Tag Archives: Reading

Book Review: Hidden

hiddenTitle: Hidden
Author: Catherine McKenzie
Release Date: April 7, 2015 (originally published June 18, 2013)
Rating: 3.5/5

Hidden is a family drama that unfolds when Jeff Manning gets hit by a car and tragically loses his life on his way home from work. Among family and friends, two women are particularly devastated about Jeff’s death. Claire is Jeff’s wife and she must cope with the loss of her husband while raising their son, Seth. Claire’s older sister, Beth, and Jeff’s older brother, Tim, come to her aid, but this only adds to her confusion because of the past that they share. Five hundred miles away, the woman that Jeff was having an affair with, Tish, feels the same anguish. She must keep her feelings hidden from her husband, Brian, and their daughter, Zoey. When Tish volunteers to go to Jeff’s funeral as a company representative, she steps into Jeff and Claire’s world and the past quickly comes to  the surface. Hidden delves into infidelity, regret, and consequences as each character reflects on past events that led them to their present situation.

The novel is told from the perspectives of Jeff, Claire, and Tish. The majority of Jeff’s point of view is in the past because the accident that claims his life happens so early in the book. I could never decide whether I liked Jeff’s character or not. He seemed like a good guy outside of his infidelities, but he didn’t seem to really help Claire during her depression. I definitely sympathized with him in terms of his relationship with his brother and felt that their dynamic was intriguing. Claire’s perspective is pretty heartbreaking and seemed authentic throughout the novel. Claire goes through a small tragedy after Seth is born and because of this, Jeff and Claire begin to drift apart. When they finally start to mend their relationship, Jeff is killed and Claire must cope with the loss and then the eventual suspicions of Jeff’s infidelity. I definitely found myself rooting for Claire throughout the novel. I did not like Tish’s character. She has a brilliant daughter and a doting husband, yet because she is bored, she begins to form a relationship with Jeff. She is selfish throughout the novel and I never was able to sympathize with her. Even if the infidelity wasn’t a factor, I don’t think I would have liked her character.

I did not like the ending to this book. Beth’s mentality towards infidelity seems twisted and she almost suggests that she would have been fine with her husband cheating on her as long as she didn’t know about it. She tells Claire this to dissuade her from any further investigation into Jeff’s past and I just found it to be a very odd message for the novel to send to the reader. I really didn’t like the epilogue either. Although I didn’t like the ending, I thought that it ended in a good place. Then, after reading the epilogue, I really disliked a couple of the main characters. I really wish the epilogue wasn’t a part of the novel.

Although I have never enjoyed reading novels about relationships born out of infidelity, I thought that Hidden was well written. I think that the three alternating perspectives complemented each other well. Aside from the accident that ends Jeff’s life, there really isn’t any action or suspense in this novel. It’s a lot of thinking and recollecting the past, not much present day action. Hidden was a very easy read and I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a drama and doesn’t mind the infidelity.

If you have read Hidden, I would love to hear your thoughts as well. To view Hidden on Amazon, please click here.

I received a free copy of Hidden courtesy of NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Book Review: Sycamore Row

sycamoreTitle: Sycamore Row
Author: John Grisham
Release Date: August 19, 2014
Rating: 5/5

Sycamore Row centers around the courtroom drama that ensues after the sudden and tragic death of self-made millionaire, Seth Hubbard. Seth lives in rural Mississippi and in ten years, was able to amass a fortune of over twenty million dollars. When he dies, he mails his last will and testament to Jake Brigance, a lawyer who gained the town’s respect after winning a racially charged murder trial three years earlier. Seth deliberately leaves his children, ex-wives, and grandchildren out of his will and instructs Jake to do everything he can to uphold his handwritten will. Jake knows that this will not be an easy task when he sees that Seth has left five percent of his fortune to the church, five percent to his long lost brother, and ninety percent to his black housekeeper, Lettie Lang. When the news spreads, Seth’s adult children swoop in with a swarm of lawyers as they attempt to take back the money that they think is rightfully theirs. In a brilliant legal thriller, the Hubbard children attempt to prove that Lettie forced Seth to write her into the will and Jake must find the answer as to why Seth Hubbard would leave his fortune to Lettie.

The novel is told mainly from the point of view of Jake. Jake had never met Seth Hubbard, but he vows to protect the will at all costs. At the beginning of the novel, Jake seems a little money hungry, but this could be a result of his own financial instabilities. Once he meets Lettie Lang and begins to learn more about Seth’s past, he seems to be genuinely invested in the case and I found myself rooting for him as the novel progressed. Along with a few other supporting characters, the novel also explores the perspective of Lettie Lang, the black housekeeper. Lettie is a middle aged, career housekeeper who is stuck in a bad marriage. She is dissatisfied with her current situation and when the news of her impending inheritance spreads, she must deal with the stress of gossip and rumors, as well as greedy family members. Lettie handled these obstacles well and I thought that she was a very likeable character, much more deserving of the fortune than the very unlikeable Hubbard children.

There are a number of characters that are introduced throughout the novel and I think that Grisham does a great job of distinguishing the characters apart from one another. There are a lot of lawyers in the novel and I think that Grisham gave them all their own personalities and I never found myself confusing them. I really liked Lucien Wilbanks, who was disbarred and left his legal practice to Jake. I enjoyed reading the interactions between Lucien and Jake and I found their relationship to be interesting. I also liked Lettie’s daughter, Portia, who Jake ends up hiring as a paralegal. Portia is interested in becoming a lawyer and she quickly becomes the perfect liaison between Jake and Lettie.

I think that the last hundred pages are what really makes this a fantastic novel. The majority of the novel is building up to the eventual jury trial that will determine if Seth Hubbard’s will is valid and if he had testamentary capacity to write it. I enjoyed the build up, but the ending was incredibly powerful. The final deposition is what decides the case and I was absolutely stunned at what the deposition revealed. I thought that the ending was excellent and it was one of the best written endings that I’ve read in a long time.

Overall, I thought that this was a great novel. The character development and progression of the plot were very well done. I think that Grisham has a wonderful writing style and he was really able to bring this legal thriller to life. I would recommend Sycamore Row to anyone who enjoys a good courtroom drama. Sycamore Row was inspired by an earlier Grisham novel, A Time to Kill. If you have enjoyed any of Grisham’s other novels, you will definitely enjoy Sycamore Row.

If you have read Sycamore Row, I would love to hear your thoughts as well. To view Sycamore Row on Amazon, please click here.

Book Review: Playing Mrs. Kingston

kingstonTitle: Playing Mrs. Kingston
Author: Tony Lee Moral
Release Date: December 4, 2014
Rating: 3/5

Playing Mrs. Kingston is a 1950’s thriller that follows Catriona Benedict as she takes on the biggest acting role of her lifetime. Catriona is a struggling actress and on the night that her show is cancelled, she is offered a new role that is almost too good to be true. The very wealthy Miles Kingston offers Catriona a large sum of money to play the role of his wife so that he can come into an inheritance that is promised to him if he gets married. Catriona agrees, despite the anger of her boyfriend, and enters into the world of the rich and powerful. However, at their fake wedding reception, Miles is murdered and Catriona is left behind to play his widow. Catriona must attempt to figure out who murdered Miles and claim the money that belongs to her.

The point of view shifts between several of the characters in the book, although it was mainly from the perspective of Catriona. I liked Catriona, but I never felt like I knew much about her. Moral mentions that she is from Minnesota and speaks briefly of her family life, but much of her life in New York seemed to be a mystery. I didn’t like Mario’s perspective because he was always angry and his temper with Catriona made him unlikeable. Besides the fact that he’s from Italy and plays in a band at a local club, not much is ever revealed about Mario either.

The supporting characters were relatively similar to each other. Leiobesky, the Polish man who forges the marriage certificate, seems very similar to Louis Ferraro, the casino owner. There isn’t much revealed about Miles until after his death, but his past reveals why he would hire an actress as his wife. I think of all of the supporting characters, I liked Freddie Swann the most. Freddie is a photographer from Harper’s Bazaar and he takes a quick liking to Catriona, bumping into her throughout the novel. I actually felt like the reader learned more about Freddie than Catriona. Grace, Catriona’s fake cousin-in-law, is exactly how I would picture a pampered socialite and I thought Moral described her well.

Playing Mrs. Kingston was definitely plot driven and there was never a lack of impending action. Catriona was constantly on the move. Although the plot was always moving, I didn’t see much character development through this story. Most of the characters seemed to be static and one dimensional. I would have almost preferred for there to be less action if it meant more unique characters.

I thought that Moral’s world building was great and I appreciated all of the details he provided. Moral did a good job of describing each scene in order to immerse the reader into the story. The setting was very 1950’s and I am glad that everything seemed true to the era. The descriptions of the artwork and clothing in the novel were especially detailed and it was easy to picture what the characters were seeing.

I was surprised to see a few typos throughout the novel and the wrong name being used during a scene. There were only a few of these errors but it was enough to jar me out of the scene. I think this is more of the fault of the editor, not the author, but it was still displeasing.

Overall, I think that Playing Mrs. Kingston would be an enjoyable read for someone who enjoys the noir style of writing. The author has written three books about Alfred Hitchcock cinema and it’s obvious that Hitchcock’s works were a source of inspiration. The plot moves quickly and although there is little character development, there is always something new happening. I prefer a story that is a bit more focused on the characters, but I would recommend this to a reader who loves a fast-paced story with lots of twists and turns in the plot.

If you have read Playing Mrs. Kingston, I would love to hear your thoughts as well. To view Playing Mrs. Kingston on Amazon, please click here.

I received a free copy of Playing Mrs. Kingston courtesy of the author in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Inside the O’Briens

insideobriensTitle: Inside the O’Briens
Author: Lisa Genova
Release Date: April 7, 2015
Rating: 4.5/5

Inside the O’Briens  is a family drama that explores the horrors of Huntington’s disease. Joe O’Brien is a 44-year-old Boston Police officer, living in an Irish Catholic neighborhood with his wife and four adult children. Over time, he begins to experience convoluted thoughts, outbursts of anger, and involuntary movements that start rumors that he might have a drug or alcohol problem. Offended by the accusations, Joe reluctantly sees a doctor and is diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, a rare and fatal neurodegenerative disease that has no treatment and no cure. The disease is genetic and Joe feels the overwhelming guilt of knowing that each of his children has a 50/50 chance of inheriting the disease.

Inside the O’Briens is written from two different perspectives, Joe’s and his daughter, Katie’s. Joe’s perspective is exactly what I had pictured from a Boston Police officer and I think Genova does an incredible job creating Joe as a character. As I read the chapters from his point of view, I could hear the Boston accent every time he spoke. As the disease progresses, Joe struggles with the public shame of the disease, reliving memories of his mother with the disease, and being stripped of his police badge. The second perspective is from Joe’s daughter, Katie. Katie is almost the exact opposite of Joe and I think it was very easy to distinguish between the two points of view. Katie is a yoga teacher, a big believer in inspirational quotes and the teachings of Buddhism, and feels like she lives in her older sister’s shadow. When Joe reveals his diagnosis to his family, Katie spends the rest of the novel obsessing over her at risk status and does not decide to get her test results until the very end of the novel. Although some of Katie’s thoughts were slightly repetitive, it’s understandable given her circumstances. I thought the saddest moments from Katie’s point of view came from when she interacted with her father. The relationship between her and Joe is incredibly endearing, but it’s sad to see the picture she paints of Joe’s deteriorating condition.

Joe and Katie were excellently crafted characters and I thought Genova did a wonderful job bringing the rest of the characters to life as well. Rosie, Joe’s wife, is a devout Catholic whose faith is truly tested as she faces the reality of losing her husband and possibly her children to a disease that is foreign to her. Meghan, Katie’s older sister, is a ballerina in the Boston Ballet and exudes the confidence that Katie lacks, creating tension between the two of them. JJ is Joe’s oldest son and he is incredibly similar to him, with the exception that he is a fireman instead of a police officer. Patrick, Joe’s other son, is a bartender and lives a nocturnal lifestyle that makes Joe and Rosie fearful. Although his actions are negative, Patrick is very kind and obviously cares for his family.

Overall, I thought that Inside the O’Briens was great. I thought that the characters were incredibly lifelike and authentic and the family dynamic was very interesting and real. Genova did a great job of creating unique characters and I really enjoyed that. I thought that Joe’s internal struggle as his disease progresses was agonizing but very well written. I thought that his resolution to be an example to his children and show them how to live and die with Huntington’s disease very much fit his character as a loving father. I really liked how the ending brought all of the characters together and although I wanted to know what would happen next, I thought it was a good way to end the story.

I would recommend Inside the O’Briens to anyone who is interested in a family drama or to anyone interested in learning more about Huntington’s disease. If you enjoyed Genova’s Still Alice, you will enjoy Inside the O’Briens as well.

If you have read Inside the O’Briens, I would love to hear your thoughts as well. To view Inside the O’Briens on Amazon, please click here.

I received an advanced copy of Inside the O’Briens courtesy of NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Girl on the Train

girlontrainTitle: The Girl on the Train
Author: Paula Hawkins
Release Date: January 13, 2015
Rating: 4/5

The Girl on the Train is an intense, psychological thriller that follows Rachel, an unemployed alcoholic with voyeuristic tendencies. Although she lost her job months ago, Rachel still takes the same commuter train into the city in an attempt to fool her roommate.  Along her daily commute, Rachel passes the house of a married couple that she grows a strong attachment to. She gives them names and envisions their lives together even though she has never met them. One day on her commute, Rachel witnesses something shocking from the train and becomes consumed with the possibility that the couple may not have the perfect marriage that she had hoped for. After a night of heavy drinking, Rachel blacks out and wakes up with unexplainable wounds. She soon learns that Megan, the woman she watches from the train, has gone missing and that she was in the area at the time of Megan’s disappearance. Rachel throws herself into the police investigation, desperate to find Megan and to recover memories from that night that may lead to answers.

The story is told from three different points of view. The first and major perspective that Hawkins uses is Rachel’s. Rachel’s point of view is sad and hopeless as she attempts to sober up in order to assist in the police investigation. Hawkins contrasts Rachel’s point of view with Anna’s. Anna is Rachel’s ex-husband’s new wife and she absolutely hates Rachel. Anna attempts to turn Rachel’s ex-husband and the police against her and continues to lament how dangerous Rachel is capable of being. The third point of view is of Megan, but it is from the year prior, not from present day. As Megan’s point of view begins to get closer to present day, the reader sees the events that lead to her disappearance.

Throughout the novel, I never really liked any of the characters. Rachel has been an alcoholic for years and hasn’t tried to end the suffering in her situation. She is reckless and she puts herself in a few dangerous situations throughout the novel. Although I started to feel sorry for Rachel at the end of the novel, I never liked her. Megan is a restless young woman who seems to have grown more neurotic ever since losing her job at an art gallery. She harbors a big secret and as the story progresses, it becomes clear that she has some inner demons. Still, even though she becomes a victim, I still didn’t like her. Anna, Rachel’s ex-husband’s new wife, is incredibly paranoid and mean. Throughout the novel, these women became hard to distinguish between and they all become mentally unstable caricatures. I wish Hawkins would have made these women unique individuals instead of three women with almost the same personalities.

I never grew attached to any of the supporting characters in the book either. Scott is Megan’s husband and although he seems distraught by his wife’s disappearance, there’s something about him that’s hard to like. He is described as controlling and exhibits a temper that makes it hard to sympathize with. Tom, Rachel’s ex-husband, seem harmless enough at first, but morphs into an unlikeable character as well. The police officers in the story didn’t really make an impression on me and I thought they were very forgettable. Rachel’s roommate is equally forgettable.

Overall, I thought this was a good book. I thought that the voyeuristic concept was interesting and the story kept me engaged even when the characters did not. I thought that the ending had a surprising and intriguing twist. This novel has been compared to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, but I’m not sure if this book lives up to the hype. The Girl on the Train is not as good as Gone Girl or as fast paced, but it is still a really good story. I would recommend this novel to anyone who is interested in a suspense novel that will keep you guessing.

If you have read The Girl on the Train, I would love to hear your thoughts as well. To view The Girl on the Train on Amazon, please click here.