I feel like every month so far this year I start with “OMG this was a crazy month.” Well, April was no different. Even more so, and I really mean it!
It started off with receiving multiple agent offers on 700 Main and eventually signing with Rachel Ekstrom at Folio Literary Management! The long hard path of querying is over! But it also means… Well hold on.
I am getting ahead of myself. I’ll get to that in a minute. First, let’s take a look at the great books I read this month.
What I Read
GRAND TOTAL: 4
All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin ★★★★☆
Preparing you now. This is going to be a long review. And to preface, I read this book in one sitting. It’s that powerful.
Here’s the gist: Lyla, the poor girl at elite private school Windsor, goes to a party, gets drunk and has an obscene picture taken of her and circulated around school. Then the parents get involved, the drama explodes, and everything does downhill from there.
This was a tough read for me. I went to a extremely wealthy private school like Windsor. And while I was absolutely not poor, my family’s income in no way compared to the vast majority of the other families. Now I want to be very clear. Rich people ARE NOT bad people. Terrible, terrible things happen in all financial classes, in public school and private school. But I do believe that inherent wealth coupled with some parents’ lack of teaching their child responsibility does lead to a sense of entitlement. And entitlement excuses all kinds of wrongs. Drug use, sexual assault, bullying… It’s all there. And it’s terrifying to know that there may be no consequences because the kid’s parents have lots of money. Okay, rant over.
Giffin explores all this and more. It’s told from three different perspectives, all of which struck a deep chord with me: Lyla (the girl whose drunk picture was taken and distributed), Tom (her father), and Nina (the mother of the boy who took the picture).
This was very much a character driven story. I connected with each POV character for different reasons. Lyla was naive enough to sacrifice too much for a boy who liked her. Tom wanted the best for his daughter while not seeing that his actions might just be making it worse. And Nina – probably the most compelling of the three – had to come to terms with the fact that her complacency may have made her son into a monster. They were real, they were powerful, and they were flawed. Amazing development for all three.
While character driven, there were a few small twists and turns that made it hard to know how the novel would turn out. They were all effortlessly done, and even I – who can protect a twist ending from a mile away – was desperate to keep reading. I didn’t even pause for dinner.
Now there were two things that I didn’t care for in this novel. First, Giffin paints a very hostile and evil portrait of the rich, white, Republican man. And I totally understand why given the current political climate. But bad people take the form of any gender, race, and class. And I may get some backlash for this, but I am a little sick of this particular stereotype. However, it did get a little more nuanced toward the end.
Secondly, the hinted chemistry between Nina and Tom was totally unnecessary and even a little icky. I would so much have preferred it to be platonic. Because when romance is involved, motives get blurry. Would Nina still have done the same things if she hadn’t had the hots for Tom? I hope so.
But overall, this was an extremely powerful book that I recommend to anyone who enjoys a more complex book club/women’s fiction novel. I recognize Giffin’s attempt to dive deeper in her stories, and I think she did a commendable job tackling several tough subjects while still providing a captivating tale.
The Casquette Girls by Alys Arden ★★★☆☆
After a record breaking storm, Adele returns home to New Orleans only to find it destroyed and inhabited by age old, bloodsucking creatures. But that’s not the only secret she discovers. An ancient diary reveals that she may have more to do with it all than she thought.
I picked up this novel after hearing how well it nailed the New Orleans setting and description. In this aspect, it definitely did not disappoint. It’s also not your average vampire novel. No one sparkles, and I love how it drew on the local legend of the real Casket Girls who sailed from France.
The main character was well-developed with balanced emotions – she wasn’t melodramatic but she had the sense to know when her bravery should be a little more logical. I liked the secondary characters for the most part, especially Desiree (neighborhood voodoo witch/private school queen bee) and Isaac (the mysteriously magical newcomer).
I do feel like the vampires could have been better developed. We didn’t really get a sense of their backstories and how they became who they are. Plus, Adele’s romance with Nico felt forced and a bit like insta-love whereas her relationship with Isaac developed much more naturally.
There was some silly teenage lines and moments. I didn’t mind too much, but this is a true YA, recommended for a younger audience.
But my biggest complaint was probably the length. It was overly long with not enough plot to justify it. There was a lot of exposition, and I didn’t feel like the real adventure started until Chapter 32 when the search for the remaining coven members begins.
Overall, I do think it’s worth a read – even just to enjoy the culture and setting of New Orleans – but you’ve been warned that the first half is slow.
Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo ★★★★☆
The crew is back after an incredible heist, but the battle to eradicate jurda parem and save the Grisha is far from over. They’re weak, and for the first time, the enemy seems one step ahead.
I read the first in this duology last month (review can be found here) and I fell in love with the characters, the world and the story. And the sequel stands up! Everything that was good in the first is equally as good here, creating a wild ride filled with twists and incredible character development.
Nina’s struggle with the aftereffects of jurda parem was really compelling as well her newfound strengths and her evolving relationship with Matthias. I loved getting to see more from Jesper and Wylan – whose POV wasn’t included in the first novel. And the romance between Inej and Kaz – which I didn’t really feel the chemistry in book 1 – became amazing. Full of tension and swoon-worthy moments. Kaz is the perfect morally grey character.
It’s a long novel, but it never felt like it was dragging. There was not a single boring moment. I was consistently on my toes to learn what would happen next – an impressive feat for me who can usually spot plot points a mile away.
Bardugo also nailed the dialogue. The witty banter made me laugh; the heartwrenching confessions made me cry. The one issue I had with this installment was the character death at the end. I am all for characters being killed off as long as there’s a REASON. There was no logic behind this death, it just felt like a plot device to make the ending bittersweet. But it didn’t ruin the story for me, and I would absolutely recommend.
I also want follow up novels… Nina journeying back to Fjerda to unite the Grisha and the Druskelle. Jesper and Wylan whipping the merchants into shape. Kaz and Inej plotting next steps.
Come on, Leigh.
The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coehlo
Paulo Coehlo is one of my mom’s favorite authors, but while I loved The Alchemist, I didn’t really explore much further than that. When I started researching for my new WIP though, I was desperately searching for other books with real-world applications of witchcraft. She suggested this one (as it also has some heavy Christian influences, just like voodoo).
Fair warning: Coehlo is a spiritualist and a philosopher, and that experience very much influences his writing styles and themes. His books are not like normal novels, and sometimes focusing too much on challenging frame of thought and teaching lessons than on the story itself.
Reading for me is an escape, a method of entertainment, so these types of books aren’t usually my favorite. Same goes for Coehlo and this book in particular. So much so that I actually couldn’t finish it… I know, I can’t remember the last time I DNF-ed a book. Therefore, I am not going to give this book a star ranking. Because it’s not the author’s fault that it’s not my thing.
People all over the world love Coehlo’s storytelling style – and this one falls into the brilliant vein of all the others – but if you haven’t read something of his before, don’t go into it thinking it’s going to be a fun and simple story. He wants you to think, and he wants to inspire change.
That being said, the structure of the novel was fascinating to me. It’s told as if based on a real person, and each “chapter” is actually a transcribed interview/recounting with someone who supposedly knew Athena: an Eastern European orphan turned devout Catholic turned witch. So if the style sounds appealing to you, definitely give this one a chance!
(In addition to the books reviewed above, I also reread the ACOTAR series in anticipation of the new installment. Don’t judge me.)
What I Wrote
So let me continue with what I was saying in the beginning: next steps for 700 Main. I started revisions, wrote a cool author’s note on the inspiration for the story, and am working with Rachel to get it ready on submission in May (which is a beastly waiting game all on its own). But I could not be more excited and promise to keep you guys updated as we go.
This month I also participated in – although didn’t quite win – Camp NaNoWriMo and wrote about 12K words of my still untitled New Orleans voodoo novel. Wooo! Final words are on paper. It’s coming along really well so far (or at least I think so), and I am absolutely in love with my feisty, stubborn and reckless protagonist, Jessa.
I am writing this book a little differently in that I don’t have the entire thing outlined yet.
I know, right? So unlike me. But before you think I’ve switched over to the dark side of pantsing, I have outlined the first act. It’s a much bigger story than I have written before – in that it’s a series and fantasy – so I am going to try to take it as it comes for a little while. Stay tuned on how that goes… Maybe I will even have an excerpt for you next month.
While April was a productive, I have been the WORST at getting new blogs posted. So my goal for May (and the summer months) is to get back on track to one blog post per week.
As far as the New Orleans WIP, I’d like to get at least another 10K words cranked out. But that will all depend on when my desk gets delivered to the new house since my computer is currently set up on top of a file cabinet #movingprobs
I am also going to try to catch up on my ever-growing TBR list, starting with these new releases:
- To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo
- A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J Maas
- The Elizas by Sara Shepard
- We’ll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss
- Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson (carried over from last month because I am a slacker)
Have a specific question or topic you’d like to hear about? Let me know in the comments below!