the-roanoke-girls_amy-engel

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

Hardcover, 276 pages
Expected publication: March 7th 2017 by Crown

 

Amy Engel’s adult fiction debut, The Roanoke Girls, turned out to be more than I’d hoped for in theme, in characters, in setting and narration. Despite all of the deep, dark and twisty subject matter that a lot of readers are commenting on—followers of my reviews know that I LOVE the dark and twisty stuff; keep it coming!—this novel really struck me as a breath of fresh air, because the characters were all so real in their flaws. They all struck me as real people, people who you might meet on the street and nod to with a passing wave, never knowing the secrets they’ve got stored in their closets at home…

Lane and Allegra Roanoke spent one unforgettable summer together that neither of them will ever forget, a summer that neither of them ever really recover from. The Roanoke Girls all share the same distinguishing features: long dark hair, piercing blue eyes and bodies that few men can ignore or deny. But it is something much deeper that binds them all together: they’re all branches of the same tainted tree. Those who have survived have fled, and those who have died aren’t done telling their secrets. When Lane Roanoke’s mother commits suicide (no spoiler), she ends up right back at the beautifully sprawling home that her mother had fled from, only to one day flee herself. And when Lane’s cousin goes missing, Lane is drawn back to that same ranch in Kansas, the one that those Roanoke girls can’t seem to get out of their blood, the one that they’re all bound to, even in death.

Admittedly, the big secret was alluded to early on, but, honestly, that really helped this novel, because it allowed Amy Engel to take the time to peel back the layers of the family and each of the Roanoke girls, to answer the more important question of why rather than what. With that said, the reveal was less in the subject matter at heart than it was in the history behind it and how it came to shape this family and those around them. The reveal was in the sharp realizations, in the dagger-wielding dialogue and in how the other sisters’ stories wove it all together. In short, the reveal was in how Engel finessed the story rather than beating her reader over the head with it, and for that, readers who love this one will rejoice.

Engel was smart with the way that she executed The Roanoke Girls, because she did away with the unnecessarily large and pompous word count in favor of telling a resonating story with no fat or fillers. That’s something that I always admire, an author’s ability to streamline, to edit, to give the reader what they need, unsubmerged in minutiae. Brava.

This novel was a truly exceptional glimpse into the inner workings of a family with too many secrets, hidden behind a façade that too much money has a way of affording. It was bitter at the edges and dark at its core, while being written in a tone that was both clear and sharp. Aware. And often, those are my favorite kinds of characters—the ones who aren’t fooled easily, who shake off the wool over their eyes without feeling the need to wallow in or latch onto innocence and sheltering. I loved Roanoke for that, for allowing the characters to unfold and to be themselves without shame, without cowardice, without the masking of politesse.

Engel’s poignancy can be found littered throughout the narration. Each and every chapter ending will leave you with a flutter in your chest, maybe a sharp intake of breath. I was hooked from the first chapter of this novel, a rare feat that I’m glad to have experienced with Engel. This novel pulls you into the Roanoke world completely, utterly. You surrender to the soft turns in plot and the biting cuts of dialogue that scrape away secrets and cut you to your core. I will say, however, that I wish I knew more about Allegra and Lane’s mothers. A certain diary probably would have helped—and I’ll leave that note at that.

Roanoke teems throughout with the theme of abuse, neglect, heart-wrenching love, and the effects of too much of all it. It forces the question, “What does a monster really look like? Is it some heinous thing you can spot from miles away, or is it something more subtle—something you can’t identify until you’ve already gotten too close?”
Can you tell one from the other?
Well, can you?
A strong and deserved 4 stars. ****

*I received an advance-read copy of this novel thanks to Crown, via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

**To see more reviews, follow the blog on Twitter @thenavireview and on Goodreads at Navidad Thelamour!

The Quiet Ones_Betsy Reavley

The Quiet Ones by Betsy Reavley

Kindle Edition, 215 pages
Published February 18th 2016 by Bloodhound Books

In my partnership with Bloodhound Books, I was given this book in exchange for an honest review.

This one started off a bit wobbly out of the gate, but turned out to be worth a closer look by the end of it. The prologue turned me off a bit, which is never a good start; the voice was so affected and juvenile that I wasn’t sure I hadn’t picked up a teen thriller. Many of the chapters were slow and little tedious, particularly at the start. At times, this method can be exhilarating, especially in thrillers—that slow build that the reader can feel without yet knowing where they’ll find the quick bend around the corner. Yet, the quick bend here didn’t arrive until roughly two-thirds of the way through the novel, so this build ended up being more of a slightly laborious read, filling in the everyday life of Josie and her husband right down to the color of her nails and the way she takes her breakfast. Such an intimate look at characters can be rewarding, but the way that it was presented in The Quiet Ones did not have the immediate payoff that I’d hoped for; the author wasn’t able to make me care (or give me anything to care about) throughout the first half.

Yes, there is the theme of abuse here, but the way that it was presented has been done before (countless times), so it came off as cliché—a prop for the main character’s issues and situations that was never really filled out and wasn’t helped by the flaccid dialogue surrounding the topic either. In fact, many of the themes and circumstances here weren’t properly filled out the way that we’ve come to expect today—they were just sort of placed there in the novel and then rushed through. Soph and her beau are great examples of this. She was painted as the stereotypical Perfect Patty, and that feeling that Josie had about the new boyfriend, this being a psychological thriller and all, never really panned out and felt limply handled once I realized that his last scene had passed me by and no deeper look at him had been presented. Was he a good guy? Did he have a secret? Was he after her money or did he truly love Josie’s friend? This was never explored.

The shift in voice was off-putting and sudden, again something that could have worked if executed better. I made a note at the start that the voice sounded just like the narrator’s just with a splattering of apostrophes and a few filthy words. I thought that this might play out later, but it seems that it was just the author’s attempt at displaying two voices in one work that fell flat.

Then there’s the glaring appendage of a loose end. I’ll leave that one at that.

All in all, this novel had a wonderful premise—honestly, the plotline of it had the makings of a really top-notch psychological roller coaster. But the execution fell short for me, probably because this one could have easily stood up to another 100 pages or so. That extra filling out of the characters and situations—not additional exposition about the peculiars of Josie’s day-to-day that did nothing to move the novel forward, mind you—would have been an immense help here. Don’t get me wrong—the last 45 pages or so had bite, but it could have been much sharper if done in a different way.

This one forgot that television exists. By that I mean it didn’t cater to the reader who’s “been there, done that;” it didn’t quicken the heartrate or pull me in the way that thrillers these days are designed to do. That can be a plus for some. If you’re looking for a slower read that attempts a cozier approach than other psych thrillers, one that carries your read more gently around the bend of suspense than many of the more fast-paced thrillers on the shelf at your local bookstore or on the NYT, this one may be a great one for you. Two stars. **