Book Review: “The Last Mrs. Parrish” by Liv Constantine

the last mrs parrish

The Last Mrs. Parrish is a suspenseful drama written by two sisters using the name “Liv Constantine.” This book follows three major characters: the scheming Amber and the rich but troubled Jackson and Daphne Parrish. Amber wants to replace Daphne as Jackson’s wife and win all of the money and accolades that comes with the title “Mrs. Parrish,” but there’s more to the Parrish family than meets the eye.

Mild spoilers ahead.

What The Last Mrs. Parrish gets right: It’s hard to predict where this book is headed at first, so I enjoyed finding out new details about the characters and the plot as I read along. You’re immediately introduced to a villainous character, so already the perspective is different than what you might be used to. The plot was slow at first, but the last third of the book really picked up and added to the excitement.

What The Last Mrs. Parrish gets wrong: This is a book about very, very bad people. It’s hard to read at times because their perspectives are so malicious. Thankfully there is some justice in the story, but it takes a long time to get there.

While there certainly was some mystery at first, I predicted one of the major plot points early on in the book, so I had to be patient in waiting for this character to reveal their motives.

The writing also wasn’t my favorite. There were several instances where the authors should have followed the rule of “show, don’t tell.”

Readers who will enjoy The Last Mrs. Parrish: Fans of complicated relationships, villainous main characters, and pure drama will enjoy this book.

Readers who won’t enjoy The Last Mrs. Parrish: Readers who dislike reading about bad things happening to good(ish) people. Readers who avoid stories about abusive relationships.

 

The Last Mrs. Parrish is available in the Recreational Reading section of the library.

Content note: Language, violence, rape, emotional and physical abuse. Reader discretion is advised.

Book review written by Circulation Manager Olivia Chin; personal opinions are her own and not those of the library or university.

Book Review: “Into The Water” by Paula Hawkins

into the water

Author Paula Hawkins is well-known for her thriller The Girl On The Train, which I reviewed here. Since I enjoyed her previous book, I was eager to read Into The Water and get a new story from Paula Hawkins.

Into The Water follows several characters in a small town as they examine the mysterious deaths of a single mother and a young woman who were both found in what is known as the Drowning Pool.

Mild spoilers ahead.

 

What Into The Water gets right: There are many different characters in Into The Water, and all of them have interesting stories and suspicious connections with each other. I would say the main characters are the Abbott family: Nel, who is found dead at the beginning of the book but speaks to us through her unfinished manuscript; Jules, Nel’s younger sister who struggled with abuse and eating disorders in her past; and Lena, Nel’s volatile and frustrated teenage daughter. Through the perspectives of these three women, the reader can start forming conclusions about who did what (and why).

I liked the sense of mystery in this book, as well as how differently each character remembered certain events. It really shows how perspective is everything.

What Into The Water gets wrong: Keeping up with who is married or related to someone in the town of Beckett can be difficult, especially at the beginning of the book.

Readers who will enjoy Into The Water: People who like suspense, large casts of characters, and complicated relationships will enjoy this book.

Readers who won’t enjoy Into The Water: People who don’t enjoy trying to keep up with ten or more characters and viewpoints.

 

Into The Water is available in the library’s Recreational Reading section.

Content note: rape (the scene is brief but uses possibly triggering language), violence, inappropriate relationships, language.

 

Most book reviews on this blog are written by Olivia Chin and reflect her personal opinions of the books, not the library’s view as a whole.

Book Review: “Where The Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens

where the crawdads

Is there any book within the last 3 years that has spent as much time on the NY Times bestseller list as Where The Crawdads Sing? Every time I’ve checked the list recently, Where The Crawdads sing is high up on it, even though it was published 2 years ago in 2018. A book this popular and beloved definitely piques the interest, so now I have finally taken the time to read and review it.

Where The Crawdads Sing is the story of Kya, a woman who has survived alone for most of her life in the North Carolina marsh.

Before you read further: I did not like this book, but I am in the minority of readers here. All of my library coworkers who read this book loved it.

Mild spoilers ahead.

 

What Where The Crawdads Sing gets right: This is a book about a central character, Kya, and her growth and development as a lonely, intelligent, nature-loving woman. After years of abuse and neglect from her family, Kya learns how to survive alone in the marsh without much help or compassion from the nearby townspeople. She is a sympathetic character that just makes you wonder: what were all of the adults doing in this town, letting a child fend for herself in the wilderness? Why didn’t anyone try harder to help? She does have some help from Jumpin’ and his wife, but I understand that their help had to be limited as they faced discrimination and racism. So where were the other people, who had nothing to worry about by helping an impoverished, abandoned child?

What Where The Crawdads Sing gets wrong: I hated the grammar and writing style in this book. There are tons of sentences that are technically run-ons; most of them are like this:

Pa’s overalls were so heavy wet she couldn’t wring them out with her tiny hands, and couldn’t reach the line to hang them, so draped them sopping over the palmetto fronds at the edge of the woods.

 

By late afternoon she was very hungry, so went back to the shack.

 

It should be “so she draped them” and “so she went back to the shack.” Otherwise it’s a run-on that’s confusing to read. There’s also a sentence that refers to the Andrews family as the “Andrewses.” It made me physically cringe. Delia Owens continues with this kind of writing throughout the book, and honestly it drove me crazy. I understand that maybe she was trying to make her writing voice similar to that of Kya, but it just didn’t click.

Here is a great review that doesn’t address the grammar but does point out some contextual flaws with the book.

And one last thing: the romances, if you can call them that, fell very, very flat. The men that Kya gets involved with treat her terribly. I would have loved to see Kya developing other relationships- like friendships- instead of these toxic ones.

Who should read  Where The Crawdads Sing: Readers who enjoy historical fiction and nature writing, and who can overlook the inconsistent writing and dialogue.

Who shouldn’t Where The Crawdads Sing: Readers who want believable dialogue and character development. Readers who are also editors and will be itching to edit this book (that’s me).

 

Where The Crawdads Sing is available in the Recreational Reading section of the library.

Content note: language, brief suggestive scenes, racism and sexism that was typical of the sixties

Reviews written by Olivia Chin reflect her personal opinions and not necessarily those of the library or university.

 

 

Book Review: “The Girl On The Train” by Paula Hawkins

the girl on the train

I wanted a popular, well-rated thriller to keep me occupied over a long holiday weekend, so I picked up The Girl On The Train from our Recreational Reading section. Written by Paula Hawkins, this thriller follows the intertwined stories of three women: an unemployed alcoholic, a superficial stay-at-home mother, and a former artist who mysteriously goes missing. What do they all have in common, and what happened to the missing woman? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

Mild spoilers ahead.

 

What The Girl On The Train gets right: I could not put this book down. I had to know how the three main women were connected. There was also an antagonist somewhere in this story, and that person is not revealed until the last third of the book, so I was kept guessing about who they were and why they were doing all of this.

Rachel, the main character, is an alcoholic and still recovering from her complicated divorce several years ago. She is both frustrating and sympathetic, making her point of view seem unreliable. However, as the reader, you will see that her intuition and memories are not always wrong.

When Rachel witnesses a strange scene from her commuter train, and then hears about a missing woman, she begins investigating the situation. Slowly, more information is revealed as we get the perspective of other characters, too. Finally, the book leads us to a harrowing conclusion.

What The Girl On The Train gets wrong: One of the characters, Megan, is not as fleshed out as the other two point-of-view characters. While there’s a plot-related reason for this, it makes reading from her view disappointing. She just doesn’t seem like a full person.

I was also a little disappointed by the reveal of the antagonist. This person just seemed so typical. I had already come up with an entirely different scenario to explain the crimes committed, and to be honest, I liked my idea better.

Who should read The Girl On The Train: Readers who want a page-turner that they can’t put down.

Who shouldn’t read The Girl On The Train: Readers who dislike reading about suspense and abuse.

 

The Girl On The Train is available in our Recreational Reading section.

Content note: language, violence, domestic abuse, substance abuse, brief suggestive scenes.

Book review written by Circulation Manager Olivia Chin; personal opinions are her own and not those of the library or university.

Book Review: “Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng

little fires

The library ladies chose Little Fires Everywhere for our third book club pick. This bestselling novel by Celeste Ng debuted in 2017 and has since been adapted as a popular show on Hulu. We have Little Fires Everywhere as a hardback in our Recreational Reading section.

This novel tells the story of an insulated community, Shaker Heights, and what happens when neighbors disagree over the controversial issues of transracial adoption, single parenthood, socioeconomic differences, and unplanned pregnancies.

Mild spoilers ahead.

What Little Fires Everywhere gets right: First off, what a 10/10 book cover. It grabs your attention- especially with that title- but the color scheme is beautiful.

This book tells everyone’s story, from the seemingly random best friend of a main character to the Chinese immigrant who wants her baby back. Author Celeste Ng somehow expertly weaves all of these stories together, connecting the threads between each character and giving a voice to each perspective. You’ll probably find yourself empathizing with each of them at some point in the novel.

What Little Fires Everywhere gets wrong: It gets off to a slow start. I just wasn’t that interested in Shaker Heights or the many characters that were introduced right off the bat.

Once I did get to know the characters, I worried about them. Teenage Pearl was surprisingly sheltered despite her freewheeling upbringing, and I worried that she would get her heart broken. I felt sad for the characters who struggled to become pregnant, and for the ones who did and had to make difficult choices. Little Fires Everywhere was a well-written book, but it was a hard one to read as it seemed like every page introduced a new, emotional, controversial issue where both sides were fairly well-represented.

Who should read Little Fires Everywhere: Readers who want to tackle challenging issues and enjoy reading about different perspectives on the same problem. Readers who enjoy books about families and neighborhoods.

Who shouldn’t read Little Fires Everywhere: Readers looking for a happy, light story or who need a break from controversial issues.

 

Little Fires Everywhere is available in the Recreational Reading section of the library.

Content note: brief sexual scenes, language.

Most book reviews on this blog are written by Olivia Chin and reflect her personal opinions of the books, not the library’s view as a whole.

Book Review: “Children of Blood and Bone” by Tomi Adeyemi

child

Children of Blood and Bone took the Young Adult book world by storm when it was published in 2018. For one thing, the cover is absolutely exquisite. For another, this is a fantasy book about people of color; diversity can be hard to find in the fantasy genre. Author Tomi Adeyemi uses her background as a Nigerian-American and her studies in West African mythology to create an intricate world with cultures and problems that real-life people can relate to.

This novel introduces us to two pairs of very different brothers and sisters: Zélie and Tzain, the underdogs in a society built on racism and the fear of magic; and Amari and Inan, the princess and prince who have everything but shrink under their cruel father’s abuse. As the four collide, and suppressed magic begins to make a comeback, their cities will never be the same again.

Mild spoilers ahead.

 

What Children of Blood and Bone gets right: I enjoyed reading about the complex, but ultimately loving, brother-sister relationships in this story, as well as each character’s development and growth throughout their journeys. The animals in this book are really cool as well. For example, Zélie has a lionaire (Nailah) whom she and her friends can actually ride like a horse.

Plot-wise, Children of Blood and Bone reminds me of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Zélie is a special girl who can bring magic back into the world, just like Aang is the avatar who can bring balance back to his world. And Zélie has wisdom beyond her years at times; her quote “I won’t let your ignorance silence my pain” gave me chills.

What Children of Blood and Bone gets wrong: There are a lot of rules and regulations about magic that don’t come out until later in the book. It can be difficult to keep up with, and some of it doesn’t fully make sense to me in regards to how it works in the story. And while the action scenes were exciting, they were hard to follow for me. I wasn’t too sure what was going on at times.

Although Zélie was the main character, I actually liked her the least out of the sibling pairs. While she means well and has a good cause, she’s constantly reckless. I wanted to see the story from Tzain’s perspective, as he was probably my favorite character due to his practicality and protectiveness, but we never got that.

Who should read Children of Blood and Bone: Fans of magic, fantasy, heroic stories, and West African mythology.

Who shouldn’t read Children of Blood and Bone: Readers who don’t enjoy fantasy.

 

Children of Blood and Bone is available in our Recreational Reading section. The sequel, Children of Virtue and Vengeance, is also available!

Content note: a brief suggestive scene, violence, racism.

Most book reviews on this blog are written by Olivia Chin and reflect her personal opinions of the books, not the library’s view as a whole.

Book Review: “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” by Suzanne Collins

ballad

The announcement that Suzanne Collins was publishing a Hunger Games prequel was the proverbial shot heard ’round the literary world. Everyone wanted to get their hands on it. I think excitement waned a bit, however, when we realized that it was about President Snow as a young man. This is a testament to how hated President Snow was in the original series- at first glance, he’s not the kind of interesting villain you’d want to read about; rather, he’s hated so much that you’d rather not think too much about him at all.

Regardless of how much you might hate Snow, picking up The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is still a welcome return to the disturbing world of Panem and all of its rules and division. While Panem is a horrible place, it’s a well-written, engrossing one. With this prequel, we get to learn more about how the Hunger Games came to be the way they are in the original trilogy. Plus, Coriolanus Snow as a young man may surprise you.

Mild spoilers ahead.

What The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes gets right: Suzanne Collins is awesome at writing about psychological warfare. Throughout The Hunger Games trilogy, we saw how having to constantly act and perform was exhausting to Katniss; in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, we see how Coriolanus Snow is similarly affected. You wouldn’t think that a Capital kid from a rich family would have to fake his way through life in order not to die, but that’s the case for Coriolanus. The adults around him can’t be trusted- in fact, they may even decide to kill him- and this situation makes him a more relatable character than you’d expect. Coriolanus actually has a few things in common with Katniss, at least in this book.

However, unlike Katniss, Coriolanus is a very controlled and calculating character. He often relies on charisma and faked confidence to get him through dangerous encounters. While I enjoyed how raw and honest Katniss was, sometimes her brash words and deeds would make me cringe as I feared what kind of trouble she would get in. She was not a natural actress; but for Coriolanus, acting is not only easy but necessary, which probably explains how he eventually made it to the top in the Capital.

 

What The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes gets wrong: Most of the side characters don’t get fleshed out or developed very well. I felt like I barely knew anyone other than Coriolanus and Sejanus, his fellow mentor and a rebel sympathizer, throughout the story.

The plot kind of meanders around in Part I as various attacks postpone the Games. Then there’s some romance in Part II and III that just didn’t strike me as believable (slight spoilers in the next few sentences). Don’t get me wrong, I love romance in books, but this one seemed shallow to me. Coriolanus gets caught up in petty jealousy when the girl he likes could die the next day, and I’m just not having that. And why would Lucy Gray Baird be interested in Coriolanus- how does she have time for feelings when she’s facing her death? They couldn’t be more different and their romance is based on the bare minimum. If Lucy Gray knew more about how possessive and controlling Coriolanus actually is (which we as readers get to hear in his thoughts) I don’t think she would like him at all. This romance was doomed from the start because they don’t know each other at all.

 

Who should read The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes: Fans of The Hunger Games who want to revisit the world of Panem. Readers who enjoy learning about ambitious, cunning protagonists who later become villains (Coriolanus is definitely an unhealthy Enneagram Three, and would be in Slytherin were he at Hogwarts).

 

Who shouldn’t read The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes: If you didn’t like The Hunger Games, then you probably won’t like this prequel, either. And even as a Hunger Games fan, I didn’t particularly love this book because Coriolanus just doesn’t *get* it, and he got on my nerves a lot toward the end. He just doesn’t allow himself to have empathy for others who are different from him. I liked the ending, where he was finally showing his true colors, better than the rest of the book where he was pretending to be a decent person.

 

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes can be found on our summer Staff Picks display. You can also check out The Hunger Games trilogy!

Content note: violence, psychological trauma, substance abuse.

Most book reviews on this blog are written by Olivia Chin and reflect her personal opinions of the books, not the library’s view as a whole.

Book Review: “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt

secret

 

Donna Tartt is the bestselling author of The Goldfinch, The Little Friend, and The Secret History. Each of these novels involves suspense and intense character studies.

The Secret History is about an eclectic group of college students who find themselves in a lot of trouble as close-kept secrets are revealed.

Mild spoilers ahead.

What The Secret History gets right: Terrible people doing terrible things? Check. Secrets, murder, drugs, and pagan rituals? Check. An engrossing setting, to the point that you feel like you are actually in the book? Check.

Donna Tartt is excellent at drawing you in to the world that she’s created. Right away, you are introduced to a bizarre crime, and the rest of the book has you scrambling to figure out how the story ends up there.

Any book with an unreliable narrator is going to have your brain spinning, but few books do this quite so well as The Secret History. A lot of the book’s events and character development is seen through the eyes of someone who slowly begins to realize that he doesn’t really know that much about anything after all. This allows the reader to piece together the puzzle, and guess what? Some of it is entirely up to your imagination! I guessed several twists accurately throughout the book, but there were a few that weren’t fully explained (such as the characters’ true motivations and feelings).

Reading about Richard, the story’s narrator, and his university experiences in Hampden reminded me of both my own time in college and the college students that I manage at work. I loved seeing the dichotomy between Richard and his friends’ great intellect and their terrible decision-making and lifestyle habits. How can they be so intelligent as to speak to each other in Latin one minute and then try to live in a freezing warehouse in the middle of a Vermont winter the next? Honestly, this dichotomy is pretty realistic for what I recall of myself and my friends in that stage of life.

Richard wanting to be a part of the strange but exotic Greek students group is a relatable feeling. It can be hard to find your place in a new environment; however, you don’t want to pick the wrong group of people that everyone else warns you about (as Richard inevitably does). Henry, Francis, Charles, Camilla, and Bunny are in turns fascinating, terrifying, hilarious, and deeply disturbing people; as Richard gets sucked further and further into their sordid lives, so do we.

In spite of the sometimes flowery prose and the pretentious characters who are spouting Greek one moment and stoned out of their minds the next, I couldn’t put this book down. It’s a testament to Donna Tartt’s writing that she made such unlikable characters and their various crimes so intriguing and their college, despite its obvious flaws, so nostalgic.

What The Secret History gets wrong: Most of the characters in this book are unlikable. It’s kind of like a modern The Great Gatsby in that way- still a great story, but you may get annoyed by how pretentious and selfish the characters are. (Side note: the main character’s favorite book is The Great Gatsby because he identifies with Jay Gatsby, which is hilarious because he is totally a Nick Carraway instead.)

Who should read The Secret History: Readers who enjoy academia, mythology, suspense, crime, and literary writing.

Who shouldn’t read The Secret History: Readers who are looking for a shorter, faster-paced story. It’s easy to get lost in the world of The Secret History, but the plot does take a while to develop. This is a dark story that explores the evil in human nature, so if you’re looking for a light read, don’t pick this one up yet.

 

The Secret History is available in our Recreational Reading section at the library.

Content note: violence; sexual content (most of which happens off-screen); moments of racism, homophobia, and sexism from a few characters; lots of substance abuse; pagan rituals. Reader discretion is advised.

Book Review: “Normal People” by Sally Rooney

normal

 

Normal People by Sally Rooney is the bestselling story of the ups and downs of an Irish millennial couple’s relationship. Since its publication in 2018, Normal People has been adapted into a popular TV show on Hulu.

Mild spoilers ahead.

What Normal People gets right: The writing in Normal People is simple, direct, and poignant; I flew through this book because it was easy to read and understand without oversimplifying its subject matter. Likewise, the characters are believable- they have flaws and virtues that constantly pop up alongside each other. Connell worries about what others think and wants to be a “nice” person; yet he is at his best when he allows himself to be vulnerable and to stand up for others. In contrast, Marianne feels different from everyone else and is not afraid to express her opinions, but she is burdened with her abusive family and fear of close relationships.

As someone the same age as the main characters, I found most of their interactions and cultural references relatable (albeit some of their political conversations were specific to  Ireland and I needed to look them up).

What Normal People gets wrong: There’s definitely some moments that will make you cringe. I was genuinely worried about both Connell and Marianne at times. It’s impressive that the book can get such a strong emotional reaction out of its readers, but at the same time, it’s not a fun book to read.

I also wasn’t a fan of the open-ended conclusion. I am usually fine with open endings, but I really thought this book was moving in a clear direction and the plot just didn’t end up there. I expected more personal growth out of the characters than how they were acting on the last few pages.

Who should read Normal People: Readers who enjoy books about relationships, recent history, and mental health awareness.

Who shouldn’t read Normal People: This is a sad one, guys. If you, like me, occasionally like to read something that will make you cringe and maybe even cry, then pick this one up. But if you’d rather read to escape, or if you don’t want to read about abusive situations, just skip this one. Readers who like linear plots and strong conclusions will not like Normal People, either.

 

Normal People is available in the Recreational Reading section at the library.

Content note: suggestive scenes, language, substance abuse, sexual assault, physical and emotional abuse. Reader discretion is advised.

Top 5 Beach Reads For Spring Break

beach

 

With spring break comes much-needed time away from school and (hopefully) some beautiful weather! If you find yourself with some free time this spring break, you may want to pick back up the tried-and-true habit of “reading for fun.” We’ve compiled a list of the best “beach read” books in the library so that you can read by the water this break (or travel to fun places through the world of literacy, even if you’re still in your dorm)!

 

Out Of Africa by Isak Dineson

Author Isak Dinesen, whose real name is Karen Blixen, tells her story of the 17 years she ran a coffee farm in Kenya, Africa. This book is a well-written classic that will take you to new places.

 

Into The Water by Paula Hawkins

From the author of the bestseller The Girl On The Train, Into The Water is a tale of suspense and mystery. When two people turn up dead in the local river, who will discover their stories?

 

The Paris Wife by Paul McLain

What would it be like to be married to a struggling author in a new city? Historical fiction fans may enjoy this novel’s fictionalized look at the life of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson, with a focus on their time in Paris.

 

House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin Craig

On a remote island estate, Annaleigh Thaumas, the sixth-born of twelve sisters, enlists the aid of an alluring stranger to unravel the family curse before it claims her life. This retelling of a Grimm Brothers tale is hauntingly interesting.

 

Collected Stories by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Dive into the world of magical realism with Marquez’s unique storytelling. These short stories will keep you interested without taking up all of your vacation time.