Without Merit by Colleen Hoover

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Without Merit is due for publication on October 3, 2017.

Merit, a 17 year old senior in high school, has quite the interesting life. Merit’s family of seven is quite possibly the most oddly dysfunctional family I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading about in a book. Merit and her twin sister, Honor, do not share any special twin connections or abilities to read each other closely. In fact, they barely have anything to do with one another and are like polar opposites. Their brother, Utah, only a year older than the twins, appears as perfect and wholesome as they come, which drives Merit crazy. Their rarely-present, laid back father lives with his second wife, Victoria, who was his younger mistress and the reason his first marriage failed. Their son, Moby, provides some rare moments of happiness to those around him, despite his mother monitoring his every move rather than allowing him to just be a curious four year old. The only family member that Merit feels a connection with and wants to spend any time with is Moby, who is easy to love. Here’s the real kicker: Merit’s mother, who is also a Victoria, lives in the basement and refuses to leave due to her social anxiety and general sickness following a struggle with cancer a few years prior. Merit, Honor, and Utah take turns bringing her meals and checking on her. Talk about a strange living arrangement!

Perhaps the oddest thing about the Voss family is that they all live together in an old converted church, which they have named Dollar Voss, because it is split into four living quarters. And the reason they are living in an old church all boils down to the fact that their atheist father, Barnaby, didn’t like the old Pastor’s Labrador retriever, Wolfgang, barking at all hours of the night. Therefore, he bought the church out from under Pastor Brian, forcing he and his dog to move out and leave Barnaby with peace and quiet – or so he thought. The Voss household, readers will find out, is anything but quiet.

Merit is out finding used trophies for her collection one day, when she meets Sagan. The initial meeting leaves her feeling something she hasn’t ever felt before – happiness and excitement. Any hope she has fizzles, however, when she finds out that Sagan is Honor’s boyfriend. Of all the luck! Merit, who has never been in love before, has to fall hard for her twin sister’s boyfriend. What’s worse is when she realizes that Sagan is living in the room right across the hall. Though she tries to avoid him and ignore her feelings of attraction, its impossible.

Meanwhile, Merit stops attending high school unbeknownst to her own father. She goes for days without speaking to anyone in her household, and they hardly notice. She doesn’t think there is anything out of the ordinary about her behavior; she’s just doing what feels right for her situation. After a serious suicide attempt, Merit’s family and Sagan encourage her to seek help. Near the end of the story, Merit realizes that she has depression, which makes sense to readers who have been seeing the signs in Merit’s behavior since the beginning. This story is a unique look at how the affects depression can change an entire family. Hoover does a wonderful job of bringing light to mental illness without focusing completely on the issue. She brings it into the story to add another layer to an already heartbreaking, yet moving story of a family sticking together no matter the obstacles.

Despite all of their faults and mistakes, Merit’s family members are lovable in their own way, as readers learn more about why they are what they have become. When Merit takes the time to look at them with a new perspective, thanks to some help from heartthrob, Sagan, who lives across the hall, and energetic, Luck, her stepmother’s younger brother, she realizes that maybe she is part of the problem. And things she thought were true about Utah, her father, her mother, her stepmother, Honor, and even Sagan weren’t exactly the way she pictured. Sagan and Luck help her to have the courage to seek help, and her relationships with them are stronger for it.

 

 

Hoover’s young adult, stand-alone novel is best for a mature audience due to language and references to drug usage. Though it alludes to sexual scenes, the romance is not explicit in any way. Fans of Liane Moriarty and JoJo Moyes will enjoy Colleen Hoover’s novels. Without Merit, in particular, would be enjoyed by teens and adults alike. This was my first experience with a Colleen Hoover novel, and I look forward to reading many of her other books.

Thank you to Atria Books for the advanced review copy.

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Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase

Black Rabbit Hall will be published February 9, 2016. This is a beautiful book with a fabulous, intriguing cover.

Black Rabbit Hall is a wonderful debut novel for Eve Chase. Fans of Kate Morton would likely be fans of Black Rabbit Hall, with its mysterious corridors and hidden family secrets. Part of the story takes place in the 1960’s when Amber Alton is a teenager spending summers at Black Rabbit Hall, her family’s old estate home in Cornwall, outside of London. Amber, her twin brother Toby, younger brother Barney, and younger sister Kitty pay no attention to time while at Black Rabbit Hall, especially since none of the clocks read the same. All they know is that they are happy and well-loved by their mother and father, and Peggy, the live-in housekeeper/nanny/cook. Not much happens at Black Rabbit Hall, which is a nice change from the hustle and bustle of London. Then, unfathomable tragedy occurs and everything about their carefree days changes drastically.

Other portions of the novel follow Lorna, a thirty-two year old school teacher who is engaged to marry Jon. Lorna and her late mother, who has just recently died in a freak accident have visited Black Rabbit Hall in the past, though Lorna doesn’t remember much about when or why. There are pictures of them at the front gate when Lorna was a child. Lorna feels drawn to the crumbling estate and wishes to be married on the property, despite her fiance’s wishes and best intentions. The more time Lorna spends at Black Rabbit Hall, the stronger the connection becomes.

Though there are flowers growing up from the floorboards, bitter drafts from creaky windows, and rooms filled with vintage pieces of the Alton’s lives, Lorna is determined to stay in the house and find out what happened to the first Mrs. Alton and the four children from the photographs. The current, elderly but stately, Mrs. Alton inhabits a small wing of the estate, along with her servant and caregiver, Dill. There are vivid descriptions of the house, the beach, and the nearby woods where young Toby spends his days, building a tree house and hiding out from his stepmother. Eve Chase does a wonderful job of creating characters who really come to life in the novel. I was humbled and saddened by the hardships that Amber and her siblings had to endure at such a young age. The writing is beautiful and the story seamless, even though the plot switches back and forth between 3 decades.

This is not a ghost story, so do not be turned away if, like me, you do not like supernatural or fantasy fiction. It is, however, a story about family, love, and long buried secrets which most always are unearthed. While reading the final paragraph describing the arrival of one of the Alton siblings, I had chills and tears streaming down my face. Now that means this a beautiful story. Not many books cause me to have chills.

So, what are you waiting for? Read it!