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My Progress:

12 / 30 books. 40% done!

2024 Literary Escapes Challenge

- Alabama (1)
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My Progress:

27 / 51 states. 53% done!

2024 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

My Progress:

22 / 50 books. 44% done!

2024 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge

23 / 50 books. 46% done!

Booklist Queen's 2024 Reading Challenge

My Progress:

48 / 50 books. 96% done!

2024 52 Club Reading Challenge

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39 / 52 books. 75% done!

2024 Build Your Library Reading Challenge

My Progress:

26 / 40 books. 65% done!

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15 / 40 books. 38% done!

2024 Craving for Cozies Reading Challenge

My Progress:

10 / 25 books. 40% done!

2024 Medical Examiner's Mystery Reading Challenge

2024 Mystery Marathon Reading Challenge

My Progress

12 / 26.2 miles. 46% done!

Mount TBR Reading Challenge

My Progress

25 / 100 books. 25% done!

2024 Pick Your Poison Reading Challenge

My Progress:

63 / 104 books. 61% done!

Around the Year in 52 Books Reading Challenge

My Progress

43 / 52 books. 83% done!

Disney Animated Movies Reading Challenge

My Progress

68 / 165 books. 41% done!
Monday, January 29, 2018

Circus Tale Compelling, But Cheerless

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Although she's ten years old, Lilly Blackwood has never run outside, never played with other children.  Instead, she's confined to a small attic room with only her parents for (occasional) company.  Her mother—a religious zealot—insists the isolation is for her own protection.  If other people saw Lilly, she says, it would scare them.  When she is finally released from the home that has become her prison, Lilly's freedom is short-lived.  Sold by her mother to the circus, she becomes imprisoned again, just with a different jailer. 

Despite the bleak, often cruel world of the circus, Lilly finds a ragtag family and, for the first time, a sense of belonging.  When tragedy descends, however, it seems she may never find a happy ending ...

Twenty years later, Julia Blackwood returns to the home and horse farm she has inherited from her parents.  The place holds few happy memories for her.  Hoping to make peace with her past, Julia explores Blackwood House, especially the corners that were off-limits to her as a child.  Stunned to discover a hidden attic room and old circus photos featuring a striking young woman, she determines to uncover all of Blackwood House's secrets.  What she discovers—about her family and about herself—will shock her to her core.

The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman is an atmospheric, absorbing novel peopled with colorful, complex characters.  Told in the alternating voices of Lilly and Julia, it tells a vivid and compelling story.  Also a sad, sad one.  In fact, parts of the ending are so mournful that the novel, overall, feels less than satisfying.  While it offers a few sparks of hope and uplift, on the whole, The Life She Was Given is just depressing.  Engrossing, but pretty darn cheerless.  In the end, then, I found this one disappointing despite being well-written.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen)  


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs), violence, blood/gore, sexual content, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of The Life She Was Given from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Debut Thriller With Familiar Plot Not As Good As It Could Have Been

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Eight years ago, a parent's worst nightmare came true for Anna Davalos and Tom Whitaker.  Their 13-year-old daughter, Julie, was taken from her bedroom at knife point.  While Anna and Tom slept, blissfully unaware of what was happening upstairs, 10-year-old Jane watched her sister's abduction in horrified silence.  No one has seen Julie since.  With no clues to indicate the fate of the missing girl, the Whitakers have reluctantly accepted the fact that their daughter is most likely dead.  

Then, one day, out of the blue, a woman arrives on the Whitakers' doorstep claiming to be Julie.  The family is overjoyed, but also confused.  Although this stranger looks like their long-lost loved one, she doesn't always act like her.  Can Julie really have changed so much in eight years?  What happened while she was away?  Why won't "Julie" tell anyone who took her and how she finally escaped?  As much as the Whitakers want to believe this woman is their daughter, they're simply not sure.  But, if she isn't Julie, then who is she?  And what does she want from the Whitakers?

I've read a few books with the same premise as the one around which Good As Gone—a debut novel by Amy Gentry—revolves.  It's an intriguing idea for sure.  Considering the strange true case of Nicholas Barclay/Frédéric Bourdin, these types of stories aren't even that far-fetched (at least not in the pre-DNA testing era).  The question is, does the execution of the novel live up to its fascinating premise?  Sorta.  Good As Gone definitely tells a compelling and twisty story.  The ending surprised me.  Plot-wise, the tale feels a little disjointed.  Julie's chapters, in particular, get confusing.  It doesn't help that the characters are not overly warm or sympathetic—I didn't feel super connected to any of them.  On the whole, the book's depressing, but engrossing.  Although Good As Gone has been compared to blockbusters like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, it's not that skillfully written.  Gentry has potential for sure, but this one feels like a debut novel.  It's not bad; it just could have been lots better.  


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (a dozen or so F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, blood/gore, sexual content, disturbing subject matter, and depictions of illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find
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The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain

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