Archive | April, 2014

Cities Made of Wood

30 Apr

What a phenomenal run of books I’ve been on lately! Two 5 star books in a row, a total of 6 so far this year and it’s early! I’m scheduling a few of these reviews to post close to the on-sale dates of the books (this one is 5/6/14), so maybe it won’t seem like I’ve gone mushy and started loving everything.

all the lightOH MY GOSH. I finished this book a few moments ago (reading it in an early e-book format – not my fav) and all I can say is “Wow.” In fact, I almost titled this post “Wow.” And really – WOW. Remember Julie Orringer’s Invisible Bridge? I loved that one – this is similar in scope/feel, but so different and really, really great. It’s a WWII drama – if there is one BIG WWII drama every year, then this must be it for 2014. It can be broken down into two stories: Marie-Laure, a young Parisian girl who goes blind at the age of six, and Werner, an orphan boy growing up in Germany with his sister. Marie-Laure’s father is in charge of all the keys and their respective locks at a large natural history museum in the heart of Paris, and Marie-Laure grows up exploring things with her fingers (cool things, like violet sea snails and old precious gems and other objects of nature). Her father builds her a to-scale replica of their entire neighborhood so that Marie-L can learn it with her fingers and then find her way around in real life. Werner grows up in a children’s home in Germany, accidentally falling into a love of radios. He teaches himself to build them/fix them/love them, a skill that will come in handy once the war approaches.

Basically we follow these two amazing characters as the war (any many minor devastations) come upon them. There is another subplot regarding a 133 carat diamond that Marie-L’s father is charged with protecting that adds a really tense/on-the-edge-of-your-seat quality to the story. Of course the two characters intersect in a few ways (NOT a love story though), and just really WOW. Five stars!

A Couple of Middle-Grounders

29 Apr

We are having such perfect reading weather lately. Here are the two that came up in my stack this weekend:

untoldThis was a fair read. I didn’t completely adore it, but I flew through it pretty fast. I would say it’s a cross between Tenderness of Wolves and maybe, more recently, The Kept. The weird part, for me, was the narration. In the first chapter, our main character Jessie kills and buries her very premature baby. That baby goes on to narrate the rest of the story. Weird, right? It sort of works, but I couldn’t get over my initial heebie-jeebies. So, the story is set at the turn of the century about this woman Jessie who steals horses. She has also just killed her terrible, abusive husband and is on the run from the law. There were some (maybe just one) great twists. Perfect novel for a rainy day. 3.5 stars.

Lemon GroveOn the totally opposite side of the content spectrum is Helen Walsh’s The Lemon Grove. If you read The Untold on a rainy day, save this one for a hot summer one by the pool. Again, didn’t completely LOVE it, but read it pretty darn fast. Scandalous and short, it’s the story of a family’s vacation to Majorca. Not so typical in that the step-mom and the daughter’s boyfriend find themselves romantically involved. It is nowhere near as graphic as Tampa (similar in the sense that it’s an older woman/younger man-boy) but still pretty tawdry. 3 stars

Dancing in the Dark

25 Apr

I know it’s been a fair bit since my last post – I’ve been getting lots of stuff done, but not really a lot of reading. But the tides are turning and I’m back to tackling my big stack of To-Be-Reads.

astonish me

This was at the top of my stack. It came out last week and has been getting some interesting buzz. I started her first novel, Seating Arrangements, but didn’t get too far for some completely trivial reason or another. Astonish Me was a different story – I started on my lunch break and stayed up late to finish. I really enjoyed it. It’s set in the world of ballet – but it’s not really about ballet. I know that sounds funny, but I’d compare it to that movie that came out a while ago (that I LOVED) called Billy Elliot – where the young boy loves to dance and ends up doing ballet. It’s not so much about the ballet part as it is about the young boy struggling to find what he loves in a weird Irish world with funny family members. So it’s like that.

Astonish Me is about a young woman named Joan – an average dancer, forever in the corps and not in center stage. Perhaps the only un-average thing about her is her involvement in helping the world-renowned dancer Arslan escape Russia and defect to the US.  When she finds herself pregnant by her longtime friend Jacob, she leaves the world of dance and settles into a benign marriage. But of course things unfold from there. I really liked all of the characters, loved the story and was even surprised at the twist towards the end(which shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise). 4 stars.

The Weird and the Eerie

8 Apr

I have just a couple of things to weigh in on today – one e-book only novella and a novel that comes out May 1. I also read a REALLY LONG book called We Are Not Ourselves that doesn’t come out until September, so I’m withholding my thoughts on that one until later this summer.

sleepdonationRemember Karen Russell? She made huge waves with her last novel, Swamplandia. A lot of people really loved her weird novel, a lot of people didn’t. I loved the first bits of it (all the way up until that thing happens to the young girl in the swamp). I’d put her in that “really bizarre but really good/interesting” column right along with Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love from the last post. This novella, Sleep Donation, is only available online. I’ve only purchased one or two others like this (Amor Towles had one, Madeline Miller too) and am not 100% comfortable with this e-only format. But. I enjoyed this! Another bizarre yet captivating story – set in near future when the world has suffered from an insomnia plague. People are DYING from insomnia, unable to sleep even for the few hours that would save them. One of the first cases of this killer sleeplessness was the sister of our narrator, Trish Edgewater. Now, Trish is an invaluable member of the Slumber Corps – a group of people trying to convince others to donate hours of their sleep in order to help those suffering from insomnia. Sounds weird, but Russell makes it work. I think I gave it 3 stars.

Hundred Year HOuseDoes this cover make you think of children’s books? or cutesy lit? What a misrepresentation! I really loved, loved 2/3 of this novel. If I had to make comparisons, I’d say it’s a little bit like a less verbose, Canadian version of Kate Morton with a touch of Rebecca and a little Sarah Waters. I could also say that it’s like Russian Nesting dolls, where you work from the present, outer shell in to the very heart of things. We start in 1999, a huge mansion in Canada that served for many years as an artist’s retreat but has, at some point, been returned to the family as a private residence. Zee has moved home with her husband Doug and taken up residence in the coach house, just off of the main building. The house itself is maybe the main character – there are all sorts of family secrets, perhaps even ghosts, hiding in its walls. I loved this set of characters. Next, we work backwards in time to see Grace, Zee’s mother, as a newlywed in the home. This section was also awesome. Then we go back even further to the crazy set of artists who lived and loved in the house during the years of the artists retreat (this section was my least favorite, but answered some questions). I really liked it and am still puzzling out in my head some of the revelations. 4 stars.

We are not ourselvesThis is the one that comes in September. I’m just throwing the cover out there because I think it’ll get major publicity and this way you’ll be expecting it when it comes. Overall, really good. But it’s 620 pages long (which will scare some people away).