Mini Reviews: Descent, My Sunshine Away, Everything I Never Told You, Velva Jean Learns to Drive

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Below are my thoughts on these four books read in the last few weeks. All were chosen based on my (self-imposed) 2015 mantra: reaching for more books based solely on what I wanted to read, and more books chosen from the library or that I own. I’ve been doing a good job of keeping my “pact” with myself to read more for myself in 2015. (It’s been working out pretty well so far, but now I do need to turn my attention to those books requested, sent, and do require reviews, because those are starting to pile up.)

These were in book format: Descent and My Sunshine Away and were books that were both great and thrilling reads, part mystery, part thrill ride and both stories I burned through quite quickly. My Sunshine Away was one I burned through in just two short days (Jackie has it now and is doing the same, finding it hard to put down).  Everything I Never Told You and Velva Jean Learns to Drive were both audiobooks and family drama style reads, with Everything I Never Told You pulling out every emotion possible! Velva Jean Learns to Drive was a good old southern hardscrabble read enhanced by Jenna Lamia’s wonderful narration.

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Descent was kind of like a slow burn coming onto my radar…I believe I saw it mentioned first on Twitter with comments that it was an excellent and thrilling read. After that, I started to see it more often and hey! look at that –  it was available via the library’s Overdrive as an e-book. I kind of thought that was a quick availability for a very new title so I quickly nabbed it, setting aside whatever it was I was reading at the time to turn my attention to this one. This was a solid read with excellent characters, excellent story, and had many pulse-pounding, edge of your seats moments.  I loved how the story took shape, and how the story of Caitlin and her disappearance from the mountain where she was with her brother, Sean, was written. It’s one you really cannot say too much about because it will give too much away. The twists and turns, the characters and their stories are really very enjoyable. There are two particular reasons why I gave this one a 4-star, despite loving it, and that was because of 1.) Angela’s (the mother), story is not well developed or discussed as often as I would have thought would have been given the devastating disappearance of her daughter. She is rarely mentioned nor given much of a voice in the book; and 2.) This reason was something I really couldn’t get past for some reason. Sean, Caitlin’s brother, is forever only referred to as “the boy”. I mean, like.all.the.time. Sean’s name is rarely used, even when everyone else’s name is being sprinkled here there and everywhere. I could not figure out why it was written this way.

“Then they sat with Emmet for lunch, the boy quietly chewing and Emmet telling his stories as before and never asking the boy where he’d gone in all the time away…”

This is but a small sampling, but for every mention of everyone else’s name, Sean was only ever referred to as “the boy”. It was something I found highly distracting and became almost irritating the more it happened. Overall however, a great and thrilling read! I do recommend.

My Sunshine Away

My Sunshine Away was a title that appears on our Anticipated Reads For 2015. There was quite a waiting list of people on hold for this one at the library, and I was one of the first people on that list! With only 7 days to read it I pushed everything else aside to settle in to this one. I burned through it. When you go to read it, make sure you wear fire-resistant clothing! In just under two short days I was done and have since passed this on to Jackie. She is having the same reaction to it! Reaction to My Sunshine Away has been similar to this on Twitter and it certainly is a must read for 2015!

It is a coming of age tale unlike anything you’ve read before. It’s filled with tension, suspense and edge of your seat details that have you flying through the pages. I was unwilling to set this one down and stayed up well past my bedtime to finish.

Set in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in an idyllic, affluent neighbourhood on Piney Creek Road. Our unnamed narrator will take you through the time when this idyllic college town was ripped apart because of the rape of 15-year-old Lindy Simpson. Lindy is the track star, beauty queen, popular girl – one night, on her way home from track practice,  she is raped by an unknown man – she never sees his face. There are 4 possible suspects in the neighbourhood and, according to the unnamed narrator, includes himself. He, (the forever unnamed narrator) as the description states, “whose obsessive infatuation with Lindy lands him on the list. It is through his eyes, now many years later, that we see how a life can be irreversibly transformed by heartbreak, by guilt and by love.”

He lives across the street from Lindy and has forever been obsessed with her. Like stalking, peeping Tom, constantly thinking about Lindy, writing poems, doing everything he can do to get Lindy to notice him type obsessed. It’s creepy, but only adds to this fantastic suspense and tension that runs throughout every page. Following the rape we see Lindy’s unravelling, but also of the narrator and also of the neighbourhood and the neighbours residing in it. The lives and the sometimes quite disturbing secrets of the neighbourhood are exposed.

It is a serious page turner! Engrossing for certain and there is tension that builds all along the way, as the narrator remembers events following Lindy’s rape, and it is his perspective and his memories and guilt all along the way that propel, no, actually hurtle you, through the pages of life on Piney Creek Road.  4.5 stars. (I was able to guess the identity of Lindy’s rapist somewhat early on, at his entrance into the story, but that is but a mere and tiny issue in what otherwise was a fantastic read.)

Everything I Never Told You

I went into this one rather blindly, but it was one that I was seeing named on many end of 2014 “best of” lists. I also heard the audiobook was a real gem, so I purchased this one from Audible. I did not however, read the description of what it was about, so I was just going to let this one unfold as it went along.

In the very, very beginning for me – there were hints of Reconstructing Amelia – just a whiff – in that when the daughter Lydia is found dead (no, I’m not giving any spoilers away here) the family discovers they truly know nothing about Lydia’s life. This was similar to Reconstructing Amelia where Amelia’s mother is quite clueless to the things her daughter was involved in. However, the similarities ended following this brief part in the beginning of the story.

Everything I Never Told You is an exceptionally emotional and a truly, wholly, sad story. It is the story of the unravelling of the entire Lee family following the death of the favoured daughter, Lydia. This death not only caused their unravelling, but exposed and uncovered the considerable unhappiness steeped deep within each family member. Everything I Never Told You is an exquisitely written look into the lives of the Lee family and one that pulls hard, so, so hard, at your heart. Celeste Ng has written about loneliness, family dynamics, regret, loss and sadness with stunning detail. Yes, a tremendously sad read for the most part, but one that I had a hard time pulling myself away from. Your heart will be pulled in all directions and you will lose yourself in Ng’s detailed and stunning writing.

The one frustration I had would be with the mother, Marilyn and really, Lydia herself for both their behaviour is what stopped me from giving this a full on 5-star. Marilyn for her attempts at pushing Lydia to a live she clearly did not want to lead and one that Marilyn was not able to live. To hear how Lydia was used as a way for Marilyn to fulfill her lost dreams and goals was heartbreaking. I was frustrated with Lydia however as well because it was as if she wallowed in self-pity and showed no backbone to standing up for herself and attempting to talk to her mother and her dreams, hopes and desires. However, having these feelings for two fictional characters can only be the sign of an excellently penned story! (4.5 stars) Cassandra Campbell’s narration was lovely as well, and she read the entire novel with a slow pace and one using a voice filled with melancholy and emotion.

Velva Jean Learns to Drive

I grabbed this audiobook for two reasons: 1.) This had been on my radar for sometime. It’s the first part of a series and includes Velva Jean Learns to Fly and Becoming Clementine, and; 2.) Jenna Lamia narrates this first of the series. Jenna is the one that narrated Sarah Grimke’s voice in The Invention of Wings. At first, listening to Velva Jean, I had Sarah Grimke’s voice and story running through my head, but quickly adjusted to settle into Velva Jean’s story. It’s a typical hardscrabble southern read – Velva Jean grows up in the mountains and is itching to become a Grand Old Opry singer. We hear of Velva Jean losing her mother at a very young age, having to be raised by her old sister and her marriage to the “moonshiners boy” that grew up to become a preacher. He had earlier charmed Velva Jean by saying she was the prettiest girl on the mountain. Velva Jean saves every penny so that she can one day achieve her dream of getting to Nashville, and to fulfill her mother’s dying promise of “living out there”. It dragged considerably and turned into just an okay read. It took a great, great length of time before Velva Jean finally learned to drive and made her way to Nashville.  Jenna Lamia’s narration however, made this a more enjoyable experience than reading the hardcopy version I’m certain. 3 stars.

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