Friday, July 20, 2018

Book Reviews: 'The Broken Girls' by Simone St. James and 'Genuine Fraud' by E. Lockhart

1. The Broken Girls, by Simone St. James
I really enjoyed this one, and I think it's because I haven't read a good mystery novel in a really long time. The Broken Girls isn't a thriller, it's a mystery, and it's very well done. The book takes place within the past and the present: Vermont, 1950 (past) and Vermont, 2014 (present). In the small town of Barrons, Vermont in 1950, there is an infamous boarding school for the girls that no one wants; the troublemakers, the illegitimate, the too smart for their own good. It's called Idlewild Hall. And there are rumors that the boarding school is haunted. Four roommates bond over their whispered fears, their budding friendship blossoming - until one of them mysteriously disappears. In Barrons in 2014, journalist Fiona Sheridan cannot stop revisiting the events surrounding her older sister's death. Twenty years ago, her body was found lying in the overgrown fields near the ruins of Idlewild Hall. And though her sister's boyfriend was tried and convicted of murder, Fiona can't shake the suspicion that something was never right about the case. When Fiona discovers that Idlewild Hall is being restored by an anonymous benefactor, she decides to write a story about it. But a shocking discovery during the renovations will link the loss of her sister to secrets that were meant to stay hidden in the past - and a voice that won't be silenced. One thing I didn't expect from The Broken Girls is how deep it went with certain themes, one of them being societal expectations and demands for young girls in past centuries as well as women simply lost to history...because they were women. Only once you are reading along as Fiona is discovering more and more things that were swept under the rug from the events that took place at Idlewild Hall in the fall of 1950 do you really realize the reality of how girls and women were treated back then, especially those who were born "illegitimately" and then never treated as if they were worth it for the rest of their lives. It really makes you think about how if no one cared back then what happened to girls no one wanted, would anyone have ever cared if Fiona hadn't started piecing this together 64 years later? It also made a part of me happy that we have long since abandoned certain social norms from past time periods. Although I really enjoyed The Broken Girls, there were parts that I could have done without - mostly the ghosts and the hauntings, but also the storyline surrounding Fiona's sister Deb's death wasn't resolved as satisfactorily as I would have liked, given how much time we spend reading about Fiona's obsession with her sister's murder. However, I still really enjoyed it and will recommend to anyone who likes a good mystery, because above all, The Broken Girls is a good mystery. 4/5 stars.

2. Genuine Fraud, by E. Lockhart:
Since it came out last year, Genuine Fraud has been subject to significantly mixed reviews, and it's pretty understandable given the popularity and outstanding quality of E. Lockhart's last book, We Were Liars. I was immediately interested in Genuine Fraud just based on the premise as well as the fact that it sounded like it could possibly be similar to We Were Liars (which I LOVED) so I was intrigued right from the start. 
Imogen is a runaway heiress, an orphan, a cook, and a cheat. Jule is a fighter, a social chameleon, and an athlete. An intense friendship. A disappearance. A murder, or maybe two. A bad romance, or maybe three. Blunt objects, disguises, blood, and chocolate. The American dream, superheroes, spies, and villains. A girl who refuses to give people what they want from her. A girl who refuses to be the person she once was. I won't say Genuine Fraud is bad, but it's not amazing - actually, it's a mess. The plot is all over the place but also really fast-paced, so you have no time to figure out what's going on. Which is fine. I'm all for fast-paced thrillers that have unreliable narrators and screw with your head until everything finally comes into focus. That's exactly what We Were Liars is all about. But Genuine Fraud is a tad unrealistic at times and rather undeveloped in parts (it's only 264 pages); that is, way too much telling from the author rather than showing. Not to mention that the story is told backwards - again, not a negative given that a ton of other thrillers have done similar things with their timelines - but the timeline in Genuine Fraud jumps around so much and it's not so much confusing as it is exhausting, because you can tell early on there isn't going to be some mind-blowing reveal at the end like in We Were Liars. Also, there is a total lack of suspense in a book whose premise pretty much promises suspense, and there isn't much of a mystery to solve in the story either. For such a short book, it's pretty boring. But on the plus side, I found the characters were really strong, the book was otherwise really well written (aside from the tendency to tell too much instead of showing), and I liked the interesting social commentary of roles for girls and women. 3/5 stars.

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