5 star, adult

Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo: A Novel eBook: Reid, Taylor Jenkins:  Amazon.ca: Kindle Store

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life.

When she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now? Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.



I am not normally easily convinced by reading biographical type stories – but this one had me hooked in very few pages. This novel follows an aspiring journalist, Monique, who lands a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interview a now-aged Hollywood icon, Evelyn Hugo. Famous for a plethora of scandals and of course, her seven husbands, what is it that finally makes Evelyn open up about her past? And what secrets has she been hiding all these years?

Wow, 5 Drink Me Potions. I really didn’t think I would have many books in my life I was confident to rate at the top level. But honestly, I was so enraptured by this book I flipped through it in one day and absolutely could not put it down. The character Evelyn Hugo, is just so perfectly imperfect, exactly the type of character I absolutely adore. And this was a whole biographical retelling of her life story. Evelyn was an absolutely stunning character, so well written and intricate. I found myself heavily admiring her, and wondering if I would have the courage and smarts to do all that she did to protect herself and her loved ones.

When I say they go through her life story I really do mean her life story. After all, how else do you get through seven husbands? But from her childhood all the way to old age, the roller coaster of events that life takes her through is an absolutely wild and riveting ride, and all facets of her character are truly shown off. While she makes very morally ambiguous choices, and stretches the grey zone further than most people ever do, I found that despite her “bad” actions, I just couldn’t blame her for anything. I understood her motivations, and despite that not being a justification for her actions, it was completely understandable. I reckon that if I had the courage to reach for my goals the same way she did, I would have done the same things.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is well-researched and written, as we span the decades of 20th century Hollywood through the eyes of Evelyn. This is also beautifully tied back to the journalist Monique, and her own journey as she learns about Evelyn’s. I really haven’t been this moved by a book in a long while! The complications and difficulties of real life situations are illustrated so well, and demonstrates the necessity of morally grey actions and truly highlights the complexities of life. This is story of a girl’s humble beginning through her rise to fame and all the sacrifices she had to make to attain her goals and looking back, just what was it all worth in the end?

Obviously, it is just a personal opinion that this book (and mainly, this character) spoke to me so much, but if you love that 20th century Hollywood setting, and honestly one of the most clever and powerful heroines I have ever met (or read about), then give this book a shot!

Overall Recommendations:

Obviously, with such a rating, I absolutely recommend this account of Evelyn Hugo’s life. This novel truly explores the theme of dreams, love, and sacrifice, and how far one can push to reach for the stars (or stardom, in this case). You are really taken through a journey (7 husbands, can you imagine?) and as more and more of Evelyn’s character comes to light, this idea of being perfectly imperfect could not be more clear. If you wanna see a female protagonist truly tear up the Hollywood scene and seriously outsmart the patriarchal society, Evelyn Hugo’s your girl. I was absolutely entranced by her story, and hopefully you will be too!

5 star, adult, buddy review

Buddy Review: The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

Anna Fox lives alone, a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother and their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.



Welcome to our first buddy read at Down the Rabbit Hole! Fives and I are excited to start such a series with A.J. Finn’s explosive debut, The Woman in the Window. If you would like to see more of these kinds of reviews, please let us know in the comments below!

Breaking the book into a couple of important points, these are our individual and collective thoughts that came up as we read this book together.

Pacing and suspense build-up

Andge: While a thriller is typically typed as so by the level of intrigue and suspense the author aimed to put their audience through, not all are successful. The Woman in the Window was super slow for its first 30 or so chapters, let’s be honest. But its mundane, day-to-day details in Anna Fox’s life had a purpose that came back ten-fold, leaving me to revel at what came to be at the climax. Once details of the event Anna witnessed through her window unfolded, things just climb from there in a way that felt organic. Headings showing you the passage of time helped create a sense of urgency as we learn one new thing after the other. I would say the pacing couldn’t have been better.

Fives: I definitely agree with Andge’s sentiment here – the beginning was quite slow – although I personally don’t mind too much, I am all about that slow build suspense (the ‘just what is going on?!’ feeling). This all being said, the ramp up in tension and excitement was quick and relentless. I know for a fact that neither of us were able to put it down after the second half the book – it was painstaking for us to stop at our agreed landmarks for discussion! The short chapters were very well executed in providing this kind of steady rhythm that underlies the whole novel and provides a driving force for the suspense. Not every thriller I have read has this type of pacing, but I can say I definitely enjoyed this whole experience!

Plot elements

Andge: Any good mystery or thriller places a good amount of attention to the mundane details. They may just be there to set the scene, or in actuality, help tie together loose pieces at the end. A.J. Finn did this beautifully! I honestly flipped through pages back and forth in later scenes referencing earlier ones with exclamations of “oh wow I totally missed this!”. Red herrings are also a thing I look out for but the level of craftsmanship in this piece of writing made it hard for me to narrow down what mattered or what was there to throw us off. This detail-oriented planning was perfect for such a book.

Fives: Having more thrillers under my belt than perhaps an average reader, I have come to expect many kinds of seemingly mundane plot points or bedazzled red herrings. That being said, A.J. Finn did a fantastic job slipping in all the inconspicuous little details mixed in with the heavy hints – this did a really good job of mixing us up! Andge and I had long discussions over the many details inserted into the plot, and what they could possibly mean in the whole scheme of the novel. I believe one of the best approaches to thrillers is the hiding of important facts in plain sight, and I can say that the author did the most fantastic job of this – only when you really stop to scrutinize the details can you really even begin to pick out some possibilities. That being said, you won’t be able to stop turning the page to think!

Characters

Andge: In my experience with mysteries, sometimes the whodunnit individual was some random character who appeared for five seconds on a singular page in chapter 10, or something. So of course I had no idea they did it! Unlike my frustrations in those stories, I loved that we got to really know a handful of main characters in this book. The Russells made up of Alistair, Jane and Ethan held an air of mystery that slowly unravelled little by little as Anna interacted with them in her limited capacity. Add in Anna’s estranged family, daughter Olivia and husband Ed, plus her handsome live-in tenant David, there were a lot of people to consider when trying to piece the bits of information Finn slowly released to us at interesting times. Were any of these people involved in something, and why?

Fives: The characters are one of the standout points in this thriller. We get so many details into each of the main characters, and there are very few throwaway characters. Everyone was there for a reason, and as you delve deeper into all the characters that show up in the book, each one leaves you wondering about their motive and secrets – the mark of a truly skilled author. The plot follows only Anna, an agoraphobe who is stuck in her house, as she looks beyond into other houses. After reading the book, I am reminded that windows are two-way – does ‘The Woman in the Window’ refer to Anna looking out through the window, or someone else being looked at?

Ending

Andge: I would never want to ruin a book such as a thriller to you. But to sum up my feelings for The Woman in the Window, I have to at least address the ending. We came up with many hypotheses over our discussions for how this story was to end, and I do mean many. What I will say is that I wasn’t disappointed which is a HUGE win in my books, and it felt like the right kind of ending to give Anna and her story.

Fives: So in the end, what happens is – – just kidding. But trust me, despite being able to predict a few things here and there (none of which we were sure still, by the way), the whole ramp up all the way to the climax and resolution was just honestly enthralling, and I don’t think there was any other way I would have wanted it. The transformation of Anna from the beginning to the end was also a marked delight, and you must go see (or rather, read) for yourself! What are you waiting for?


We hope you liked reading this buddy review! We are super excited for any subsequent releases by A.J. Finn. But most importantly, we are stoked for the upcoming Netflix adaptation of this book this year. Stay tuned for a blog post comparing our thoughts on the book with the movie 🙂

4.5 star, adult

Review: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August: North, Claire: 9780316399623:  Books - Amazon.ca

Some stories cannot be told in just one lifetime. Harry August is on his deathbed. Again. No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes. Until now. As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. “I nearly missed you, Doctor August,” she says. “I need to send a message.” This is the story of what Harry does next, and what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.



I’m so grateful to have so many friends who suggest good books to me – especially ones that I would never choose on my own. Here is yet another winner for me; another one that I will remember having an impact on me in the way it totally transfixed my attention to the story, and made me truly feel like I was part of the exciting adventure.

This story follows the life of, wouldn’t you know it, Harry August. He is a kind of human that relives his life over and over, from death back to birth, known as kalachakra, or ouroboran. This story takes us through his first fifteen lives, and how living as a kalachakra and his past lives affects the decisions he makes in his current and future lives. For a book which goes through the same timeline and events over and over, the story is actually not stagnant at all. In fact, perhaps the only thing that is constant in the novel is the timeline, events that we can expect to see each life.

Harry discovers a group known as Cronus Club, comprised of other kalachakra members, and together they create a society throughout the ages, communicating through messages passed through the centuries. Without giving too much away, the story follows Harry as he attempts to save the world from certain doom. Set in the 1900s, many historical events such as WW1 and WW2, etc. are all landmarks through which we follow Harry through the timeline. Since kalachakra retain their memories from their past life, how does this affect their decisions in their current lives? How would you live if you knew the outcome of events in life, every time it came around?

For a science fiction novel with such a time loop/reincarnation concept, I thought that it was extremely well executed, and found that the time skips backwards and forwards (memories and predictions of events) were all very well organized. I was rarely, if ever, confused about the order of events, and considering I also now feel like I have lived 15 life cycles, is really something to be said about the author’s writing! The story has a strong tension build up as we move through the protagonist’s journey, and the author really had me at the edge of my seat all the way to the very end! Many different concepts are introduced in this fictional work, but I found that everything made sense to me at the time, and didn’t find jarring “rules” that did not make sense. Of course, in this kind of setting, some things are meant to be taken at face value, and so I did.

Overall I would definitely recommend this to people who enjoy historical fiction, or a time-related science fiction. It is an extremely fascinating story of the way the human perspective changes if we were to be able to live our lives over and over again. The decisions, the responsibilities…how much of this eternal life is a blessing more than a curse?

Overall Recommendations:

Highly recommend this one! This novel follows the story of Harry August, a kalachakra, a human who lives his life over and over, restarting from birth after death, and maintaining his memories. We follow along his quest to save the world, when a new cataclysmic event threatens to bring about the end of the world – sooner than when it is supposed to end. Set in the 1900s, any historical fiction fan or sci-fi reader may have an interest in this for sure. I am not either and I thoroughly enjoyed it!