See What I Have Done | Sarah Schmidt

Publication Date: August 1st, 2017

Page Count: 324

Why I read it: I received See What I Have Done as an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. (But it's been high on my TBR list for awhile!)

First Sentence: "He was still bleeding."

Book Description: (From Amazon) Lizzie Borden took an ax
And gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

Or did she?

In this riveting debut novel, See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt recasts one of the most fascinating murder cases of all time into an intimate story of a volatile household and a family devoid of love.

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid: Someone’s killed Father. The brutal ax-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts, leaves little evidence and many unanswered questions. While neighbors struggle to understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens, those close to the family have a different tale to tell―of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful stepmother; and two spinster sisters, with a bond even stronger than blood, desperate for their independence.

As the police search for clues, Emma comforts an increasingly distraught Lizzie whose memories of that morning flash in scattered fragments. Had she been in the barn or the pear arbor to escape the stifling heat of the house? When did she last speak to her stepmother? Were they really gone and would everything be better now? Shifting among the perspectives of the unreliable Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, the events of that fateful day are slowly revealed through a high-wire feat of storytelling.

My Thoughts: Well hello there, Sarah Schmidt. I love it when a debut novel really nails it. See What I Have Done is one of my most highly anticipated reads for the year. I've always been absolutely fascinated with Lizzie Borden and couldn't wait to read a fictionalized account of her story. I didn't know if it was going to deal with the events leading up to the murders, the murder itself, or the trial that took place thereafter, but I didn't mind going in relatively blind. I was pleased that it really covered a little of everything, but focused mainly on the events that happened in the days leading up to and after the murder. The story is told from 4 different perspectives: Emma, the older sister, Bridget, the Irish Maid, Benjamin, a stranger with nefarious intentions, and Lizzie herself.

The writing was so evocative! There's a lot of imagery (specifically, food and smell imagery. That damn mutton soup!)  It was a slow burn and the story took me a bit to get into, but Schmidt had my full attention when she began to describe the state of the bodies. This book is not for the faint of heart. When I'm faced with gruesome imagery, it surprises me and makes me laugh. (Like, ahh very good author- you got me!) I had that feeling several times throughout this book. That said, if you are not into gore, you should probably skip this one. It was a very atmospheric story, and I am typically not one for "flowery" writing. I like character development and solid plot, and I want you to describe what's going on to me clearly, thank you. However, because of the 4 differing viewpoints, the author got a chance to really play with style without sacrificing the story. Emma was the most straightforward character; she is an older sister who is beholden  to her needy younger sister, Lizzie. Lizzie wants nothing more than the entirety of Emma's love: "I thought about..stalking into Emma's bed like the moon and lying by her side, growing tentacles and wrapping them around her until our breathing matched." Yeah. Lizzie is definitely creepy. 

Emma's chapters are often really sad, both because her parents have been murdered and because she knows this now means she'll never get away from her burdensome sister.  Lizzie's chapters creeped me out the most. Her narrative feels cloudy and anxious. I thought it was genius how the author played with words to get Lizzie's madness across. "I wanted to feel better. I forced my fingers onto my arms and forced them to march like ants". There was definitely something off with her and I have no trouble believing this character could have murdered her parents. 

The maid, Bridget, who "did things and did things", is the voice of reason. She sees the family members for who they really are... and she wants out. She's been saving up her earnings for a trip back home, but when Mrs. Borden finds out, she steals her money. She's at least 10 years younger than Lizzie, the youngest Borden, but she often seems like the only adult in the room. She is a maid who emigrated to America from Ireland with the hopes of earning her own way and chasing the American Dream, and I really enjoyed reading about the pains she went through and the sacrifices she made to get to the U.S. 

Benjamin is a man that's hired by the girls' uncle to teach their father a lesson. He ends up getting inside the home and ends up having a very interesting perspective on the murders. He gives me a real droog from Clockwork Orange vibe. I really enjoyed his addition to the story, as it gave us another angle to consider. 

Overall, I found this to be a quite enjoyable read. We are given a real timeline of events at the end, and it seems like the author followed the actual events very closely. It's fiction but it sounded like a reasonable explanation for the unsolved case to me. I do wish we could have gotten more information about what happened during the trial, but I still feel like we were given a resolution to the story. The characters were well fleshed out and complex and I walked away feeling like I had a good sense as to the type of people the Bordens were.  I think this could make a very disturbing HBO adaptation, a la Big Little Lies. Read her dedications, seriously. Especially the part dedicated to Lizzie... 

Favorite Quote: "The jurors would poke their old fingers in everything, pretend they were investigating the facts when really they wanted to touch the spaces dead people had been."

Rating: 4.5/5. (Extra half star for the writing!)

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TBR & TBD | New and Noteworthy August 2017

Lots of good books coming out this month! As always. Here are the books I've added to my list, along with one I'm not sure about.

TBR 1 | The Good Daughter | Karin Slaughter | Release Date, August 8, 2017

Yay! I new Karin Slaughter book! Admittedly, I've only read one Slaughter book but it was genuinely one of the most extreme and disturbing books I've ever read. However, as a true thriller junkie, I loved it. (That was Pretty Girls). I'm excited to read The Good Daughter-it's one of those where a crime takes place and 25+ years later the violence comes back to haunt the protagonist- but sine it's Slaughter, I have no doubt it'll be good.

TBR 2 | The Grip of It | Jac Jemc | Aug 1st.

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I first saw this book on Patience Randle's Instagram. (I recently discovered her feed @inkandfable and love it!)  She says it's an outside of the box spooky tale about a young couple who move into a haunted house. Things are fine at first but when the strange things start happening, they have to rely on each other to escape the madness. As in The Girl Before, there's a creepy architect at the helm. Bonus points for timelines, because we might be buying a house soon, too!

TBD | See What I Have Done | Sarah Schmidt | Release Date: August 1st, 2017

To quote Cher Horowitz, I'm totally bugging! There are few stories that caught my attention right from the get-go. See What I Have Done is based on the true story of Lizzie Borden. You know, of the "Lizzie Borden took an axe..." fame. There is a really interesting backstory to this book. The author, Sarah Schmidt, is Australian and said that Lizzie Borden jumped out at her. She didn't know the story and found about her in a pamphlet she came across, and then Lizzie continued to come to her in her dreams for about the next 11 years. I LOVE hearing about how authors get inspired, and if you believe in Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic then this is totally plausible. I really hope I enjoy this! It's already out in other countries, so if I have any Australian friends that have read  this one, let me know what you think! I was approved for an ARC via Net Galley, though, and just started it. So far, it's completely weird, but I see a lot of potential and think it will come together. 

What are you excited for for the rest of the summer? Any books that you're skeptical about? 

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4BF | Best Books [So Far] in 2017

Four Book Friday | Best [so far] in 2017

Can you believe we're already halfway through 2017? (Fully aware that it's actually now more than halfway through the year. Oy.) I am a new release junkie and I'm happy that I've run into so many good ones this year. Taking a page from one of my favorite bookly podcasts, All the Books, I wanted to give you four books that I've read that came out this year that you should definitely add to your TBR pile.

Four Book Friday | Best [so far] in 2017

Best YA | The Hate U Give | Angie Williams

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There's no amount of hype that can overstate how good this book is. It's relevant and authentic, not to mention a sad yet enjoyable read. The protagonist, Starr Carter, is a high schooler who is riding home from a party when she and her childhood friend get pulled over. Despite being unarmed and cooperative, her friend Khalil is shot and killed by a police officer. Khali's character gets smeared by the media, and Starr wonders if she should she speak out about what really happened. If she does speak out, who will listen? This is a great YA novel and a contender for one of the best books of the year. I'm not alone in thinking this, as it's been on the NYT Best Seller List for 15 weeks and counting. Definitely add this to your list, both YA readers and non alike. Full review here.

Best Contemporary Fiction | All Grown Up | Jami Attenberg

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I think this was the biggest surprise for me so far. Andrea Bern is 39 years old, single, and reasonably satisfied with her life. However, when her only niece is born with a life threatening ailment, she finds herself re-evaluating her relationships and life choices. It's a quick read, but I found myself consciously slowing down and relishing the humor with which the author describe's Andrea's life. A must read for any woman, and someone in her mid-to late-30s might find it especially relatable. Full review here

Best Thriller | The Girl Before | J. P. Delaney

I said this was going to be one of my favorite books of 2017 back in January, and I still stand by that. It's a thriller of the traditional sense. The chapters alternate between the two narrators, Emma and Jane. Both women are tenants of the same apartment- an apartment that was designed by an enigmatic architect who has very strange requirements of anyone that lives in it. The apartment is a character in and of itself. If you like dark books that unravel slowly, you'll like this.

Best Mystery | I Found You | Lisa Jewell

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Who is the mysterious man on the beach? When Alice sees a man sitting seaside outside of her house for an entire day, she has to investigate. She finds that he has no idea who he really is, so against her better judgment she offers her guest house to him. You know, just for a night. At the same time, Lily, young and idealistic and a newlywed in a brand new country, finds that her husband doesn't come home one night. The police don't believe her when she insists he's not fooling around on her, so she takes things into her own hands and uses what little resources she has to find him. Only, it turns out that her new husband doesn't actually exist... Complex yet fast paced, I Found You might be my most favorite yet this year. Full review here

So tell me- what was your favorite new release of 2017?

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