REVIEW: The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

Returning to Roanoke, her grandparents' farm in rural Kansas, was the last thing that Lane ever intended on doing. Though only spending one summer surrounded by family secrets in a dying town, she left for California and vowed never to go back. After years of just trying to exist, she receives a call from her Grandfather telling her about her cousin Allegra's recent disappearance. Sensing something isn't quite right, Lane hops on a plane and returns to the tragic place that she left all those years ago in the hopes of finding Allegra or at least assuage her own guilt over running away.

By integrating all the Roanoke girls' stories, Amy Engel weaves a page-turning family saga that switches between Lane's first summer in Osage Flats, Kansas all those years ago and her return. At first the time shifts every chapter confused me, but I did get comfortable with the format and could see why the author chose to present her story this way. While the book was very easy to read, I felt more of a YA voice coming through than the adult thriller I believe Engel intended. This makes sense considering that her two previous novels fell into the YA genre; however, considering the disturbing subject matter I thought a more nuanced tone could have been used.

And that brings be to my biggest concern with the story. Without revealing any spoilers, just be aware that there is a taboo subject at the heart of The Roanoke Girls that might be a bit much for a lot of people. I do think the big reveal happened too early in the book, within the first 5 chapters, to have as much impact as a later reveal would have, but I this seems to have been done on purpose as nothing that comes after is sensationalized. I don't believe that the family secret itself was intended to be the focus as much as the destructiveness of families and damaged people, so the marketing as a "thriller" seems a bit misleading. 

Even though the the subject matter made me uneasy and the story itself felt foreseeable, I did compulsively turn the pages in order to watch everything play out. The Roanoke Girls is a controversial yet solid first novel from Amy Engel that should cause quite a stir once released. 

*I received this book as an advance reader copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

REVIEW: Revenge by Yoko Ogawa

While the title is a bit misleading, there is very little revenge between the covers, my experience reading Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales by Yoko Ogawa was wonderful! Sometimes a book appears in the right place at the right time in life. Overall, I'd probably rate the stories 3 and 4 stars, but the way I felt reading them makes this a 5 star for me. It's hard to pin down such nebulous "feelings" but when it hits you just know. 

Now, I don't want to reveal too much about the stories because they are short and telling too much would kind of ruin one's enjoyment, but my favorite aspect of this book was the interconnectedness. Ogawa skillfully weaves her characters lives together, though some stories have a thinner thread than others. After reading about half the book, I began eagerly turning the page looking for that "Aha!" moment that connected a tale to another earlier on. It was a bit like playing detective and searching for the clues. I read through this collection quite quickly, which I think helped me spot the linking details. 

The tone of this short story collection walks the line between macabre and horror. There is just enough description to make the reader uneasy but not enough to take it over the line into gross-out territory. Short sentence structures and simple word choices add to the tense tone, but I don't know if this is due to Ogawa's writing style or Stephen Snyder excellent translation.

Revenge definitely offers a true sensory experience. This is a book to be savored and being present in the moment just adds to the reading. If you participate in the R.I.P Challenge around Halloween then I would add this one to your list. I plan to reread this collection again this fall to see how well it holds up.

REVIEW: Day Drinking: 50 Cocktails for a Mellow Buzz by Kat Odell

Kat Odell has compiled many recipes from bartenders from all around the country. There is a distinct laid-back, almost retro vibe to the writing that I found enjoyable. Each drink comes with a little history and backstory that added to the nostalgia of bygone eras where drinking for flavor trumped quick inebriation. The photographs are lovely and the styling matches the overall tone of the book well.

The concept of day drinking is one that most people are familiar with, including myself, and I love the idea of a book filled with low-alcohol beverages. It's nice to have flavorful options that won't result in slurred speech and a hangover. While these drinks are targeted towards low-key day consumption, I could see these as great evening cocktails for those who prefer lighter beverages.

I found a lot of recipes I'd love to try out, particularly the coffee based ones, the fruity summer spritzers, and an earl grey & Pimm's combination. Overall, I found the directions simple and where there are ingredients that may be harder to find Odell does a good job of offering possible substitutions. There is also a handy list of measurement conversions and equipment definitions that I found particularly useful.

While I haven't made any of the cocktails yet, I'm looking forward to trying them out as the spring and summer months approach. This book would make an excellent gift for fellow day drinkers or for someone who prefers lighter cocktails! 

*I received this book as an advance reader copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.