The Diviners

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Libba Bray
Genres: Mystery, Thriller, Historical Fiction, YA, Paranormal
Pub. date: Sep. 2012 (read Aug. 2020)
Series: Diviners #1

The Diviners has been on my TBR for AGES, so I’m thrilled that I finally got to it. It took a little bit longer than I would have liked, but it was a good read! I heard that the book has a slow start, which was definitely the case, but if you’re willing to stick with it you’ll find an impressive cast of characters and a unique plot.

This is definitely something I haven’t seen done before in YA. It’s paranormal, which I’m not really a fan of, but setting is key. The Diviners is set in 1920’s New York and Libba Bray does a wonderful job capturing the atmosphere of the time period. Our story centers around 17 year old Evie O’Neill. She has a quirky habit that she can read people’s history from objects, which until now she’s only used as a harmless party trick. But when she accidentally spills the local town gossip, her mother ships her off to New York to live with her Uncle.

Evie is quickly drawn into the glamour of New York and gets into all kind of shenanigans with her best friend Mabel and mischievous Sam. But her Uncle is the curator of the museum for the supernatural and when the police approach him about a ritualistic murder, Evie is drawn into the murder investigation.

This book covers so many genres. It’s YA, but mystery is a key element of the story, as well as the fantastical elements, historical content, and even a bit of horror. The story is downright creepy, though its characters keep it light. The plot is slow developing in the first half, but I quickly went along for the ride in the second half.

What makes this a winner though is the characters. It’s a large cast of characters and every single one of them has a richly imagined backstory. I feel like I’m still getting to know most of them, but this is one of those series where you can tell the first book is really only the tip of the iceberg for the plot. Bray introduces the idea of diviners and that something dark is coming on the horizon. We don’t really know what it is, but can feel it looming throughout the course of the book.

Lastly, I have to commend Bray on the representation in this book. It would have been so easy to write a book about 1920’s New York and have absolutely no representation, but here we have a black numbers runner, a queer musician, and all kinds of immigrants and misfits. The plot maybe could have done with a bit of trimming, but overall a fun read – can’t wait for the next one!

The Last Story of Mina Lee

Rating: ⭐⭐.5
Author: Nancy Jooyoun Kim
Genres: Fiction
Pub. date: Sep. 2020 (read Aug. 2020)

Special thanks to Harper Collins Canada for providing me with an advance copy of The Last Story of Mina Lee in exchange for an honest review.

I was thrilled to receive a copy of The Last Story of Mina Lee because it sounds like everything I love in a book – a multi-generational family drama about an immigrant family trying to fit in in America. It instantly reminded me of Jean Kwok’s books, which I love, and is quoted as being great for fans of Celeste Ng, whom I also love.

It tells the story of korean mother and daughter, Mina and Margot Lee. Mina moved to America in the late 1980’s to escape the trauma of losing her family in Korea and ends up living in LA, becoming pregnant with Margot. 26 years later Margot is living and working in Seattle and comes home to find her mother has passed away. Margot believes there may be something suspicious in Mina’s death and begins to investigate, discovering along the way that Mina had a lot of secrets. Margot struggles to come to terms with what she learns as she mourns the death of a mother she feels like she never knew.

The story takes place across two timelines. One is the story of Mina’s arrival in America and the first year of her life in LA. The second is modern day Margot trying to find out what happened to her mom. It’s a great family drama about the challenges of bridging two cultures and what drives people to seek a challenging undocumented life in America. It’s about how you never really know the history people are carrying with them and the way in which our secrets can haunt both us and the ones we love.

I thought this was a great debut novel, but I didn’t love it quite as much as I’d hoped. I felt the author struggled to keep the story moving at times and that the dual timeline wasn’t as well executed as it could have been. I was enthralled with Mina’s story and found it fascinating to learn about what drove her to America and the challenges she faced once arriving. It sheds a lot of light on how undocumented individuals are taken advantage of and can easily become trapped. How employers can abuse and manipulate their workers under the threat of reporting them to ICE. Unfortunately I didn’t find Margot’s story quite as engaging.

I struggled to understand why Margot was so suspicious of her mother’s death, I understand it was her own way of grieving her mother, but I didn’t really love the decision to try and link the present and the past. Mina’s life in the 1980’s was in most ways totally separate from her present day life, and I didn’t like how the author tried to link these two timelines so closely when they were so far removed from one another. The mystery element just didn’t really work for me and I think I would have preferred a more simple family drama about Mina’s life and Margot mourning the loss of someone she thought she knew but discovered she really didn’t. The right elements were all there, I just would have like to see some greater emotional exploration over the mystery.

But overall, it was a solid debut and I would give it 3.5 stars. Despite finding some weaknesses in the plot, I thought the writing was good and I’ll definitely be interested to see what else Nancy Jooyoun Kim writes in the future. I thought it was actually being released today and timed my review as such, but I see now on Goodreads that it actually released a week early, so happy 1 week since publication!

The Silent Patient

Rating: ⭐⭐.5
Author: Alex Michaelides
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pub. date: Feb. 2019 (read Mar. 2020 on Audible)

I have very mixed feelings about this book. I can’t deny that the ending was pretty good and the story was compelling for the last hour (I listened to this one). but the rest of the book was just so damn boring!!!

The Silent Patient tells the story of Alicia Berenson and her therapist, Theo Faber. Alicia was found years earlier in her home having shot her husband in the head 5 times. But after the event she completely clams up and refuses to speak, being admitted to a psychiatric hospital called The Grove. Theo is a psychotherapist and is intrigued by Alicia’s story and believes he can help her. He gets hired on at the Grove and begins looking into Alicia’s past, trying to get her to speak.

What surprises me most after finishing this book is how everyone calls it a page turner and says they couldn’t put it down. Until the big twist, I honestly thought this book was so dull. I really didn’t like Theo and found his repeated attempts to get Alicia to speak super boring. There’s a bunch of red herrings along the way, but I didn’t find any of them particularly compelling either.

At the same time that Theo is investigating Alicia’s past, we get snippets from her diary that she wrote prior to the murder of her husband. In the audiobook, her diary is narrated by a female voice actor, while the rest of the book is narrated by a male voice actor for Theo. I do have to acknowledge that the audiobook may have played a role in my lack of enjoyment of this book. The audio sample was of the female voice actor, who I actually really liked, but it turned out that 70-80% of the book is actually narrated by Theo, and I really didn’t like his voice actor. Although that might be the point because in the audiobook Theo comes across as really pretentious and patronizing. Not sure if others got the same tone from reading the book.

Anyways, despite liking Alicia’s voice actor, I still had a lot of problems with the diary, namely that NO ONE WRITES LIKE THIS IS A DIARY. Alicia includes full dialogue in her diary, which to me was a huge oversight on behalf of the author. I found the story in Alicia’s diary compelling, but it just wasn’t the right medium to tell it if you’re not going to commit to the idea that your character actually wrote it as a private memoir. Diaries are written for the writer and this diary was clearly written for an audience. It just felt like sloppy writing to me.

Moving on, I thought the twist was pretty good, but not totally shocking. I kind of saw it coming, I just wasn’t really sure the logistics of how the author was going to make it work. It’s one of those things where I felt like I knew what the end result was going to be, I just didn’t know how I would get there. I’ll give the author some credit though because I definitely did miss the signs.

I think I’m going to rate to rate this one 2.5 stars. I get the attraction, but I was definitely disappointed with it and was anxious to just finish so that I could move on to something more enjoyable. Maybe I would have had a different experience with this book had I read the paperback, but I just really didn’t like Theo and I felt the story was lacking in intrigue.

Disappearing Earth

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Julia Philips
Genres: Fiction, Mystery
Pub. date: May 2019 (read Mar. 2020)

so 2020 is definitely not my best reading year. I always knew reading 100 books a year was not sustainable, but I’ve really struggled this year. I feel like I should be reading more books then ever during this pandemic, but I did just get a new puppy and have generally been feeling unmotivated when it comes to reading. That said, after giving it some thought, I think public transit might be one of my critical success factors. I spend about an hour on public transit every day and I always read during that time. So on top of the benefit of getting a consistent hour of reading in every day, it also forces me to stay super engaged with my books because I’m forced to pick them up every day. Without that I think I’ve just been feeling less inclined to pick up new books or stick with them through the early chapters.

Anyways, enough with the life update, the real goal here is to sit down and finally write a review for Disappearing Earth, which may be somewhat challenging as it took me 4 months to read and I finished it over a month ago. However, the length of time it took me to read is not at all indicative of how much I enjoyed the book. I made the mistake of starting this one at the beginning of my 5 week honeymoon in New Zealand over Christmas. I got about 40% in and then didn’t read anything for the rest of the vacation because I was having too much of a blast! So it was months later by the time I picked it up again.

Disappearing Earth is about 2 sisters in rural Russia who disappear one day while out visiting the beach. The disappearance rocks the community, impacting many who never even knew the girls, and serving to highlight the inequities that exist among the many community members.

The book has an interesting structure – each chapter is narrated by a different character and we never return to the same character twice. All of the characters are loosely connected in some way, but many are still strangers to each other. Regardless, they are all in some way impacted by the disappearance of the two girls.

While interesting, I do think the structure of the novel was one of the contributing factors to why it took me so long to read the book. It was a little disheartening to finish the end of a chapter and then feel like you had to start again with getting to know a new character. However, I do think the structure is one of the beauties of the book, so it’s not something I would change. The writing is fantastic and I loved how everyone was somewhat connected and somewhat impacted by the disappearance of the sisters. It really highlights the impact that tragedy can have on a community and how it can be perceived by different people.

Class, race, and gender are all important themes in Disappearing Earth. Many of the characters are native and while they lament the probable death of the girls, the community’s reaction to the disappearance of two young white girls mostly serves to highlight how native women are de-valued and de-prioritized by law enforcement and the general public. Culture is an important piece of this book and it is steeped in Russian culture and attitude, but I still found it a stark reminder of the inequalities here in our Canadian indigenous communities as well.

Atmosphere is one of the key parts of the book and a dark atmosphere pervades the entire novel. The disappearance of the sisters in the first chapter clouds a sense of unease over the entirety of the novel. All of the characters are struggling in some way or another, with some being made scared or uncomfortable by the disappearance of the girls, and others jaded about it. All the while you wonder if it will ever be revealed what happened to them, or if, like much of life, we’re destined to go on forever not knowing. The real pain and anguish of disappearance is the uncertainty and unknowing.

So I don’t think this book is for everyone. I wouldn’t call it a fast paced read and I do wish I had read it at a different time. It’s a heavy read, but with gorgeous and perceptive writing, I’m so glad that I stuck with it.

Verity

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Colleen Hoover
Genres: Thriller, Mystery, Romance
Pub. date: Dec. 2018 (read Nov. 2019)

Every year I see the new Colleen Hoover book and say, “nah, I don’t think I’m gonna read her new book this year.” Then every year she gets nominated in the Goodreads Choice Awards and I decide to read it anyways.

I heard all kinds of reviews about how f-ed up this book is, which are all totally true. Verity is filled with plot twists, suspense, and a really creepy atmosphere, but the biggest question the book leaves me with is this: who the hell classed this book as a romance?!!!

Hoover is known for her romances, which to be honest I don’t really love, but in the last few years she’s been branching out from her normal material in favour of some more thought provoking storylines and social commentary. But romance has still always been central to her stories, so I was surprised when I started reading this one and found myself smack dab in the middle of a mystery thriller! I like a good mystery thriller, but I find them a bit repetitive after a while. Not Verity though – it gripped me from the very start and held my attention to the last page. Hoover still weaves some romance into the story (which I wasn’t that big a fan of), but I was able to move past it because the rest of the writing was great!

I’ve said this before, but Hoover is one of the best first chapter writers I’ve ever encountered. Starting a new book often feels like a bit of a chore because it takes a while to sink into the writing and the narrative, but once I made the decision to read Verity, I was really excited because I knew Hoover would deliver on a compelling beginning. But it wasn’t just the first chapter that was gripping. I read the whole thing in less than 24 hours and pretty much never put it down except to go to work. Say what you want about her romances, but Hoover is a compelling writer.

So what is Verity about might you ask? I skipped reading the synopsis on this one and honestly, I’d advise you to do the same. If you want a mind-bendy, slightly disturbing book with a killer twist, read no further and pick it up. If you need a bit more to go on, Verity is about ghost writer Lowen Ashleigh. She’s asked to author the 3 remaining books in an immensely popular thriller series because the original author, Verity Crawford, is no longer able to do so. To search for material on the rest of the series, she visits the author’s house to go through her office and strikes up a friendship with Verity’s husband, Jeremy. While there, she discovers a disturbing manuscript that makes her question everything she’s been told about Verity.

The setting reminded me a little of Ruth Ware’s, The Turn of the Key, while the plot and storytelling reminded me a lot of Alice Feeney’s, Sometimes I Lie. Lowen discovers a number of disturbing revelations about Verity’s past as creepy things start happening in the house that make her question her sanity. There’s a few random plot lines that don’t really seem to go anywhere, but they still add to the overall atmosphere of the book.

I’ve also said before that I’m not a big fan of the men Hoover writes as the love interests. This was the first Hoover book I read that focused less on the romance than the other aspects of the story though, so it was a welcome change. Emily May sums of my feelings about Hoover’s love interests well in her review where she notes, “I think I enjoy Hoover’s fucked-up books so much because I usually find her regular romances kinda fucked up. I like her books so much more when she’s writing about trauma and morally-questionable characters than when she’s trying to sell me a douche as a love interest.” Which brings me back to my original question – who decided to market this book as a romance? Everything about this book is “mystery/thriller” and someone needs to get this out of the romance genre so that more people pick it up.

Anyways, to sum it up, I really enjoyed it. The themes don’t have the same significance as some of her previous work, but it was still really fun to read and gripped me the entire time I was reading it.