Book Preview – How to Behave in a Crowd by Camille Bordas

Sometimes the impression you get from a book’s description is the right one and sometimes it’s the wrong one. Sometimes when that impression is wrong, you find you enjoy the book just the same and sometimes you don’t—or at least, you don’t enjoy it as much as you might have if it was closer to what you were expecting. The soon-to-be-released How to Behave in a Crowd by Camille Bordas wasn’t as close to the description as I might’ve hoped. There were elements and themes I definitely found relatable, but I can’t really say that I enjoyed the novel as a whole; of course, I can’t say that I hated it either. I just found myself incredibly indifferent over all.

Isidore Mazal is the youngest in his family. With three older sisters and two older brothers, all incredibly intelligent and blindly dedicated to their studies and academic pursuits, Isidore is the only one of his siblings who seems to be able to connect with people outside the family with relative ease. His siblings often baffle him as much as he appears to baffle them. As major changes alter the dynamics of the family, Isidore searches for ways to connect with the members of his family. Continue reading

Advertisements

Book Preview – The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon

While I don’t quite remember what it was about the description of Siobhan Fallon’s upcoming The Confusion of Languages that caught my attention, I do know that my initial impressions while reading it were that this wasn’t the story I’d been expecting. In the case of The Confusion of Languages, I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all (especially since I can’t remember what it was I was expecting). On the contrary, I found the novel to be a fascinating character study of two American women living abroad and the unusual nature of their friendship.

Cassie is an experienced embassy wife. She and her husband, Dan, have been living in Jordan, the site of his latest posting, for a while and decide it’s about time they sponsor a few newcomers to the extended embassy family. Margaret and Cassie’s friendship appears to be on solid ground when a small fender-bender requires Margaret go to the police station to deal with the authorities. Cassie is left to babysit Margaret’s toddler son, Mather but as the day wears on, Cassie can’t get in touch with Margaret and the recent cracks in their friendship begin to come to light as Cassie passes the time reading Margaret’s diary and recalling her own impression of those early days. Continue reading

Book Preview – A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi

a crown of wishes - book coverLast year The Star-Touched Queen was one of my favorite books of the year and this year Roshani Chokshi’s follow up novel, A Crown of Wishes promises to be an even bigger favorite of mine. Capturing all the lyrical and mythical elements of the last novel, A Crown of Wishes expands upon her already established world but also thematically addresses the power of something very near and dear to my heart: stories.

The coup planned by Maya’s younger sister Gauri has failed and she has landed in the custody of the kingdom of Ujijain whose relationship with Bharata is tenuous and possibly dependent on whether or not they kill her––which is what her brother dearly wants. Vikram, the prince of Ujijain, cannot convince his adoptive father’s council to take him seriously or grant him more than just superficial power over the nation as his father plans to retire. He is tasked with informing Gauri of her approaching execution but a messenger of sorts reaches him first with an invitation to the Tournament of Wishes held by the King of Riches in Alaka, one of the kingdoms of the Otherworld. The invitation is for him and a partner matching Gauri’s description. Rather than announce her death, he gives her the choice to join him in the tournament or not. And so their story begins. Continue reading

Book Preview – The Forgotten Girls by Owen Laukkanen

forgotten girls - book coverThis is the second time I’ve inadvertently read a book from the middle of an ongoing series rather than started from the beginning. Incidentally, both series happen to be in the crime/thriller genre and—due in part to the nature of the genre—both worked well enough as standalone novels (the first more so than this one). The Forgotten Girls by Owen Laukkanen will be the sixth book in his Stevens & Windermere series when it is released on March 14.

If you’ve ever seen a crime procedural on television, you’re probably familiar with the facts: that many victims of violent crime are women, that women of color are disproportionately victims of violent crime, and that transients, drug addicts, and sex workers are likely to wind up as victims of violent crime. These are the very demographics that make up the target victims of a dangerous serial killer train hopping around the northern Midwest. It’s a case that falls into Stevens and Windermere’s laps and quickly proves larger and—thanks to the winter weather—tricky hunt for the killer. Continue reading

Book Preview – The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers

second mrs hockadayAlways game for a novel set during and around the events of the American Civil War, I didn’t have to read too far into the description of Susan Rivers’ soon-to-be-released The Second Mrs. Hockaday before I knew I wanted to read it. I didn’t think much of the fact that the novel promised to tell the story in question through letters, journal entries, and inquest papers—it actually would have made it more appealing because telling a story through such limited means can lead to particularly creative story-telling. In the case of The Second Mrs. Hockaday however, I think these narrative conventions fail to live up to that potential and ultimately rob the story of some of its natural tension.

Placidia Fincher Hockaday met her husband the day of her step-sister’s wedding and married him the next day when she was but seventeen years old. A widower with an infant son, Major Gryffth Hockaday and his new bride didn’t have much time to themselves before he was called back to the Confederate front lines by his commanders. For the remaining two years the war lasted, they were separated with Placidia running his farm, raising his son, and commanding his slaves. When he returned at the end of the war, he discovered that there were scandalous rumors about just what his wife had been up to in his absence—and with whom. Decades later, the Hockaday children—having buried their parents—begin to uncover their mother’s secrets from those two years, what drove a wedge between their parents, and what brought the couple back together again in the end. Continue reading

Book Preview – The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

bear and the nightingaleI am incredibly happy to be starting a new year of reviews with this book because it was a fantastic book to be reading as this last year came to an end. After finishing it I went back and reread the initial description that inspired me to put it on my preview request list—having forgotten everything about that description in the months between submitting my request and reading the book. I had to laugh because usually, those descriptions feel strategically written with an eye towards marketing—which, of course, they are—but in this case I found completely accurate. Katherine Arden’s upcoming The Bear and the Nightingale reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and is also “recommended” for fans of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus (which I just got a personal copy of for Christmas so I can read and enjoy it all over again).

It is some years after Pyotr Vladimirovich’s beloved wife Marina died following the birth of their youngest daughter, Vasilisa (called Vasya), but he finally admits that the time has come for him to remarry—mostly so there is another woman around to help with Vasya who appears to take her nurse’s fairy tales a little too literally. Journeying with his two oldest sons to Moscow, Pyotr returns with a devout new wife and a gift for Vasya from an odd stranger. Vasya can do nothing right in the eyes of her new stepmother but it isn’t until a new priest arrives in the village (determined to bring the fear of God to the northern people and save their souls) that more devastating effects threaten the village as the people begin neglecting the protective household spirits of old.

Continue reading

Book Preview – The Memory Stones by Caroline Brothers

memory stones - book coverThe premise of Caroline Brothers’ The Memory Stones caught my attention a while ago but it has taken me a while to get through the novel—due out tomorrow, October 25, 2016. A combination of lack of time (on my part) and a lack of compelling pacing (on the novel’s part) made this book a slog when it really shouldn’t have been. The story being told should be incredibly compelling and at times it is, but its presentation and organization left something to be desired.

Osvaldo and his family living in Buenos Aires in the late 1970’s find themselves at the mercy of an increasingly ominous and powerful junta regime. When Osvaldo takes a chance and criticizes the military commanders in power, he must flee the country for his own safety, leaving behind his wife. He soon gets word that their youngest daughter and her fiancé have disappeared but whether they’ve gone into hiding or have actually been abducted by the regime is unclear at first. A rumor that his daughter was pregnant when she was taken sets Osvaldo and his wife, Yolanda, on the path to locating not just their daughter but their grandchild as well. The fall of the junta doesn’t necessarily mean they will find the answers they seek but perseverance and time might bring this family back together in the end.

Set in a place and period of history that I am not familiar with but want to learn more about, some of the tension in the early chapters of the book is fantastic. Through Osvaldo’s perspective as a member of the older generation, it becomes clear how unexpected the regime’s takeover was, how it crept up on them so that it was well under way before anyone thought to take significant action against them—so that, by the time anyone tried, it was already too late. The scenes between Osvaldo and his oldest daughter who was living with her husband in America as the situation in Argentina shifted, is some of the most emotional, compelling, and significant of the novel. Similarly, Yolanda’s persistence in searching for her daughter and grandchild while separated physically from her husband drives a lot of the story’s beginning.

It is in the middle that the story loses its way a bit. Following the chronological timeline so strictly proved to be a hindrance. It meant a lot of time jumps were necessary to introduce new characters and give exposition on what was happening in Argentina as the junta eventually fell and those who had been dispossessed and adversely affected by the junta regime fought to have their rights restored, the crimes against them acknowledged, and reparations in some form secured. Osvaldo’s emotional arc feels static through this long stretch as he does little more than continue searching for his daughter and grandchild. It takes a while to feel a significant connection to new characters like Ana though the focus on her in the final chapters does bring some of the story back into focus. It all ends, however, just before the part of the story I think would prove most compelling. I understand why that narrative choice was made, I just felt strung along and cheated out of it by the novel’s conclusion.

I think playing with the presentation of events and the timeline in the later half of the novel would have improved its flow. Jumping forward in time here and there and giving the events of the intervening years as flash backs would have kept it moving at a more consistent pace.

 

*This preview is a bit overdue (adjusting to a new work schedule during a time of year that’s already ridiculously busy for personal reasons has put me even further behind than I was anticipating). I may not be posting with as much frequency as I used to do but I won’t let my blog fall silent the way it did when I was in graduate school (I refuse to be that busy again).

Book Preview – The Upright Heart by Julia Ain-Krupa

upright heart - book coverIn the case of Julia Ain-Krupa’s upcoming The Upright Heart, I find myself once again in the situation where what I was expecting based on the description provided and what I actually got were two very different things. Yet, when I went back to the description it actually is very close to the story being told in the novel—it just didn’t prepare me at all for the way that story was going to be presented. Luckily, in this case the surprising difference between expectation and reality worked in the novel’s favor, and I can’t honestly think of a much better way that the book’s description could prepare the reader for the way the narrative unfolds.

In the years following World War II, the people of Poland—both living and dead—struggle to make peace with all that transpired. Wolf married and moved to America before the war while the rest of his family were killed in the war; he returns to his hometown to see what is left and to say the prayers for the dead in the hope he and they may rest easier. On another plane, his first love Olga—a Catholic who helped hide his family as long as she could—clings to him when he reappears; she is unable to move on but isn’t sure why. A young woman, Anna, sees and feels the spirits of the dead around her, uncertain whether the people she sees are among the living or the dead; she is also haunted by memories of her former coworker, a woman who concealed her Jewish identity when they both worked as maids in the household of the governor general’s subordinate. Wiktor and his family survived the war but an on-the-job accident shortly after its end leaves Wiktor’s family mourning his loss while his spirit seeks to assist the spirits of others who have been having trouble moving on. Continue reading

Book Preview – Since She Went Away by David Bell

book cover - since she went awayI’m kind of in the middle of a murder mystery kick, so when I read the description for David Bell’s upcoming Since She Went Away it seemed logical to add it to my list. While there are certainly plenty of mysteries within the novel, I didn’t find the path to the answers—or the mother and son whose perspectives form the main narrative—as engaging as I had hoped.

Jenna blames herself for her best friend’s disappearance several months earlier—it was Jenna who called Celia and suggested the two of them get together in the middle of the night and try to recapture some of the glory of their high school days and it was Jenna who ran late when they were supposed to meet in the park. She finds herself in a static and frustratingly helpless position, as every call could be terrific news or terrible news or worst of all—no news. But as winter moves towards spring and her son finds first love with a vaguely familiar new girl at his school, the seemingly cold case begins to thaw as new leads pop up.

Continue reading

Book Preview – The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

star touched queen - book coverThe description for Roshani Chokshi’s The Star-Touched Queen immediately drew me in from its promise of examining ideas related to fate to its origins in Indian mythology—an ancient mythology I am pretty much entirely unfamiliar with having had an education that focused primarily on the ancient mythologies of Western cultures. Because of this, I cannot attest to how heavily it draws from or relies on those deities and myths, but I can say that knowing next to nothing did not deter my enjoyment and appreciation for the story being told.

Born to the Raja of Bharata, Mayavati (Maya) is largely ostracized by the women in her father’s harem—his wives and her half-sisters—because of her horoscope and the fact that unfortunate things seem to befall those around her. At seventeen, Maya has long been spying on her father’s court and the diplomacy that takes place there. But war has raged for many years and it seems that peace can only be bartered through Maya’s marriage to a man from one of the other kingdoms—except there appears to be no choice that will not be viewed as a slight to one or more of the other kingdoms. When Maya is left to make her choice, an unexpected option presents itself in the form of Amar, the Raja of Akaran—a kingdom Maya does not recognize. Akaran proves to be a realm between worlds and Amar is not allowed to divulge its secrets to Maya until the next moon cycle. This proves long enough for doubt and suspicion to burrow into Maya and Amar’s relationship and wreaking havoc across many worlds and realms in the process. Continue reading

Book Preview – I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

i let you go - book coverClare Mackintosh’s debut novel, I Let You Go, is being released in North America in a few weeks. While I hadn’t heard about the book prior to reading the description, I’m not surprised that it’s been a hit in the UK pretty much since it’s 2014 release there—I am a bit surprised it hasn’t been released in the US sooner. Though it can be read as a thriller, there are much deeper themes speaking to privilege, emotional and physical abuse, and atonement and forgiveness.

Tragedy strikes in the novel’s prologue as five-year-old Jacob is struck by a speeding car as he’s crossing the street in front of his house, his mother only a few steps behind him. The driver rushes away with only the boy’s traumatized mother as a witness. The narrative then follows the Detective Inspector in charge of the investigation as well as Jenna Gray who is running away from her life and finds a small, seaside Welsh village where she can disappear and start over. The police’s leads quickly dry up and other cases get moved to the top of the pile; it looks like Jacob might fall through the cracks when an anniversary appeal to the public gives them the break they’re looking for and the police arrive on Jenna’s doorstep to arrest her for the hit and run. Moving into the novel’s second half, Jenna’s past is explored and questions begin getting answers—but the answers aren’t easy to stomach. Continue reading

Book Preview – A Man of Genius by Lynn Rosen

man of genius - book coverI’ve always loved a good murder mystery so when I stumbled upon the description for Lynn Rosen’s upcoming A Man of Genius, the combination of promised mystery with the exploration of genius and morality proved tempting. What the description didn’t mention was the unusual narrative framing that provides additional fodder for consideration and analysis.

After the death of renowned architect, Samuel Grafton-Hall, his lawyers struggle to execute an unexpected codicil related to his will, the details of which must be read aloud to his widow, Elizabeth, and she must comply with them if she wishes to keep possession of Upuna Rose and the architectural forum of students and employees who live and work on its premises. Getting Elizabeth to cooperate proves more difficult than one would expect. The codicil pertains to another of Grafton-Hall’s properties, Hesperus’s Walk, where decades before his first wife, Catherine, had perished in an unfortunate fire along with two servant girls. As the novel unfolds, the circumstances of Grafton-Hall’s professional and personal life in the years leading up to that fateful fire are presented—through the biased lens of one of the architect’s longtime lawyers—and the tenuous truth of what happened at Hesperus’s Walk is revealed.

Continue reading

Book Preview – Tasa’s Song by Linda Kass

tasa's song - book coverAfter reading The Girl from the Train by Irma Joubert, I came across the description for Linda Kass’ upcoming novel, Tasa’s Song and found it intriguing enough to request to preview the book. Like The Girl from the Train, Tasa’s Song takes place in eastern Poland during World War II and involves the impact of the Soviets and communism on the Polish people as the war progresses. Where The Girl from the Train looked at adopted families, Tasa’s Song looks more at the close ties that can develop between members of an extended family; where The Girl from the Train looked at words and language and their connection to one’s spirit and identity, Tasa’s Song looks at those same things through music.

Tasa—short for Anastasia—is from a wealthy and prominent Polish Jewish family in a rural area of Poland. She and her cousin, Danik—with whom she grew up and continues to develop a specifically close relationship to—board in a larger city to attend a private school. Tasa began learning violin from her grandfather and the instrument and music become a key part of how she interacts with the world around her. Moments—particularly of high emotion—become associated with certain pieces of music or movements within larger pieces. Playing those pieces proves to be an integral part of coping with the increasing uncertainties and terrors surrounding her as she, her family, and her friends become stranded between the advancing Nazi forces and the Soviets who took over eastern Poland at the outset of the war.

Continue reading

Book Preview – Chasing the North Star by Robert Morgan

chasing the north star - book coverRobert Morgan’s upcoming novel, Chasing the North Star is one that I came across during a stretch when my interest in the American Civil War was strong—it never does go away entirely but there are times when that interest is more prominent and I indulge it, and this was one of those times. Not set during the Civil War itself, Chasing the North Star is a novel about two runaway slaves as they make their journeys north to freedom. The way this novel unfolds is actually rather unique among novels in this subgenre.

As a house slave whose tasks centered around serving his master’s children—including during their lessons—Jonah Williams learned how to read and write. These skills, along with his ability to stop and think his way through situations in a clear and organized manner, prove invaluable when Jonah impulsively runs away from the plantation one night. His journey north to freedom is full of surprises and threats but no surprise is as complete as the young slave woman, Angel, whom he first meets incidentally in the woods. She immediately recognizes Jonah as a runaway and decides that she will run away too, following Jonah who clearly has a plan. Since two slaves are always more conspicuous than one, Jonah makes it his mission to abandon Angel when he gets the chance—but she somehow manages to find him again and again and again. Continue reading

Book Preview – Find Her by Lisa Gardner

9780525954576_p0_v2_s192x300I don’t usually begin series in the middle—I’m a firm believer in starting at the beginning. But I was really intrigued by the description for Lisa Gardner’s upcoming Find Her and requested to preview it before I realized it was going to be the eighth book in her Detective D.D. Warren series. It caused me to pause as I started reading—this far into a series there are usually well established arcs carrying over from the previous books and it can leave new readers feeling like they’re missing something. I was relieved to discover this wasn’t the case for Find Her and enjoyed the book enough to go and add the earlier books to my library wish list for later reading.

Detective D.D. Warren is on restricted duty as she returns to work following an injury but despite the physical therapy she still has to complete, she won’t let her restricted status keep her tied down to a desk. She shows up at what is supposed to be a murder scene where the perpetrator is in custody only to discover that the victim may actually have been a sexual predator who’d abducted her perpetrator. Flora Dane, the young woman who killed her attacker, is more than she appears having survived four hundred seventy-two days of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse five years earlier at the hands of a different predator. Evidence suggests the man she killed may have been involved in the disappearances of two or three other women in the last year but he can’t answer D.D.’s questions being dead and she blames Flora Dane. When D.D. goes to speak with Flora Dane again the next day, she finds the young woman’s apartment empty, Flora gone and the number of missing women goes up by one more.

Continue reading

Book Preview – A Drop in the Ocean by Jenni Ogden

drop in the ocean - book coverEvery once in a while it’s nice to read an easy book—a book where you go in familiar with the tropes, the character types, the checklist of plot points the author will hit along the way so you don’t have to think too hard, you just get effortlessly carried along into the story. These are the beach reads, the books you read on planes and trains while traveling long distances, the ones you read when you’re home sick and bored with daytime television. Jenni Ogden’s upcoming A Drop in the Ocean is one of those feel-good, easy reads.

On Anna Fergusson’s forty-ninth birthday she discovers that the grant she’s been using to pay for her Huntington’s disease research lab has been discontinued. Forced to dismantle her lab and wish her research assistants luck, Anna has some time to consider what she wants to do next but given her age, she isn’t particularly hopeful about her prospects. Her friend, Fran, thinks a change of scenery and distance from the work that’s consumed her adult life so when Fran finds an ad looking for someone to watch over some campgrounds on a remote island off the coast of Australia, she urges Anna to take it. On a whim, Anna does and she discovers that life on the remote and sparsely populated island helps her confront some of the ghosts from her past so that she can finally move forward with new relationships and a new sense of purpose.

As I was reading this book, I kept thinking of the other books and film adaptations of books that fit in this difficult to describe sub-genre—Under the Tuscan Sun, The Divine Secrets of the Ya-ya Sisterhood, Where the Heart Is, and so many more. It’s not a genre I can handle in excessive amounts but once in a while it’s nice to read a book of straightforward self-discovery and re-evaluation of one’s priorities. It’s interesting to see how the same series of tropes can be written and rewritten so many times—the life changing event that starts it all for the protagonist (loss of job, loss of spouse or significant other usually to cheating/divorce/abandonment); the drastic relocation to start fresh; adjusting to a new community and way of life that is eccentric and disjointed but ultimately wonderful and welcoming; there’s almost always a birth and a death to balance each out and occasionally a wedding as well; reconnecting with one’s parents and/or the difficult times in the shared past; friends new and old who find themselves in distress through marital problems and/or illness and the protagonist gets to be there for them; and finally, there’s usually a romance. A Drop in the Ocean checks off most of these as well.

What A Drop in the Ocean does particularly well is weave the scientific threads of the story together. Anna’s experience as both a researcher and one who specialized in Huntington’s disease ties in conveniently to the Australian island’s sea turtle research team, its research efforts, and its members. The descriptions of the Great Barrier Reef and the wildlife of Anna’s Australian island are a perfect contrast to the sterile confines of a research lab and function well in her transcendental journey as she compares the two experiences. Her growth and self-awareness of that growth is part of what make the story straightforward.

For the type of novel it is, A Drop in the Ocean fits the genre well.

A Drop in the Ocean will be available for purchase May 3, 2016.

Book Preview – The Winter Girl by Matt Marinovich

winter girl - book coverWhen I see the phrase “Hitchcockian thriller” I can’t help paying attention—proving it is an effective marketing tool. That said, I wouldn’t necessarily agree that Matt Marinovich’s upcoming The Winter Girl about a man in a stalled marriage who becomes obsessed with the fact that their neighbor’s houselights appear to be on some sort of timer really fits the idea—or at least, my idea—of a “Hitchcockian thriller.”

Scott and his wife, Elise, are spending the winter in her father’s house near Southampton, which is also rather abandoned due to the season. Her father has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and they are “taking care” of his house while they essentially wait for him to die. But every night, Scott notices the lights in the neighbor’s house—they go on every night at the same time and turn off at the same time, rotating from one room to the next in the same eerie order. Bored, Scott decides to investigate one day, peering through the windows. He never sees anyone inside and the place looks abandoned. When he tries the front door, it’s unlocked. Scott soon drags his wife into exploring the house but they find a few things that have them wondering why it’s been abandoned—or if it is abandoned at all. Never a fan of his father-in-law, Scott discovers that there are many secrets to his wife’s past, her father, and the house next door. Continue reading

Book Preview – The Virgin’s Spy by Laura Andersen

virgin's spy - book coverWhen I previewed The Virgin’s Daughter by Laura Andersen earlier this year, I mentioned that I had high hopes for the next book in this new spin-off series. The Virgin’s Spy—which will be available later this fall—mostly lives up to those hopes. Getting deeper into the ‘what if’s of her alternate history where Anne Boleyn produced a son for Henry VIII and Elizabeth I had a daughter with King Philip II of Spain, the political tensions over Ireland take center stage in this installment of a series building gradually to a promising conclusion.

Picking up a little over a year following the events of The Virgin’s Daughter, Lucette has married Julien and it is Dominic and Minuette’s oldest son, Stephen’s, turn to take the lead. Tasked with reinforcing English troops in Ireland fighting Catholic rebels, Stephen winds up making an enemy of an English commander, Oliver Dane, before escaping Ireland severely wounded. Following a long and difficult recovery, Stephen finds himself returning to Ireland—this time alone. Elsewhere, the revelations of mutual affection between Princess Anabel and her best friend Pippa’s twin brother, Kit—Dominic and Minuette’s two younger children—continue to complicate the process of finding Anabel a husband who will benefit all of England. Continue reading

Book Preview – The Girl from the Train by Irma Joubert

girl from the train - book coverIrma Joubert’s upcoming The Girl from the Train was actually published nearly a decade ago but this November will be the first time an English translation of the novel has been published. I’m not sure why it took so long for and English edition to make it to bookstores but Elsa Silke’s translation is superb and well worth the wait. I hope it will be talked about as much as The Girl on the Train and not simply in the context of their both having similar names (though if people read The Girl from the Train in the confusion, I don’t think it would be a bad thing).

Gretl Schmidt has her doubts about her mother and grandmother’s insistence that she jump from the train when it nears the hill but Gretl does as she’s told. Jacób Kowalski acts on the intelligence Poland’s Home Army receives and sets charges that will destroy a bridge when a train carrying German soldiers goes to cross it. But there’s an unexpected train coming from the other direction – a train carrying thousands of Jews headed toward Auschwitz. Gretl hears the explosion and believes it’s from planes dropping bombs. A few days later, Jacób is called to a house in the woods where a woman gives him custody of foundling Gretl. Jacób and Gretl’s lives are intertwined from then on; through the war and their later separation, while Jacób watches his beloved country fall under the growing influence of Soviet Russia and while Gretl crosses continents to find a new family in South Africa, their thoughts frequently turn to one another. Continue reading

Book Preview – Footprints in the Desert by Maha Akhtar

book cover - footprints in the desertI was able to preview Orhan’s Inheritance earlier this year and have noticed more about the Armenian genocide in Turkey during WWI this year – in part because the novel heightened my awareness of the subject and also because this year marks the hundredth anniversary of most of those killings. When I read the description for Maha Akhtar’s upcoming Footprints in the Desert, I was under the impression it would also address the Armenian genocide. While it does involve the role of Turkey in WWI, I was wrong about the Armenian genocide being brought up. Instead, Footprints in the Desert focuses on the guerrilla and espionage tactics taken by orchestrators and participants in the Arab revolt – and the important role played by the women supporting them at home in the Khan el-Khalili bazaar in Cairo.

Salah Masri is one of several college friends involved in spying on Turkish and German movements in Izmir, but he is the only one of his friends to escape capture and execution, fleeing to his mother’s home in Cairo. He soon learns that Noura, the widow of one of those friends, is moving to Cairo to stay with relatives and her infant daughter while she rebuilds her life. His mother proves to be a valuable friend for Noura, introducing her to a small, tight-knit community of women in the bazaar, many of whom are widows that have been forced to similarly rebuild their lives. As Noura grieves, Salah continues with the work to generate and support an Arab revolt, pushing for an independent Arab state when the end of the war inevitably comes. Working alongside T.E. Lawrence, who would come to be called Lawrence of Arabia, Salah recruits more friends to the cause while evading and outwitting Turkish officers who want to catch the spy and make an example of him. Continue reading

Book Preview – Coming of Age at the End of Days by Alice LePlante

book cover - coming of age at the end of daysIn college one of my group of friends’ favorite things to do was lay out our plan for the zombie apocalypse over dinner at ‘rez’ (the residential cafeteria). As people graduated and the group adopted freshmen, we tweaked our plan and reassigned jobs based on each person’s strengths. I think it’s safe to say, not one of us believed we’d ever have to use the plan; it was simply a fun exercise. There’s something about my generation that prevents us from envisioning a future that isn’t somehow bleak (perhaps because we have grown up amidst global warming and seeing some of our nation’s longest overseas wars). My interest in a novel about a teenager who finds herself engrossed in a cult obsessed with bringing about the End of Days sprang from the same part of me that craves dystopic fiction and has a morbid fascination with war stories. The promising psychological conflict of the main character solidified my desire to read Alice LaPlante’s upcoming novel, Coming of Age at the End of Days. While the elements remain appealing, I’m not entirely sure what to make of the finished product.

Anna appears to be an average teenager growing up in a carefully planned community in California. But Anna wakes up one morning and everything has changed. She’s lost the will to do anything, falling into a crippling depression and her parents don’t know how to bring her out of it again. When the reclusive Goldschmidts move into the neighborhood and she meets their son, Lars, at the bus stop, the depression falls away and Anna finds a renewed sense of purpose in the faith to which they introduce her. Anna’s devotion to the cultish ministry that is eager to trigger the time of Tribulation at the End of Days, her parents are just as baffled unsure about how to approach their daughter as they were during her depression. But an unexpected tragedy causes Anna to question the faith that pulled her from the darkness once before and with help from some surprising sources, she reaches a balance of faith that carries her forward. Continue reading

Book Preview – The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows

9780385342940_p0_v1_s260x420History and memory are two of my favorite subjects to see addressed in literature so some of my favorite novels to read are ones where the two meet head on, like in Annie Barrows’ upcoming The Truth According to Us. Beyond history and memory, family bonds and loyalty as well as growing up and learning what it means to be an adult are also addressed and explored at length.

Macedonia is a small town in West Virginia that’s trying to find the right way to commemorate their sesquicentennial in 1938, so they commission one of the Great Depression’s relief programs to send someone who can compile a short book about their town and its history. Layla Beck, a spoiled young woman of privilege whose Senator father decides to teach her a lesson, find herself boarding in Macedonia with the Romeyn family while she works on her first job, the writing of this obscure town’s history. It turns out the Romeyn family have played a significant role in town but have had a strained relationship with much of its people since a divisive incident in 1920. Josephine “Jottie” Romeyn raises her brother, Felix’s two girls while proving to be a valuable source for Layla. Willa, the older of the two girls, struggles with wanting to be included in the adults’ world but learns quickly that being grown up isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and that what people say and do isn’t always the truth. From different angles and for different reasons, both Willa and Layla begin digging up the past and become particularly interested in the events of 1920, threatening a delicate balance in the process. Continue reading

Book Preview – Orhan’s Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian

9781616203740_p0_v1_s260x420Every once in a while I stumble across a book that is nothing at all like what I expect. In some cases, this is an unpleasant thing. But sometimes, as in the case of Aline Ohanesian’s upcoming debut novel Orhan’s Inheritance, it was a very nice surprise. I don’t know whether I misread one of the descriptions for the book or if I simply clicked the wrong button somewhere along the way, but what I thought to be the basic plot of the novel was quite far removed from the actual plot. The actual plot was deeper, more serious, beautiful, and tragic than what I was expecting. It brought to my attention a history from a time and place that I hadn’t been familiar with previously but which now I feel inclined to explore.

When Orhan’s grandfather dies in Turkey in 1990, to the disgust of his father but the surprise of few, the family business was left to Orhan. To the surprise of all, the family house has been left to a woman they’ve never heard of. Given the nation’s laws for inheritance, Orhan and his aunt agree that the best way to keep his father from contesting the will is to get this mysterious woman to sell them back the house. But beyond the matter of the house, Orhan travels to Los Angeles seeking Seda for answers. Who is this woman? How did she know his grandfather? And why would he leave the house to her? Seda’s tale goes back to the time when she and Kemal (Orhan’s grandfather) were children in the early 1910’s and the early days of World War I saw the government of Turkey turning against the Armenians, Christians, and Kurds within its borders, people like Seda and her family. Continue reading

Book Preview – At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

9780385523233_p0_v1_s260x420It’s been several years now since I first read Water for Elephants and while I haven’t had a chance to read Ape House yet (it’s still on my library wish list and I will probably get to it later this year), I jumped at the chance to preview Sara Gruen’s latest novel, At the Water’s Edge.

As World War II rages in Europe, Maddie Hyde, her husband, Ellis, and their best friend, Hank Boyd, are safely enjoying their wealth back in the US, both men having been rejected from serving for medical reasons. Except it isn’t their wealth (or not entirely). Ellis and Maddie live off an allowance from his parents and when their behavior threatens to get them cut off entirely, they embark on a dangerous and foolish plan to cross the ocean, find the Loch Ness monster, and redeem the family name. The journey brings them face-to-face with the realities of the war they’ve been protected from and, for Maddie, proves to be an eye opening and life changing experience. Continue reading

Book Preview – MacDeath by Cindy Brown

UnknownHaving started on my mystery kick, I decided to continue with a preview of the first book in Cindy Brown’s upcoming Ivy Meadows mystery series, MacDeath. Lighthearted and fun compared to most mystery thrillers, MacDeath makes a decent introduction for amateur sleuth, Ivy Meadows and her author, Cindy Brown.

Ivy Meadows is an actress, and a stage name for Olive Ziegwart. Eager to break into the Phoenix acting scene, she auditions and gets a part in a circus themed production of Macbeth. But not all of the would-be cast are familiar with the famous curse on the Scottish play and soon it begins to wreak havoc on the production when the actor playing the doomed Duncan dies on opening night. Only Ivy finds the death suspicious and she begins a haphazard investigation into her fellow actors that threatens most of the relationships in her life as well as her career as an actor. Continue reading