Blog Tour: Switch, Tish Cohen #50BookPledge

Have you ever wished you were someone else? I have. During the royal wedding fever, I thought about how amazing it would be to be Kate Middleton. Reading Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, I think of how it must feel to be J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins and know that you’ve touched the lives of so many readers. Heck, I look at people in my karate class who can easily do spinning back kicks without falling on their butt and wish I had their ability.

Andrea Birch, in Tish Cohen’s Switch, is no different. The only biological child of a foster family, she’s overwhelmed by responsibility (she gives up a modeling gig and free clothes to buy baby formula, reluctantly but otherwise without complaint) and wishes she could be Joules Adams, only child of rock star Nigel Adams. Andrea describes Joules as “not exactly human… This polish of what I can only describe as authenticity that covers every inch of her being like fairy dust.” Plus, Joules’ boyfriend is the love of Andrea’s life, Will Sherwood. So it’s easy to see why Andrea wishes to be her. Unlike us, however, Andrea does get her wish, and, as usually happens in this type of story, ends up learning that in many ways, she’s actually the lucky one.

Switch is a fun, entertaining read, and definitely a fresh take on the classic Freaky Friday story. I love that Cohen chooses to keep this book only within Andrea’s perspective, rather than switching back and forth between Andrea’s and Joules’ accounts. This makes the story more about how Andrea changes rather than how both girls have to adapt to very different lifestyles, which may have been more comedic (spoiled rich girl having to deal with diapers and half a dozen foster kids!), but might also have been less touching.

Real is an odd word to use about a book that has teenagers switching bodies, but Andrea’s problems are very real. Foster parenting is a difficult undertaking, and I applaud those who give so much of themselves to take care of other people’s children. Lots of books have also talked about the difficulties of being a foster child. But Switch has made me think about what it must be like to be the only biological child in such a family. Sure, Andrea is the only one allowed to call her parents Mom and Dad, but her parents also take it for granted that she has a perfect life, and so lavish more attention on the foster kids. It also struck home how Andrea could never allow herself to form strong friendships with the foster kids, because sooner or later, they’ll be transferred to another family.

There are a couple of things about Switch that I didn’t really like. Andrea just seemed too perfect. Immediately after she switched bodies with Joules, she already wanted to switch back and help her mom out with the kids. I agree that this is within her character — she really is super responsible — and shows how much she really loves her family. I also understand how she might worry that Joules is a completely incompetent baby-sitter and won’t be able to take care of the kids. But I kept thinking, if I were in her shoes, I’d totally spend at least a day or so living it up as Joules Adams. Andrea does enjoy having Will as her boyfriend, but I thought she’d enjoy having no kids around a bit more.

Even though I like that Cohen chose to focus on Andrea’s narrative, I’m also very interested in Joules’ story. She struck me as a very complex, possibly more interesting character, and by the end of the book, she ends up having to change so much more than Andrea does. I’d love to know what happens to her after the events of Switch. Those who’ve read the book, anyone agree with me?

Overall, a very good book. Even though Andrea sometimes comes off as too good, she does change after the switch, and becomes much more appreciative of her life. Nigel Adams is a rich, compelling character. I love how Cohen hints that, despite Andrea’s rose-coloured glasses view of him for most of the book, he actually has a lot of his own issues, and Joules has had to deal with those her whole life. I also love how, despite his issues, Nigel clearly very much loves Joules, and how it takes Andrea in Joules’ body to notice it. I love the quirky grandmother, and love how she gives only Andrea the weird things she picks up on her travels. Andrea doesn’t usually appreciate them, but they’re totally my kind of gift.

Now You See Me, S.J. Bolton #50BookPledge

Young detective constable Lacey Flint walks to her car after interviewing a witness and finds a woman bleeding to death draped over it. An anonymous letter to a reporter points out alarming similarities between the killer and Jack the Ripper, and mentions Lacey by name. Turns out Lacey is a lifelong Ripperologist, and has some dark secrets in her past, which slowly get revealed as the investigation progresses.

As a crime buff, I’ve always been fascinated by Jack the Ripper, and S.J. Bolton’s Now You See Me takes off from one of the lesser known theories about Jack the Ripper’s identity. This book kept me guessing throughout, and I love how Bolton put in all these twists that made me think that I knew what was going on, only to find out later on that I was wrong.

Ultimately, while the mystery began as being about Jack the Ripper, it soon became more about a contemporary crime and a secret from Lacey’s past. Lacey is an intelligent detective, and while I was afraid I’d be disappointed in whatever secrets she had (with so much build up, I would’ve hated to be let down), when the big reveal came, everything just made sense. Even the minor characters, Tulloch and Joesbury, were fascinating figures, and I could never tell what Joesbury thought about Lacey. I shared Lacey’s confusion about whether he was attracted to her or suspicious of her, and I loved that ambiguity.

Bolton effectively builds an atmosphere of creepiness, with killings taking place to the soundtrack of such an innocuous song as My Favourite Things from The Sound of Music. At first, I didn’t like the chapters from the killer’s point of view, because they began as mostly atmospheric and vague, and I felt they detracted from the primary story, which was already so exciting in itself. There were also times when I wondered if plot points were going anywhere or if they were just put in randomly (e.g. flashbacks, My Favourite Things, the case Lacey was originally investigating before getting sidetracked by the Ripper copycat). However, the killer’s chapters soon became more action-packed, revealing the thoughts of the victims, and all the minor plot points turned out to be very important for the ending and for understanding the killer’s character.

Finally, I love all the discussions on Ripper lore in Now You See Me. It’s never pedantic, always in the context of trying to understand the latest murder, but it gives crimes buffs like me interesting details about Jack the Ripper. There’s even an Author’s Note where Bolton explains some of the various theories about his identity. Now You See Me is an exciting murder mystery and an original take on the Jack the Ripper myth. Highly recommended for mystery buffs.

Before I Go to Sleep, S.J. Watson #50BookPledge

Oh. My. God. S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep is amazing. Read it, read it, read it. But first, and trust me on this one, make sure you have a few hours to spare. Sleep kept me awake till 2:30 am.

My tweets while reading:

May 18th, 4 pm: Engrossed in ARC of S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep. Out in June, watch for it. Incredible so far.

[I stopped reading for a few hours, then decided to read just a bit more when I went to bed around 11 pm…]

Midnight: OMG, the twists keep coming. S.J. Watson’s fault if I sleep super late tonight.

1 am: Literally gasped out loud while reading.

2 am: I knew it! I knew it!

2:05 am: Holy crap. I didn’t know anything after all. Chills.

That was when I realized I should just stop live tweeting my reading experience before I flooded my followers’ feeds with even more “Aha!” and “Oops.” moments.

How much do I love this book? And why do I love it so much? Check out my full review on Savvy Reader or read below.

S.J. Watson will be reading at Harbourfront Centre, Toronto, June 22nd.

Or check out this Vizme token to see an excerpt, a bit about the author and other cool stuff.

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Full Review

[I just noticed that my review has been archived on the Savvy Reader site, so I’m republishing it here.]

Before I Go to Sleep is pure psychological thriller. Christine wakes up in a strange bedroom beside a middle aged married man she doesn’t recognize. It is only when she goes to the bathroom and sees her hand that she realizes that her skin is wrinkled, and that she too is wearing a wedding ring. She sees photos of herself, twenty years older than she thought she was, taped to the bathroom mirror. She also sees photos of the man from the bed, labelled “Ben, your husband.”

Ben explains that an accident eighteen years ago has destroyed her memory. While she can usually remember things that happen during the day, she will have forgotten them by the time she wakes up the next morning. She sometimes gets flashes of memories about her childhood, but most of her life is a complete blank. When Ben leaves for work, he says, “I love you, Christine. Never forget that.”

I thought Sleep was going to be an emotional, heart breaking tragedy, and in many ways it is. What if you lose your memories every time you went to sleep? There are events and people I remember vividly — sometimes, the most random of things, like riding the spinning teacup when I was three. Then there are events I remember, but am not too clear on the details. Memories are notoriously unreliable, and I love the security of looking at photos and knowing that that moment, at least, was real. To lose even the most tenuous hold on memory, to look at photos and have them evoke no sense of recognition, to have lost the last two decades of your life — I don’t even want to imagine how that would be like. In one scene, Christine is angered by Ben’s seeming indifference to a past event. Then she realizes that, for Ben, the emotions have already scabbed over, years before. Yet for her, emotions will always be raw, because she will always, every day, be experiencing them for the first time. So Christine’s condition is tragic; the last sentence in the book almost made me cry.

But Sleep isn’t just a beautifully crafted drama. Christine receives a call from Dr. Nash, who tells her she’s been his patient for a while now. He returns to her a journal she’s written, from which Christine reads about her past, but as disconnected from it as if the journal were a work of fiction. How much can we trust this journal, when Christine herself can’t remember writing it? More importantly, why does she have snippets of memories that don’t agree with what Ben has told her about her past? Are these real memories, or has Christine created them herself? Is Ben lying to her, and if so, is it just because he wants to spare her pain? Who are these people she remembers, who seem so familiar and yet whom she can’t identify?

Watson takes us right into Christine’s mind, and I, at least, was just as confused as she was. I’d think I knew who to trust, and what the truth is, only to find out later that I was wrong. As readers, we have a bit of an advantage over Christine — unlike her, we don’t have to begin from scratch with every new day in her story. Yet, even with that advantage, I found myself frustrated, dying to know more, wishing I knew the truth. Watson depicts very vividly how much more frustrating it must be for Christine.

Before I Go to Sleep is a powerful, gripping, and yes, tragic, psychological thriller. I didn’t want to go to sleep when I was reading it; I just kept wanting to find out more. I also found myself getting caught up in Christine’s fear and paranoia; I certainly didn’t want to go to sleep with that kind of mindset.

More importantly, however, the title perfectly encapsulates Christine’s own, much more urgent, desire not to fall asleep yet. Each slumber is a kind of death. We expand our life by building on our memories; Christine must live as full a life as she can each day, because she starts completely from scratch again the next. And she must do this while dealing with potential half-truths and lies from people she has no choice but to trust.

Trust me: read this book.