Archive | May, 2014

Into that Heart of Darkness

30 May

The streak continues! Another book I stumbled upon ended with a 5 star rating, this is a lucky year. I was having a REALLY SLOW day at work, and on my lunch break decided to crack into a book. All I had with me was my phone, and the e-books on it that I’d downloaded from Net Galley. E-reading is not my favorite, but the day was so slow….

EuphoriaWhat a perfect, perfect read! I’ve never finished a Lily King novel before. Her last one, Father of Rain, got great reviews and was loved by a couple of my book store friends – it just never hit with me. Which happens. Thankfully for Lily and for me, Euphoria was the only e-book on my phone that didn’t involve vampires. I literally read and read until it was done – and now I wish it had been longer. Early reviews liken it to Poisonwood Bible or Bel Canto, which are apt. Loosely based on the life of Margaret Mead, Euphoria is the brilliant story of Nell and Fen, husband and wife anthropologists, who venture into the depths of Papua New Guinea to discover unknown tribes circa 1932. Somewhere along the way, they link up with fellow anthropologist Andrew Bankson – a lonely Brit who has been studying a particular tribe for many years. There is a love triangle (of course! but so good!) and a lot of interaction with the cultures of the tribes (excellent!). I loved Nell, so much, for asking questions of the natives that I would’ve liked to have asked. I hated Fen, so much, for all of the things he neglected to ask. And Andrew Bankson? a brilliant narrator I really found myself pulling for. I liked Euphoria incredibly better than State of Wonder (Ann Patchett’s last jungle-based novel), and think it will be a great summer hit when it arrives 6/3/2014. Five stars!

Secrets in the Suitcase

26 May

I think this year may be the best book year in such a long time! So many of my favorites have new things out or on their way, including Beatriz Williams (author of my fav A Hundred Summers). Getting my hands on an early copy, I knew that whether it was good or not at least it would be fast. And it was! Fast! and good! Not as good at A Hundred Summers, but that’s ok. Set to come out tomorrow, May 27th.

violetLike many a historical/beach novel, this tale is set in two time periods. The first – New York 1964 – a dazzlingly brazen young socialite Vivian Schuyler has shocked her family and taken a Mad Men like position at a well-known magazine (her role there is not really a big part of the story, so don’t be thinking Mad Men-like drama). In the very first chapter, she is notified of a package waiting for her at the post office, which closes in about 20 minutes. She races there, meets Doctor Paul while impatiently waiting in line, and picks up a large package from anonymous sources. Of course Dr. Paul becomes the central love interest (with some predictable twists), and the contents of the package send her on the journey of her career. Inside the box, a suitcase belonging to her great-aunt Violet – unopened and unclaimed since 1914. Vivian quickly learns that no one has seen or heard from Violet since that same year, when she was thought to have murdered her husband and disappeared with her lover into a country on the verge of war.

Second narrator, Violet herself in 1914. Having left her family behind in the United States, Violet travels to London to pursue her dreams of a place at a premiere science lab (I don’t think I can explain the chemistry/lab work she does, but it runs her into Einstein and a couple of other scientists I recognized). She ends up married to her professor (not without drama) and working at an institute with him in Berlin.

I gave this 4 stars. I think it’ll be the perfect beachy paperback, but if you’re going to the beach and decide to buy a hardcover, get A Hundred Summers instead.

The Russian, the stripper and the forgetful old lady

21 May

I have two that I’ve been meaning to post about – and both of them I (mostly) liked. First, Troika by Adam Pelzman. Ayelet Waldman (author and wife of Michael Chabon) has been praising this one up and down and all over – saying that she “F-ing loved it.” I haven’t seen her blurb too many things, and I like her, so I added it to my list.


I think “Troika” is Russian for ‘threesome’ and that’s basically what this novel is all about. We start off in the first person with Perla – a lovely Cuban-AmericanĀ  stripper who lives with her mother in Miami. She’s pretty blunt. But likeable. One night at work she meets Julian – a mysterious Russian who is extremely kind to her (not like some of her other “customers.” Chapters alternate between Perla in the first person and a third person history of Julian (pretty good!) and then we get introduced to the third person – Julian’s wife. I liked this a lot even though it’s a little gritty and morally frustrating. 4 stars.

Elizabeth is missing

Elizabeth is Missing has been getting some great reviews as a perfect summer thriller. In all honesty, it annoyed me a little bit and challenged my patience. Here’s why. Our main character, the lovely Maud, is old. And Alzheimer-y. And the novel is in her voice, first person. So it is INCREDIBLY repetitive. BUT – there is a good mystery buried amongst all of her forgetfulness. Maud is convinced that her best friend, Elizabeth, has gone missing. She finds herself peeking through Elizabeth’s windows, sneaking around her garden. Elizabeth’s son is just the sort of shady character who might have actually done something to his mother. So that’s mystery #1. The second one, which I liked WAY better (mostly because it was easier to follow and didn’t include the same information over and over and over again) has to do with Maud’s sister Sukey’s disappearance over 50 years ago. THIS is the real mystery and it was good. 3.5 stars (with a warning to skip if you are short on patience).

The Vigilante Artist

4 May

I loved The Dog Stars. I loved it enough to be thrilled to see that Peter Heller’s sophomore effort was coming in May. Legitimately swooned to see it in a box from my favorite RH sales rep.

painterSometimes I get myself all worked up about a novel, and then the novel is either bad or just not a total Wow and the disappointment is sharp. THANK GOODNESS Peter Heller did not let me down. I completely ravaged this novel, loved every minute of it and now consider myself a Heller groupie. The story is about this guy Jim. Kind of a normal guy, a rough-around-the-edges guy who lives in Taos with strong roots in Santa Fe. He also happens to be a fairly successful artist – successful enough that he can make a living by it. That would be layer one. Layer two involves a lot of darkness; three years of sobriety following a stint in jail, the death of a teenage daughter, uncontrollable anger. Even with some of the dark parts, Jim is someone I loved right away from the very first. I almost even loved him more when he got into a fight with a large, chaw-chewing hunter named Dell who was beating a small horse. I didn’t even really mind when, a few nights later, Jim killed the guy.

What follows is the best story, the story of dealing with grief and trying to come to terms with what kind of a man you are (he always thought he was a good man, but he’s done some bad things), but also the story of how all of these issues manifest in his painting. I really hope the finished copy has images in it – the advance I had didn’t and I so want to see. In trying to think of what this reminded me of, I can’t help but think early Cormac McCarthy (ala All the Pretty Horses). Five great big stars.

One Cold Night in Russia

2 May

I love reading Russian. Not inĀ  Russian, of course, but by or about Russians. That is the reason why I gave Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Sashenka a chance a few years ago – and I loved it. The author normally writes non-fiction and is thought to be one of the great Stalin biographers, so his foray into fiction was not really expected to do much and pretty much went overlooked. But it was SO good. Set in 1916 Moscow, the story of a young woman (Sashenka) in three parts – her teenage years (engaging in revolutionary behavior), her adult years (when the revolution had occurred and she’d married one of the powerful politicos), and then her disappearance.

Sashenka2That was a few years ago. When I was lazily exploring Goodreads the other day, I came upon a list of upcoming 2014 releases, and was SO THRILLED to see a new one from ole Sebag. I tried all my usual sources, but an advance could not be obtained. So, like the true book nerd I am, I ordered a copy from the UK. And drank it all down the minute it arrived at my door (but it’ll be hitting shelves shortly after this blog post posts, so you won’t have to wait long).

one night in winterAt first, I thought it was shaping up to be the Russian equivalent of The Secret History – in the first chapter, two children are found shot dead in the middle of a busy street/bridge (can’t remember). It is soon discovered that they are both members of a secret society dedicated to the works of Pushkin (borderline anti-Bolshevik). The two dead students go to an elite school, with children of all the bigwig politicians. Almost immediately, all of the students in this secret club are arrested (and held in prison for a very long time), forced to turn against one another and their powerful parents (at this point it felt extremely more serious that Secret History). I have never worried so much for a set of characters. I think knowing that this was based on a true story and that many of the players existed in real life made the reading of it all the more nerve-racking. Thank goodness I wasn’t a teen in 1945 Russia! Five stars!