Reviews

Review: Where the Crawdads Sing ~ by Delia Owens

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Review: Where the Crawdads Sing ~ by Delia Owens

384 pages ~ Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Mystery  

August 2018 ~ G.P Putnam’s Sons

My Rating: 4/5

Goodreads Description:

For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.

Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

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“Kya was bonded to her planet and its life in a way few people are. Rooted solid in this earth. Born of this mother.”

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My Thoughts:  

I am generally leery of overly hyped books, but when your big sister forcibly insists you read something for months at a time, you eventually give in. I am really glad that I finally listened because this book was like nothing I have ever read before. The natural world at the center of this book is remarkable. Owens’ love and affinity for the natural world came through on every page and it was as poetic as it was fascinating.

Biggest Highlight for me:

  • Kya’s life is so rooted in the natural world of the marsh that she relates everything she sees in nature back to human behavior. Unlike most of us who have to relate to the natural world through human behavior, for Kya, it is the other way around. Nature teaches her first. She uses her knowledge of the marsh to try and better understand the choices that the people around her make: ie: the Vixen leaving her Kits, the male birds using their extravagant feathers to attract a mate, the female fireflies and the praying mantis attracting mates only to kill them. All of this was SO beautifully crafted.
  • Owens has used her life as a Zoologist to layer a story that is rooted in the natural world but is also rooted in how we perceive that natural world. What do we really notice and try to understand nature? How much of humankind is reflected back to us from nature? How do our choices show who and what we really are? Are our choices primal or are they truly rooted in intellect? These are all questions that the book attempts to answer. This questioning never felt forced or heavy-handed. There were times that I found myself asking, “why do I need to read about the mating habits of fireflies.” But all of the information that Owens gives, comes into play at some point in the novel. Everything is very intentional and well placed. There were lots of “Ah Ha” moments where I finally saw the natural world the way Kya was observing it and how it was reflected back to her in human life.  

The slight drawback for me: (Spoilers Beyond this point)

The only slight drawback for me was regarding the ending. I really loved the twist ending and I was completely shocked when it came. However, I didn’t feel that Kya killing Chase- plotting and executing such an elaborate story- was completely consistent with her character. Owen’s did such a great job establishing her as a gentle and caring person, that to find out that she was actually the murderer at the end was a little tough to wrap my head around. That said, I loved how the murder connected back to the firefly ritual.

Overall, it was an amazing story of survival, love, and connection to our amazing planet. I think that this is a massive success and accomplishment for her first novel. This book really does deserve all the hype.

For more information Delia Owens and her books- Click here >Delia Owens< to find her on Goodreads.

Click here > SomewhereinPages < to find me on Instagram and here > SomewhereinPages < to find me on Goodreads.

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Reviews

Review: ARC- The Girl He Used to Know ~ by Tracey Garvis Graves

Review: ARC- The Girl He Used to Know ~ by Tracey Garvis Graves

304 pages (Hardcover) ~ Literary Fiction/Romance   

April 2nd, 2019 ~ St. Martin’s Press

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Goodreads Description:

Annika (rhymes with Monica) Rose is an English major at the University of Illinois. Anxious in social situations where she finds most people’s behavior confusing, she’d rather be surrounded by the order and discipline of books or the quiet solitude of playing chess.

Jonathan Hoffman joined the chess club and lost his first game–and his heart–to the shy and awkward, yet brilliant and beautiful Annika. He admires her ability to be true to herself, quirks and all, and accepts the challenges involved in pursuing a relationship with her. Jonathan and Annika bring out the best in each other, finding the confidence and courage within themselves to plan a future together. What follows is a tumultuous yet tender love affair that withstands everything except the unforeseen tragedy that forces them apart, shattering their connection and leaving them to navigate their lives alone.

Now, a decade later, fate reunites Annika and Jonathan in Chicago. She’s living the life she wanted as a librarian. He’s a Wall Street whiz, recovering from a divorce and seeking a fresh start. The attraction and strong feelings they once shared are instantly rekindled, but until they confront the fears and anxieties that drove them apart, their second chance will end before it truly begins.

 

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My Thoughts:  

I read The Girl I Used to Know in one sitting. These two characters captured my heart from the start and would not let go. At first, it seemed to be following the typical trope of a college couple reuniting after years apart, but this story became anything but typical. Reading this book was an emotional, heartwarming, and inspiring experience for me.

The writing is really smart and thoughtful. The story alternates between Annika’s and Jonathan’s perspectives and between two different time periods-  both characters have their own unique voice that is true to their character. Their voices change and grow over the years and really shows the full arc of their characters. Getting to read the unique perspective and understanding of Annika- who is on the autism spectrum- really endeared me toward her. It was really heartwarming to see her grow over the course of the novel and command more agency in her own life. I absolutely fell in love with her character- crying when she was struggling and rooting for her success. It was heartbreaking to read, but also really refreshing and inspiring at the same time.

“I remember feeling stunned when Tina explained that most people draw these conclusions instantaneously, without any extra analysis at all. How amazing but also heartbreaking, because I’ll never be one of them.”Annika

  • The support that Annika receives from those that love her- her parents, Janice, her brother, and Jonathan-  really shows that it is not about those that try to bring you down for your differences, but the precious few that love you because of your differences.

“I’m trying to explain that the way you navigate the world will never be more important than the type of person you are.” Jonathan

My only complaint was that the climax and resolution both seemed a little rushed. I wanted the long, super sappy, drawn-out ending, but I was still really happy with the ending overall. This story has a powerful and heartwarming message that I think will resonate with everyone. It hits bookstores on April 2nd!!

For more information on Tracey Garvis Graves and her books, check her out on Goodreads.

Note: I received an E-ARC of The Girl He Used to Know from St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Follow me on Instagram @somewhereinpages & Goodreads @erinrossi

Reviews

Review: ARC- Daisy Jones and the Six ~ by Taylor Jenkins Reid

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Review: ARC: Daisy Jones and the Six ~ by Taylor Jenkins Reid  

349 pages (paperback ARC) ~ Historical Fiction/Literary Fiction  

March 5th, 2019~ Ballantine Books (an imprint of Random House)

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Goodreads Description:

Everyone knows Daisy Jones & The Six, but nobody knows the reason behind their split at the absolute height of their popularity . . . until now.

Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock and roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.

Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.

Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.

The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones & The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice.

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My Thoughts:  

I wanted to read this book the minute that I read the synopsis…..late 70s, Rock-n-Roll, LA….sign me up! I loved The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, so knew that Taylor Jenkins-Reid would do justice to this amazing concept. Because of all of the hype surrounding this book, getting an ARC proved to be rather difficult for me. Luckily, the lovely ladies at BookSparks hooked me. And I am so glad that I was able to read it. This book is definitely worth all of the hype it’s been getting. It is entertaining, fast-paced, and fun, while still managing to be really complex and thought-provoking.

Here are a few of my highlights:

  • Themes– the book dealt with a lot of heavy themes: addiction, childhood trauma, and the power of choice, just to name a few. These characters are broken in so many ways, and they go through so much together. However, they still manage to look out for each other no matter what.
  • I like the way that Jenkins-Reid was able to portray addiction as something that one never really recovers from. It is a constant choice day to day. She also uses this theme of choice in order to show that it is not what we desire or what we think of doing that defines us, but rather what we actually end up doing. Our choices define us, rather than our addictions. Both of these themes were explored so well and were really powerful when placed in the context of celebrities who have a world of choices at their fingertips.

“History is what you did, not what you almost did, not what you thought about doing. And I was proud of what I did.”

  • The Music- The process of creating music in the 70s, lyrics, instruments, mixing, producing, all without the technology we have today, was all explored so well here and in such detail. It was so cool to be behind the scenes of this creative process. It was even better than watching “Behind the Music” because you feel like a member of the band.
  • Imperfect love- The idea that love doesn’t have to be perfect in order to be true and real was another theme explored here. There was part of me that really wanted to scream at these characters for making the mistakes that they do, but the story really makes to acknowledge that people and relationships aren’t perfect and that is ok. This really made me rethink strongly held beliefs.

“No matter who you choose to go down the road with, you’re gonna get hurt. That’s just the nature of caring about someone. No matter who you love, they will break your heart along the way….But I just kept choosing trust and hope. I believed he was worthy of it.”

What I didn’t love:

  • Interview style- I didn’t care for the interview style of the book. I would have liked if the interview style was mixed in with actual prose. The interview style made the book move really fast, which was great, but I felt that more depth would have come from prose.
  • Predictability- because it was an interview style, there was a lot of heavy foreshadowing by the characters who are telling the story. This made the climax of the story a little predictable for me.

Overall, it was a great ride. I would recommend this book to pretty much everyone, but especially those that love the 1970s Rock-n-Roll scene.

For more information on Taylor Jenkins Reid and her books, check her out on Goodreads and Instagram

Note: I received a copy of the ARC for Daisy Jones and the Six from BookSparks in exchange for an honest review. Thank you so much BookSparks.

Follow me on Instagram @somewhereinpages & Goodreads @erinrossi

Reviews

Review: ARC – The Last Romantics ~ by Tara Conklin

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Review: The Last Romantics ~ by Tara Conklin

386 pages ~ Literary Fiction

Feb 5th, 2019 ~ William Morrow Books

My Rating: 4/5 ✰✰✰✰

Goodreads Description:

When the renowned poet Fiona Skinner is asked about the inspiration behind her iconic work, The Love Poem, she tells her audience a story about her family and a betrayal that reverberates through time.

It begins in a big yellow house with a funeral, an iron poker, and a brief variation forever known as the Pause: a free and feral summer in a middle-class Connecticut town. Caught between the predictable life they once led and an uncertain future that stretches before them, the Skinner siblings—fierce Renee, sensitive Caroline, golden boy Joe and watchful Fiona—emerge from the Pause staunchly loyal and deeply connected. Two decades later, the siblings find themselves once again confronted with a family crisis that tests the strength of these bonds and forces them to question the life choices they’ve made and ask what, exactly, they will do for love.

A sweeping yet intimate epic about one American family, The Last Romantics is an unforgettable exploration of the ties that bind us together, the responsibilities we embrace and the duties we resent, and how we can lose—and sometimes rescue—the ones we love. A novel that pierces the heart and lingers in the mind, it is also a beautiful meditation on the power of stories—how they navigate us through difficult times, help us understand the past, and point the way toward our future.

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“The greatest works of poetry, what makes each of us a poet, are the stories we tell about ourselves. We create them out of family and blood and friends and love and hate and what we’ve read and watched and witnessed. Longing and regret, illness, broken bones, broken hearts, achievements, money won and lost, palm readings and visions. We tell these stories until we believe them.”

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My Thoughts:  

The Last Romantics is such a wonderful study in contrasts. The story of The Skinner siblings feels, at times, to be sweeping and epic, however, nothing beyond what we can expect from an ordinary life happens to these characters. Their lives and loves are both extraordinary and ordinary at the same time. Conklin manages to portray the complexity of sibling love and shows how powerful and true it is, despite all of its flaws. Her writing is both subtle and powerful and really celebrates “ordinary” human life. The writing is raw and unromantic, but still heartwrenching and beautiful. “True love” in all of its forms, is true because it is flawed, and because it is essentially “human.” This book does such an amazing job of celebrating this. I can’t say enough about how much I loved this book.

Below are a few themes that really stood out to me:

The Poetry- Fiona, the youngest of The Skinner siblings and narrator, is a poet and Conklin manages to seamlessly incorporate elements of poetry that both moves that plot forward and adds to our understanding of these characters. The poetry itself was beautiful, but also added such an interesting layer to the novel.

Representations of Grief and Depression- I really liked that Conklin didn’t shy away from a true portrayal of Noni’s grief and depression during “The Pause.” There is nothing mysterious or vailed about her experience. It is gritty and raw but also tinged with moments of beauty. Grief acts as a constant companion to these characters and changes them in profound ways which is something that I really related to and appreciated.

The connection between Parent and Child- The Skinner siblings come together and pull apart throughout the course of the novel. Their shared experiences and trauma bring them closer together, and yet their individual struggles seem to pull them apart. Their desire to protect Noni is a constant source of connection as well. I thought that Conklin really portrayed this complicated connection beautifully.

“We forgave Noni not because she was all we had, although this was true, but because we shared her. She belonged to the four of us, and for one to forgive her meant that the others couldn’t either, and none of us was willing to shoulder the burden of that decision. None of us could bear to take Noni away from the others again.”

Drawback:

The only slight drawback for me was the third person narrative style told by Fiona. I really enjoyed the flashbacks told from Fiona’s POV when it involved her own life. However, when she was narrating for her brother and her sisters, it did, at times, become distracting and kept pulling me away from the story. I started to question how Fiona knew enough of these details to relay the personal intimate experiences of her sibilings. I liked Fiona as the primary narrator, but I feel that Joe, Renee, and Caroline’s experiences would have been better told from their own POV, rather than Fiona’s.

Overall, this was a wonderful and moving story about the triumphs of family and of “true love” with all of its wonderful flaws. The Last Romantics comes out today, February 5th, 2019. Be sure to grab a copy of this amazing family drama.

I was graciously provided an ARC of The Last Romantics by Williams Morrow/Harper Collins, however, these opinions are all mine.

Happy Reading!!

For more information on Tara Conklin and her books, check her out on Goodreads

Follow me on Instagram @somewhereinpages & Goodreads @erinrossi

Reviews

Review: Once Upon a River ~ by Diane Setterfield

480 pages ~ Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

2018 ~ Atria/Emily Beatles Books

My Rating: 5/5 ✰✰✰✰✰

Goodreads Description:

A dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames. The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a little child.

Hours later the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.

Is it a miracle?

Is it magic?

Or can it be explained by science?

Replete with folklore, suspense, and romance, as well as with the urgent scientific curiosity of the Darwinian age, Once Upon a River is as richly atmospheric as Setterfield’s bestseller The Thirteenth Tale.

“Along the borders of this world lie others. There are places you can cross. This is one such place.”

My Thoughts:

First, let me say that this book is probably not for everyone. It is a very meandering, atmospheric type of narrative that is more about mood than it is about plot. Although there is a mystery at the heart of the plot, it is not the type of suspenseful mystery that would keep someone up till 3 am trying to get to the bottom of. I would not recommend this to readers who need a fast-paced, suspenseful plot in order to stay engaged. I would recommend this to readers who, like me, enjoy rich, dreamy beautiful prose, simply for the sake of beautiful prose. Fans of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials and Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries would definitely be into this. The plot is slow moving, but this book is more than plot. It is about storytelling in all of its various forms and what those stories provide us. Setterfield has a very distinct style that I can only describe as magical. Here were some highlights for me:

-The celebration of storytelling- As I said above, this book is really a celebration of how stories influence us, inspire us, help us cope, and help us make sense of things we can’t understand. The river, in this story, both gives and takes life, it is both salvation and destruction simultaneously. It both inspires the stories, while the stories, in turn, define the river and what it is capable of. This was really such a beautiful theme, especially for someone who spends their life between the pages of a book.

-Darwinian themes- Because so little was known about the nature of medicine and science during the Victorian era, it was really interesting to see how these characters created stories in order to make sense of things that were, to them, unimaginable.

“Once upon a time, a long time ago, an ape became human. And once upon a time, long before that, an aquatic creature came out of the water and breathed air.”

-Connection to the real Henry Taunt– I had no idea that there was an actual Victorian photographer who floated around the Thames on a boat with a darkroom. When reading Setterfield’s notes at the end of the novel, it was really fascinating to see how her own research of Taunt lead her to create this story. I spent about two hours online mesmerized by his photography. I think that it would have been really lovely if the book included a map of the river and some of Taunt’s photography.

-Setterfield does a remarkable job of making the reader feel as if they’re are part this magical transaction of storytelling. You feel as if you are sitting down at the Swan with a pint, listening to this remarkable tale.

“And now, dear reader, the story is over. It is time for you to cross the bride once more and return to the world you came from. This river, which is and is not the Thames, must continue following without you. You have haunted here long enough, and besides, you surely have rivers of your own to attend to?”

Happy Reading!!

For more information on Diane Setterfield and her books, check her out on Goodreads

Follow me on Instagram @somewhereinpages & Goodreads @erinrossi

Reviews

Review: The Silence of the Girls ~ by Pat Barker

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Review: The Silence of the Girls ~ by Pat Barker

291 pages ~ Literary Fiction/Greek Mythology Retelling

2018~ Doubleday Books

Audio Narrated by Kristin Atherton and Michael Fox

10 hr 44 mins

Published by Random House Audio

Presented by Audible.com

My Rating: 5/5 ✰✰✰✰✰

Goodreads Description:

The ancient city of Troy has withstood a decade under siege of the powerful Greek army, which continues to wage bloody war over a stolen woman—Helen. In the Greek camp, another woman—Briseis—watches and waits for the war’s outcome. She was queen of one of Troy’s neighboring kingdoms, until Achilles, Greece’s greatest warrior, sacked her city and murdered her husband and brothers. Briseis becomes Achilles’s concubine, a prize of battle, and must adjust quickly in order to survive a radically different life, as one of the many conquered women who serve the Greek army.

When Agamemnon, the brutal political leader of the Greek forces, demands Briseis for himself, she finds herself caught between the two most powerful of the Greeks. Achilles refuses to fight in protest, and the Greeks begin to lose ground to their Trojan opponents. Keenly observant and coolly unflinching about the daily horrors of war, Briseis finds herself in an unprecedented position, able to observe the two men driving the Greek army in what will become their final confrontation, deciding the fate not only of Briseis’s people but also of the ancient world at large.

Briseis is just one among thousands of women living behind the scenes in this war—the slaves and prostitutes, the nurses, the women who lay out the dead—all of them erased by history. With breathtaking historical detail and luminous prose, Pat Barker brings the teeming world of the Greek camp to vivid life. She offers nuanced, complex portraits of characters and stories familiar from mythology, which, seen from Briseis’s perspective, are rife with newfound revelations. Barker’s latest builds on her decades-long study of war and its impact on individual lives—and it is nothing short of magnificent.

“Many of these songs I remember from my own childhood. As a small girl at home in my father’s house, I used to creep down to the courtyard when I was supposed to be in bed asleep and listen to the bards playing and singing in the hall. Perhaps, at that age, I thought all the stirring tales of courage and adventure were opening a door into my own future, though a few years later- ten, eleven years old, perhaps- the world began to close in around me and I realized the songs belonged to my brothers, not to me.”

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My Thoughts:

Barker does something pretty brilliant in this book- she manages to simultaneously celebrate The Iliad (the original source of this story) and challenge it. Her challenge comes in the form of perspective because her story brings to light the thoughts/feelings/struggles/triumphs of the women in this story- who both A) played a crucial role in the politics and the emotion of the story, and B) whose perspectives were woefully left out of the original. However, her book also celebrates the Iliad. She gives you a sense of the majesty of this story and the complexity of its heroes. I honestly can’t say enough about how much I loved this book- it was a breath of fresh air, it was moving, emotional, honest, and beautifully written. Below were some of the high points for me:

  • The connection to the Iliad- Barker is very careful to interject Briseis’ voice into Achilles’ story- Briseis never attempts to rewrite it or make it her own. She is very honestly telling the events from her own perspective- inserting her own thoughts and feelings while also commenting on the differences between her story and the romanticized legends of Achilles and the Trojan War.

“Suppose, suppose just once, once, in all these centuries, the slippery gods keep their word and Achilles is granted eternal glory in return for his early death under the walls of Troy…? What will they make of us, the people of those unimaginable distant times? One thing I do know: they won’t want to be told about the massacres of men and boys, the enslavement of women and girls. They won’t want to know we were living in a rape camp. No, they’ll go for something altogether softer. A love story, perhaps? I just hope they manage to work out who the lovers were.

His story. His, not mine. It ends at his grave.”

  • With this connection to the Iliad, we also see Achilles in a completely new light. He continues to be the brutal, ruthless, killing machine that we know, but in seeing his love for Patroclus and his connection to his mother, there is a new depth to him. Even his relationship with Briseis changes over the course of this story. They form a mutual respect and understanding of each other. It’s not loving, I wouldn’t even call it friendship, but it’s definitely a shared acceptance and protection.
  • The everyday struggles and triumphs of the women and their day-to-day life in the camp was beautifully captured. The women like Briseis who have been captured and taken away from their homes to live as slaves in the Greek war camp find a magical way to cope with their reality. Through caring for the children, caring for the sick and wounded, preparing the dead for cremation, all preparing the food, the women in the camp find connection and purpose despite what they are forced to endure.
  • Use of the Gods- There is not as much interaction with the Gods in this story as there is in The Iliad. In fact, Achilles’ mother, Thetis, is the only God these characters ever interact with. The subtle inclusion of the Gods allows for the possibility that some of these “curses” and “bargains” with said Gods could actually be in the minds of the characters rather than a reality.
  • Narrative style- For the most part, the story is told in the first person by Briseis. It is as if you are sitting down with an old friend and she is telling you about the most horrific experiences of the life. This story is raw and unsentimental, unlike the romanticization we find in the Iliad. This story is coming from a person who has become immune to the horrors and the pain that she suffered. To her, it is just her life, not a heroic legend or fanciful tale. Briseis even poses questions for the reader. Questions that she knows the reader might have or questions that a friend might have in hearing her story.

“This man killed your brothers, he killed your husband, he burned your city, he destroyed every single thing you’d ever loved- and you were prepared to marry him? I don’t understand how you could do that?

“Perhaps that’s because you’ve never  been a slave?”

Again, I can’t say enough about the beauty of this book. If you are a fan of Greek Mythology retellings, this is a must!

For more information on Pat Barker and her books, check her out on Goodreads

Follow me on Instagram @somewhereinpages & Goodreads @erinrossi

Reviews

Review: If We Were Villains ~ by M.L. Rio

Review: If We Were Villains ~ by M.L. Rio

354 pages ~ Adult Fiction, Academia  

2017~ Flatiron Books

My Rating: 4/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Goodreads Description:

Enter the players. There were seven of us then, seven bright young things with wide precious futures ahead of us. Until that year, we saw no further than the books in front of our faces.

On the day Oliver Marks is released from jail, the man who put him there is waiting at the door. Detective Colborne wants to know the truth, and after ten years, Oliver is finally ready to tell it.

Ten years ago: Oliver is one of seven young Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, a place of keen ambition and fierce competition. In this secluded world of firelight and leather-bound books, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingénue, extra. But in their fourth and final year, the balance of power begins to shift, good-natured rivalries turn ugly, and on opening night real violence invades the students’ world of make believe. In the morning, the fourth-years find themselves facing their very own tragedy, and their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, each other, and themselves that they are innocent.

Part coming-of-age story, part confession, If We Were Villains explores the magical and dangerous boundary between art and life. In this tale of loyalty and betrayal, madness and ecstasy, the players must choose what roles to play before the curtain falls.

“You can justify anything is you do it poetically enough”

My Thoughts:

There is so much to love about this novel. I am a giant theater nerd, I love Shakespeare, and I loved getting a glimpse into the dark side of this seeming perfect academic world of art and classical scholarship. The aesthetic definitely made my little heart happy. As much as I loved the mood and the mystery element, there were some issues that kept it from being a 5 star read for me. Below were some high points and low points for me:

High Points

  • The discussion of how art imitates life and vice/versa. This was by far my favorite element of the book and I think that the author did a really great job playing with this theme throughout the book. The actors themselves are constantly playing a role, even off stage. So much of who they become is influenced by the roles they are assigned. The martyr, the villain, the savor, ect. “Was I not always his right-hand man, his lieutenant? Banquo or Benvolio or Oliver- little difference.”
  • The appreciation for the power of words was another cool theme that kept coming up: “How could we explain that standing on a stage and speaking someone else’s words as if they are your own is less an act of bravery than a desperate lunge at mutual understanding? An attempt to forge that tenuous link between speaker and listener and communicate something, anything, of substance.”
  • “I need language to live, like food- lexemes and morphemes and morsels of meaning nourish me with the knowledge that, yes, there is a word for this. Someone else has felt it before.”
  • The detailed description of the Dellecher Conversatory, the costumes, the sets, the plays (especially the Halloween Macbeth scene), the old “castle” that the fourth-years live in- I ate up all of this detail and it really set the perfect mood and background for the dark tale.
  • I liked Rio’s decision to write certain scenes as if they were a play themselves, this was a cool stylistic feature – a play within a play.

Low Points

  • Some of the banter between the characters is very cheesy at times. They sometimes hold full conversations only using lines from Shakespeare’s plays. I get that they are Shakespearean scholars and actors, but what 20-somethings talk like this? At one point, one of the characters actually has a nervous breakdown while spouting nothing but lines from their past plays. This was a little unbelievable for me.
  • Towards the beginning of the novel there is a lot of foreshadowing and it felt very over the top. I kept thinking, “ok we get it, something bad is going to happen.”
  • Relationships between characters felt disingenuous at times. A lot of the time the reader is told rather than shown how these characters feel about one another, so it became a little difficult for me to believe in the full force of their feelings.

Overall, I really did enjoy the novel. I would recommend it to fellow theater nerds, fans of Shakespeare, and anyone who also enjoys the darker side of academic life.  However, I would caution readers who are not familiar with the general plots of most of Shakespeare’s works because they might be a little lost when reading this novel. Plays and characters are referred to so often that if you were not familiar, you might spend a lot of time googling. I have read all of the plays that they refer to and I still had to rely on google a few times. I would also suggest reading Donna Tartt’s The Secret History first, if you haven’t already. It is a much better version of this same type of narrative. As always, I would love your thoughts! Happy reading!

For more information on M.L. Rio and her books, check her out on Goodreads

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