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2018 Reading Challenge

2018 Reading Challenge
Jill Elizabeth has read 25 books toward her goal of 175 books.
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Book Review: When a Stranger Comes… by Karen Bell

I really wanted to like this one a lot more than I did. To start, there’s the premise – fascinating (a mysterious lightning strike, a world turned upside down, fame and riches and evil all blended together, a writer whose creations seem to be coming to life). There’s the main characters – conceptually intriguing (I am fascinated by books about books and the people who write/create/publish them, plus there’s the whole evil/deal with the devil set of personalities, also usually intriguing to me). And there’s the larger questions about reality and wishes – do we make our reality? Is this real? Is she crazy? What are we really willing to give up to achieve our “dreams”? Does anyone EVER learn that you should be careful what you wish for?

Unfortunately, despite all of those positives, I struggled with this one… I really liked the beginning – the setup was intriguing, the characters seemed promising, the secrets and mysteries were thick on the ground. Then things started to slip sideways for me. Alexa veers between lovable neurotic successful writer and over-the-top scheming, greedy witch with surprising frequency as the story develops, and frankly it turned me off. One minute she just wants to write, the next she’s having random sex-fests and yelling at her friends and literally closing her eyes to everyone and everything around her that she doesn’t want to see. It felt manic, and not in a good, story-developing, way but in an “I’m not sure where to take this character” one…

At more than 50% through, I started skimming – I was still curious enough to see what would happen, but found that I couldn’t deal with Alexa and her vacillations over this situation of her own making on a word-by-word basis any more. I don’t have a problem with instability or weird occurrences in stories – read enough of my reviews and you’ll know that. But I did find myself annoyed, repeatedly, by the instability and weird occurrences here – I don’t know exactly why, although I suspect my fundamental dislike of Alexa is a big part of that. The writing here is generally engaging, and so I found myself (as I often do) sucked way in – even when I didn’t particularly want to be. To pull your readers in for the ride is a great thing – unless they don’t like the person they’re riding along with, then it’s a bit of a double-edged sword…

The skimming helped – the secret Alexa stumbles onto about half-way through turns out to be the main focus of the rest of the story, and I found it more engaging reading at that point, perhaps because it became somewhat more philosophical (I am a sucker for a good exegesis on the nature of evil) and Alexa seemed to find her focus along with her truth. The addition of the Kip reveal helped, as did the bits about Alexa’s mom. And in the end, things did all come together in a way that I found I quite enjoyed for their ambiguity and possibility. There was some head shaking, but it was with grudging admiration – the story came full circle in a way I didn’t anticipate, and I liked that even if it felt a little tidy.

Despite the positives in the last half, I still felt like the story meandered and wore on longer than I would have liked. On the whole, I’m a bit ambivalent on this one…

My review copy was provided by NetGalley.

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