Book Review: The Hypnotist’s Love Story

Image: Goodreads

Image: Goodreads

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Liane Moriarty is known for soap opera-esque stories that while dramatic, don’t quite follow the norms of their respected genres: The Husband’s Secret was a quasi-thriller that isn’t traditionally thrilling, and The Hypnotist’s Love Story is a quasi-romance that isn’t traditionally romantic.

This novel stars Ellen O’Farrell, a hypnotherapist in a bizarre predicament. Her new boyfriend Patrick is having trouble committing—not because he doesn’t believe in the validity of her unique profession, but because of his stalker ex-girlfriend Saskia.

Ever the optimist, Ellen finds this situation more intriguing than insane. Saskia follows them around town, shows up to Patrick’s son’s games, and even breaks into Ellen’s house and bakes her cookies. So why does the reader also feel sorry for her?

Moriarty is great about planting seeds of doubt, and this time it’s in Patrick. Why does he get so angry over Saskia and yet refuses to call the police? Why is he dating Ellen when it’s so obvious that he’s not over his late wife? And if he’s such a perfect boyfriend, then why can’t seem to help with the simplest chores?

I feel that this novel could have been fantastic if it followed conventions a bit more closely. I expected some lighthearted chick-lit, but Saskia’s disturbing behavior opens an unexpected dialogue about grief, mental illness and boundaries. Ellen’s relationship with Patrick moves so quickly that it’s easy to empathize with Saskia’s inability to move on.

However, every time you think the book is going to delve deeper, one obstacle gets pushed aside and another is introduced. Ellen must also deal with the reemergence of her estranged father and the wrath of a dissatisfied client, but these conflicts are too easily resolved in the end.

Not quite a romance novel, not yet a crime drama—The Hypnotist’s Love Story suffers an unfortunate identity crisis and doesn’t live up to its potential. And at a whopping 480 pages, that’s a long haul in literary purgatory.

This novel was different and fun but not the home run that I was looking for. That said, Moriarty is a great author, and I’ll continue reading her work because she’s more than capable of hitting those homers.

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Book Review: Another Day

Image: Goodreads

Image: Goodreads

Rating: 4 out of 5

About four years ago, I read David Levithan’s young-adult bestseller Every Day, which is narrated by a genderless character known only as “A,” who wakes up each day in a different 16-year-old body. A seems comfortable in this unique life, that is until s/he inhabits the boyfriend of Rhiannon and shares an amazing day with her at the beach. After falling head over heels in love, A realizes just how difficult maintaining a relationship can be when you must constantly reintroduce yourself as someone else.

Another Day is Levithan’s retelling of Every Day, this time in Rhiannon’s perspective. The high schooler may not have challenges as unusual as A’s, but dealing with uninvolved parents and an angry, alcoholic boyfriend are no walk in the park either. It’s Justin’s 180-degree personality turn from selfish to sensitive that convinces her that A truly is the body-snatcher he says he is.

Pronoun usage is one of my few complaints of the novel. I’ve decided to use “he,” because it’s very clear that Rhiannon is only sexually attracted to A when he inhabits conventionally good-looking male bodies, but her constant second-guessing (he? she?) becomes tiresome after awhile.

I wished that she would have mentally selected a gender and moved on or consciously decided to use a gender-neutral pronoun like “ze” to address her bias. This is, however, a relatively minor quip, because Levithan does a good job in all his novels to promote awareness and acceptance of all gender identities and sexual orientations.

Although not as good as the original, Another Day is still an innovative love story with great characters. Rhiannon balances the trials of teen life well: at times meek and eager to please, prioritizing her emotionally abusive relationship over that with her friends, and at other times, mature beyond her years, knowing that respecting A’s hosts is more important than their own feelings.

That said, I don’t believe Another Day can exist as a standalone novel, and I recommend that anyone interested should read Every Day for context. The love interests in each story can come across as a bit self-absorbed and oblivious (whether it’s Rhiannon’s hangup on gender or A’s naivete that love can conquer all), so it’s important to understand both POVs to get the complete picture.

I may not have learned anything outrageously new or enlightening in this companion novel, but I found it sweet and endearing. Levithan continues to be one of my favorite authors, and it was nice to revisit this story again.

Book Review: American Gods

Image: Goodreads

Image: Goodreads

Rating 3.5 out of 5

After hearing so many great things about Neil Gaiman, I finally made time to read the fantasy classic American Gods. I even made extra time for the tenth-anniversary edition, which is considered the author’s preferred text with an additional 12,000 words, clocking in at 500+ pages total.

However, as much as I wanted to rave about how amazing this novel was and how those pages flew by, this was not the case. In fact, according to Goodreads, it took me three whole months to finish it, because I either couldn’t motivate myself to keep reading or kept getting sidetracked by other books that interested me more.

I went into American Gods believing that it would be an epic battle story, but it’s more accurate to call it an epic road trip story. The protagonist, mysteriously known as Shadow, has just been released from prison only to find that his wife has died in a car accident while partaking in some—ahem—extramarital activities with his best friend.

With no job, spouse, or sense of purpose in life, it’s not surprising that Shadow gets roped into doing the bidding of Mr. Wednesday, an intriguing figure with a penchant for trickery. As they tour the United States getting into various levels of trouble, Shadow eventually learns that Wednesday is none other than Odin, the Norse god of the gallows, and his friends are all ancient deities struggling to survive in a world that no longer believes in them.

The entire novel builds to a point where the old gods must take on the new ones—Media, Technology, and the like—but it’s my opinion that I held Gaiman in too high of esteem that I was bound to be disappointed. Even fans of the novel reassured me that the ending would make the meandering middle of the book worth it, but I have to disagree.

Don’t get me wrong, this story is wonderfully written. Gaiman is a master of characterization and symbolism, and lovers of mythology will delight in reading between the lines. The “coming to America” snippets were especially interesting, because the reader learns about how these immortals immigrated to the New World, both physically and in the minds of their worshippers.

I realize that I may be in the minority, but I felt that American Gods did not reach its potential. There was simply too much humanity and not enough fantasy for my liking. I’m certainly no Christian, but the fact that Jesus doesn’t even make an appearance seems outrageously misguided. A story with such a unique premise deserves more blasphemy to truly drive home the point that gods are only as powerful as their ability to influence mankind.

I respect Gaiman creatively and am certainly interested in reading more of his work, but I can’t say that this was a knockout read for me. I didn’t love it, but I like it enough to recommend it, and I will definitely check out the STARZ television adaptation coming next year. I have a feeling that HBO’s success with Game of Thrones will inspire a more thrilling and controversial retelling of Gaiman’s bestseller, and I look forward to watching the true battle between the gods begin.

Note: It’s that time of year again! NaNoWriMo season is upon us, and this will be my fourth year participating. Unlike previous efforts, I’m only interested in writing for writing’s sake this time and won’t be competing to win. That said, to focus on my own novel, I’ll be taking a month-long blogging hiatus. I wish my fellow Americans a happy Turkey Day, and I’ll see you all in December!

Book and Movie Review: The Girl on the Train

Image: Goodreads

Image: Goodreads

BEWARE: SPOILERS AHEAD!

Last week, the real-life Book Club Babes discussed the bestselling thriller, The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins, and I was delighted that it was our first meetup in which every single member had finished the novel! That fact that people weren’t just showing up for the wine (not that there’s anything wrong with that…) demonstrates just how good this book is!

Because I watched the film adaptation shortly thereafter, I decided to summarize my thoughts on both versions in one review. Did the movie live up to the book, or was it a total trainwreck? (Sorry, couldn’t help myself!)

Book Rating: 4 out of 5

Before I begin, let me get this out of the way: Yes, The Girl on the Train is similar to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn in the sense that they are both popular thrillers that were published around the same time and feature an unreliable female lead. To give a quick plot summary, this novel is written from the POVs of three women: Rachel, an alcoholic struggling emotionally after her husband Tom divorces her; Anna, the other woman whom Tom leaves Rachel for; and Megan, Anna’s nanny who is found dead.

Whereas Gone Girl is a psychological “he said, she said” thriller, The Girl on the Train is more of a traditional murder mystery. Despite its best efforts, I never got the sense that Rachel was Megan’s murderer, just a pitiable drunk mess who cannot cope with her infertility, which she believes was the cause of her addiction.

And as much as I hated Anna for relishing her role as mistress, it was difficult to consider her aggressive enough to take matters into her own hands. Blame it on being a hardcore feminist I suppose (and the fact that over one-third of female homicides are committed by an intimate partner), but my intuition kept pointing to the men in this story as the real suspects, and that gut feeling turned out to be right.

Perhaps this is why I was disappointed that the book had such a catty tone, pitting these female rivals against each other. There were many comments from Anna and Megan about “winning” their lovers’ hearts due to their superior looks, and Rachel suffered a fair dose of body-shaming as her alcoholism wreaked havoc on her appearance.

I understand that this is how adultery plays out in the real world, with women blamed as “homewreckers,” but it was clear that this was the true red herring in the novel, not the mysterious redheaded man often found riding the same train as Rachel. Without giving too much away, in the end, the story is redeemed by placing Anna and Rachel in a position of solidarity against the true villain whom they should have been pointing fingers at the entire time.

Overall, this is a book that keeps you guessing, and although some members of our book club hoped for more of a twist, we all agreed that it was an enjoyable read. With multifaceted characters and plenty of drama, this is a great book for discussion and worthy of its fanfare.

Movie Rating: 4 out of 5

After Tim Burton’s “Miss Peregrine” utterly ruined Ransom Riggs’ amazing YA series, I went into the theater with reservations. I mean, who wants to get their heart broken twice in one week? Fortunately, this film directed by Tate Taylor (“The Help,” “Get On Up”) for the most part was an accurate depiction of the novel, save for these exceptions:

  • Lazy, but minor change: Setting the story in New York, instead of London (even though Emily Blunt inexplicably keeps her British accent as Rachel).
  • Hollywood’s obsession with beauty: Not portraying Rachel as large and “off-putting” as she as described.
  • Because all people of color are the same, right?: Miscasting Latino actor Edgar Ramirez to play Megan’s therapist, Dr. Kamal Abdic, without changing the character’s name to match his different ethnicity.

Excusing the misguided attempt at cultural diversity, I thought that the cast was excellent. I especially loved Emily Blunt, who nailed the sad, slightly unhinged woman scorned who just wants to uncover the secrets of her blackouts, and Allison Janney, who came across as just the right amount of bitchy as Detective Riley.

Since it can’t escape the comparisons, I did enjoy watching “Gone Girl” more, because the suspense was more intense and had higher stakes. Rosamund Pike is absolutely flawless in that film, and the manipulative game she plays as Amy Dunne is something that I could watch again and again. “The Girl on the Train” was a great adaptation in its own right, but not nearly as clever or gripping to warrant multiple viewings.

And honestly, if you’re not even going to offer the killer cover of Kanye West’s “Heartless” from the movie trailer in the soundtrack, then that’s total justification for docking one star in its rating. Now that’s something I’d put on repeat!

Book Review: Tales of the Peculiar

Image: Goodreads

Image: Goodreads

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Today is the premiere of Tim Burton’s film adaptation of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and as disappointed as I am in its creative direction in regards to changing Emma’s entire peculiarity, I will begrudgingly give this movie a shot.

To amp myself up, I read Ransom Riggs’ latest book, Tales of the Peculiar, which was published this month and given to me by my brother as a birthday gift.

Fans of the series may be let down that this isn’t a prequel or sequel, but rather a collection of short stories, annotated by Millard Nullings, the intellectual ward of Miss Peregrine who is completely invisible.

All of these stories read as fables from peculiar history, teaching moral lessons, ranging from “stay true to yourself” to “be nice to pigeons.” Many are tongue-in-cheek revisions of idioms, turning metaphorical sayings into supernatural origin stories.

For example, in the tale, “The Splendid Cannibals,” a village of peculiars who can regrow limbs literally sell their arms and legs to maneaters to afford ever more lavish homes just to keep up with the Joneses. I don’t want to give away the ending, but it’s certainly a morbid way to warn against materialism.

Even though no major characters of Riggs’ series make appearances, this book is a nice treat that’s short enough to read in a couple days. It has a gorgeous green cover with gold lettering, and the illustrations at the beginning of each story are wonderfully done. If you can’t get enough of the peculiar universe, then this is the book for you!

Book Review: Agnes Grey

Image via Goodreads

Image via Goodreads

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

After a belated book club this week, followed by a fantastic birthday weekend, I can finally share my thoughts on Anne Brontë’s Agnes Grey.

I haven’t read so-called “literature” in a while, so I felt rusty, but the book club babes and I agreed that it was great to be challenged intellectually. One friend even commented that she enjoyed needing to consult a dictionary a few times!

Agnes Grey is the perfect novel if you haven’t kept up with the classics since college. It’s a short read with a simple plot: Agnes is a 19-year-old living in rural England who decides to become a governess to help her family who’s struggling financially.

A pious young woman with a strict sense of morality and integrity, Agnes must learn how to raise the spoiled children of the English elite. Her patience is tested, first with the Bloomfield brats and then with the Murray girls. Time and again, she is insulted for her shabby clothes, plain looks, and other indications of her lower socioeconomic class.

Unlike the gothic romances of her sisters Charlotte and Emily, Anne Brontë’s debut novel is not tragic. Despite her meekness, she attracts the interest of Edward Weston, the town’s parson, who spends his time assisting the poor villagers. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that Agnes and Edward find their happy ending, since the stakes of this story are so low. Other than terrible demon-children abusing animals for their own amusement, you never get the sense of real danger.

When it comes to literary merit, Agnes Grey is not even remotely in the realm of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. The plot is too straightforward, the style too expositional, and none of the characters ever develop, for better or worse. In fact, as I was reading, I kept giving Brontë a pass given how difficult it was for a woman to write in the 19th century, all the while knowing that she’d never be published today.

That said, for what this book is—an autobiographical narrative of one woman trying to remain true to herself in a world of vanity—I appreciated the reading experience. At times it even felt like a Victorian version of “Mean Girls,” with Agnes playing a Cady Heron who never flipped to the dark side. Those of us who were victimized by the richer, more attractive and popular Rosalie Murrays and Regina Georges will feel vindicated when the nice girl wins in the end.

Although all the Brontës are creatively successful in their own rights, there’s definitely a reason why Anne lives in the shadow of her sisters and Agnes Grey rarely makes it on required reading lists in school.

Book Review: The Book of the Unnamed Midwife

Image via Goodreads

Rating: 5 out of 5

Happy Labor Day weekend everybody! I’m happy to announce that after eight whole months of nothing truly wowing me, 2016 has finally delivered an amazing, five-star read!

This book is extra special because I have the pleasure of knowing the author personally! By day, Meg Elison sits two desks down from me as our company’s social media guru/ninja/*insert nauseating Silicon Valley title here*, but off the clock, she managed to find the time to pen an award-winning novel…no big deal!

I’m super excited that I love this book too, since it would have been really awkward to face Meg at work if I thought her baby was ugly, so to speak. However, despite our close acquaintance, I promise to review her book as honestly as I would any other (it helps that she’s currently at Burning Man, so it’s not like she’s looking over my shoulder as I write this!)

First published in 2014, I received an ARC of The Book of the Unnamed Midwife from Meg for the re-release by publisher 47North on October 16. As the title suggests, this novel tells the story of an unnamed midwife living in San Francisco when a mysterious plague wipes out the vast majority of humanity. Even stranger, the disease affects women and children more so than men, creating a literal battle of the sexes as everyone tries to survive.

A word of warning: This book is unapologetically, heartbreakingly graphic. When the protagonist wakes from her bout of the sickness and discovers her husband missing in this post-apocalyptic world, she immediately realizes just how valuable she is when she’s forced to fight off and murder a rapist who breaks into her home.

As she travels northeast from the Bay Area, she must face the sick reality of predatory men enslaving, raping, and otherwise brutalizing what’s left of the female population. Disguising herself as a man, she uses her experience as a midwife and access to contraceptives to help other women navigate their horrific new normal.

Without giving too much away, which is so difficult since there are countless wonderful aspects to this story to discuss, I found The Book of the Unnamed Midwife so suspenseful and engaging that I gobbled it up in just a few days. From her standoff in the woods to her time spent in Utah with a Mormon sect, I had to know more about this character.

It helps that this book was clearly written for a reader like me. Although I can’t speak for her, it’s obvious that Meg’s feminist, pagan perspective permeates each page (sorry, the alliteration ran away from me!). Let’s just say that the story’s queer, secular protagonist leans far to the left, and if you can’t handle casual sex, cussing and frank conversation about abortion, then this book is definitely not for you.

But since Meg and I are on the same wavelength, I found the novel’s themes downright refreshing, especially in an America that seems to be reverting backward when it comes to women’s rights. Dare I say that The Book of the Unnamed Midwife is right up there with The Handmaid’s Tale as a game-changer in the feminist dystopia genre.

On a final note, the structure of The Book of the Unnamed Midwife as an epistolary works very well. The present day takes place a generation after the midwife, who has become a historical figure through her journaling of the plague’s aftermath. I’m looking forward to the sequel to learn how society rebuilds and whether a cause for the plague is ever revealed.

In the meantime, Meg has been gracious enough to allow me to interview her next week, so if you have any questions for a debut author, send them my way!