Book Review: Good Me, Bad Me

With many thanks to Goodreads — I won this in a giveaway!

HOW FAR DOES THE APPLE REALLY FALL FROM THE TREE?

Good Me Bad Me is dark, compelling, voice-driven psychological suspense by debut author Ali Land:

Milly’s mother is a serial killer. Though Milly loves her mother, the only way to make her stop is to turn her in to the police. Milly is given a fresh start: a new identity, a home with an affluent foster family, and a spot at an exclusive private school.

But Milly has secrets, and life at her new home becomes complicated. As her mother’s trial looms, with Milly as the star witness, Milly starts to wonder how much of her is nature, how much of her is nurture, and whether she is doomed to turn out like her mother after all.

When tensions rise and Milly feels trapped by her shiny new life, she has to decide: Will she be good? Or is she bad? She is, after all, her mother’s daughter.

Good Me, Bad Me is an intense first-person visit inside the mind of a troubled teen. Milly is struggling to figure out who she really is: Can she live a normal life after 15 years with a psychopathic murderer for a mother? Does she truly have a shot at being good?

Milly’s story starts when she turns in her mother after the 9th in a long series of child murders. On the outside, her mother wears a kind and lovely public face, working at a women’s shelter, providing care and comfort to desperate women and their children. In reality, though, she’s an expert at gaining people’s trust, never letting them see below to the hellish, sadistic creature underneath. Milly (whose real name is Annie) has been living alone with her mother since age 4, when her father left and took her older brother with him. Since then, Milly has been both horribly abused and victimized herself, and forced to watch (and sometimes participate) as her mother abducted, tortured, and murdered young children.

Finally free, with her mother behind bars, Milly is taken in by a foster family. Her foster father Mike is also the psychologist who works with Milly to prepare her for her mother’s trial, where she’ll be the star witness, but the home life isn’t all rosy. Saskia, the mother, is a mentally unstable coke addict who’s physically present but emotionally absent. Most problematic for Milly is Phoebe, Mike and Saskia’s teen daughter, who emphatically does not want another foster kid in the house, resents the attention Milly absorbs, and sets out to bully and harass Milly at every turn, especially at school, away from her parents’ eyes.

We see everything from Milly’s point of view — and inside Milly’s head isn’t a very comfortable place to be.

Milly’s narrative of events is continuously peppered with 2nd person comments, as she maintains a one-way dialogue with her mother — the “you” who fills Milly’s thoughts and to whom Milly is constantly trying to justify herself. She doesn’t want to be like her mother, but the darkness keeps threatening to engulf her. We see her struggle to find a place for herself and be normal –but there are also lapses, incidents where Milly lets her inner demons take over as she engages in behaviors that are questionable, at best.

Like Milly, we never see the mother directly over the course of the book’s action. The closest Milly comes is when she testifies in her mother’s trial, during which she’s sheltered from viewing her mother by a screen. She knows she’s there, can sense her presence, but never actually sees her — and this holds true for the reader as well. Milly’s mother’s presence is a constant, even though we never see her directly. Between Milly’s inner dialogue with her mother and her nightmares about her, we feel her shadow over every scene.

I did have a few minor quibbles with the plot and the narrative. While we get enough information over the course of the book to get the basic idea of what Milly’s mother did over all those years and how Milly was victimized, we don’t see any of it directly. I’m not looking to wallow in the muck here, but there’s a bit of vagueness that started to irritate me after a while. A few more details would have been helpful about Milly’s earlier life — did none of her teachers over the years ever notice anything off about this poor abused child? Her scars may not have been visible, but surely some professional might have noticed her emotional damage?

I question too the lack of proper attention Milly received after her mother’s arrest. Mike represents a huge problem for me — he’s her foster parent, and is supposed to care for her, yet is also her court-sanctioned psychologist and is secretly writing a book about her. After all of the years of suffering, it would seem to me that Milly needs much more than she’s given, and the assumption that she can live a normal life with just weekly therapy seems terribly misguided. Without giving too much away, it’s clear that this is not a good foster placement for Milly, but if Mike is the only one providing her mental health care, there’s no way for the situation to improve.

When Milly gets into her inner monologues and dialogues, the writing becomes choppy and disjointed, reflecting her mental state. This is effective, but occasionally veers into Yoda territory: (“Committed, she is.” “Slice we do, a cut here, a snip there.”) Still, the sentence fragments that form Milly’s narration illustrate the way her thoughts push and pull at her constantly:

Your voice in my head. THAT’S MY GIRL, YOU SHOW THEM. THANKFUL NOW, YOU SHOULD BE, FOR THE LESSONS I TAUGHT YOU, ANNIE. Your praise, so rare, when it comes, rips through me like a bush fire swallowing houses and tress, and other teenage girls who are less strong, in its hot, hungry mouth. I meet their stares, the remnants of Izzy’s gum hanging off my chin. Thrown by my defiance, they are, I see it. Fleeting. The twitch around their succulent lips, eyes slightly wider. I shake my head, slow and deliberate. Izzy, the hungrier of the two, takes the bait.

The book builds to a climax that was not at all what I’d expected. It’s disturbing but makes sense, and left me with a huge sense of unease — which is a sign that this thriller accomplished what it set out to do.

Good Me, Bad Me is a tense, suspenseful read that I really couldn’t put down or get out of my thoughts. The inner life of a damaged soul is not a pleasant thing to see. Definitely check out this book if you like psychological depths and twists, but be prepared for sleepless nights.

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The details:

Title: Good Me, Bad Me
Author: Ali Land
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publication date: September 5, 2017
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Psychological thriller
Source: Goodreads giveaway

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Take a Peek Book Review: Destiny’s Plan

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

DestinysPlan72

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

When Raquelita Muro and Matthew Buchanan meet by chance on a Greyhound bus between Texas and Tallahassee, neither suspects Fate is about to take over.

Raquelita, a gentle girl under the heel of her abusive mother, finds this kind young man a miracle.  Matthew, an idealistic young soldier, discovers this sweet-natured girl is an angel in need of a guardian.  However, the next stop on Matthew’s journey is Fort Benning to report for deployment to Vietnam, while Raquelita’s destination is set at her mother’s whim.  Regardless of the forces tearing them apart, they discover a way to secretly span the distance, to end up closer than ever.  But Fate is rarely kind.  The vagaries of war—and the unstable tempers of Raquelita’s mother—intervene, leaving both ill-fated lovers feeling there is no hope for their love.

Set in the turbulent era of the Vietnam War, Raquelita’s and Matthew’s story is one of love, loss, lost faith, shattered memories, deferred dreams and broken promises.  Will Fate tear apart these two damaged souls, leaving them desperately alone forever, or will they finally overcome Fate, their bond stronger than they ever thought possible?

My Thoughts:

Debut author Victoria Saccenti has written a complex, heart-wrenching tale of a chance meeting that changes lives, and the intricate ways that bonds of family and obligation can both hurt and heal. The love story here is startlingly sudden, but also quite sweet, as Raquelita and Matthew recognize their connection within moments of meeting and somehow manage to establish a bond so strong that it can withstand physical and emotional trauma.

Destiny’s Plan has a plot that spans eras and continents, as the author weaves in not only the Vietnam War but also goes back to an important family episode during the Spanish Civil War. The author has clearly done her research, as the historical elements are well presented. Not only do we get the facts of a deployment to Vietnam and what that might look like, but we also get the sights and sounds of the late 1960s through the inclusion of the music, fashion, and political and social upheavals of the time.

Raquelita’s life is hard and complicated. One of the pieces of the story that I most enjoyed was getting to know the members of her family, from her damaged and cruel mother Isabel to her mysterious godfather Xavi, her loving father Emilio, and the aunt, uncle and cousin who give Raquelita a chance to experience a normal, loving home life. Raquelita’s younger sister Marité is adorable, and I understand she’ll be the central figure in her own book next.

Another element that really appealed to me in Destiny’s Plan was the fact that love is shown in different ages and stages in this book. Yes, Raquelita and Matthew are the main characters and love story, but we also see several more mature adult relationships as well, and it’s both unusual and refreshing to see true love, emotional and physical, shown as not only the territory of the younger generation.

A slight disclaimer: I’m not usually a romance reader, and so I don’t have much in the way of comparison. I have a feeling that the plot elements that didn’t really work for me in this book are probably things that would appeal to someone who enjoys romances — but as this is not a preferred genre for me, I had to push myself a bit to get over it. Likewise, I was a bit taken aback by the many explicitly intimate scenes, but again, I think I just generally don’t read romances and didn’t know what to expect.

Overall, I’d say the time period gives this book an interesting and unusual flavor, and the characters are well-developed and memorable. If you enjoy swooningly romantic stories with underlying drama and painful obstacles, check out Destiny’s Plan!

To learn more about the author, check out my spotlight post here.

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The details:

Title: Destiny’s Plan
Author: Victoria Saccenti
Publisher: Smashwords Editions
Publication date: September 15, 2015
Length: 435 pages
Genre: Historical romance
Source: Purchased