March 12th 2019: House On Fire by Bonnie Kistler


Former trial attorney Bonnie Kistler’s debut novel is a domestic legal drama that explores tragedy in a blended family.

Divorce lawyer Leigh Huyett is happily married to Pete Conley, and their children - despite coming from different backgrounds - get along well. But when Leigh’s daughter is killed in a car accident with Pete’s son behind the wheel, their perfectly integrated family begins to crumble. Grief stricken and angry, Leigh throws herself into several complicated court cases while Pete grapples with the possibility of losing his only son, Kip, to the American court system.

House On Fire is first and foremost a study of family dynamics. Kistler explores how two broken families can merge together and find peace among the chaos of divorce and custody battles. Leigh and Pete have a beautiful life, and one that many remarried couples would aspire to. But the ease with which their relationship falls apart after the accident demonstrates how fragile relationships of that sort can be. Both Leigh and Pete are forced into impossible situations as the book intensifies. How can a parent choose between their child and their spouse?

House On Fire does have its downfalls. While the main storyline is gripping and reminiscent of a Jodi Picoult novel, it feels as though Kistler has overcrowded the book’s narrative. Side stories about Leigh’s various legal dramas overwhelm and distract from what the book is really about, and at times seem to have no purpose other than to enhance tension and intrigue. It can almost feel like jumping between two completely different books. This isn’t to say the passages about Leigh’s work aren’t interesting, because they are actually some of the more riveting parts of the book. Kistler personal legal expertise is palpable as she describes Leigh’s work, and it’s fascinating to learn about the American legal system. But the two parallel plots don’t mesh seamlessly, and keeping track of all of the characters can be confusing.

It’s also unclear if readers are supposed to sympathize with Kip or hate him. While at times he seems relatable as a teenager who made a mistake, other passages of House On Fire portray him in a darker way. As a main character and the person who the entire story hinges around, Kip’s behaviour was confusing and at times even misleading. He never really emerged as a fully developed character, and despite his central role in the plot he always seemed to linger on the fringes, only coming in to the spotlight in moments where it felt unnatural or unnecessary.

House On Fire is a bold debut, and Kistler clearly has a lot of potential. It’s a complex story and one that is sure to strike an emotional chord in readers, but it’s also somewhat disjointed and overwhelming. Fans of Jodi Picoult and William Landay should give this book a try, and should definitely keep an eye out for whatever Kistler does next.

March 5th 2019: Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid


Taylor Jenkins Reid’s newest novel digs deeper into classic rock culture than just the “sex, drugs, rock & roll” narrative we’ll all come to expect from books about 20th century musicians (although those three things feature quite prominently). In Daisy Jones & The Six, Jenkins Reid explores the realities of addiction, the complications of fame, and the hardships people face in trying to keep relationships alive.

Daisy Jones & The Six tells the story of a famous eponymous band that rose to fame in the 70s and eventually broke up under mysterious circumstances that have never before been revealed to the public. Written as an oral history, the novel unfolds with band members, producers, managers and music critics speaking to an unidentified journalist or historian who is collecting all of their memories to reveal the truth behind the groups’ split. Reading Daisy Jones is like reading the script of a Netflix documentary – there’s no narrator description of settings or backstories, only the words of the people who were there and experienced the events the book is about. Sometimes their memories are conflicting or self-serving, which makes piecing together the band’s story all the more interesting and gives the novel an even more authentic feel.

Much of the book focuses on the band’s two lead singers, Billy Dunne and Daisy Jones. Both are talented musicians and songwriters, but their styles are at odds with one another, leading to tense conflict during the production of their most famous album. As each member of the band offers their accounts of the feud between Daisy and Billy, it becomes clear there was more at play the just the egos of two musicians vying for international fame. Daisy and Billy are similar in the worst possible ways - both are headstrong, emotionally complicated, and dealing with brutal addictions that threaten to destroy their careers and relationships. But they also share an innate gift for music and penning songs that people can relate to, and both become the centre of media and fan obsession.

Jenkins Reid, who garnered widespread attention with the publication of her last novel The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo, is an expert at critiquing fame. In Evelyn Hugo she examined the life of a famous Hollywood actress through the lens of a reporter writing a biography about her career. In Daisy Jones, Jenkins Reid removes the reporter character completely, never transcribing the questions said individual is asking the musicians, but rather letting the story flow through their responses only. It’s clear someone is behind the scenes gathering information, but their intentions are not revealed until late in the novel. It adds a lovely sense of mystery and intrigue to an already riveting story.

At it’s core, Daisy Jones is about a group of people who, despite having all of the money and influence in the world, could never find the peace and happiness they sought while in the limelight. Their love of music and talent for performing was constantly at odds with the other things they wanted - sobriety, love, family and calm. Jenkins Reid’s unique storytelling style and knack for character development come together to create a beautiful and highly entertaining novel that will make you simultaneously want to go online and book concert tickets and call your family and tell them you miss them.

And that’s the beauty of Jenkins Reid’s work – while it provides cultural criticism of real problems in the world (i.e. substance abuse and infidelity) it’s also unbelievably fun to read. Daisy Jones will make you want to put on a Stones record and dance around your apartment. It will make you want to run out to the nearest thrift store and buy an overpriced fur coat. More than anything it will make you incapable of leaving your spot on the couch until you’ve flipped the last page of the book. And because she’s so determined to bring her characters and stories to life and make them jump off the page, Jenkins Reid has actually written full lyrics to each of the fictional songs she writes about in Daisy Jones and attached them to the back of the book.

Daisy Jones is wonderfully fun and deeply insightful novel about fame, fortune, and the people behind the songs we all know and love.

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February 5th 2019: Her One Mistake by Heidi Perks


Her One Mistake is a compelling, well-written, but somewhat disjointed and derivative novel. Using tropes that have become very familiar in the thriller genre like an unreliable narrator, a sudden shift in the story half-way through the book, and a jumping timeline, Her One Mistake feels too similar to other popular works to really hold its own. 

A four-year-old girl goes missing from a school fair in a small English town, pitting two women and former close friends against each other. One woman, Harriet, is the missing girls' mother, and the other, Charlotte, is the woman who was supposed to be watching her when she disappeared. Their friendship destroyed and the town in a frantic uproar, both women are subjected to media scrutiny and judgment from friends, acquaintances and complete strangers. As the case drags on and no new information surfaces about the girls' whereabouts, it becomes clear to both women that they made need each other’s help in finding the child. 

While the first half of the story has a kind of slow-burn, tension-building feel to it, the second half, rather unexpectedly, is much more fast-paced and action-packed. Secrets are revealed, allegiances are questioned, and what at first seemed like a crime novels suddenly feels a lot more like a domestic thriller.

Her One Mistake has some surprising and entertaining twists, and the writing and storyline are solid enough to keep you reading throughout the novel. But the book ultimately just has too many similarities to Big Little Lies (a gossipy group of women), Gone Girl (a sudden twist halfway through the book) and The Girl On The Train (an unreliable narrator) to be truly original. While there's no harm in playing on popular themes and ideas, it felt like Heidi Perks was trying to incorporate too many overused twists and turns, and the result was a book that felt oddly disjointed and difficult to believe. 

I did enjoy the portrayal of certain characters and relationships, especially that of Charlotte and Harriet prior to the disappearance of Harriet’s daughter. Charlotte is a character who's easy to root for. She's nice, interesting, and relatable, and I found her plight to be the most riveting part of the book. She misses her friend but also feels deeply saddened by the way she is being talked about by the press and by former friends. Her struggles to balance her life between her three children, her part-time job and her ongoing divorce are realistic and endearing.

Heidi Perks is definitely a strong writer, and I'm keen to see what else she writes because she has undeniable talent. Her One Mistake was just a bit too similar to everything else on the market. The thriller genre is so saturated with content that it’s hard to find something truly original and unique.