Tuesday, October 23, 2012

San Miguel by TC Boyle

TC Boyle has such a gorgeous writing style. I found myself looking up words in my Kindle dictionary (at Seattle Arts & Lectures: "A reader, commenting on Boyle's extensive vocabulary, said that she enjoyed looking unfamiliar words up on her e-reader as she read. He responded that looking up words while reading, at least for fiction, pulls you out of the narrative and is to be discouraged." Shelf Awareness) I was happy to hear the new words. They just weave extra depth into an already complex fabric created by Boyle in his stories.

San Miguel is a tiny island off the California coasts, the westernmost in the chain of the Channel Islands. In other words, the last stop. And it is for a few of the characters that come to inhabit the place, but especially the women. While the men are there to make a living, to challenge themselves, the land, the status quo of the forbidding island, the women are doing what they must do to survive and keep their families alive. This is the story of three women who come to this place.

The first woman we meet is Marantha Waters (interesting name!), a 38 year old stricken with tuberculosis in 1888. Her family, her husband, her adopted daughter and a maid who is like another daughter to her, all move in to the "home" on the island, so they can tend the sheep. Promised by her husband this would be a healthful move for her, she soon realizes that it is not going to help her to be there at all, for a variety of reasons. The writing is amazing, transporting the reader, along with the Waters family, to a beautiful, yet seemingly God forsaken place to deal with dust storms, weather, sheep shearers and sneaking around in the small building they all must live in.

Marantha's daughter Edith is taken back to the island practically by force after her mother passes away. Edith is strong willed and yearning for independence from her step-father. She has her own unique experiences on the island, much of her time is spent scheming a way to get off the island.

We finally meet the Lester family who settle there in the 1930's, after the war to end all wars. Elise's husband is a damaged WW1 veteran, and the reader fears for the safety of the Lester family (they have two daughters n the island, eventually) the entire time spent with them. And the reader does very much have a sense of "knowing" San Miguel by the time the book finally ends.

This book is an emotionally exhausting roller coaster of a ride. Although the lens we see the island through is a female one (and Mr. Boyle does an excellent job with that lens), we feel we truly know all the people that live on the island: the hired help, the residents, the animals. And you will know the island, San Miguel. It was an important place in the history of our country as well as home to widely varying groups of people for many years.

4 stars
Check out this link to see information about the actual island!:
San Miguel

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

I nominated this book for one of my book group reads, and I'm so glad that I did. It was a very quick read, and the style of this writing is pretty unusual. However, the unusual format, the author's way of making individual statements within a setting where the same thing is happening to everyone is extremely powerful.

This book follows the journey of some Japanese mail order brides from Japan to California. The journey does not end there. These families are subjected to what equals imprisonment by their new government after the attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor, and the US entry into World War 2.

I was reading this on my Kindle, so I really had no idea when I began what a short book it was...more of a novella, really. But I devoured every word. Beautifully written, this is another one of those novels that should be used in high schools in this country to teach in a sensitive way about the pain our own government inflicted out of nothing but fear and suspicion, and how we must never inflict this kind of pain and heartbreak on our own citizens ever again. I plan on reading her other book, When the Emperor Was Divine in the not too distant future.

5 stars

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Girl Reading by Katie Ward

I anticipated reading this novel for a while, and was pleased to finally get a copy from the library. It seemed to take me a few tries to get into the first chapter, but once I achieved an interest, I pretty much finished the book in an evening or two.

What attracted me to this novel were blurbs about the book, calling it "a time machine!" And of course, the title, Girl Reading...isn't that what I've been all my life? The book's chapters are each the story of one girl or woman and one "portrait," be it a painting, or some other from of art. In each chapter there are thinly veiled references to previous chapters. Each chapter is also set in a different time period as well.

Some of the writing was really entertaining and clever and fun. It wasn't so long ago that I read Cloud Atlas, and while much more complex and complicated, in both the story and structure, I couldn't help but be reminded of that novel as well. Not every chapter was all that memorable. My favorite chapter was so clever and wonderful though, I doubt I will ever forget it. Victorian twins meet again and one takes the other's photo, but they are not your ordinary run of the mill women. The chapters almost stand on their own as short stories.

As the book and chapters evolve, we end up in a very different world that we hardly recognize in the future. Clever and wondrous, Ward manages to create knowable characters and a world we can believe, although it has become quite different from our present one.

Go here to see portraits that inspired Katie Ward when she wrote the book.

This book is Cloud Atlas meets Girl with a Pearl Earring.

Tiny, Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

I love Dear Sugar on the Rumpus, and have been a fan for a while. I was excited when Sugar "came out" as Cheryl Strayed and shared her story with the world in Wild (which I haven't read yet, but it is on the pile!). But when I saw this book, I couldn't wait to read it! And it is a gem!

This book is filled with letters she has chosen as the best ones from her column, and she is very good and choosing wonderful letters (well, some are very sad) and responding to the problems and questions of real people. She is tough, she is strong and she is tender. I folded down my page corners, for future reference and have already found myself thinking about what she's said to others in my own life.

She quotes Emily Dickinson. She is brutally honest and unfailingly loving at the same time. Who wouldn't love someone who writes this: "You need to do the same, dear sweet arrogant beautiful crazy talented tortured rising star glowbug"! I want to write like this! She is a genius! "Find a way to weave your father's failing into the new tapestry of your lifelong bond." This stuff makes me cry, I swear, I wept several times throughout this book, even in the dentist's office!

You don't need to be a fan, or even to know who Sugar, or the Rumpus, or who Cheryl Strayed is to LOVE this book. There were countless moments in this book where I just felt she was speaking to me, about my life, my family, my children, etc. She has a way, and it is wonderful. I look forward to so much more with Sugar, and I will cherish this book and always keep it around. This would also make a fine gift for a friend that you were close to.

5 stars

advanced reader copy provided by Amazon

Shine, Shine, Shine by Lydia Netzer

And Shine is what Ms. Netzer's novel does. Whenever you pick up a new author who has invented some of the most wonderful and original characters in recent fiction history, you get excited knowing that certainly this author will bring more wonderfulness to us in future years.

My daughter just asked me, "what was this book about?" And I told her, a bald woman and an autistic man! Because Sunny is bald, and beautiful, and smart and endearing in her hopes and fears. And Maxon is a very sexy(!), smart, oddball, who loves to ride his bike and work his formulas and who is loved by Sunny. But the story is so much more than that.

Netzer has done a lovely job of telling both Sunny and Maxon's story, and Emma's story as well. As Sunny's mother, Emma plays a large role not only as Sunny's mother, but as someone who has known Maxon and helped him for much of his life. When we meet the characters, en media res, Emma is dying, Sunny is getting bad news about her husband and the space flight he's on, AND she is pregnant and expecting their second child, and Maxon is trying to fix what is broken. These characters are so complex, and all of their stories are interwoven.

I think the best way to go into this beautiful novel is without knowing too much about the actual story. It is a pleasure to read Netzer's wonderful writing and have these characters grow and unfold for you within the pages. Very human, very moving, and highly unexpected and delightful.  This is one of those novels that makes you miss the characters when it is all finished.

This was an advanced reader copy provided via Amazon Vine.

5 stars

Review of This is How It Ends by Kathleen MacMahon

    Kathleen MacMahon has written a very sweet little novel, although a few things about it baffled me at times. The novel is set in Ireland, where we meet Bruno Boylan, an out of work American stock trader from New York, and Addie Murphy, a 37 year old architect with a passion for swimming and pools,l and her dog, Lola. Bruno is newly arrived in Ireland as a "political refugee" as he jokes, since he cannot stand the political environment in his home country: it is 2008 and the Presidential election between John McCain and Barack Obama is heating up. Bruno is distraught at the mere thought of McCain winning and has decided that if Obama does not win, he will never return to the US. Addie is caring for her sick father--he is a surgeon who has broken both his hands and needs around the clock assistance with almost everything he does, so she has moved into her old home on the beach, and is living in the basement apartment. Her father can be difficult and is also dealing with a lawsuit against him, involving the death of a woman in his operating room.

    The novel unfolds into a peculiar romance. What brings the couple together is Bruno's search for his family. Bruno and Addie are cousins. Not first cousins, thank goodness, but still related. Bruno's dad was Addie's dad's first cousin. So he is also in Ireland to explore his family history, something which the Murphy family is clearly not interested in talking about. Despite Hugh Murphy's resistance, and initially Addie's as well, but Bruno finds a way to break through the fortress of the Murphy family and becomes, over time, very close to Addie.

     The author uses a technical in the book that seems to be the opposite of omniscient. This reader often felt confused or annoyed at the lack of information, or the slow leaking of it, about the Murphy family in the book. I can see where the author might have felt this was building up some kind of suspense or even mystery, but for me, personally, I did not feel that tack worked for this kind of novel. I wanted to like the characters who are certainly introspective and thoughtful, but thinking about things I felt I didn't quite get. I felt the use of a political election as a plot device might alienate some readers as well, since the author was definitely making a political statement as well, although it was certainly interesting. The characters were original, but lacking in the believability department. Throughout the novel, the foreshadowing about the fate of each was very heavy handed. 

     This wasn't a terrible novel, the prose was decent, if the style was a little grating.The characters were just a little too hard to get to know. Unremarkable, and the ending dissolved into complete and utter sappiness, which some readers were fully appreciate and love. This novel will be loved by some and hated by some too. It is just that kind of novel.

This was a digital review copy provided by Grand Central Publishing via NetGalley.

3 Stars

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

August 2012

On August 4th, 2012, my dad passed away. It happened to be his 76th birthday, as well. My father was not a healthy person, he was an alcoholic, and was also in denial about his general condition. He always said to me that he was going to live forever. He always bragged about how much younger he looked than other people his age. But somehow, I bought into much of his bravado, and though my husband and I discussed my father's eventual passing, I was not prepared when he did leave us.

My father drowned, in the creek that he loved next to his trailer. What happened, we will never really know. I spoke to him the previous day, a Friday, and he seemed fine. Odd things happened on Friday. I had not forgotten his birthday on Saturday morning, and was thinking about what I'd say to him when I called him, since he had forgotten about my birthday less than a month before. I was devastated by my father's dearth, because it should not have happened like this.

So, I've been mourning. I'm behind on everything: my reading, my writing, my reviews, my search for a job. My children have started back to school, and here I am a month later, with still no plans for a memorial service. I've gotten lovely, sweet and thoughtful cards and messages from so many people, mostly my friends, since my dad really had no family left that he spoke to often, and his best friend really was my husband. Oh, he had hangers on. The person who was with him the day before he died and the who was also the same person who found his body--but we never heard from him or saw him, although they lived right next door to my dad, and we spent 2 weeks cleaning out my dad's belongings. Not a call, not a hello. Silence.

I think of my dad and I feel a stab in the gut. I just can't believe he is gone, and I can't call him or talk to him again. I want to know, what happened to him? I've been thinking about contacting a psychic, or learning how to talk to the dead. I think I've been seeing things, and I think it is a side effect of my grief.

I dreamed about my dad last night. He had been saying to me for the last five years that he wanted to start walking with me, which I knew he could not do. His gout was too bad and he had really slowed down in the last few years. He hadn't owned a pair of sneakers for some time. In  my dream, he was dressed up in workout clothes--shorts and a tank top. My dad NEVER wore anything but pants (mostly jeans) and t-shirts. He just wasn't a workout kind of guy. Funny to see him dressed like that, but it was still so good to see him. I miss you, Daddy. I love you.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Less about books: More about me!

My 15 year old daughter has been bugging me to write a blog post that addresses who I am and what my life is like and what the purpose of my blog is. So that is what I'll attempt to do right now.

I am a 40 something year old woman (my birthday was just a few weeks ago: I'm a cancer) with a family who is currently a stay at home mom. That could change at any time, I really need a job! I was born and raised on Long Island, New York, in Suffolk County in a fairly small town that grew up around a rather large psychiatric center, established for the wealthy folks of Kings County, New York. Kind of a country retreat, you might say, for the less mentally stable members of the family. That town is called Kings Park, and it is set on the bluffs of the North Shore of Long Island. My parents were both born in New York City, but both families moved to Long Island when they were still children. My dad was a machinist, my maternal grandfather and and his son were both machinists, and my mom was a bookkeeper for a machine shop my grandfather and dad worked for, so that's how they became acquainted, and eventually married. They moved out to "the country" (Suffolk County) and built our house.

I went to school in that town, and despite my parents' very tumultuous relationship, and many different moves on their parts, I graduated from the local high school. I loved to read, I loved English, I enjoyed writing. I still do. My dream was to attend Sarah Lawrence, but I realized at some point I would have to be satisfied with something more attainable, so I decided I'd attend St. John's University in Queens. Unfortunately, although I was accepted and registered, neither one of my parents would step up to the plate at that time and help me pay, or even fill out the paperwork for financial aid, so I ended up reluctantly "taking a year off" after high school graduation. I moved south to Alabama, I went back to LI, but then, when my dad decided to move to California, I decided to bite the bullet and really move to Alabama, mainly because it was closer to New York.

So, I came south to Birmingham. My mom, grandfather and a lot of extended family was already in Alabama and Georgia. I attended the University of Montevallo, a tiny public university, for two years, and graduated, cum laude from the University of Alabama in Birmingham (UAB). It took me about 6 years to cram in a BA in English and a minor in Communication Arts (I actually started out as a journalism major in Montevallo). I've done a lot of stuff since then, but really never worked in my field, unless you count working in a book store for a few years as "in my field." I mostly worked in photography, developing film, first in a tiny one hour lab, then in a bigger lab and finally a custom lab. Southern Progress is in our town, so there was plenty of work at the time (1990s), and computer imaging was just getting started.

Of course, I met my husband and had my babies: the girls are now 16 and 15 and our son is 11 (I also have a stepdaughter who is now 21. She came to live with us when she was 5). My girls are currently at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, a kind of magnet school here in Birmingham, where they are music students (Zoë plays piano, Anna is a vocalist). We homeschool Wylie. So that's what keeps us here in Birmingham, and our parents and family of course (my husband has two sisters). We're busy and fairly happy.

I guess I always thought that by now I would have had a writing career of some kind. Maybe editing, or even writing for a newspaper or web site. Perhaps a novel. But somehow, that has never materialized. My kids and husband have all encouraged me to write, especially lately. I've had friends say that my life story is so complicated and crazy and  rich, I should mine it for material for a book, maybe a memoir, maybe fiction. I've often thought about writing about my maternal grandmother. But writing about my life here, and about the books I read should help me to get to that place, I hope. It's part practice and part therapy.

So I plan on writing more about my life, with my family and maybe things I remember or want to reminisce about, or maybe that I'd like to forget! I hope that if you're visiting this blog for the first time, you'll maybe leave a comment or book mark it and come back and visit again.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Orphanmaster by Jean Zimmerman

Review copy from NetGalley

I was born and raised on Long, Island, New York, so I love books about New York. One of my favorite books is Jack Finney's Time and Again, which is set in both "present day" (okay, not our present day, but the around the 1960s) and in old New York City, around 1875. I love that old NY setting, when there were still farms and Brooklyn was the country!

This novel, The Orphanmaster, is set in 1633, and New York is hardly even a shadow of the town it will once become. Petrus Stuyvesant is the Director General of the New Amsterdam colony. Little does he know he is the last Dutch director general. I like novels like this, that take place upon already well known and established histories. Blandina Van Couvering is an unusual young woman: she is a trader. But the Dutch are very tolerant of their women's endeavors. Although an orphan, her father was a gunsmith and she was raised in a household where she was encouraged to learn. Sadly, her family died on a return visit to the Netherlands. Being a little bit older and more stubborn than most of the orphans landing on the shores of the New World, she is able to eek out a life for herself, without becoming someone's servant. The Orphanmaster of the colony, Aet Visser, is in charge of these unfortunate children, but his relationship with Blandina, and with many of the children, is one of fatherly affection.

Children, all orphans, have gone missing in the colony, and some have been murdered in terrible ways. Blandina knows of these missing children, and being an orphan herself, and feeling great compassion for her fellow urchins, she is concerned. She takes it upon herself to discover what has happened to these children. People are blaming a witika, an Indian demon spirit. Blandina knows it must be a human being.

Edward Drummond is a spy/ prospector, working for King Charles II, to find the executioners of his father, King Charles I. They are far flung across the world, and this current expedition is taking place around the new colonies, around New Amsterdam. Visser asks Drummond for help, as he believes one of the orphans he placed with a family has been somehow replaced with a different child. So Drummond is well aware of strange goings on in the colony when he meets Blandina.

This is a mystery, as well as a love story.  Remember Maddie and David from Moonlighting (Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis), and their sexual tension? I could not help but think of them while reading this book...especially when Blandina tells Edwards to call her Van Couvering, and she'll call him Drummond while they're investigating these murders, to keep it professional.  Kind of amusing, and of course, you know where these characters are going to end up right from the start.  So it really had that detective story feel, in a colonial setting, of course. This is a great book for fans of Edward Rutherford (I love his books London and New York) and those who love mysteries that are not to complex, since Zimmerman gives the reader a sort of omniscient presence throughout the novel, letting us see what the participants of the story cannot. It was pretty good.

3.5 stars

Is "Literary Fiction" Real? Does it Exist? What Is It?

So, the other day on Facebook, another reading friend asked a question. He wanted to know "what is this new genre called literary fiction?" No one seemed to know, and I doubt that most folks on the forum he was asking really cared anyway. They aren't a group that is particularly interested in LF. This was my response: 

"Literary fiction does not include James Patterson, Nora Roberts, romance novels, crime novels, mystery novels (well, maybe a few, they aren't necessarily exclusive, but I'm thinking of Janet Evanovich type stuff--fun, but not literary)..., or more "popular" fiction. Literary fiction focuses more on character development than plot formula, and more care is taken with the writing. It isn't being churned out as a serial, or follow up to satisfy a demanding audience like a daily soap opera. It is more "literary"! It's more serious. It usually includes classics. That's my take on literary fiction, with is mostly what I mostly read. You may disagree, but I think there is a big difference between general fiction and literary fiction. I think historical fiction takes an actual event or person from the past and uses them in a fictional way, so they can truly cover a lot. How far in the past? That's debatable, but so are all genres"

Now, I could be wrong, but I think I have the gist of what LF is. You're never going to find a "literary fiction" section at a chain bookstore or the library, but it is a "genre" that can encompass books in other genre as well. For instance, some historical fiction is literary as well. I'd say Hilary Mantel's books are literary, as well as historical fiction. But Phillipa Gregory would be strictly historical fiction: her writing is average, nothing extraordinary, her characters are almost caricatures of well known historical figures, and she certainly borders on being a romance writer. 

I decided to do some pseudo-research (can it be real research if it's done on the internet?). Wikipedia says: 

Despite the fact that all genres have works that are well written, those works are generally not considered literary fiction. To be considered literary, a work usually must be "critically acclaimed" and "serious". In practice, works of literary fiction often are "complex, literate, multilayered novels that wrestle with universal dilemmas."

The article then lists some common characteristics that can help one recognize LF:
1. Primary focus on characterization
2. Plot is secondary
3. Style (elegant, multilayered, lyrical)
4. Tone (serious)
5. Pacing (slow)

So I felt vindicated that I was pretty much on target with my idea of what LF is. Especially since that's what I mostly read. There is a short discussion there also about whether LF is truly its own genre. Amazon has a "Literary Fiction" genre, I get emails alerting me to books in that "category" I might like all the time. 

A little more Google searching led me to a similarly themed blog post by Annie Neugebauer, and her contention is that literary fiction is three things: a style of writing, a genre AND a "qualifier," which is obviously where the biggest problem with people concerning the "snobby" factor. She has got some great insight on that!

You can see the original article by Annie Hamburger here.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

How my favorite author helps me relate to the world today.

I came across this quote yesterday, by my favorite author, E.M. Forster, and it just seemed to resonate with me after the horrific event that unfolded much earlier on the same day, in Aurora, Colorado. Here is that quote: “I believe in aristocracy, though -- if that is the right word, and if a democrat may use it. Not an aristocracy of power, based upon rank and influence, but an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate and the plucky. Its members are to be found in all nations and classes, and all through the ages, and there is a secret understanding between them when they meet. They represent the true human tradition, the one permanent victory of our queer race over cruelty and chaos. Thousands of them perish in obscurity, a few are great names. They are sensitive for others as well as themselves, they are considerate without being fussy, their pluck is not swankiness but power to endure, and they can take a joke.” (From "Two Cheers for Democracy," 1962, EM Forster)

How, one may ask, does this quote have any relevance to the sad happening in a movie theater in Colorado, where a mass murder has taken place? I was with my mother today, and I was (unfairly, I may add), berating her for her harsh judgement towards things she herself does not like or care for. She can be over emphatic about things, and easily expresses a hatred for them, but perhaps I was too harsh with her in calling her on this; my main concern, though, is for my children, who can be quite uncomfortable with her crudity. Then I told her she was becoming more like her father every day. My grandfather was always one to say how bad things were getting, and how it never used to be "like it is these days." A very negative place to come from, and very negative for children. It is a lame and dying sentiment that should be put to rest for good. My mother mentioned the shooting, and I pointed out that people have been killing each other for thousands of years. I'm quite sure an individual from a rival tribe has snuck up on sleeping enemies and attacked in cold blood while they snoozed in their huts. An evilly insane member of a wagon train, or religious sect, or ship full of explorers has slit throats of unsuspecting cohorts. A mentally ill child or parent has murdered members of their family. There was Jack the Ripper. There was Attila the Hun.There was Vlad the Impaler. There was Hitler. There is Mark David Chapman. It happens, in human culture, that we kill one another; those we love, those we hate, those we abhor and those we revere. We don't necessarily understand why, and we struggle with that every day.  But if we deny the very human-ness of it, we will die.

So my point here, if you can follow my convoluted tale, is we must connect with one another, as we are commanded us to do in Forster's great work, Howard's End: "Only connect!" It is the cry of the Humanist cause, really, to somehow understand our fellow man. The hipsters in the Seattle coffee house may not seem to have much in common with the native in Papua, but they both cry when they feel pain, and smile in joy. This what makes us all, so essentially the same. If we have a brain and a soul, we can understand one another if we choose too. Which is so very much the point of Forster's work. The Italians, as different and exotic as they may seem from the English, and the same, the same species. Human beings. We must be sensitive, considerate and plucky. The xenophobe, the racist and the bigot ( which aren't we all?) must set aside their extreme prejudices and see other human beings as their brothers and sisters, once and for all. It is what makes a large human family, and what can help us to put aside the petty differences of politics and religion, of nationality and religion, and embrace our fellow humans. Because aside from the connection of being natural born killers, humans also have the thread of a great capacity for love and tenderness. If we continue to see nothing but the evil, the insane and the fearful in our fellow beings, we miss out on those wonderful unrecognized, unnoticed and undeserved moments of Great Love. Good things do happen. The heroism that resounds in the unselfish actions of those who helped others, even while under severe duress themselves, will overcome the malignancy of this tragedy. But only if we lift that cause up and recognize its greatest importance in our human culture.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

You Came Back by Christopher Coake

Review copy from NetGalley

I'm not sure what compelled me to want to read this novel, since the very thought of losing a child is enough to make me sick, but I think it was the possible "ghost" element that spurred my interest. 

I was just reading last night (in the current issue of Psychology Today) that 32% of Americans believe that spirits of the dead can return, 37% believe in haunted houses, and 16% aren't sure. They also mentioned the fact that bereavement increases the chance of a visit from beyond. This novel is rooted in that desire to believe that we can communicate with our deceased loved one. In Coake's novel, father Mark Fife is approached by a strange woman who happens to live in his former home, and told that the ghost of his son is there. His son was only 7 years old when he passed away in an unfortunate accident in the home, while under his father's watch. The tragedy eventually destroyed his marriage to his beloved wife, Chloe, who has not been emotionally well ever since. Mark is currently engaged to another woman and planning his new life, when he meets this woman who claims to have the spirit of his son in her home.

This book is really about Mark, and his efforts to deal with the possibility of the "return" of his son. Mark has issues with alcohol, and, in my opinion, a lot of relationship problems. His mother passed away from cancer a few years before, and his father, Sam, is a university professor who seems to care deeply for his son. However, his speech about what happens to us after we die really annoyed me. In fact, all these characters kind of annoyed me. Allison, Mark's fiance, seems to be very immature and needy, even though it is clear that is not how the author intends her to be. Chloe, the ex-wife, is wacko. Mark's best friend and confidante Louis also seems immature and possibly alcoholic.  It is a novel full of dysfunction. Even the family that lives in his former home is clearly dysfunctional. There just didn't seem to be anyone to relate to here.

Sam tells Mark that "The only happy death I can imagine is one that severs me entirely from this life. Annihilates me." He seems to think that if there is a heaven, everyone is waiting there miserably, longing for what they've left behind and missing everyone: "...it is very difficult for me to imagine that we die, only to go to a place that allows us to remember our lives." This view of what heaven or an afterlife or what a soul might do when separated from its body is so negative and hopeless, it really annoyed me that there was not a single character with a positive view of a happy paradise, of God, of spirit filled joy. I am not a "Jesus freak" (as Louis says in the book). I believe in God, and in Jesus Christ. But I have many atheist/non-believer friends who I respect and even understand. However, this man's world view is apparently one of extreme pessimism, where a book about the mere possibility of an afterlife, a heaven, a God, is so unthinkable, he can't even properly present that view in a book about that very subject. The ones that do believe are kooks or nuts, irrational or money hungry. I felt this was an unfair. It made the whole tone of the book very hopeless.

This story is supposed to be one of love and loss. Mark has lost his son, his wife, basically his life, but is trying to regain it, with his impending marriage to Allison. But he only has himself to blame for the mess he makes of things after the "ghost" enters the picture. He loses his footing and flies off the handle every time a new"problem" is presented. He tries to solve these problems himself and turns to alcohol and the other highly dysfunctional people in his life to deal with these issues. He never seems to have even a glimmer of hope in being proactive enough to help himself. It is annoying, he is too self indulgent and pitying to even try to feel sorry for him. The loss of his son is tragic, but it seems the only way he can view his son's death is via his guilty part in it.

I didn't enjoy reading this novel. It became a chore. The main character was so unlikable, and so closed off to actually changing, I couldn't imagine possibly knowing him or being around him. There were a few times I was engaged, but then another main character (Sam, Chloe, etc) would do something nuts, and he'd lose me again. The writing was not bad, but this novel could have been so much more. A third of the book could have been replaced with more serious discussions of belief, soul and spirit, and more importantly, how one finally learns to cope with the death of a beloved child. But it never happened. Too bad. 

2.5 stars

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

From an advanced reader copy.

This novel was so lovely and poetic, a post apocalyptic story reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, but a very different story at the same time. Hig, the narrator, is a man who has survived a flu pandemic, that has changed life in the United States as we know it completely, wiping out most of the population. Those who have survived seem to be subject to some kind of contagious auto-immune disorder of the blood as well, that has continued to decimate the population, and a certain amount of climate change has become noticeable as well.

Hig is a very sad man, having lost his wife, but he appreciates the quietness of this new world. he is a gardener and a hunter, and has a strong relationship with the natural world around him, as well as his dog, Jasper, his little airplane (The Beast) and Bangley, his neighbor in their isolated outpost. Bangley loves guns, and does a great job of protecting them from the occasional marauders looking for, well, anything they can get their hands on (food, weapons, etc.), and willing to kill (and die) to get it.

Hig is tortured by a call over an airport he heard a few years back, while out in his plane one day. Should he risk it all to try and find other survivors, when just seeing another human being now almost requires 'a shoot first and ask questions later' attitude? Hig does not embrace that attitude, although Bangley, an older man, insists it is the only way to survive. Hig needs more from this life. He sets out to find more after a revelatory week alone in the forest.

This was a heartrendingly beautiful story. The writing is wonderful, Heller's descriptions of nature and of the human condition are gorgeous and moving. Hig's existential ramblings and thoughts while by himself also reminded me of Antoine de Saint Exupery's The Little Prince and Night Flight. This book is the definition of breathtaking. My only complaint is that there are not another 300 pages...too short. I hope Heller writes more fiction. I adored this book.

Highly recommend for fans of books like The Road by Cormac McCarthy, The Age Of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker and Earth Abides by George R. Stewart.

5 stars

Friday, June 22, 2012

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

One of the unexpected delights in the life of a reader is coming across a book like this one, Beautiful Ruins. I didn't know what to expect, but I am often attracted to books with Italy as a setting, and the blurb sounded intriguing. I am so glad I took a chance with an author that I normally would not read.

I'm not going to even attempt to recap the whole book, or even all the characters, and their individual story lines and plots, but Pasquale is the beautiful thread that strings the whole book together. He is wonderful, and I adore him! 'And because he felt like he might burst open and because he lacked the dexterity in English to say all that he was thinking--how in his estimation the more you lived the more regret and longing you suffered, that life was a glorious catastrophe--Pasquale Tursi, only said, "Yes."' Beautiful! Oh, how I loved this book, and all the author had to share. Jess Walters touches upon so many different themes about the human condition.

Very emotional, but in a good way! Human. Reading it was a joy.

5 stars

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Summer 2012 Reading List

I have many books I'd really love to read this summer. I probably won't get to all of them, but I'm going to try. I thought I'd put together a tentative list of possible reads. Some are on my wishlist, and some I already own.

Currently Reading:
Fate of the Species: Why the Human Race May Cause Its Own Extinction and How We Can Stop It by Fred Guterl
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings by Alison Weir

Upcoming Reads:
Lots of Candle, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen
22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson
Gold by Chris Cleave
American Sphinx by Joseph J. Ellis
Gilt by Katherine Longshore
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Insurgent by Veronica Roth
Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, And Hope in a Mombai Undercity by Katherine Boo
A Rare Titanic Family by Julie Hedgepeth Williams
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Quiet by Susan Cain
The Sisters by Poppy Adams
Curiosity by Joan Adams
The Orphanmaster by Jean Zimmerman
The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey

This list is by no means complete, as I am sure I will come across plenty of books that I have to read immediately that I don't know about yet, and is completely subject to change and whims! I'm a little sad now that I'm realizing that I don't have any classics on this list, but that certainly doesn't mean I won't pick one up and read one, just because I feel like it. I usually try to read an Austen every summer, and have been considering re-reading Sense and Sensibility, since it has been along time. I've also had my eye on Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, so, that's a definite possibility too.

Shout Her Lovely Name by Natalie Serber

This review was based on an electronic advanced reader copy from NetGalley.

This book is written in a very different style than most structurally, but the content is such that I was immediately pulled in to reading the book in less than 24 hours. Each chapter stands on its own as kind of a short story about some mother and daughter, and their relationship. Now, the mother or the daughter may not even be one of the main players in that chapter, but the author has crafted these stories in such a way, that there is no mistaking what the stories are about. 

The first chapter opens with nameless characters, en media res. There is crisis in the family, concerning the daughter. The mother is feeling it most keenly, a whole array of emotions regarding her daughter are constantly assaulting here. I was captured by this first chapter, and I kept on reading. Despite a smattering of families that we don't know the names of, there are two recurring women that we get to know: Ruby and her child, Nora. By the end of this collection, you will know them, I assure you. They will be your mother, your sister, your cousin, your friends. Resist the urge to judge. Embrace them, and love them, because they are us.

Beautiful, creative writing. This isn't a novel, but you will want to push forward reading these interconnected stories.

4 stars

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

This review is based on an Advanced Reader Copy

This book was really hard to put down. With exceptionally good writing and a wonderfully imaginative and believable story line, Laura Moriarty has crafted a wonderful story that will stick with the reader.

Cora Carlisle seems to have a perfect life, with her handsome and successful husband, her handsome and smart twin boys, getting ready to go off to college and her lovely Kansas home. So why is she up for the job of taking the rebellious and beautiful Louise Brooks to New York City for her summer dance classes? Sure Louise Brooks is an intriguing character, the gorgeous flapper star of the 1920's silent film era. But the real mystery here is Cora, who is quiet, unassuming and well mannered. She feels a real need to visit NYC. And that is where the interesting story of this chaperone really begins.

Ms. Moriarty does a masterful job of telling this story. This is a great summer read, but more solid and well told than chick lit. I'll admit to never having an interest in this author's work before in the past, as they did look like chick lit to me...not quite serious enough to really interest me, but I took a chance on this one, and it was well worth it. This is great historical fiction also, a wonderful portrait of New York City in the 1920's as well as rural America (Kansas) at a time when Americans were experiencing extreme upheaval (the Great Depression after the Stock Market Crash of 1929).  I still don't know if I'd be interested in Ms. Moriarty's other books, but I'll be on the lookout for her next one, for certain.

4 stars

Friday, June 8, 2012

John Saturnall's Feast by Lawrence Norfolk (publication date September, 2012)

This was an electronic advanced reader copy from NetGalley.

I have never read anything by this author before, but asked for the ARC based on the book's description on NetGalley and I received it. It wasn't until I was more than half way through the book that I decided to look up Lawrence Norfolk and learn a little bit more about this writer, and was  impressed with his credentials, although I can hardly claim to have a strong interest in reading his other works, as they sound way above what I would be capable of reading and understanding! I was happy I was reading this on my Kindle, since I did use the built in dictionary quite a lot. Norfolk uses a lot of vocabulary you do not generally hear in today's world, most of it referring to more ancient times. This book is set in the 1600's in England, beginning right before the English Civil War. But another added feature of this novel is the ancient language used before each section to describe the "receipts" used for John Saturnall's Feast, essentially, a cookbook.

John Sandall is a lonely little boy who lives with his mother, Shunned by the villages children as a "witch's son," his mother is an herbalist/healer/midwife who is regarded as a w itch by the Puritanical order that has grown up in England after the Reformation and is trying to take over the worship in small villages.  The Puritans in the village are fanatical and frightening, and the preacher, Marpot, is a hateful and controlling man who incites the village to violence against John and his mother, even after they have finally been accepted there. John and his mother are forced to flee, while their home is destroyed. They escape the wilderness nearby, surviving on their wits, and his mother continues to educate John to her ways with a special cookbook of sorts that she has managed to save.

A very basic knowledge of the history of England is helpful when reading this book, and I often found myself looking up names and events to learn more about the period, people and places, but Norfolk purposely leaves much of the information provided in the story very vague, almost as if it really doesn't matter, and truthfully, the main characters are the most important ones to try and understand. John ends up at nearby Buckland Manor, as an orphan, but because of his uncanny culinary skills, he is allowed to stay on as a Kitchen Boy, instead of being sent to the poorhouse. There he meets Lady Lucretia, the motherless child of the manor, who often fasts in a passive rebellion against her father. He also meets a whole host of other interesting and important folks that contribute to life at the manor.

This book has quite a complicated plot, and the reader really needs to pay attention to names of places, to the many characters and to the thoughts of the John and Lucy. The writing is extraordinary and the story is quite moving. I loved the way the author manages to keep things happening without becoming stagnant, or stuck in the many plot details, the book has a very natural flow and feeling, and without that, it would be very easy to become mired down by this novel. The last book I read with a plot this complicated was David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, which I really enjoyed, and the style of writing is similar: many clues and hints are given to the reader from the very start of the novel, and it is usually with hindsight that the reader suddenly recognizes them. 

A delightful book, challenging yet fun reading, especially for those who enjoy history and esoteric stories with amazing people, both real and fictional.

4 stars

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Phillip Sendker (2012)

**Possible Spoiler Alert**

This was a book group read.

I really wanted to love this novel. But I couldn't. It started out well enough, with a most intriguing premise: Julia's father, Tin Win, has disappeared, leaving his family in NYC behind with no clue as to where he may have gone to. So Julia travels to Burma, where her father is from, to search for him.

But here the story verges from a path I could kind of relate to, to one I didn't enjoy for very long. Julia meets Ba in her father's home village who seems to know exactly why she is there, and what she needs to be told about her father.

A long story is told to her about her father's life and past love, of which Julia knows nothing. The sentiment that one can see with the heart and eyes are not needed (as Julia's father is become blind quite suddenly as a child) is just used over and over again, to the point where it lost all its special meaning for me (of course, Sendker is not the first person to ever use this cliche, but he uses it to infinity in this novel. I always think of Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince:  "But eyes are blind. You have to look with the heart.”)

I wanted to enjoy and appreciate this book, but I ended up not really liking Tin Win and Mi Mi very much. The were just too good to be true.  I kind of wish the author had stuck with more development of Julia's character, and less of the personal story of Tin Win's previous life that was unknown to her. Plus, so many things happened that were too pat and perfect for the story (the sudden onset of Tin Win's blindness, the discovery of Ba and Julia's relationship at the end of the novel, Julia's mother easy dismissal of Tin Win from their lives, etc.)


The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones, 2012

Sadie Jones' novel The Uninvited Guests is a wonderful combination of the charm and wry social commentary of EM Forster, the lively fun characters and setting of Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle and a dash of spookiness and sadness from a Henry James short story.

The Torrington family live in an old manor home named Sterne, but it is not their ancestral home. Horace Torrington passed away, leaving his wife Charlotte (now Mrs. Swift, as she has remarried), and children Clovis, Emerald and Imogen (or Smudge as she is called!) to fend for themselves. Their stepfather, Edward Swift is not well regarded by the children, and has decided to try and save the family home. However, it is Emerald's birthday and a party is planned regardless of his absence (which is fine with the children who do hold him in high regard anyhow). Guests have been invited, and some, well, some just show up.

Great prose, with lot of sparkle, wit and humor really move this story along. I loved the writing. "The children, too, feeling that they were at the end of a line,as children always do (for indeed, they are). loved Sterne as exhausted travellers with lifetimes of migration behind them might love their first and last home. Sterne was the mythology of their parents' marriage, their father's legacy, and it had given them the very best of childhoods. Beyond that, it was beautiful, and the effect of it on their souls was inestimable; once found, they all of them loath to give it up." I was entranced. There are many wonderful descriptions like this one.

The characters are great, believable in their foibles and imperfections: Charlotte Torrington Swift as the narcissistic and ethereal mother; Emerald as the idealistic, beautiful and smart young woman; Clovis, the man of the house in the absence of his one armed step father, arrogant and haughty, yet he so obviously adores the women in his life; Smudge, with her own plans and ideas of what's important in life (her pony!). Besides the family, there is an array of wonderful, if stereotyped characters who reside at Sterne, live near it, or arrive for the party, or in spite of it.

This book is a surprise, just like an uninvited guest at a birthday party. A very fun, summer read. I really loved being in its pages, feeling like I was at a party myself the whole time. Great fun.

5 stars

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Imperfect Bliss by Susan Fales-Hill

***SPOILER ALERT :  Please do not read this review if you are planning on reading this novel. There are SPOILERS***

This review is from an ARC for Kindle from NetGalley, courtesy of Simon and Schuster.

Meet Bliss Harcourt, of the Harcourt family of suburban Maryland. In her 30's and divorced, she's living at home again, working on her Masters, and taking care of her sweet, smart and very mildly handicapped daughter, Bella. Her mother, Forsythia, is the Jamaican version of Hyacinth Bucket (of the Brit com, Keeping Up Appearances), her father Harold, the long sufering Richard Bucket (A Bristish citizen). Their four beautiful daughters, Charlotte, Diana, Elizabeth (Bliss) and Victoria, are all currently single, and this panics their social climbing mother, who is obsessed, with, well, keeping up appearances.

Bliss is the main character in this novel, the story is told, mostly, through her critical eyes. We learn about her sisters' different personalities via her perspective as grown sister returning to the nest after an unhappy divorce from her hot Latino husband who is an aspiring politician in Miami. Diana has managed to snag a reality tv deal--she has been asked to be "The Virgin" on a twisted and even more bizarre version of The Bachelorette. Her mother is overjoyed, father is disgusted (as is Bliss, of course), teenaged sister Charolotte, an egotistical nymphomaniac, is excited to say the least, and soft spoken and "perfect" oldest sister Victoria is appalled and distant. Bliss just wants to protect her 4 year old child.

We are supposed to identify these characters, as well as Dario (executive producer of the "The Virgin") and Wyatt (host) with characters from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice: Dario is Darcy, Wyatt is Wickham, Forsythia and Harold Harcourt are Mr and Mrs. Bennet, Elizabeth/Bliss, well, naturally she is our heroine, Lizzie Bennet. But Elizabeth Bennet was not a worldly single mother, who often has sexy dreams of her professor and constantly describes her buttocks as "ample," a word that is used in that particular context repeatedly throughout this novel. 

The novel uses a pop culture reference on just about every page. Even Bliss's daughter's name, Bella, struck me as an unnecessary salute to Twilight. She seems to function as the court jester in the book, saying things the adults won't say aloud, and often exceeding the intelligence of the average 4 year old child. The book was funny at times, and at other times tragic. Instead of Lydia running away with Wickham, Wyatt manages to marry Diana (The Virgin who deosn't act like one), and Charlotte makes a sex tape with an "athletic" looking man--she is obsessed with athletes, and although a teenager, there are absolutely no repercussions for anyone when the sex tape arrives at their doorstep with a threat to reveal it to the whole world. The network squashes the tapes and poor Charlotte is disappointed, since she missed her chance to be the next Paris Hilton. (Yes, it actually says that in the book!) 

I had a few problems with some references. This author is obviously very well educated, and in addition to the many pop culture refernces, she also alludes to many historical and literary ones as well. But it really bothers me when someone who is this educated still displays a complete misunderstanding of what the Immaculate Conception is! In Chapter 19, when Bliss arrives at the hotel where The Virgin will be shooting in Germany, she is asked by the desk clerk is she "The Virgin": "The man asked puzzled as he looked from Bliss to Bella and back to Bliss again as if to say, Am I to deduce that this was an Immaculate Conception?" The Immaculate Conception does NOT refer to Jesus' conception. The Immaculate Conception refers to Mary's conception, Jesus' mother, without Original Sin, and has NOTHING to do with the act of intercourse. Shocking that a Harvard educated graduate does not understand this very simple concept!

Also, in Chapter 32, a producer from the television show screams "Why the fuck didn't anyone tell me Henry VIII was only four foot eleven?" I'm not sure if the author thinks this is funny, or of she really believes this also: Henry VIII was a very large man for his time at well over six foot tall. Another gaffe, purposeful or not, but irritating when one learns that Ms. Fales-Hill graduated with honors in literature and history from Harvard. Maybe she doesn't think people who will read this novel are knowledgeable about anything, so accuracy doesn't matter.

Some of the descriptions within the book are annoying and gratuitous. Chapter 23: "Bliss sat with her father, nursing a Viennese coffee and cringing as Forsythia, squeezed into a red cocktail dress and teetering on a pair of spangled pumps, belted out the third stanza of "Santa Baby," the Earth Kitt come-hither holiday classic." A description of the lyrics and her presentatin follows. Really? Editor please! Too MUCH info. I know Earth Kitt sings it (or Madonna) and I really don't care for this much detail about your coffee, her outfit, etc. This goes on to describe Forsythia "...draping herself over the piano and writhing on it like a Jurrasic version of Michelle Pfeiffer's torch singer in The Fabulous Baker Boys." Enough already! I'd like to be able to use my imagination once in a while! Other annoying lines, "Looking like a multicultural prince froma late-issue Disney Film" (from Chapter 26). "His horse responded to his every prompt like a pliant female" Ugh. (from Chapter 36). For a character who is so "progressive," I was shocked when she reassures her mother she is not a lesbian like her sister reveals she is: "No, Mum, you can relax. Of all my failings, that's not one." What?! Being a homosexual is a "failing"???

The book takes an even more disturbing turn towards the end when Forsythia Harcourt reveals at the end of the book to Bliss, after rejecting her gorgeous, but sadly (ha ha) lesbian daughter Victoria, that she wishes her daughters had pretended not to be related to her because she was "a nigger." She would have happily pretended to be the Nanny, in a reverse Imitation-of-Life declaration that Bliss suddenly finds very touching, even though her mother has been a complete narcissistic shrew. Blech. Real people are confused about life, for certain, but as this book progresses and Bliss becomes more and more muddled, instead of less so about her relationships, I felt more annoyed. 

The book has some very genuinely funny moments, and is mildly entertaining. A great beach read, although I felt that the author wanted this to be much more. She seems to be trying to be the new Zadie Smith, recrafting the social commentary novel of the late 1800's for a new generation, with an over abundance of pop culture references (that she also seems to feel need to be explained for her audience) but she really doesn't achieve this with so many gaffes and a few rather crude and unrefined moments in the novel.

2 stars 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mother's Day

Yesterday was Mother's Day here in the United States. Always a day of frenzied buying and gifting. I always tell my children and husband do NOT buy me flowers. I love flowers, but I'd prefer ones picked by them, if I must have flowers. My gift was some chocolate (which I happily shared) and time with them. Seeing my two beautiful and wildly talented daughters singing at church, that was my gift. Sitting next to my adorable and sweet 11 year old son, that was my gift. My darling children are my heart, and what I am most thankful for in life. The best gifts I have ever been given!

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

(Advanced Reader Copy)

My reading ears perked up the moment I read the synopsis for this new YA novel a month or two ago. It really appealed to me, and will appeal to others who love dystopian novels, in this case, especially those who love Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life as We Knew It trilogy. The plot is superficially similar, but the female protagonist in this novel is in middle school, 6th grade, that age of miracles.

Julia is a perceptive and reasonably well adjusted child at the start of the novel, with a best friend and two seemingly stable parents. When the completely unexpected news breaks that the earth's rotation has dramatically slowed, adding minutes (at first) to every day, all of their lives change instantly.

Julia is an honest narrator, dealing with her troubles and worries in a fairly direct way, although she hides much of her pain from her suddenly fragile mother. But she tells all to the reader, and as a woman who has much in common with Julia, I found myself really empathizing with this girl on the cusp of adolescence and, an unfortunate push into adulthood. Her father is having an affair with a neighbor, and Julia knows this but her mother does not. This increases Julia's anxiety over what will happen next in a world hardly anyone can understand anymore.

This novel is really well written, the prose is often poetic and beautiful, even when describing scenes that are unsettling and scary. Karen Thompson Walker is very talented, and this book really grabbed me and sucked me in from the very first moment. Julia's only child-ness and awkwardness was something I could completely relate to, and I am happily sharing this book with my 15 year old daughter, since I know she will love it too. Excellent reading, I could hardly put this one down! Definitely well deserved hype.

A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar: A Novel by Susan Joinstone

This was advanced reader copy I received via NetGalley.

I decided to read this book after seeing the cover, and liking the time period mentioned in the summary of the book. I had no idea, really, that I would enjoy it so much. Great storytelling, told in a unique way, with two threads of a story running parallel and occasioanally interweaving. This novel does not disappont.

 Naturally, being the curious reader I am, I immediately looked up Kashgar on the internet after reading the first chapter.  Kashgar (accoeding to the almighty Wikipedia), is a city located in China, but near the border, and close to Tajikistan.  It has always been a place of great civil unrest, and during the time setting of this novel (early 1900's), was a dangerous place. Muslims there worship in the largest Mosque in all of China. Obviously, not a place welcoming to Westerners.

Eva English is very much a Westerner. She and her sister, Elizabeth, are missionaries, being led through the hazardous Eastern deserts by Millicent, their leader in the Order of the Steadfast Pace, on horseback, with Eva on her bicycle, of course. Eva is not as true to the cause of being a missionary as her devoted sister actally seems to be, but Eva is taking advantage of the adventure to write a guide boks for woman riding on bike through the region, although her companions do not know this. A terrible event occurs, and when the women stop and try to help, they become captives of the governing forces of Kashgar, held after trying to aid a very young woman who gives birth to a child on the side of the road and dies, tragically. The women take the child and are brought to the city where they are "guests," held until a trial can be arranged. They are free to wander about the city at first, and Millicent reaches out to a priest, another missionary, but a very odd person indeed.

 Flash forward to the present day, London, England. We meet Frieda, a young woman, frustrated with her ongoing affair with a slightly older, married man, and tired from her diplomatic travles and globe trotting. Nathaniel has children and a business, and is selfish with her. Frieda has complicated relationships with her parents. In her first days home, two odd things happen: she meets an illegal immigrant from Yemen who takes refuge on her doorstep, and she finds she has been left the property of an older deceased lady who she does not know.

So, these two storylines continue this way. Eva's life is frightening and complicated. She is now taking care of a child, an infant, and this job is all consuming. Lizzie is somehow charmed by Millicent and her constant demands, and Eva discovers many secrets about her sister, whom she feels she must protect in this strange land. Millicent controls her. Eva eventually learns many secrets.

Frieda also discovers things about her life she had no idea about. The two stories weave in and out, intermingling in so many complex ways. I was amazed at the incredible storytelling in this novel. The timeliness of it was striking,

Without giving too much away, of course Eva and Frieda have a connection. Frieda learns a lot about herself in a short period of time, while Eva's journey is longer and more convoluted, but still rewarding.

I can't recommend this wonderful novel enoough. I was really struck by the genius of the stroies and their interlocking parts, fitting together as the novel prgressed like a Chinese box. Mysterious and beautiful, this is a well crafted and well written novel.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

First Post

I've always thought about starting a blog, and now I'm doing it. Mainly as a place to post my book reviews, although I already post them on Shelfari, Amazon and Goodreads! But this will also be a good place to talk about things that are important to me as well. So, here's to getting started!