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Review #44: Fiction

First to Read #3

The Winters by Lisa Gabriele

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For the most part, this is a highly enjoyable book. It is equal parts romance, thriller, and suspense, though falls short by having small sparks of each, but never going fully in on any one of these.

The story we’re following is of a young woman (we never get her name, which becomes more and more annoying as it’s specifically mentioned several times throughout that she is either happy or irritated when people pronounce it correctly or incorrectly) who meets a widower in the Cayman Islands while working for a tourist boat company. They have a very quick romance – so quick that it never really feels believable. Their relationship is very one-dimensional and a lot of the plot relies on the believability of their relationship. This lack of chemistry between the two characters (Max Winter and our unnamed protagonist) weakens the book.

Max spirits her away to be married and the new head of his extravagant home – Asherley – on Long Island, and to be a stepmother to his teenage daughter, Dani. Dani is the spitting image of her deceased mother, and behaves toward our protagonist as we would expect a teenager to receive a new mother less than two years after her passing. Though, unchecked, Dani begins to go above and beyond normal rebellious behavior, and soon becomes someone to be feared.

The protagonist (I am also annoyed by having to write ‘protagonist’ rather than a character’s name; it was a weird and bad choice by author and editor to move forward with an unnamed protag) gets closer and closer to Max, thinks she’s making strides with Dani, but time and again finds herself on the receiving end of cruel jokes. As these pranks unfold, Dani becomes more unstable, Max becomes more exasperated, the protagonist begins to learn more and more about the secrets Asherley keeps, the truth behind the death of the first Mrs. Winter, and whether or not she’ll meet the same fate.

To get the thriller elements, Gabriele gives us a lot of unsettling moments, creates a truly scary character in Dani, and keeps us asking questions nearly throughout. She uses a lot of misdirection, and red herrings to try to turn the reader’s attention away from putting the pieces together. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work well enough, and before the protagonist figures it all out, most readers will have already deduced the final twist. This leaves around 30 pages of the book where readers will be left waiting for her to catch up.

In the end, there’s not much to be surprised by, and some ill-advised elements (the protagonist’s lack of name, the random addition of a grandmother in Cuba the protagonist doesn’t mention until the very end of the book, the lack of believable romance) weaken what could be a chilling story about family secrets. Dani is the best written character in the book, and definitely moves the story along in ways the protagonist just can’t when she’s not even given a name, is very loosely fleshed out, and finds herself embroiled in this family soap opera based on a foundation-less romance.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I received access to an e-copy of this book for this review.

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The Merry Spinster

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Review #40: Fiction

The Merry Spinster by Mallory Ortberg

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This collection of stories will feel at once familiar and darkly, deliciously fresh.

Though fairytales and fables, these stories carry such a refreshing air of reality. They drip with a dark, sinister unpredictability that flows through our real lives. Ortberg forces the reader to see each retelling and re-imagination through a new lens, one that refocuses the otherworldly and fantastic as real. Remove the preconceived idea that mermaids aren’t real, that animals don’t talk or interact with each other in friendships, or that little boys don’t turn into swans; what do their lives look like? They are as complex and flawed as our own. And they can be similarly heartbreaking and cruel.

With every story, we are given a new glimpse into worlds and situations we thought we already knew. Readers will feel the heart-string tugs of the stories that inspired this collection, nostalgia working to convince us that we know how each story ends. But Ortberg rewrites the script, opening our narrow perceptions to something more – cruel realities of these fairytales we’ve come to love. What may be expected to tarnish the memory of beloved fairytales and fables ultimately elevates them, allowing these stories to grow and mature with the audience.

Ortberg does not shy away from the harsh and unfair or unsavory elements of life, and allows these aspects to shine in this collection. She has given us our favorite stories, with an honest, relatable tone that is unencumbered by preconceived notions of a “happily ever after” ending. We, and our stories, are better for it.

4 out of 5 stars

*Cover image from Amazon