Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens: A Must Read Summer Debut

Where The Crawdads Sing  by Delia Owens
Published August 14, 2018 by G. P. Putnam’s Sons
384 Pages
Buy From Amazon

From the Publisher: For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. She’s barefoot and wild; unfit for polite society. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, aka the “Marsh Girl”

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My Overall ThoughtsWhere the Crawdads Sing is a book you’ve probably been seeing everywhere lately whether it’s been blowing up your Instagram feed, hitting some of the late summer must read lists and recently making People Magazine’s Best Book Of the Week pick! If you’ve wondered if it’s possibly as good as everyone is making it out to be I’m here to give my two cents worth and say yes it is, so run, don’t walk, to buy or borrow it now.

What Initially Drew Me In
I was intrigued by the fact that the storyline involved a possible murder, an isolated “marsh girl” and the two men who get wrapped up in her world. Could this also be a love story? (hint: yes!) Funny thing was, when I really got into the story which alternates between 1969 and the 1950s, I almost forgot about the murder mystery part as I was so invested in Kya’s story.

Atmospheric Writing
Owen’s writing created a feeling of actually being in the marsh which truly became its own character . I felt the suspense of wondering how this little girl, abandoned by her entire family, was going to survive on her own. The townspeople saw her as “white trash” and, not surprisingly, did little to help her. There was, however, bright spots amongst the cruelty, one of them being a local man named Jumpin who was my favorite character after Kya. Speaking of Kya, if you’re at all worried that she’s a “weird” character who doesn’t want to connect with others, don’t be as her desire for companionship and to be cared about by others came through so clearly.

“The lonely became larger than she could hold. She wished for someone’s voice, presence, touch, but wished more to protect her heart.”

And possibly my favorite passage in the book…

“Sometimes she heard night-sounds she didn’t know or jumped from lightning too close, but whenever she stumbled, it was the land who caught her. Until at last, at some unclaimed moment, the heart-pain seeped away like water into sand. Still there, but deep. Kya laid her hand upon the breathing, wet earth, and the marsh became her mother.”

This is debut writing! Amazing!

A Flawless Second Half
I loved how Owens clearly combined her love of nature writing with her exploration of a little girl coming-of-age within the natural world. As for the mystery, I found it to be perfectly paced. The author hands us bits and pieces slowly, allowing this storyline to eventually merge with the past one and then really pick up speed. I found the last third of the book especially riveting as I couldn’t wait to find out if my theories were correct. They weren’t which I loved. As for the ending, I can honestly say I didn’t see one part coming and it left me a little stunned. 

You’ll be seeing this one on my top 10 reads of the year list, it’s just that good. I can’t wait for Delia Owen’s next book, I hope she writes fast! 

Thanks to G. P. Putnam’s Sons via Netgalley for my copy

 

 

REVIEW: THE GREAT ALONE By Kristin Hannah

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Published Feb 6, 2018 By St. Martin’s Press

Alaska, 1974.
Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed.
For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival. Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if it means following him into the unknown. In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska―a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.

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 I finished this book last week and while I typically try to write my reviews right away, I struggled with my feelings about this one so I’ve put it off for a week and I’m glad I did. If I would’ve wrote it immediately I might have focused too much on my feelings about the ending; however, with a little time and perspective I think I have a clearer understanding of why I feel so torn about parts of this book.

Enough vagueness, let me be more specific. The blurb, which I heavily edited from Goodreads (this is really all you need to know), gives you the bare bones of the story. What Hannah so brilliantly manages to do is to take that set up and place the reader right there in the Alaskan setting with the Allbright family. I’m not exaggerating when I say I was mesmerized by the Alaskan setting and the way the author was able to place me there….I literally couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. I felt the cold, I saw the beauty. I’m not sure that’s ever happened to me before, where a setting has so completely captured my attention and made me feel the suspense and drama of the surroundings that are at once beautiful yet deadly.

Then we have the Allbright family and really I don’t know where to start with them. The level of dysfunction and domestic violence prevalent in their family dynamics was heartbreaking, yet infuriating, because as a reader it’s very hard to read about the details of the abuse that Ernt (a former POW) inflicted on Cora and then having a child, Leni, be witness to it and becoming the caretaker of her mom while trying desperately to not rock the boat with her dad…her life was truly “walking on egg shells” on a daily basis.  Add to that Leni’s struggles with her new life in the harsh Alaskan setting and here was a character I was rooting for and as a result I could. not. put. this. book. down! Was the domestic abuse over the top as many reviewers have discussed? In my opinion, no. Yes, it was very difficult to read but as someone who worked in social work, foster care to be exact, the domestic abuse cycle and trauma to Leni and Cora was (unfortunately) realistic to me.

In terms of another major aspect of this novel that I loved were the supporting characters. Hannah has crafted a small group of townspeople who inhabit the little Alaskan village and my absolute favorite was Large Marge. Seriously, I would’ve taken so many more chapters about Large Marge verses some of the extended storyline chapters toward the end. Hannah’s ability to craft secondary characters with intricate subplots is just superb.

This, however, brings me to my critique which honestly I feel torn writing about because overall I was captivated by this story.  In fact, I read the first 70% of this like a madwoman and then literally there was a shift, slight but there, in which the narrative began to feel bogged down with descriptive details in what felt like a much slower pace. Add to this some questionable character motivations and actions, one which felt like a glaring misstep that was put in to force the plot and you have my reasons for feeling so conflicted. I do question whether my expectations were too high, am I being too picky? Perhaps. I just read (and loved) The Nightingale in November so it was fresh in my memory, but unquestionably this is a completely different book, wonderful in it’s own right which needs and deserves no comparison to any other.

5 UNDERRATED BOOKS I LOVED

My friend Annie at The Misstery recently wrote about her favorite underrated books and it got me thinking about my own.  I was curious to see what favorites of mine had only 500 or less ratings on Goodreads…surely there couldn’t be that many, right? I have to say I’m pretty shocked that the following books I loved have all received (as of today) only around 500 or less ratings on Goodreads. I know there’s still time for word of mouth to spread on these awesome reads but…just to put things into perspective, The Help by Kathryn Stockett currently has 1,645,869 ratings so these have some catching up to do. I thought all of these were SO good for different reasons so I hope they’ll catch your eye as  you’re finishing up your 2017 reads!

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Castle of Water was one of my favorite books this summer. I thought the writing was outstanding and the story grabbed me from beginning to end. At less than 300 pages this is an easy one sit read

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Trophy Son might be my surprise hit of the year because I almost passed it by but something made me take a closer look and I’m so glad I did. This was such a unique coming of age story with a very likable main character. You don’t have to love tennis to appreciate this story either, it just happens to be the backdrop just as hockey was in Beartown. Such a fast, easy read!

 

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Favorite Sons is such a wonderful mystery that takes place around 4 childhood friends involved in a death and a coverup which alternates between 1974 and 2004. This actually worked SO much better for me than the very similar storyline of The Chalk Man

A Brilliant Death  ….hmmm, I’m seeing a theme I really can’t believe! Robin Yocum is a fantastic writer and is clearly underrated on Goodreads imo. If you like atmospheric, well plotted mysteries with outstanding characterization you really should pick up A Brilliant Death 

 

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Tall Oaks is one of those quietly amazing books that had mystery, suspense, humor, and lots of drama. I hope Chris’s books gain a huge following in the US soon because he’s an author to watch out for. I’ve read and loved both his books and forced, hounded nicely encouraged most of my book club to read this one and everyone has really liked it!

 What are YOUR underrated favorites? 

 

 

REVIEW: THE HEART’S INVISIBLE FURIES By John Boyne

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Published Aug 22, 2017 by Hogarth Press

Cyril Avery is not a real Avery — or at least, that’s what his adoptive parents tell him. And he never will be. But if he isn’t a real Avery, then who is he?

Born out of wedlock to a teenage girl cast out from her rural Irish community and adopted by a well-to-do if eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun, Cyril is adrift in the world, anchored only tenuously by his heartfelt friendship with the infinitely more glamourous and dangerous Julian Woodbead. At the mercy of fortune and coincidence, he will spend a lifetime coming to know himself and where he came from and over his many years will struggle to discover an identity, a home, a country, and much more.

In this, Boyne’s most transcendent work to date, we are shown the story of Ireland from the 1940s to today through the eyes of one ordinary man. The Heart’s Invisible Furies is a novel to make you laugh and cry while reminding us all of the redemptive power of the human spirit.

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ALL. THE. LOVE. I finished this book almost a week ago and I’m still at a loss for words on how best to review it. The blurb is actually one of the best I’ve read because it captures the idea of the story without giving away any of the magic of what you’ll truly encounter when you open the pages and become an accomplice in the journey of Cyril Avery’s life. I say accomplice when what I really mean is friend. Every once in awhile a book comes along and allows me to connect with a character on such a deep level, being privy to their thoughts, heartbreak and happiness, that when I turn the last page it’s like saying goodbye to a dear friend. THIS is that kind of book and Cyril is that kind of character.

When I started reading this gem all I knew was that it was a heartfelt saga…that’s it…and I’m so glad I went in not knowing anything and having read no reviews because everything was a surprise and believe me, there are twists and surprises throughout the seven decades that this book takes place. What I will tell you is that we first get to meet Cyril when he’s about age 7 and he’s living with his adoptive parents Maude and Charles. Now, believe me when I say these are some of the most eccentric characters I’ve come across in quite a long time! As a parent myself, I was shocked at some of the things they said to little Cyril…how many times can a kid hear “you’re not a real Avery” before it seeps into their whole being? Cyril, however, took everything in stride and while he grew up wondering who he was if he wasn’t a real Avery, he also knew that he was luckier than some as he had a warm house, clothes and an education. Here’s the weird thing about the family dynamics of Maude, Charles, and Cyril…oftentimes it was quite funny and I laughed out loud on several occasions at the wittiness of Cyril and the cluelessness of Maude.

The story is narrated by Cyril throughout and it’s broken up into seven year intervals spanning 70 years so we have a long time to get to know Cyril as well as his friends, loves, coworkers and acquaintances, and what I especially loved about this was that people we may have known in passing, often return again to Cyril’s life, whether attributed to fate or coincidence…who knows. Cyril’s journey also takes us not only to Ireland, but also Amsterdam and New York City which I for one love when I get to travel to various locations in my stories!

I’m going to finish by saying, how John Boyne handled the ending was just brilliant. I  loved everything about it as I cried my eyes out. In fact, I loved every single thing about this story and I can’t remember the last time I finished a book and felt the need to start over again right away. This book has EVERYTHING…drama, happiness, sadness, hope, and humor. It is epic and unforgettable. I’ve already ordered a hardcover copy for my favorites bookshelf where it will sit (until its first re-read) so I can pass by it daily and smile. Oh and if you’re a regular reader of my blog you may remember me saying that I thought The Force would be my favorite read of 2017 unless something else came along to blow me away…well, The Heart’s Invisible Furies has come along…consider me blown away!

Many thanks to Hogarth Press for my copy

 

THROWBACK THURSDAY PICK OF THE WEEK

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Published Feb 2015 by Amy Einhorn Books
My Rating: 4.5/5

 

“It was the summer everything changed….”

My Sunshine Away unfolds in a Baton Rouge neighborhood best known for cookouts on sweltering summer afternoons, cauldrons of spicy crawfish, and passionate football fandom. But in the summer of 1989, when fifteen-year-old Lindy Simpson–free spirit, track star, and belle of the block–experiences a horrible crime late one evening near her home, it becomes apparent that this idyllic stretch of Southern suburbia has a dark side, too.

In My Sunshine Away, M.O. Walsh brilliantly juxtaposes the enchantment of a charmed childhood with the gripping story of a violent crime, unraveling families, and consuming adolescent love. Acutely wise and deeply honest, it is an astonishing and page-turning debut about the meaning of family, the power of memory, and our ability to forgive.

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Here’s something I don’t often say…I love that blurb! It evokes such an accurate portrait of the story without giving a single thing away. And that opening sentence completely drew me in. I don’t know about you but I totally judge a book by the opening sentence or two. I can’t say this is a good reading trait to have as I just recently abandoned a very hyped book because the opening sentence bothered me. This could be part of my super picky reading mood lately which thankfully had no impact on this book which has been on my tbr for 2 years!

I just finished this book yesterday and could go on and on as there’s so much I loved about this literary coming-of-age-mystery but in the name of keeping with the TBT short post format bullet points are needed:
  •  The writing was phenomenal…not in a ‘talks over your head, wordy literary prose’ type of way; rather, in a ‘how did he put together such a wonderful sentence that so perfectly evokes just the right feeling’ type of way.
  • The mystery…there are 4 suspects in the crime against Lindy Simpson and I LOVE that the narrator was one of them. The author did a masterful job of making me feel I knew this narrator, I trusted him, I felt for his awkward teenage dilemmas and his  unrequited love for Lindy, though all the while I still had whispers of doubts about his innocence.
  • The 1989 time period….I was a high school teenager in 1989 and this author literally took me back to that time…talking to friends on a phone with a CORD while hoping no one else picked up the second home phone, watching the Challenger explosion at school, banana seat bikes, no helmet bike riding, those certain kids from those certain families that you knew were just “off” but being a kid yourself you didn’t know why.
  • The cliffhanger chapters…brilliant!
  • The unnamed narrator (I swear I didn’t even realize I didn’t know his name until I went to write this!) is telling the story from a point many years in the future, a technique I love and that enables him to provide the hindsight of an adult while still telling the story from a teenager’s perspective
  • The tension the author managed to create in the last 10% took my rating from a solid 4 to a 4.5

If you’re wondering what kept this from being a 5 star rating, it was one minor issue I had with what I’d describe as an odd veering off of the plot when there was an entire chapter devoted to the difference between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. This threw the pace off for me and I found myself skimming to get back to the main storyline. Minor issue but that’s why. In the end, I really enjoyed this book and I’m so glad I’ve decided to incorporate these older reads into my summer reading along with the new releases…there are so many gems from the past still out there! If you’ve read this one I’d love to hear your thoughts…

HAPPY READING! 

More Throwback Thursday Picks Around the Blogosphere 

Jill at Jill’s Book Cafe

Deanna at DeesRadReads and Reviews

Amanda at Literary Weaponry

Stephanie at Stephanie’s Novel Fiction

Cathy at Between the Lines

P Turners at The PTurnersbookblog

Julie at Novel Thrills and Chills

REVIEW: TROPHY SON By Douglas Brunt

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Published May 2017 by St. Martin’s Press

Private lessons. Professional coaches. Specialized camps for sports, math, music, and other fields. Today’s children are pushed to achieve excellence—or else.  Trophy Son, tells the story of a tennis prodigy, from young childhood to the finals of the US Open, Wimbledon, and other tournaments around the world.

Growing up in the wealthy suburbs of Philadelphia, Anton Stratis is groomed to be one thing only: the #1 tennis player in the world. Trained relentlessly by his obsessive father, a former athlete who plans every minute of his son’s life, Anton both aspires to greatness and resents its all-consuming demands. Lonely and isolated—removed from school and socialization to focus on tennis—Anton explodes from nowhere onto the professional scene and soon becomes one of the top-ranked players in the world, with a coach, a trainer, and an entourage.

But as Anton struggles to find a balance between stardom and family, he begins to make compromises—first with himself, then with his health, and finally with the rules of tennis, a mix that will threaten to destroy everything he has worked for.
Trophy Son offers an inside look at the dangers of extraordinary pressure to achieve, whether in sports or any field, through the eyes of a young man defying his parents’ ambitions as he seeks a life of his own.

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This book came along at the perfect time as I wanted and needed a break from the mystery/thriller genre after being so disappointed in 3 of my recent reads. To say I’m surprised I liked this as much as I did would be an understatement because I actually really loved this book! I read it in 2 sittings only because I read late into the night when I started it and finally had to go to sleep. I think some people may read the blurb and disregard this book because they don’t like tennis or sports etc. but it’s really about so much more than that although tennis does play prominently in the storyline.

At its core this is a very unique coming of age story told from the first person perspective of Anton who’s narrating the story from some point in the future. I thought this was a brilliant narrative technique that enables the reader to get to know Anton through many ages of his life but with the wisdom of his older self highlighting the way. This narrative structure can be tricky to pull off but Anton was such a likable character who I immediately connected with…I mean how could you not feel for a little nine year old kid who’s being made to spend HOURS in the ninety degree heat doing tennis drill after tennis drill with his dad yelling at and berating him?? As a parent, I felt such a range of emotions for Anton who was missing out on being a kid; he had no friends, his social skills were lacking, and his loneliness was so deep and ingrained it really broke my heart. And don’t get me started on my feelings about his dad and mom. I have nothing nice to say about their characters.  Anton’s saving grace in his family was his brother Panos who, despite being a secondary character, was very multidimensional and my second favorite character after Anton. As you can see, the author did a wonderful job creating characters I became thoroughly invested in and a storyline I just couldn’t stop reading until I found out how it all turned out for Anton. Needless to say, I was rooting for him to defy his father, find his own way in the world and possibly even experience a sliver of happiness.

A major reason I think this book will resonate with so many people is because we’re seeing this specialization of youth sports and extreme focus on achieving excellence in sports and academics with young children play out everywhere in our society these days. Tiger Wood’s story is just one recent example. I’ve seen it firsthand in my own community time and time again, and quite frankly it’s sad.

In the end, you don’t have to love tennis to enjoy this book although I really like the game – playing and watching – so I found the tennis matches (as well as the whole story) to be riveting. Douglas Brunt writes in a literary way that’s concise and well-paced, yet still manages to be compelling and almost conversational in its tone…can you tell this is 5 star read for me?! If you’re in the mood for something a little different I think Trophy Son may be just what you’re looking for.

Many thanks to Meriah Murphy at St. Martin’s Press for inviting me to read this via Netgalley. I’m happy to provide an honest review

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