and heartache. After chaos, there is order with self-love and healing poems in “epiphany”.

Some content may be triggering.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

I always say, poetry is extremely subjective and hard to review, as it will touch each and every reader in a completely unique way. Not every collection or poet will strike the right note with every reader, and this ended up being the case for me with these poems. This was one of those situations where I could appreciate the talent of the author, but the topics and their presentation were just not for me. However, despite my personal experience with these poems, I can easily see how they could deeply impact a reader.

These poems are brave, raw, and powerful. They are incredibly intimate and portray both human weakness and the strength that can come out in one’s most vulnerable moments. The collection as a whole is a journey from naivety, through the torment and battering that life and love can inflict on one’s heart and soul, and ending where healing begins.

Robinson paints a vivid and candid retrospective on self-image and self-discovery—she exposes the full depth of the painful, open wounds that slowly close over time. Not only does she display the torment that one may go through when they let down their defenses in favor of passion, but also the triumph of courage gained from accepting who we are and the decisions we make. Ultimately, this collection is not only her story, but also a stark and uninhibited portrait of what it is like to be human.

Even though I didn’t quite connect with this particular work and the subject matter, I still found the beauty in Robinson’s writing and delicate crafting of each poem. She clearly poured so much heart and meaning into every word, and truly bared herself and her personal emotional journey through this collection. I admire her candor and her nerve, opening herself up in this manner—and I very much believe that her writing can and will reach and impact plenty of readers.

2.5 TARDISes

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Review: Remember, Remember by Anna Elliott

rememberrememberRemember, Remember by Anna Elliot

My Rating: 3.5/5 TARDISes

Series: Sherlock Holmes and Lucy James Mysteries

Date Published: April 21st, 2017

Publisher: Wilton Press

Pages: 357 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: A lovely American actress awakens in London on a cold morning in 1897 – lying face down on the concrete pavement outside the British Museum. She has no memories. She does not even know who she is, although she has a vague recollection of the name Sherlock Holmes. What she believes is that she has may have just killed someone, and that someone is definitely trying to kill her. As she searches for clues to her true identity, she will learn that she is not the only target. Unless she can defeat her evil adversaries, the people most dear to her will die.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

I’ll admit I went into this book a little bit hesitant. It’s no secret that I love retellings or novels that use classic characters in modern day literature—these are some of my favorite types of novels. However, the hesitation I experience comes from my love of the original stories and characters themselves. I’m always a stickler when it comes to keeping true to the most essential and definitive aspects, even while the author is forming his or her own unique story. And I am especially picky when it comes to my all-time favorites. This particular novel, I’m pleased to say, does a reasonably good job paying homage to the incredibly well-loved characters from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s timeless tales of the great Sherlock Holmes.

In this novel, we read from the perspective of the main character, Lucy James, a young woman who wakes up on the steps of the British Museum with amnesia. Once woken up, she realizes she has lost all of her memories, including her name. All she knows is that she was hit in the head and that someone is most likely out to kill her—and that she may in fact be a killer herself. This, along with the vague recollection of the name Sherlock Holmes, is all she has to go on as she attempts to remember who she is, where she’s from, and why she is running for her life. Her enemies are ruthless and willing to take down anyone who gets in their way. Navigating dangerous circumstances and forging new alliances, Lucy takes on her adversaries and works to prevent them from carrying out their nefarious scheme.

Despite my original wariness, I ended up enjoying this story quite a bit. I found the plot to be fast-paced and easy to get wrapped up in right from page one. Though this is actually the third book in the Sherlock Holmes and Lucy James Mysteries series, it functions extremely well as a standalone. The overall mystery of the story is not completely unpredictable or surprising, but it still made for a very fun and action-packed read.

The portrayal of the various characters, overall, is fairly well done, but also the area from which the majority of my issues with the novel stem. The characters that were original creations of Anna Elliot were by far the strongest. Lucy is a great protagonist—she is a strong, highly intelligent, and independent heroine. The only major issue with her characterization is that there isn’t much development over the course of the story or depiction of flaws. One of the reasons a character such as Sherlock Holmes is so interesting is the mixture of his tremendous intellect and cleverness with flaws that make him human. While Lucy is a likeable character that is still easy to connect with, she seems just a bit too perfect at times.

As for Elliot’s versions of Holmes and Watson, I had somewhat mixed feelings. While her portrayal of Watson, in my opinion, is quite accurate, I felt a little bit lukewarm about her portrayal of Holmes. We don’t really get to see all that much of him, and even though there are certain times that truly reflect the classic great detective, there are some moments and plot points that I felt strayed a little too far. Though it was a little hard for me to imagine at first, I believe she did a decent job of gauging the way Holmes would treat a daughter had he had one in the original stories. However, there were times—such as his offering Lucy dating advice—that just didn’t feel authentic.

I had one odd problem with one of the character’s names. I was reading from an advanced review copy, so this is probably the cause of my confusion, but I could not figure out Lucy’s love interest’s first name. It kept jumping back and forth between John and Jack every few pages, sometimes even within the same page. Again, I assume this was caused by the uncorrected proof, and it has absolutely no bearing on my rating of the novel. However, I’m still not certain what his name actually was meant to be.

Elliot’s writing style is solid and easy to become absorbed in. She gives Lucy a strong narrative voice, which caused the plot to both flow well and pack a punch. Her world building of 1897 London is vivid and skilled, making it a very high point of the novel. She unravels the mystery at a steady pace, showing her talent for creating a storyline that hooks her readers and keeps them wanting more.

In the first part of the novel, Elliot does a great job of presenting Lucy’s slow gathering of clues pertaining to her life. The transition between the two halves of the novel—where Lucy suddenly regains her memories—is a bit rough. We are thrown rather quickly into her rapid and high-stakes lifestyle. However, this still does not hurt the plot progression overall, and though it was a little bumpy, I found myself falling into this new twist fairly easily. In general, Elliot keeps the plot as a whole straightforward enough to follow, and just unpredictable enough to create a exciting mystery.

Overall, I found this novel to be a pretty enjoyable and fast-paced read that was quite easy to become swept up in. This wound up being a very fun story, and an inventive take on some very timeless classics. While I would have liked to see a bit more development in Lucy and the various other significant characters in the novel, they were still portrayed well in general. Despite its few flaws, this is a good addition to the ever-expanding world of Sherlock Holmes novels. I am definitely planning to go back and read the first two novels of this series, and will eagerly await and further installments.

3.5 TARDISes

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Mini Review: Pillow Thoughts by Courtney Peppernell

pillowthoughtsPillow Thoughts by Courtney Peppernell

My Rating: 5/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: August 29th, 2017

Publisher: Andrew McMeel Publishing

Pages: 272 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Make a cup of tea and let yourself feel.

Pillow Thoughts is a collection of poetry and prose about heartbreak, love, and raw emotions. It is divided into sections to read when you feel you need them most.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

Simply put, I found this collection to be absolutely beautiful. Each poem was thoughtful and moving and an absolute joy to read. It touched my life at a time when I needed it most, so I could not help falling in love with Pillow Thoughts. Peppernell’s writing flows perfectly, and her poetry paints a stunning picture of life’s ups and downs. She eloquently coveys every poem—breathes life into them—and gives them a great amount of depth. These poems are the sort that readers can truly connect with, and each person’s interpretation will be different. They reach into every corner of our hearts and remind us that it is okay for us to feel—gives us a raw and vivid portrayal of what it is to be human.

This is a collection that I believe most people will be able to connect with and find meaning in. Every piece is straightforward yet incredibly profound—very accessible for anyone, no matter who they are or where they are in life. I found comfort in these words as they told me that I am not alone, even when I’m feeling lonely in the midst of my troubles. These poems transcend their own simplicity to create a meaningful depiction of the most basic and universal experiences we face in our lives. The reader will find their own unique meaning depending on their personal lives, and take away what their soul is craving at that moment. I look forward to reading more of Peppernell’s work in the future.

5.0 TARDISes

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