The Grace Year

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Kim Liggett
Genres: Sci-fi, Dystopian, Young Adult
Pub. date: Oct. 8, 2019 (read in July 2019)

Special thanks to Netgalley and Wednesday Books for providing me with a free advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

I was halfway through this when I had to set it aside to read my book club pick for the month, No Exit by Taylor Adams. Both of these books are f***ed and I feel like I’ve been so anxious for the last two weeks because of it.

Both of these books succeeded in racking up my blood pressure, but that’s about where the comparisons end. No Exit was not a good book, this was.

The Grace Year is dystopian fiction about a society that believes women have a powerful magic that they grow into when they get their first period and that they must be sent away for a year to burn off that magic before they can be welcomed back into the community as wives. It’s a total wild ride that had me enthralled from the very beginning. It’s a dark read with a lot of violence, but unlike some other books I’ve read, the violence achieves something. Liggett uses that violence to make powerful social commentary on the roles of women in society, the way we treat one another, and how things could be different.

The Grace Year refers to the year when the girls are sent away to live in the woods and burn off their magic. The society is very much controlled by men who believes women need to be punished for Eve’s original sins. The Grace Year is never spoken about in the community, but is a grim time in every women’s life. Many come back missing body parts or emotionally scarred, and that’s just the girls that return. Many never return and are instead taken by poachers who harvest their body parts because the community believes in the medicinal properties of the dead girls magic.

While all the other girls are concerned with landing a husband before their grace year, Tierney is perfectly content to labour in the fields when she returns, not wanting the be controlled by a man. But once the girls begin their grace year and discover the freedom they have for the first time in their lives, they start to turn on one another and realize the real danger is not the poachers, but the pain they will inflict on one another.

It’s a dark book and I did struggle with it at some points, but like I said, I think the violence serves a purpose in this book, which is why I was able to read through it. Liggett has an interesting writing style and the book itself has a really interesting structure. The girls take out their frustrations on one another because they’ve never been allowed to express emotion before or learned healthy ways to deal with their anger. They have allowed the men to control them for so long that they’ve completely lost any sense of compassion and have never experienced the beauty of female friendship and empathy.

Liggett keeps us guessing throughout the novel and I thought she did a great job with world building. At first things are a little confusing, but the confusion makes it more engaging because you don’t really understand the terrors lurking in the woods or why they exist. The narrative doesn’t follow the traditional storytelling structure, yet the concept of moving through the seasons of the grace year provides enough structure to guide us through the story.

I’m not sure if this is meant to be a standalone or not. I went into it thinking it was a standalone, but now I think it could go either way. It still works as a standalone, but I could also see the author expanding the story. There’s lots of room to continue developing the ideas of this book, but sometimes it’s not needed. The ending is ambiguous and I kind of like it that way.

The Grace Year will be available in stores Oct. 8, 2019.

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Say You Still Love Me

Rating: .5
Author: K.A. Tucker
Genres: Fiction, Romance, New Adult
Pub. date: Aug. 6th, 2019 (read May 2019)

Thanks to Atria Books and Netgalley for providing me with a free advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Simple Wild was one of my favourite books of 2018, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on K.A. Tucker’s new book. I’ll admit, this one didn’t appeal to me quite as much as The Simple Wild, but as someone who worked as a camp counselor as a teenager and also works in a male dominated field, I thought me and Piper could probably relate.

Overall, I liked this book and it kept me engaged throughout, but it definitely couldn’t hold a candle to The Simple Wild. I was looking forward to a slow burn romance, which I got to a certain extent, but mostly this book just left me scratching my head about who the intended audience is.

Say You Still Love Me is about 29 year old Piper Calloway, a senior VP at her Dad’s billion dollar development firm, Calloway Group. Piper is slated to take over the company when her father retires, but as a young woman, she struggles to be taken seriously in this male-dominated environment. Piper is thrown further off guard by the arrival of her first love, Kyle, who takes a job as a security guard in her building. Piper and Kyle fell in love 13 years ago at Camp Wawa when they were counselors at 16. The relationship ended suddenly and PIper always wondered what happened to Kyle and his sudden reappearance forces her to confront questions that have been buried in the past.

The story is told in alternating timelines between 2006 and 2019. The 2006 timeline is a whirlwind camp romance, while the 2019 timeline is more of the slow burn romance I was looking for. 16 year old Piper is totally head over heels for Kyle and acts how you might expect a dopey teenager in love to act. Whereas 29 year old PIper is a high-powered executive who’s trying to figure out her love life while also running a billion dollar company.

Which is why I questioned who the intended audience is. As a 28 year old, I was thrilled to read a new adult book about a successful young woman in her late twenties. I was less interested in reading about a gushy teenager having her first romantic and sexual experiences.

I really think this book is intended for young professionals rather than young adults (teenagers), and no offense, but as a 28 year old, I don’t want to read about Piper’s first fumbling experiences with sex. I’m not a prude, but I don’t really think this book is appropriate for 16 year olds, which begs the question, who is it appropriate for? I don’t have a problem with sex scenes in young adult books because we all know teenagers are having sex, but I’m more a fan of the less-explicit, cutesy love scenes. These are definitely explicit adult sex scenes and as an adult I don’t want to read about two 16 year olds experimenting with blow jobs.

So a lot of the romance made me uncomfortable because I felt too old to be reading it, even though I think I was the intended audience for the book. I also struggled to buy into Kyle and Piper’s romance 13 years later. I do think that your first love holds a bit of a special place in your heart, but these two dated for 6 weeks and then never saw each other for 13 years. I did believe that they would still be attracted to each other and maybe pursue something, but I didn’t buy into the whole no-one-else-measures-up-to-you, I’ve-been-missing-you-for-13-years bit. Mostly because it’s kind of sad. I had to agree with Kyle that he and Piper came from such different backgrounds, it was never going to work between them. Everyone changes and grows an inordinate amount between the ages of 16 and 29 and I thought it was a bit disingenuous to pretend like they were still the same people.

So as a romance, this didn’t really work for me. But part of what made the Simple Wild so great was that it wasn’t just a romance. It was a book about family relationships and choices. If you removed the romance from The Simple Wild, it still had a lot to offer. That’s what I was hoping for from this book and like I said, I was excited to read about an ambitious 29 year old woman trying to make it in real estate development and construction.

Piper was pretty baller as a VP, but unfortunately I didn’t love this story line either. I was thrilled to see a young woman in a position of power, but I was disappointed by how she got there. Was she deserving of a senior partner role? Potentially – I think she had the skills to get there some day, but I’m sorry, as a 29 year old, she was definitely only there because of her father. I was angry about how a lot of the men treated her, but I couldn’t help but agree that it was nepotism that put her there and that’s not the kind of role model I’m looking for. I felt like I was supposed to believe that she got to her position by her own merits, but she so obviously didn’t. It’s so hard for women to get senior management positions and it was irksome to see someone who only made it there because of her father. It was uninspiring.

I also struggled to like Piper. She was a spoiled rich girl. I like that Tucker’s heroines are flawed – Calla definitely got on my nerves sometimes, but at the end of the day, she really grew as a person and I loved watching that process. Piper answered all of her problems with money. She really doesn’t understand how people like Kyle live and her privilege and wealthy father provided her the opportunity to basically live in ignorance. I saw the ending coming a mile away and I was disappointed in Piper for never checking in on her friends after camp or following up on the “incident” that we wait the whole book to find out about.

Kyle talks about how grounded Piper is being nice to her assistant and talking to the old security guard every day and letting her friends live in her penthouse, but I thought those were all just signs of being a normal, nice human being, nothing extraordinary. Piper was a total Daddy’s girl and I always find those kinds of father-daughter relationships creepy. Like she’s your daughter Kieran, she’s not your possession. You have no right to make decisions for her or keep things from her. But I think a lot of girls will still probably like this because America romanticizes the father-daughter relationship and creepy, overprotective, possessive behaviours. It was just not for me.

Unfortunately the writing of this review is diminishing my opinion of this book and I’m struggling to find what I did like about it. I didn’t like Piper’s dad, who demonstrates textbook signs of emotional abuse, I didn’t like how entitled Piper was, and I didn’t like how easily she forgave some pretty sketchy things that Kyle and her Dad did. Even her friends were a bit of a mystery to me. I understand why she stayed friends with Ashley, but I never really understood Christa or how they ended up being friends. They seemed to have nothing in common.

Overall, I just couldn’t suspend my disbelief for this book. I know romances are sometimes over the top, but I prefer ones that are more grounded in reality. I didn’t think this book had a whole lot going for it outside the romance and since that didn’t cut it for me, it didn’t have a lot to offer. The writing is still good though – I didn’t struggle to read this – even though I didn’t enjoy the subject matter. Tucker is good at writing witty dialogue and I thought that held true in this book, it just wasn’t as good coming from two lovestruck teenagers.

Books I Can’t Wait to Read in 2019

Mystery/Thrillers

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware – Sep. 5, 2019
I’ve read every book Ruth Ware has written and I will be reading this one too! I don’t think Ware is the best mystery writer out there, but I find her books so compulsively readable that I’m always thrilled to pick up a new one! Especially because this one sounds SO GOOD! It’s about a woman who takes a live-in Nanny job in the Scottish highlands, which she thinks is going to be a dream job and ends up being a nightmare that lands her in prison for a murder she didn’t commit! This sounds so intriguing and I can’t wait to read it! Goodreads says this book is coming out in early Sep, but Edelweiss is listing the release date as Aug. 6, so we’ll just have to wait and see!

I Know Who You Are by Alice Feeney – May 16, 2019
Alice Feeney only has one other book, Sometimes I Lie, but I read it last year with my book club and we all loved it! I was really impressed with it as a debut novel and it had so many twists that I did not see coming at all! I know Who You Are is about actress Aimee Sinclair. She has a fight with her husband one day and then comes home to find him missing. The next day, she goes to the bank to find $10,000 missing from her account – the kicker is that she is the person who supposedly emptied the account. Suddenly her life is turned upside down and nothing is as it seems.

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager – Jul. 2, 2019
Last year and read and enjoyed Riley Sager’s second thriller novel, The Last Time I Lied. I haven’t read his debut novel yet, but I’m planning to read both Final Girls and his new book, Lock Every Door. Lock Every Door is about Jules Larson, who takes a job apartment-sitting at the mysterious Bartholomew building. At first, Jules likes the job, but when her fellow apartment-sitter disappears and she learns about Bartholomew’s dark, hidden secrets, she must race to uncover the buildings hidden past and save her friend!

Historical Fiction

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See – Mar. 5, 2019
I’m cheating a bit on this book because I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC and I have already read it, but I’m including it anyways because it releases in March and fans of Lisa See will not be disappointed! The Island of Sea Women is set on Jeju Island in South Korea and takes us through 70 years of history – from the 1930’s to the 2000’s. Jeju Island’s culture is focused around women – where they are the core providers for their families and the men stay home and take care of the home and children. It tells the story of Young-sook and her friend Mi-ja, who are both part of the Haenyeo collective of divers who make a living diving for sealife in the fridgid sea.

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid – Mar. 5, 2019
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo took Booktube by storm last year! I read it back in 2017 with my book club and also loved it – so I’m so excited to pick this one up later this year. Daisy Jones and the Six is about solo singer Daisy Jones and popular band, The Six. I’m not totally clear on the plot of the novel, but it’s set in the 70’s and is guaranteed to include all of the drama of sex, drugs, and rock & roll. I loved how diverse Evelyn Hugo and how good of a story teller Taylor Jenkins Reid is, so I can’t wait to read this one too!

The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia – Apr. 16, 2019
This is a lesser promoted novel that I stumbled upon on Netgalley and became immediately intrigued with. It’s by a Mexican author and has actually been published since 2015, but the English translation is being released in April. It’s about an abandoned baby that was found under a bridge and the impact he has on the small village. It’s set during the Mexican Revolution and the outbreak of the spanish influenza in 1918 and this setting is what really intrigued me about the book. I already have a copy of this from Netgalley and I’m looking forward to learning more about this period of Mexican history.

Fantasy

Romanov by Nadine Brandes – May 7, 2019
Romanov is a historical fantasy novel about Anastasia Romanov. It re-imagines history where instead of Anastasia dying, she was tasked with smuggling out a spell on her way to Siberia that might be the only thing that could save her condemned family. I don’t really know much more about the story, but I’ve always been a little obsessed with Anastasia and I pretty much only had to hear the words “Anastasia” and “fantasy” and I was in. In discovering this book, I also discovered that Brandes has another historical fantasy novel about Guy Fawkes plot to blow up the British government, Fawkes, which I must now also add to my TBR because that also sounds amazing!

Sherwood by Meaghan Spooner – Mar. 19, 2019
This is another book where I read a really short description of the book and was immediately like, “I have to read this.” Sherwood is basically a gender-bent retelling of Robin Hood. In this version, Robin Hood is dead and his betrothed, Maid Marion is bereft. The people of Nottingham are greatly suffering, especially with the loss of their hero. In her desire to help her people, she dons Robin’s green cloak and is mistaken to be him. The people are desperate for a saviour and Marion decides to do her best to help them.

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi – Jan. 15, 2019
This one comes out today, so we don’t even have to wait for it anymore! I am totally shocked at myself for including The Gilded Wolves on this list because I strongly disliked Chokshi’s other book, The Star-Touched Queen, but the plot just sounds so good that I’ve decided to give her another try! The Gilded Wolves is set in Paris in the late 1800’s and is being compared to Six of Crows, which I absolutely loved! It’s about a rag-tag group of people who assemble to hunt a lost artifact for an all-powerful society through the street of Paris. It’s received really good early reviews and I’m definitely intrigued to read it!

Young Adult

With Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo – May 7, 2019
As with many of the books on this list, I’m excited to read this upcoming release because I read Acevedo’s novel, The Poet X, last year and loved it! Along with the story, I really liked that the Poet X was written in prose. There’s no indication on the synopsis of With Fire on High that it will also be written in prose, but it still sounds really good. It’s about a teen mom who loves to cook but struggles to make ends meet and care for her abuela. She dreams of taking her school’s culinary class, going on the class trip to Spain, and one day working in a real kitchen. Can she turn any of these dreams into reality?

Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan – Feb 12, 2019
I stumbled upon this new release on Netgalley as well and while I wasn’t approved for an ARC on this one, I’m really excited to read it when it comes out in February. It’s about two high school students who are frustrated with the status quo at their school and start a Women’s Rights Club. They get a lot of positive support when they start the club, but they are eventually targeted by online trolls who threaten their club and their voices. I’m here for any and all YA books on feminism so I can’t wait to read this. What makes me more excited is that the two girls on the cover are black and white, so I’m hoping this will be a more intersectional, feminist read than some other similarly plotted books that I’ve read in the past.

Internment by Samira Ahmed – Mar. 19, 2019
This is another book I’m a little surprised to include on the list because I read Ahmed’s debut novel, Love, Hate, and Other Filters, last year and did not like it. But I don’t want to judge an author by one book, especially their debut, so I’m excited to give this one a try, which sounds WAY different than her first novel. Internment is a dystopian novel about teenager Layla Amin, whose family is forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens. Do I really need to say more? It’s set in the near-future and I think we can all agree that with the current president, anything is really possible, so I’m intrigued what social commentary Ahmed is going to make about the current political climate. I actually just received an ARC for this one, so I’m planning to read it soon.

Non-Fiction

The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West – May 7, 2019
This is a bit of a longer list than I usually make, but there’s just so many good books coming out this year! Lindy West’s new book OBVIOUSLY has to be on this list because just everything about it screams something I must read. I really like Lindy’s writing (along with Jessica Valenti and Laurie Penny) and I’m a here for a book about how the “patriarchy, intolerance, and misogyny have conquered not just politics but American culture itself.” It sounds like this book is going to cover a lot of topics, from the 2016 election to the #MeToo movement, I can’t wait to read West’s observations and critiques.

Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson – Mar. 12, 2019
Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak was published 20 years ago and was monumental in discussing the impacts of rape and sexual assault. She has published many other books since then, although I’ll admit, Speak is the only one of her books I’ve read. Shout is going to be a memoir collection of poems and essays about sexual assault, the progress we’ve made, and some personal anecdotes from the author’s personal life. It sounds like a really great anthology and I’m interested to see what the author has to say 20 years after the publication of her ground-breaking novel.

Keeping Lucy

Rating: ⭐
Author: T. Greenwood
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pub date: Aug 6, 2019 (read Jan. 2019)

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I’m a little on the fence of how to rate this book. I read Rust & Stardust last year and really liked it, so I was excited to receive a copy of T. Greenwood’s newest book, Keeping Lucy, in hopes of learning more about a period of history I didn’t know much about. I did like this book and I did learn something, but I didn’t like it quite as much as Rust & Stardust because I felt it lacked in plot.

Finding Lucy is about a family from Massachusetts in the 1970’s whose second child is born with down synodrome. Down syndrome has a sad history in the United States and the delivery doctor strongly recommended enrolling the baby, Lucy, in an institution that could better see to her needs. Her mother, Ginny, was excluded from the decision to give up the baby and years later, she struggles with the loss of her little girl. When Lucy is two years old, a journalist publishes an expose about Willowridge, Lucy’s school, that reveals the deplorable living conditions in which the children are kept. Ginny is horrified and upset by the article and travels to Willowridge for the first time to see the conditions for herself and meet her daughter.

Greenwood definitely has a unique style of writing. It is very simple and straight forward, but does an excellent job of making you feel acutely uncomfortable and anxious. Rust & Stardust was about the kidnapping of Sally Horner, the young girl who inspired Lolita, and made me feel so anxious and frustrated about the way Sally was manipulated and treated. I had a similar reaction to Keeping Lucy in that I found this part of history shocking, I was frustrated by the way the health and justice system worked in the 1970’s, particularly in how it ignores the agency of women, and I was so anxious about the decisions the characters made and the potential ramifications. I flew through the book, reading about 75% of it on a lazy saturday.

I liked that this looked at a disturbing and lesser known part of history, but unfortunately I was a little disappointed in the execution. I was expecting this book to focus on Willowridge, the poor living conditions, the pursuit of justice against the institution, and the fight for custody of the children and for people with Down Syndrome to be recognized as people with a full set of rights. Willowridge is not a real place, but I trust it was imagined based on other similar institutions. Likewise, Ginny is not a real person, but I imagine there are parents out there who unknowningly were advised to send their babies off to similar institutions. In Ginny’s case, she was more or less blindsided by her husband and father-in-law, which plays a large role in the story.

I liked Ginny’s story arc in that it highlights how little agency women had in their lives and relationships. But overall I felt the author missed an opportunity to write a more historically meaningful plot. In order for the babies to be committed to the institution, parents essentially gave up their custody rights to the state. Once the story got going, I was expecting for this to be a story about Ginny’s battle with the state to save her daughter and regain custody while fighting against the antiquanted and sexist beliefs of her father in law, who thought he was entitled to make decisions for his son and family. The story provided a great look at how the patriarchy robbed women of any power or agency and the gender dynamics that often existed in families at this time. But ultimately this story was not about a custody battle, but rather was a drawn out road trip in which Ginny tries to escape with her daughter and the trials she faces as a single woman/mother in rural America. It was an interesting story with a surprising amount of action, but meaningless in that while I understood Ginny’s desperation, her actions were drastic and not realistic. I know Ginny was only try to save her daughter from being returned to Willowridge, but her actions were short sighted and actually really harmful to the result that she wanted. She’s applauded at the end for her good motherly instincts, which I thought pretty rich because she basically just ran away from any responsibility.

Ginny and Martha made a lot of bad decisions that I felt there was really no coming back from. I disliked the ending because I thought it was extremely unlikely and absolved Ginny of any wrongdoing. (view spoiler) What I really wanted to hear about was the struggle all those other families went through in gaining custody of their children and what legal actions were taken against the institutions for their neglect. People with Down Syndrome had to fight for their legal rights, care, and education, and I would have much preferred to learn more about that.

The story did hold my interest throughout the whole book and I sped through it, but the longer GInny and Martha spent on the road, the more I wondered what the whole point was. I didn’t expect them to be on the run for so long and I was really surprised when it ended up being the main plotline of the story. This is a fascinating part of history and I really just wish we had gotten a different story. I won’t fault the author because she did still deliver on a fast paced and interesting story, but personally, it just wasn’t the story I was hoping for and I thought it was a bit of a missed opportunity. I’m still giving it 3 stars because I did learn something and I thought the writing was pretty good, but overall it just left me wanting more.

Rust & Stardust

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author:
T. Greenwood
Genres: Historical Fiction, True Crime
Pub Date: Aug. 7th, 2018 (read July 2018)

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I got an ARC of Rust & Stardust a while ago, but I was never really in the mood to read it, so I kept postponing. But I finally started it last week and totally powered through it in 3 days.

As is my style, I knew very little about this book going in, except that it was about the true crime that inspired Nabokov’s classic, Lolita. Disclaimer: I haven’t read Lolita, so I’m not really sure what intrigued me so much about this one, but I’m glad I requested it because it was a really interesting fictional account, based on the true kidnapping of 11 year old Sally Horner.

Rust & Stardust features a series of narrators from Sally’s family and from individuals that crossed paths with Sally during her kidnapping, but it is predominantly narrated by Sally herself. I don’t often like child narrators that much, but I thought Sally’s voice in this book, and Greenwood’s style of writing, we’re perfect for this time setting and plot. Sally reads a copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn throughout this story (one of my personal favourite books), and I thought that the writing and narration style were very similar to Betty Smith’s classic and I thought it was such a fitting comparison to have Sally relate to Francie’s experience.

For some context, this story starts when Sally gets caught trying to shoplift a notebook by Mr. Warner, a customer in the store. However, he convinces Sally that he actually works for the FBI and that she is in big trouble for trying to steal. He essentially blackmails her into coming to Atlantic City with him so that she can clear her name before a judge and convinces her she needs to keep this shame secret from her mother and sister.

What follows is 2 years of captivity for Sally at the hands of the perverted Mr. Warner (Frank La Salle in real life). While her family is desperate to find her and slowly starts to fall apart in her absence, Sally is coming of age in extremely horrifying and abusive circumstances. Her kidnapping is pretty horrifying, but I appreciated the author for not being overly graphic in her descriptions. I thought the author totally nailed Sally’s voice. As the reader, you just want to rage at Mr. Warner, but you can also understand Sally’s confusion at the turn of events, her inner guilt and shame at what she’s done and what’s been done to her, and how her thoughts get so turned around by Mr. Warner’s constant gaslighting.

In reality, almost all of this story is fabricated, but the bones of the novel are based on true events. It is mostly unknown what actually happened between Sally and Frank La Salle during the 2 years of her captivity, but Greenwood has appropriately conveyed how evil Frank La Salle is (even if some of the events are fabricated). He was a character that made me so mad, mostly because of how he mentally abuses and gaslights Sally throughout the entirety of the book. He is so manipulative and aside from physically abusing her, he really gets inside her head and makes her question everything about her family and the world. It was so heartbreaking to watch a young girl have to come of age (something that can be traumatizing enough for an 11 year old) without her mother and sister for support.

There’s also a whole side story going on with Sally’s mother, Ella, and her sister and husband, Susan and Al. I didn’t find the side plot as compelling as Sally’s story, but it did add an interesting dimension to the story.

Mostly I just liked that I learned something new from this book, and my enjoyment was greatly aided by Sally’s voice in this novel. I thought the writing fit the time period perfectly. I felt like I had been transported to 1950 and even though I thought the writing was told in a slightly detached kind of way, it conveyed so well Sally’s horror and confusion and how a single event can compound and become unimaginably bad and seemingly insurmountable without proper emotional support.

A good (but upsetting) read, I liked this a lot more than anticipated.