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When it comes to my June 2017 Book Of The Month selections, I liked two of them and ended up not liking the third. I ended up giving The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid and White Fur by Jardine Libaire 3 star ratings because they were solid reads with interesting characters, while Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach felt cheesy and overwrought, earning it a 2 star rating. Read my full reviews below!
The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Publication Date: June 13th 2017
Published By: Atria Books
Plot Teaser (from Goodreads)
From Taylor Jenkins Reid comes an unforgettable and sweeping novel about one classic film actress’s relentless rise to the top—the risks she took, the loves she lost, and the long-held secrets the public could never imagine.
Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now? Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story… Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.
What I Liked
The premise and major plot twist. It’s hard to deny that even just the title of this novel is highly enticing, let alone the plot teaser. With such a beautiful cover and the promise of learning about a glamorous fictional diva’s scandalous life and her seven marriages, I was really looking forward to this novel as a great summer read, and initially, I wasn’t disappointed. I really enjoyed the first half of the book, in which Evelyn Hugo’s youth and her ascent to the apex of Hollywood really kept me hooked and avidly turning the pages. I wasn’t aware that there’s a major and highly unexpected plot twist in the book which reveals itself about one third of the way in, and which has ramifications that are historical, social and ideological in nature. Without giving anything away, the inclusion of this variation in Evelyn’s story was both surprising and really added to the depth and currency of the novel and to the development of several of its characters. In the end, the book feels like an exploration of different forms of love – whether its marriages of various levels of success, friendships that blur the lines, the bonds between parents and their children, or simple infatuations.
Evelyn’s character. Evelyn is not only beautiful, glamorous and famous, but she’s one heck of a strong female character. She’s unapologetic with regards to the various improprieties she may have stooped to during her life and the compromises she chose to make in her relentless pursuit of fame. She loves with abandon, and sometimes with destructive consequences, often shamelessly using her sex appeal to her own ends. She encounters plenty of equally shady characters throughout the many decades of her life that are covered in the novel, but I feel none of the other characters ever truly matches her ruthless determination to lift herself out of her unfortunate origins. I found her extremely captivating because she is shameless about her flaws and embraces them to the point of stubbornness, but also because there’s so much to be admired in her drive and steadfastness in pursuing her goals. I did find that the portrayal of ‘past Evelyn’ by the author was a bit more commanding and poignant than that of the Evelyn of the present who is recounting her life story to journalist Monique.
What I Didn’t Like
The present day narrative. This was really the central issue I had with the novel, other than the fact that it really dragged quite a bit in the middle. Evelyn’s story is told through daily interviews with journalist Monique. Though a significant part of the book is focused on this account of Evelyn’s past, there are also several chapters and segments of the novel that are set in the present and either relate to Evelyn and Monique’s interactions or Monique’s personal life. I found this present day narrative boring and uninteresting. Monique’s character never felt realistic or relatable to me, and her internal monologues about the state of her personal life seemed to drone on and on, without really adding much to the message or impact of the novel. At the end of the book, you find out why it was that Evelyn Hugo, famous diva, picked a young and relatively untested journalist like Monique to write her authorized biography. This final ‘plot twist’, however, just didn’t land with me. It felt like an add-on for the purposes of making the narrative fit, and this was likely because I just never cared about Monique’s story to start with.
Highly successful in the account of the captivating and surprisingly relevant life-story of a Hollywood diva, but failing to shine in the rather mundane and unrewarding present-day narrative of the marital, professional and existential woes of a young journalist.
White Fur by Jardine Libaire
Publication Date: May 30th 2017
Published By: Hogarth Press
Plot Teaser (from Goodreads)
When Elise Perez meets Jamey Hyde on a desolate winter afternoon, fate implodes, and neither of their lives will ever be the same. Although they are next-door neighbors in New Haven, they come from different worlds. Elise grew up in a housing project without a father and didn’t graduate from high school. Jamey is a junior at Yale, heir to a private investment bank fortune and beholden to high family expectations. The attraction is instant, and what starts out as sexual obsession turns into something greater, stranger, and impossible to ignore.
The unlikely couple moves to Manhattan in hopes of forging an adult life together, but Jamey’s family intervenes in desperation, and the consequences of staying together are suddenly severe. And when a night out with old friends takes a shocking turn, Jamey and Elise find themselves fighting not just for their love but also for their lives.
What I Liked
The love story. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill star-crossed lovers story, but rather an exploration of what it means to fall in love with another human when their social, economic, racial and psychological origins differ dramatically from yours. I found Elise and Jamey’s story inspiring and thought-provoking, helping me to further realize that economic and racial prejudice are often automatically ingrained in people’s minds and can be hard to overcome. I particularly liked that this wasn’t the usual banal story in which ‘disadvantaged’ Elise was drawn into Jamey’s ‘gilded’ world of privilege and underwent a The Prince And Me style makeover. It was Jamey, instead, who questioned the importance of his economic and social status and who took steps to bring himself closer to Elise’s world. I was particularly captivated by how the author detailed Jamey’s (and even Elise’s) decision-making process as they were torn between subconscious prejudices of whether to listen to reason or their heart, societal expectations or themselves, and their families or each other.
Elise’s character. I have to be honest that at first I found it hard to like Elise – her life seemed so chaotic and her decisions sometimes hard to understand. During her initial pursuit of Jamey, she came across as extremely passive and subservient, which was hard for an independent woman like me to accept. It was clear though that with or without Jamey, Elise would have survived. That’s the essence of her character – a force that despite the many setbacks and misfortunes that life has sent her way is able to just keep moving and taking care of herself. Compared to Jamey’s slightly one-dimensional portrayal, Elise ended up being a much more interesting character to me. I started to be able to relate to her more as a young woman finding her way in a new and somewhat intimidating relationship, and as a person who has had to find ways to build a life for herself apart from her family. Elise’s attachment to Jamey also felt much more powerful and raw, most of the time, than his feelings for her. Maybe it was only natural since I’m a woman, but I ended up on Elise’s side of every argument, and rooting for her throughout the narrative.
What I Didn’t Like
Some aspects of the writing. Overall, Jardine Libaire’s writing felt a bit overwrought to me – as if she wrote a sentence and then went back over it with a thesaurus to switch out SAT words for simpler ones. Sometimes the writing felt really powerful and beautiful, but many times it just felt overworked. I also didn’t connect to the ending of the story. It felt out of character for Elise in particular, and I didn’t feel it provided the needed catharsis or closure on Elise and Jamey’s relationship and future. However, if I had to pick one thing that really bothered me about Libaire’s writing is her construction of the setting. The book is allegedly set in the 80s, but aside from a couple references to technology or attire, the book felt set in the present to me. Elise’s clothing is often described as what would be considered stereotypically 80s, but the reality is that all of that has come back in style at some point since then, so I needed more to root me in that decade and really make me believe that’s when the story took place.
Some flaws in the writing, but overall an unexpected love story that makes you think about social, economic and racial privilege, and also more simply about the nature of love itself.
Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach
Publication Date: February 21st 2017
Published By: Random House
Plot Teaser (from Goodreads)
Ava Antipova has her reasons for running away: a failing family vineyard, a romantic betrayal, a mercurial sister, an absent father, a mother slipping into dementia. In Paris, Ava acquires a French boyfriend and a taste for much better wine, and erases her past. But two years later, she must return to upstate New York. Her twin sister, Zelda, is dead.
Zelda is allegedly burned alive when she passes out in the barn with a cigarette. But Ava finds the official explanation a little too neat. A little too Zelda. Then she receives a cryptic message—from her sister. Just as Ava suspected, Zelda’s playing one of her games. In fact, she’s outdone herself, leaving a series of clues to her disappearance. But why? Is Zelda trying to punish Ava for leaving? To teach her a lesson? Or is she simply trying to write her own ending?
What I Liked
The premise. What is it about crime thrillers involving twins that always seems so intriguing. Maybe it’s because identical twins are genetic and visual copies of each other, but often (at least in fiction) with diametrically opposed personalities and desires, which creates and immediate tension. Or maybe it’s because it’s hard to imagine the experience of realizing that someone who looks exactly like you has died. These are the same reasons why I’m also interested in eventually reading another similar crime thriller – The Other Twin – that was making the rounds of the blogging world a month or two ago. For all of these reasons and more – a Paris connection, strategic clues left by the deceased, texting and social media used as elements in the story – I picked Dead Letters as one of my Book Of The Month selections. Unfortunately, the actual story and the writing did not live up to my hopes.
What I Didn’t Like
The shallowness of the characters. Everyone in this novel is a generally terrible human being – they all drink like fish and are mean-spirited and selfish towards each other, from the main character Ava, to her sister Zelda and their parents. I don’t necessarily dislike alcoholics as characters in general – I understand that it’s a horrible illness and one that can lead people to destructive behaviors towards themselves and others. The use of alcoholism in this novel, however, felt like the author was just substituting it willy nilly among all her characters to replace actual character development. It becomes an excuse for their otherwise ridiculously horrible behavior to each other – a plot device to insert all over the place when the characters’ decision-making doesn’t make sense. Caite Dolan-Leach’s protagonist and her family end up as foils of themselves – just stereotyped drunks who fail to shower regularly and stumble from one drinking binge to the next. Honestly, it was amazing that Ava was able to follow Zelda’s clues at all, considering she was hungover 95% of the time.
The triteness of the plot. (Caution, minor spoiler ahead). I started having issues with the cheesiness of the plot when I realized the clues Zelda left for Ava were following the alphabet. Get it? Ava for A, to Zelda for Z, so Zelda’s clues to her sister about her disappearance go from one letter to the next. Is this a crime thriller plot or a nursery rhyme? I think it’s the kind of plot device that sounds clever initially when you think of it, but that downgrades the book significantly when you try to execute it. Unfortunately, in addition to this over-simplified plot surrounding the crime at the center of the book, Dolan-Leach decides to also throw in a really dull love triangle with scenes straight out of a romance novel. One of the only characters in the book that has any redeeming qualities is the love interest at the center of this triangle, but he ends up as the most stereotyped character of all, barely human and merely a prop with abs being used to try to unsuccessfully bring more depth to other shallow characters. I can deal with trashy romance scenes, but I just don’t like them inserted inconsequentially into what is allegedly a crime thriller.
I have to admit this was a rough review. I think there are people who might enjoy a cheesy and over-simplified mystery like this one as a guilty pleasure, but I’m not one of them.
Have you read The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo, White Fur Or Dead Letters? What did you think of them? Do you agree with my ratings? Let me know in the comments.
If you want to read my previous reviews for my Book Of The Month deliveries here are links to my May 2017, April 2017, March 2017, February 2017, January 2017, December 2016, November 2016, October 2016 and September 2016 posts.
Here’s an image from my Instagram of my June 2017 Book Of The Month pick The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo.
Will be starting my June 2017 Book Of The Month picks sometime this week. Here's one of them – The Seven Husband's Of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid – pictured with some avocado and fried egg toast + multicolored cherry tomato salad. Yum! #bookreview #bookblog #bookblogger #bookstagram #books #bookworm #booksarelife #reading #readingisfun #readingtime #ilovebooks #booklover #bookish #bookgram #bibliophile #bookstagrammer #bookofthemonth #bookofthemonthclub #sundayvibes #thesevenhusbandsofevelynhugo
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