So I’ve got three fiction novels to review here — all of which are kind of hard to classify, which is how they ended up here…
(4 stars) Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah
I didn’t really know what to expect from this one, but I ended up really liking it. The writing was lovely and the characters were very realistically portrayed.
“If she’d learned one thing in the last two years, it was that life could be hard enough without adding petty resentments.”
Joanna Teale is spending the summer in a cabin in rural Illinois. She’s recovering from treatment for breast cancer, and grieving for the recent loss of her mother. A graduate student, she throws herself into researching the nests of birds around the cabin. One night, a girl shows up at her house — barefoot and covered in bruises. Refusing to give Joanna any real information, the girl insists she is an alien from the stars named Ursa. After getting NO help from the local police, Joanna ends up enlisting the help of her nearest neighbor — Gabe Nash — to help figure out where Ursa came from, and how to return her safely.
I really liked the writing in this novel. All three characters have suffered damage in their lives, which gets revealed slowly. Joanna is still reeling from the major changes in her life. Gabe has a horrible family situation — the more the author reveals, the worse it seems and the more we understand his personality. Ursa refuses to disclose anything about her past, but insists that she must stay on the planet until she witnesses 5 miracles. Bringing them together creates close bonds that heal, as well as more opportunities to be hurt. Between Joanna leaving at the end of the summer and Ursa’s list of miracles, an ending to their small group looms over the entire novel. I felt very invested in these characters by the end and I felt genuine sadness at seeing them go.
(3 stars) A Lily in the Light by Kristin Fields
This was a sad read. It’s a book about a missing girl, but it’s really more about the hole her disappearance leaves in her family’s life.
“Good people can do bad things, and bad people can do good things, so maybe it depends on the choices we make.”
Esme, at age 11, has devoted most of her life to ballet. She’s talented and hard-working, and wants nothing more than to make this her life. Then her 4 year old sister Lily disappears, and her whole life changes. Her family falls apart, her neighborhood tries to rally but everyone is a suspect, and Esme’s ballet career stops before it starts. Then she gets an opportunity to live with her ballet teacher in order to study with her — a choice that would take her away from the dark house where the rest of her family continues to exist without actually living.
Like I said, this is a book about a missing girl, but it’s really more about Esme and how that disappearance completely changes her life. It wrecks her — she feels guilt about the night Lily is taken, she feels isolated from her family, and she’s not sure how to move on or even if she should. The ballet career added a lot of interest to the novel for me. I enjoyed the descriptions of her skills and dancing and what it takes to be a professional ballerina as much as I did the story itself.
(3 stars) The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
This book was pretty cool. It has a great, unique concept and the author carried it out fairly well. But oh my God it was so long! I listen to this on audiobook and it was seriously like 18 hours. I think I would have enjoyed this twice as much if it had been half the length.
“If this isn’t hell, the devil is surely taking notes.”
It’s been reviewed a lot on this site, but a quick recap in case you missed it. Our main character wakes up one day with absolutely no recollection of who he is or where he is. After some stumbling around, he discovers that he has been placed into a body in order to solve a crime that’s going to be committed — the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle. Every morning our he will wake up in a different body and be forced to relive the day again.
He spends the first few days trying to save Evelyn Hardcastle rather than solve the murder as instructed. A mysterious character he refers to as “the plague doctor” due to the plague mask he wears instructs him to quit screwing around and solve the murder. Since he wakes up in a different character each day, he gets an opportunity to see the events of the day from a lot of different perspectives. However he is also forced to deal with whatever handicaps that body may have. For instance, one of them has a lot of difficulty getting around. Another has suffered a terrible beating and keeps passing out, which kicks him to another body. He also get some benefits from the bodies, especially the ones that are more quick-witted.
Like I said, it’s an extremely interesting idea but the book really drags. And I found the ending, which I will not spoil here, to be pretty ridiculous. It was definitely not worth the considerable time I invested in this novel!