Book Of The Month is a subscription service that sends you one hardcover book per month out of five selections for a monthly subscription fee. You can add 2 more titles to your monthly delivery for $9.99 each, and the price overall is very cheap for full-size hardcovers.
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Clearly I’m still a few months behind on my Book Of The Month reading, but I’m starting to catch up. I’m hoping a post on my April 2017 selection will follow this one in just a couple weeks.
When it comes to my March 2017 Book Of The Month selections, I have to say I really liked one (Behind Her Eyes), thought one was okay (All Grown Up), and absolutely hated the third (Perfect Little World). To find out why, keep reading below!
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
Publication Date: January 31st 2017
Published By: Flatiron Books
Plot Teaser (from Goodreads)
Louise is a single mom, a secretary, stuck in a modern-day rut. On a rare night out, she meets a man in a bar and sparks fly. Though he leaves after they kiss, she’s thrilled she finally connected with someone. When Louise arrives at work on Monday, she meets her new boss, David. The man from the bar. The very married man from the bar…who says the kiss was a terrible mistake but who still can’t keep his eyes off Louise.
And then Louise bumps into Adele, who’s new to town and in need of a friend, but she also just happens to be married to David. David and Adele look like the picture-perfect husband and wife, but then why is David so controlling, and why is Adele so scared of him? As Louise is drawn into David and Adele’s orbit, she uncovers more puzzling questions than answers. The only thing that is crystal clear is that something in this marriage is very, very wrong, but Louise can’t guess how wrong―and how far a person might go to protect their marriage’s secrets
What I Liked
The way the plot had a steady build to it, with frequent small twists and one huge twist at the end. I’ve read enough of these thrillers to know that there’s a big difference between one that is structured so that the suspense builds consistently and one that feels like it’s just plodding along until the final aha! moment. Behind Her Eyes is in the first category. There was a new tidbit of information to add to the growing mystery in every single chapter – some new revelation about the past, present or future of the characters that slotted into place but still did not allow the reader to solve the entire mystery. Because the twist at the end of Behind Her Eyes is huge (and I mean HUGE), I think it’ll be the rare reader who will have guessed it well beforehand. I only started to get an inkling of what might happen around the final 3 or 4 chapters, almost right before the actual surprise ending. It was kind of coo coo bananas, but in a way that worked.
The way in which the narrator changed from chapter to chapter. The two primary protagonists of the novel are average-Jane single mom Louise and David’s rich, beautiful wife Adele. The point of view from which the book is narrated switches between these two women, and honestly David’s character felt a bit like an after-thought – just a plot device placed there to create the friction and connection between Louise and Adele. Louise’s narrative voice is insecure, always questioning herself and worrying about the way she looks, whereas Adele’s narrative voice is cold and calculating to a sociopathic level. The transition between their two voices and also the flashbacks to which some of the novel’s chapters are dedicated really kept the reading experience interesting.
That the protagonist was relatable for the average reader. Louise is very clearly depicted by Sarah Pinborough as your regular 30 or 40 something single mom, worried about her child, her relationship with her ex husband, her job and her weight. She lies to her friend about potentially having a relationship with a married man because she’s worried of being judged for it. She drowns her sorrows in a couple extra glasses of wine and feels jealous of her ex husband’s new wife and her impending pregnancy. I think Pinborough wanted to make the female reader feel like she could be Louise – like it would be effortless and natural to step into her shoes. I think more than that, Louise’s utter averageness makes the situation she falls into seem all the more outlandish. That discrepancy between Louise’s very normal reality and the crazy circumstances that occur by the end of the novel I think further enhance the creepiness of the narrative.
What I Didn’t Like
That the protagonist, despite mostly being relatable, sometimes wasn’t believable. So I just explained how Louise is your basic average-Jane character in the paragraph before this, but I think the author missed the mark occasionally on making Jane’s choices sound realistic. I don’t want to give any of the plot away (definitely poor form in a thriller review), but as circumstances progress, Louise seems to be trapped in a pattern of making the worst possible and most stupid decision she could opt for in each passing moment. There are multiple times in which Louise could have disentangled herself from the mesh of problems and misunderstandings she’s mired in, but unfailingly, she almost always ends up more deeply involved instead. It certainly makes for a better novel, but it also made it so that I, as the reader, thought Louise was a bit of a negative caricature of how a normal person would have reacted to the circumstances of the plot.
If you’re looking for a well constructed, reliably suspenseful thriller with two interesting female protagonists at its center and an enormous unexpected twist at the end, Behind Her Eyes is for you.
All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
Publication Date: March 7th 2017
Published By: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Plot Teaser (from Goodreads)
From the New York Times best-selling author of The Middlesteins comes a wickedly funny novel about a thirty-nine-year-old single, child-free woman who defies convention as she seeks connection. Who is Andrea Bern? When her therapist asks the question, Andrea knows the right things to say: she’s a designer, a friend, a daughter, a sister. But it’s what she leaves unsaid—she’s alone, a drinker, a former artist, a shrieker in bed, captain of the sinking ship that is her flesh—that feels the most true.
Everyone around her seems to have an entirely different idea of what it means to be an adult: her best friend, Indigo, is getting married; her brother—who miraculously seems unscathed by their shared tumultuous childhood—and sister-in-law are having a hoped-for baby; and her friend Matthew continues to wholly devote himself to making dark paintings at the cost of being flat broke. But when Andrea’s niece finally arrives, born with a heartbreaking ailment, the Bern family is forced to reexamine what really matters. Will this drive them together or tear them apart?
What I Liked
It was a perfectly valid and at times thought-provoking novel. I struggled with whether to give All Grown Up 2 or 3 stars, and how to structure my review of it. I have to start by saying I didn’t love the novel – I’m somewhere in between liking and not liking it. Despite this, I recognize that it’s a fully-formed, well written piece of literary fiction that many will find interesting. There were times when I found some of the anecdote’s of Andrea’s life more compelling and charming than at others – I particularly liked her returning to her habit of sketching views from her apartment or her attitude in dealing with some of the men that traipse through her life throughout the narrative. There were humorous parts that almost made me laugh out loud and some sad parts that did truly move me. Overall though, I felt that the book missed the mark for me on connecting to the reality of 30-something single women, because the main character was in fact 30-something and single, but seemed to have a very atypical personality that was hard to relate to (more on that in the What I Didn’t Like section).
The fact that the author was unapologetic about her character’s failings. You’ll read below that I found the characters hard to connect to because many of them didn’t seem to have the chutzpah to take control of circumstances in their life and make a change. However, I suspect this may have been the point of designing characters like these, and it was just unfortunate that it didn’t really work for me. I think Attenberg wanted to present her characters as real and highly flawed human beings who don’t always conform to the societal expectation of constantly propelling your life forward into the next inevitable life-phase. Amidst divorces, moves and the various other misfortunes of daily life, Attenberg’s characters in their 30s and 40s are depicted as trapped in their realities, wishing for a way out but without the grit to do anything about it. The exception would have to be Andrea’s mother, who maybe because she’s from a different generation seems to live her life more fluidly, adapting to circumstances with relative ease and aplomb.
What I Didn’t Like
I didn’t feel emotionally connected to any of the characters in the book. I really thought that this book was going to be a wry and empowering take on being single in your 30s for at least some of the right reasons. I was expecting to find the main character, Andrea, highly relatable for someone like me who is technically in a similar situation. Instead, I really disliked Andrea from the start and the book turned out to be kind of depressing. It doesn’t help that I’m really irritated by people who waffle in their own lives without a sense of direction or productivity but with a strong desire to complain about everything they aren’t changing about their destinies anyways. I think more than a real look at what it means to be single in your 30s and 40s, this may have been a look at someone who has an undiagnosed depression moving aimlessly through the years, feeling disconnected from her family members and even from her own desires. At times, I felt like Andrea read as almost sociopathic, especially in the level of disinterest she showed towards her brother’s disabled infant child. She definitely wasn’t the protagonist I was hoping for in this one.
There was a near complete lack of plot. The point of novels like this is often just to explore interesting characters and sometimes to watch these characters develop and change through the years that the novel encompasses. It wasn’t hugely surprising that there really wasn’t much of a plot in All Grown Up. Things actually seem to happen to people around Andrea more than to the protagonist herself. The story that was most interesting to follow was again that of Andrea’s mother, including the flashbacks in which Andrea reflected on her atypical upbringing which fueled a lot of the conflicting feelings Andrea felt for her mother. Their relationship was engaging to a degree, definitely more engaging at least than bearing witness to the endless revolving door of inappropriate male conquests Andrea paraded through her various apartments. I was hoping for some kind of growth or resolution in Andrea by the end of the novel, but I didn’t really feel like it was there. There is a bit of a contrived closing scene that seems to suggest Andrea is exploring new territory emotionally, but it unfortunately didn’t hit the mark on feeling genuine to her character for me.
Not the empowering narrative on being single in your 30s you might expect, but an interesting character study of a set of people tied together through family and circumstance who struggle to find meaning and direction in their lives.
Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson
Publication Date: January 24th 2017
Published By: Ecco
Plot Teaser (from Goodreads)
When Isabelle Poole meets Dr. Preston Grind, she’s just about out of options. She recently graduated from high school and is pregnant with her art teacher’s baby. Izzy knows she can be a good mother but without any money or prospects, she’s left searching.
So when Dr. Grind offers her a space in The Infinite Family Project, she accepts. Housed in a spacious compound in Tennessee, she joins nine other couples, all with children the same age as her newborn son, to raise their children as one extended family. Soon the gentle equilibrium among the families is upset and it all starts to disintegrate: unspoken resentments between the couples begin to fester; the project’s funding becomes tenuous; and Izzy’s feelings for Dr. Grind, who is looking to expunge his own painful childhood, make her question her participation in this strange experiment in the first place.
What I Liked
The premise. When I read the plot teaser for this book, I thought it sounded really interesting, which is why I added it to my Book Of The Month delivery. The story of a group of parents – including a single mom – brought together to raise their children communally has huge potential for drama, plot twists and great character development. I imagined that there would be prohibited romances, near murderous fights, vindictive jealousies and that the project would leak more participants than a season of Survivor. If it didn’t take the salacious route, I was hoping that the novel would maybe turn out to be inspiring – a thought-provoking look at what family means or something like that. My expectations based on the plot teaser were very sorely disappointed. Keep reading below to see why.
What I Didn’t Like
The fact the novel fell so far short of the potential of its premise. Instead of being thought-provoking, surprising, or even just interesting, the novel unfortunately felt superficial, poorly developed and extremely slow. There was so much repetitive focus on tiny details involving the protagonist Isabelle’s love of cooking, the community’s day to day chores, and the minutiae of what it took to take care of their children. I think some of the details were included in the hopes that they could provide the characters some depth, but in reality they made the reading experience plodding and unrewarding. Somehow, in a book with a premise that is after all pretty exciting, almost nothing happens. It seems like the characters are teleported from the beginning of ‘The Project’ to the end of it with only the mundane (and boring) details of everyday life in between. I started reading only the first line of every paragraph about two thirds into the book so I could finish it. I knew I wouldn’t be missing anything significant by doing so. That’s how slow and repetitive it was.
Character development was near absent for such a long novel. There were 4 or 5 couples that joined the protagonist – Isabelle – in ‘The Project’. I’d be hard pressed to tell you any of their names or any details about them, however, without looking them up. They were simply forgettable and one-dimensional. There are a couple meager conflicts between them but nothing like the drama that typically naturally ensues bringing this many strangers together for years, at least in fiction. All the character development efforts of the author went towards fleshing out Isabelle’s character, which does end up being more three-dimensional and a smidgen more interesting than the others. However, Isbaelle’s big wins throughout the novel – the twists in her story that should make you feel that she’s going somewhere – are the equivalents of a Sunday afternoon nap. She goes to university and learns to cook even better. That about sums it up. But it’s dragged out in dozens of chapters.
An engaging premise that is unfortunately ruined by an incredibly slow and nearly nonexistent plot and one-dimensional characters that are impossible to connect to.
Have you read Behind Her Eyes, All Grown Up or Perfect Little World? What did you think of them? Do you agree with my ratings? Let me know in the comments.
Here’s my Instagram image from when I received my March 2017 delivery from Book Of The Month.
So excited about my March 2017 book of the month picks and even more excited for the contest they're running which will allow one of their members to become BOTM judge for a month! My little sidekick had no idea why mama wanted him to sit nicely next to these delicious books and flowers without eating them. Very confusing. #bookofthemonth #youbethejudge #bookreview #bookblog #bookblogger #bookstagram #books #bookworm #booksarelife #reading #readingisfun #readingtime #readingisfundamental #readingissexy #ilovebooks #booklover #bookish #bookgram #bibliophile
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