Book Review – A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas

I moved immediately into A Court of Wings and Ruin on the heels of finishing A Court of Mist and Fury; the ending of the second book in Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses series demanded it. And while the characters, their relationships, the themes, and the content are all as compelling as the first two novels in the series, A Court of Wings and Ruin suffers tremendously in pacing and organization, leaving this initial trilogy arc with a satisfying if roughly executed conclusion.

Feyre begins the novel back at Tamlin’s Spring Court pretending that her relationship with Rhys was all a delusion he’d forced on her and that she had really been in love with Tamlin all along. Not everyone buys Feyre’s cover though. When Feyre’s sisters were forced into the Cauldron and turned fae, Lucien felt the deep pull of a mating bond with Elain. Unable to escape his concern and curiosity for her, he keeps a close eye of Feyre, which feeds into her own plans for undermining Tamlin’s hold over his Court and accumulating knowledge about the Hybern forces. From the crumbling Spring Court, Feyre eventually rejoins her mate and family at the Night Court where their preparations for the coming war with Hybern are well under way. Her sisters are adjusting to fae life with varying degrees of success; allies are few and far between; and any possible alliance between the Courts of Prythian will be fragile and tenuous at best. But war is coming and they must do what they can in the face of annihilation. Continue reading

Book Review – The Leavers by Lisa Ko

In the current political climate, I’ve been drawn to novels tied to relevant subjects, no matter how loosely tied. Because of this, the description for Lisa Ko’s The Leavers drew my attention and interest. Though the core of the novel revolves around the personal natures and relationships of the main characters, the circumstances that serve as a backdrop for these characters do a fantastic job of subtly highlighting the intricacies of the United States’ immigration system and many injustices that stem from it.

For more than a decade Daniel Wilkinson knew nothing about his birth mother’s disappearance. One day she had been with him, talking about possibly moving to Florida, and another she never came home from work. But then an old friend from his childhood contacts him out of the blue with a clue to start him on the path towards finding her again and learning the truth about why she’d left him. Continue reading

Book Review – Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen series is one I’ve had recommended to me several times but having read some young adult targeted series that were only okay or completely disappointing, I had put it off. Having crawled out of that disappointing streak, I finally put the first book on my library request list and then had to wait forever for it to become available but I’m happy to find that my search for compelling young adult fantasy-ish series is over for a while as I have a few books to catch up on in this series (and from everything I’ve heard, the second and third novels are just as engaging as the first but I’m looking forward to finding out first hand). Aveyard’s fantasy world wherein social and political strata have long been established and maintained based on blood and ability as well as the best means for bringing about change to such a system all speak to the political and social turmoil in the world today—in some chilling ways.

Mare Barrow is a Red pickpocket doing everything she can to help her family get by while her conscripted brothers are away fighting their Silver king’s war but her days are numbered as she reaches the age of conscription herself and her prospects for exemption remain nonexistent. When an unusual encounter lands Mare with a job at the palace and exemption from conscription, she thinks she might finally have found a way to protect at least some of her family. But an accident on her first day reveals Mare to be something neither Reds nor Silvers knew existed—a Red with the abilities of a Silver. Eager to protect the established hierarchy and perhaps appease disgruntled Reds and the growing threat posed by the radical Scarlet Guard, the royal family covers up the truth and presents Mare as a lost Silver restored to her kind and keeps her close. But Mare still bleeds Red and she doesn’t plan to let the royal family rewrite her truth so easily. Continue reading

Book Review – After the Bloom by Leslie Shimotakahara

For all the atrocities of foreign wars that take place on the front lines and in the nations where the battles are being fought, there are often atrocities that happen back home; atrocities that get swept under the rug of history or dismissed as unimportant in the larger scheme of things. One such atrocity that is coming to light more in recent years—thanks in part to recent political moves that echo the problematic themes of this atrocity—is the internment of people of Japanese descent during World War II. Until reading Leslie Shimotakahara’s recent novel, After the Bloom which is in part inspired by her own family’s history in the American internment camps, I had no idea that camps like that were established in parts of Canada too. What her novel brings to life so importantly is that these camps had lasting effects at all levels—the individual, the family, and the community.

Rita knew her mother, Lily, had spent time during the war in an internment camp in California but since her mother never really spoke about it, Rita knows very little about that period of her mother’s life. It’s clear that it might be linked to the ways her mother can become ‘confused’ but Rita has more pressing things to worry about in the wake of her recent divorce and subsequent move. That is, until her mother goes missing. The police investigate but with no evidence of foul play, there isn’t much they can do. Rita takes it upon herself to look into why her mother might have left and where she might have gone. The more questions she asks, the more the answers seem to center around an incident that happened at the internment camp. Continue reading

Book Review – The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

A few years ago I had a book-a-day calendar on my desk that provided summaries and praise for each day’s title. There were many books from that calendar that made it onto that list and The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery was one of them. An interesting exploration of human interaction, class, and philosophy, The Elegance of the Hedgehog is surprisingly poignant for the simplicity of its setting and premise.

Renée Michel grew up in a poor home far from the city but has spent the last twenty years working as the concierge of a high-end apartment building in Paris, a position she took over from her husband when he died. At the service of the building’s wealthy tenants, Renée spends most of her days hiding her intelligence and observing the interactions of the people in the building with each other, with her, and with the world around them. Paloma is the younger daughter of a diplomat and his wife who live on the top floor. An intelligent and aware child, Paloma is also jaded and sees little about adulthood worth living so she decides she will kill herself at the end of her school term, giving herself some time to make additional observations and attempt to find if there’s something worth staying alive. The death of one tenant and arrival of a new one serves as a catalyst for both Renée and Paloma. Continue reading

Book Review – The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

raven boys - book coverSince finishing The Lunar Chronicles last year, I’ve been searching for a replacement YA series to become invested in and I think I may have found it in Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle series—or at least, the first book, The Raven Boys has left me still intrigued enough to check out the next book sometime soon. Bringing together mystical and mythological elements I’ve read about in both other novels and studied the histories of over the years, The Raven Boys definitely sets up a larger story than just the one that gets told in its pages.

Blue Sargent has grown up in a house full of psychics—her mother and her mother’s friends—but she shows no ability herself; she only serves as an amplifier or battery of sorts, helping to strengthen those around her. But one thing all the psychics in her life seem to agree on is that she will somehow spell death for her true love—whoever he might be—and must avoid kissing him to protect him… even though she’s just a teenager and has no idea who he might be. But on St. Mark’s Day when she accompanies one of those friends of her mother’s to the Corpse Road and actually sees and hears one of the spirits—a teenage boy named Gansey who attends the local private boys’ school, Aglionby—she might have learned the first bit about him. Blue has her doubts, however, when she actually meets Gansey and his friends, Adam, Ronan, and Noah, and begins assisting them in their search for the historically mythical Glendower and things in their small town of Henrietta begin getting even weirder than any of them could have dreamt.

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Book Review – Amsterdam by Ian McEwan, 1001 Books to Read Before You Die #171

amsterdamSince reading Atonement, I’ve read and enjoyed a number of Ian McEwan’s novels. But with the exception of Atonement, they all seem to have one aspect that pushes things that last step too far and Amsterdam, while one of his more lauded works (and a book that gets me back to working on my 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list, which I’ve fallen behind on this year) is no exception. Its explorations of morality, mortality, and friendship are incredible but the way those thematic lines culminate as far as the plot is concerned don’t quite work for me.

One funeral brings together a woman’s three former lovers and her husband. Two of the former lovers happen to be good friends, Clive and Vernon, and Molly’s drawn out deterioration due to dementia and eventual death has the two men wondering what they would want if they found themselves in her shoes; ultimately they agree they would want someone to end it for them. But Molly’s death also brings some compromising photos of a politician (the third of her former lovers whom neither of the two friends like) to light. Vernon, a newspaper editor, seeks to publish; Clive, a composer, sees things differently and the men’s friendship is tested as news of the photos’ content begins to catch the public attention.

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Book Review – Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

practical magic - book coverI had seen the movie Practical Magic a number of times before I ever realized it was a book. Since one of my favorite things to do is compare book adaptations like that, it was only a matter of time before I got around to reading Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic after learning that fact. There are some obvious changes from one medium to the other, mostly to flesh out thematic elements that take more of a back seat in the novel, but the story remains both recognizable and compelling between the two forms—not an easy feat.

Sally and Gillian Owens grow up with two distantly related aunts after their parents’ tragic deaths. They know that their aunts aren’t like other people in the town and everyone else knows it too so that the two girls also fall under the general umbrella of being Other. Gillian leaves as soon as she can, running away in the night with a young man and not looking back. Sally stays and finds a bit of normalcy when she marries and starts a family of her own. But tragedy strikes again and it’s Sally’s turn to leave the aunts, taking her own daughters to start again on her own. Years later Gillian turns up in Sally’s driveway needing her sister’s help and long ignored issues—especially personal and familial—must be addressed and remedied.

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Book Review – The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North

sudden appearance of hope - book coverI haven’t exactly been quiet about how much I adored The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (I even got two relatives and a close friend of mine to read it just so I’d have more people to talk to about it). So when I realized I’d missed the release of Claire North’s next book, The Sudden Appearance of Hope, I quickly bought a copy to rectify my mistake. A lot of what I loved about Harry August is still there along with a compelling new protagonist and set of circumstances, however it has a more pessimistic feel to it that I wasn’t expecting—but it does make sense given the contemporary setting and the themes to which the novel speaks.

While most teens feel at some point or another that the people in their lives are disregarding and forgetting them, for Hope Arden that was actually true. The people in her life could not remember her or her interactions with them once she walked away until her parents forgot her existence entirely and she was effectively on her own. Given the difficulties of holding a job when employers and coworkers couldn’t remember her from one day to the next, Hope became a practiced and effective thief, tangling and escaping the authorities using her unique condition to her advantage. But when she steals jewels from the neck of a Saudi princess at a high profile function, more than just Interpol is after her and technology remembers her. She nearly falls into a trap while trying to sell the jewels but a fellow darknet user, Byron14, reaches out to warn her and later enlists her for a job against an international self-improvement company—a job that has far reaching consequences for Hope and the world that forgets her. Continue reading

Book Review – The Unseen World by Liz Moore

unseen world - book coverThe Unseen World by Liz Moore—available in stores today—is another case of a fantastic description that, when I started actually reading the book, wasn’t really what I was expecting. It wasn’t entirely a bad thing, as the novel had strong thematic resonance, but it did take me a while to get invested in it—more so because of its pacing and organization. Weaving the early days of artificial intelligence development and computer programming with a deeply emotional personal tale, The Unseen World is a layered glimpse into the past while also looking forward to the possibilities of the future.

Ada Sibelius has lived an unusual life for a fourteen-year-old girl in 1980s Boston. Raised by her single father, she has spent much of her life with him at the computer sciences lab he directs, learning what he taught her and contributing to the lab group on their developing projects despite her youth. But when her father’s health begins to cause problems and confusion, Ada is forced into a more traditional school (a private Catholic school as opposed to public school, but a school where she must interact with her peers in age) where she must face the fact that she isn’t familiar with the social morays of being a teenager. As her father’s health and mental state continue to deteriorate, Ada learns that he had more secrets than anybody knew—secrets that cause Ada to question her own reality and identity as she struggles to unearth the truth. Continue reading

Book Review – Winter by Marissa Meyer

book cover - winter After how much I enjoyed Cress, the third installment in the Lunar Chronicles, I had high hopes going into the series’ final installment, Winter, but was also a little worried because—with the exception of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games—the ending of a young adult series like this is usually a bit of a let down and not just because it’s over. I’ve enjoyed a few in the last several years that have so much promise, build wonderfully, but end the series by falling flat in execution or become overly convoluted in an attempt to wring every last bit of drama out of them that can be had. Winter doesn’t do that; it’s longer than those that came before it but it delivers where and when it counts.

As the novel starts, Cinder—the lost Lunar princess and rightful ruler, Selene—and the friends she has gathered with her on the Rampion are hammering out the details of their plan to start a revolution on Luna and remove her aunt, Queen Levana, from power. With Emperor Kaito’s cooperation, they are able to get themselves onto Luna where they intend to rouse the citizens from the moon-nation’s outer—and severely oppressed—districts to rise up and march on the palace where their numbers should overwhelm the capabilities of those in charge. At the same time, Levana’s stepdaughter, Princess Winter, is still watching out for the abducted Scarlet—but Levana is growing increasingly jealous of the people’s affection for Winter and the threats posed by Cinder are frustrating her in ways she hasn’t felt for years.

There are so many characters and they go in so many different directions that it can be a bit tricky to keep track of everyone but ultimately the changes in perspective and the different ways the characters are paired up for the steps along the way work beautifully and keep the pacing exciting. The Lunar Chronicles as a whole act to emphasize exactly how important and engaging it can be to have switching points of view. None of the characters are presented in first person—a pet peeve of mine when it comes to young adult fiction—and they all have distinct personalities and ways of looking at and coping with the obstacles they encounter making the characters’ collective ability to work together that much more impressive. Meyer’s approach to add the characters and their stories gradually—one in each installment of the series as their role became clearer—was a wonderful way of building those voices and narratives (a way I know I didn’t appreciate much in Scarlet, though it might have been because the adjustment was jarring but also might just be that Scarlet is not my favorite character in the series).

Once again, I’m amazed at how well Meyer was able to weave the details of the fairy tales that inspire these characters into the novels as a whole. There have been a lot of series in the last decade or so that have used novellas or short stories as a way to provide additional insight into supporting or secondary characters—usually because the main book/series is limited by first person narration. I haven’t found those supporting stories too compelling in the past, but the Lunar Chronicles’ novella giving Levana’s history and rise to power in Fairest was worth it. Seeing the progression as she matures and learns not just how best to manipulate those around her but how to justify her actions to herself is a psychological masterpiece that is very valuable going into Winter where the reader sees just how different the responses to similar trauma can be.

Lastly, after being disappointed with the world building of the Selection series last week, the depth of it in the Lunar Chronicles is astounding. More than just the political institutions and their political figures as well as the geography of both a futuristic Earth and colonized, independent moon nation, the extent to which the social issues of this fictional society speak to current conversations is remarkable—the ethics of medical experimentation, the use of biological weapons, what constitutes and defines personhood, issues of class and wealth disparities, the use of propaganda, and more all appear throughout the series. And it is the characters’ opinions on such issues that help give them personality and depth, allowing their individual experiences to inform how they react to situations in ways which readers can easily relate to and apply to everyday life.

Book Review – Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, 1001 Books to Read Before You Die #168

mrs dalloway - book cover Mrs. Dalloway is a novel I’ve been tentatively meaning to read since I first saw and then read The Hours. After picking it up at my library’s annual book sale a few weeks ago, I finally got around to doing just that—of course, now I’ll have to go back and rewatch The Hours to refresh my memory of that but even from my vague memories of the story there, I can tell that it did a fantastic job of incorporating this source text through the three stories that novel interwove. I was surprised, however, to find that it isn’t a favorite of the handful of Virginia Woolf works that I’ve read so far.

Clarissa Dalloway is giving a party and she has some last minute preparations to take care of before everyone arrives in the evening. Through the course of her day, she glimpses other people going about their days and the narrative flits from her perspective to theirs. One of the most significant occurrences during her day is the reappearance of Peter Walsh, a man who had proposed to her shortly before she met and married her husband and with whom she had been in love. Memories of their younger selves and their impressions of each other, then and now, create an intriguing tension as the evening builds. Continue reading

Book Review – Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

career of evil - book cover I’ve been waiting for the release of the latest Cormoran Strike novel, Career of Evil, since finishing The Silkworm. Written by J.K. Rowling under her pseudonym of Robert Galbraith, I have not been alone and was soon as she announces when the next one will be released, I’ll be preordering that one as well. This third novel in the Cormoran Strike series provides an intriguing introspective character study of the series’ two main characters as well as delivering a seductive and deliberate game of cat and mouse.

Like the previous installment in the Cormoran Strike series, Career of Evil picks up several months after The Silkworm’s conclusion. Cormoran’s business is in decent shape thanks to the high profile successes with the Lula Landry and Owen Quine murders. His secretary-assistant-deputy-detective Robin Ellacot is approaching the rescheduled date for her wedding and is taking a more active role in the agency after having completed a number of courses in everything from counter-surveillance to self-defense. But none of those courses could prepare her for receiving a package containing the dismembered leg of an unknown woman upon arriving to work one morning. Cormoran has a few ideas of men from his past as far as possible suspects go—yes, he can think of at least three men who he believes are capable and willing to send body parts to his office. Continue reading

Book Review – The Elite by Kiera Cass

the elite - book coverAfter completing The Selection, the first novel in Kiera Cass’ Selection Series, I had a renewed hope for my dwindling interest in Young Adult dystopic fiction and eagerly put my name on the wait list for The Elite. Having just finished The Elite, those hopes have not exactly disappeared by they have been dampened. Many of the predictable elements I have been expecting in the first novel—and was thrilled to find absent—made their appearances in this second novel instead. I’m still interested enough to continue with the series but my expectations are probably more realistic than before.

At the end of The Selection, the growing danger in the kingdom forces Prince Maxon to skip a few steps in the elimination process and cut most of the remaining girls until only six are left—the six known as the Elite. America Singer is one of the Elite. Though she knows she has feelings for the prince, she isn’t quite sure whether what she feels is stronger than what she felt—and maybe still feels—for Apsen, the boy she’d thought she was going to marry until he dumped her on the eve of the Selection but who is now working as a guard at the palace and wants her back. With fewer girls left, America’s faith in Maxon is tested and she must grapple with what becoming a princess would mean as far as the pressure and expectations—she isn’t sure she can or wants that job that comes hand-in-hand with Maxon.

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Book Review – Tar Baby by Toni Morrison

9781400033447_p0_v1_s192x300Every time I read a novel by Toni Morrison—or anything by Toni Morrison, really—I’m struck all over again by how quotable her style is. I find myself underlying massive passages. Her subjects always pierce deeply to the heart of race and gender relations and Tar Baby is no exception, exploring the concept of ignorance versus knowledge in relationships.

After retiring and selling off the family candy company, Valerian Street built an elaborate home on a Caribbean island where he spends his days in his green house. His wife, Margaret, periodically returns to their home in Philadelphia in the hopes of luring her husband back—since the Caribbean home is supposed to be a winter home. Sydney and Ondine, the couple’s longtime African-American servants, are often relegated to the role of referee when their employers get into arguments over whether or not their son, Michael, will or won’t visit for the holidays. Sydney and Ondine’s niece, Jadine, serves as a social secretary for Margaret while taking a break from her globetrotting, modeling career. The balance they’ve reached is drastically upset when Margaret returns to her room one night to find a runaway, thieving, and starving black man who calls himself Son hiding in her closet. Marched downstairs to the dining room, rather than calling for the authorities, a quite-drunk Valerian invites the man to stay, offending everyone. Continue reading

Book Review – The Shining by Stephen King, 1001 Books to Read Before You Die #165

book cover - the shiningI missed the phase in elementary school where everyone seemed to be reading Stephen King. I was busy with other books – Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights to be exact. I have never been a fan of horror movies and so I wasn’t too interested in pursuing a genre when it came to reading either. I have often played with tackling The Shining because it features so wonderfully in my favorite episode of Friends (it’s not technically the title of the episode but I always think of it as The One Where Rachel Reads The Shining and Joey Reads Little Women). So when I noticed that The Shining was on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list, it quickly became one of the ones I pushed myself to read sooner rather than later (though the prospect was still intimidating) and I am so glad I did.

Jack Torrance reluctantly accepts a job as winter caretaker at the Overlook, a remote luxury hotel in the mountains of Colorado, because it’s the best he can get while he works to finish the play that will restore the promising career that’s been slowly slipping away. His struggle with alcoholism and anger issues contributed to him getting fired from his job as an English teacher at a prestigious prep school and nearly destroyed his marriage. But he’s determined to make the new job a turning point for him and his family. Though he knows the hotel has a mysterious past, it isn’t until he and his family arrive that ghosts from their pasts mingle and clash with the Overlook’s. Danny, Jack’s son with his wife, Wendy, has always been gifted. Dick Hallorann, the hotel’s cook spots Danny’s telepathic gift, which he refers to as a “shining,” right away and does what he can to prepare and reassure the young boy. But nothing could prepare any of them for what the hotel has planned for Danny and his family. Continue reading

Book Review – Imposters of Patriotism by Ted Richardson

imposters of patriotism - book coverIt’s no secret that I’m a bit of a history buff and I’m a frequent reader of historic fiction. In the last year I’ve been intrigued by and have explored alternative history novels. While I was surprised by the quality and detail in Laura Andersen’s Boleyn King Trilogy and Tudor Legacy Series (I’m looking forward to previewing The Virgin’s Spy sometime in the next two months), Ted Richardson’s Imposters of Patriotism was a bit of a bumpy ride for me.

Matt Hawkins has found a calm rhythm to life since trading a life in New York City as a Wall Street investor for one as an antiques dealer in Savannah, Georgia. After buying a box of old books from the local library, Matt discovers that concealed in a century-old atlas is a much older journal. Skimming through the journal, Matt learns two important things: it was the journal of Caty Greene, the wife of Revolutionary War general Nathanael Greene, and that in the journal she makes many references to a letter written at Valley Forge by George Washington to British General Howe regarding terms for surrender. At the same time, one of two candidates for President has based much of his campaign strategy around his family’s descent from George Washington – a strategy that could suffer if word of such a surrender letter came to light. As Matt Hawkins begins to search for the letter, he encounters a colorful cast of characters both eager to help him and desperate to stop him. Continue reading

Book Review – The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

the girl on the train - book coverMonths ago, I entered a contest to be able to preview The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I didn’t win so I had to wait until it was officially released… and then I forgot about it until it began hitting all kinds of Must Read lists. I had to wait for many weeks on the wait list at the library but it’s not like I didn’t have plenty to read in the meantime. I was surprised by how much this book reminded me of Gone Girl – not in the plot exactly, but in the general feel of the book.

Rachel Watson rides the train to and from London every day to keep up appearances since losing her job because of her drinking. The other reason for riding the rails daily is the glimpses she gets through the window – the train always pauses right behind the house where she lived with her now ex-husband, Tom (the house he now shares with the woman he left Rachel for, Anna, and their infant daughter). A few doors down from her old house, Rachel watches the idyllic life of a couple she’s dubbed Jess and Jason – they have the life and marriage she thought she had with Tom. One Friday morning Rachel sees Jess in the arms of a man that is not Jason; a few days later it hits the news that the woman – named Megan, not Jess – has gone missing. Rachel is eager to assist in the investigation in any way she can but her personal issues leave the police with doubts as to Rachel’s reliability and motives. Continue reading

Book Review – Aleph by Paulo Coelho

book cover aleph Aleph has been on one of my many To Read lists for a while. When I added it to the list, I was also adding a bunch of books from the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list. So when I decided to go ahead and finally dive into Aleph, I thought it was one of the ones on the 1001 list. After finishing the book, I went to cross it of said list only to discover it wasn’t there. It was only a minor disappointment but then so was Aleph. I’ve read Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist as well as Veronika Decides to Die and enjoyed both of them immensely but Aleph didn’t quite hit the mark for me.

Semi-autobiographical, Aleph chronicles the journey of Paulo as he embarks on a journey to reconnect with himself spiritually. He feels unhappy, stalled. A close friend and spiritual advisor suggests the trouble Paulo’s experiencing connecting to the spiritual world might be caused by unresolved conflict from a past life. Though Paulo has his doubts about a physical journey helping him travel into his past lives, at a book signing engagement in London he begins agreeing to foreign publishers’ appeals that he visit their country concluding the extended trip with a tour of Russia via the Trans-Siberian Railway, something he’s always wanted to do. Just as they’re preparing to depart Moscow, a determined young woman appears insisting on accompanying the literary party because she believes she is meant to help Paulo on his spiritual journey. Hilal turns out to be a woman Paulo loved – and wronged – in a past life and indeed plays a crucial role in bringing him back to himself spiritually.

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Book Review – Still Alice by Lisa Genova

still-alice-book-cover-429x600It wasn’t until the Oscars that I bothered to pay attention to what the film Still Alice was about but Julianne Moore’s acceptance speech and learning that the film was based on a book got me intrigued. Having read Elizabeth is Missing last year, I was doubly interested to see how a different writer would present a narrative where the central character suffered from the increasingly disruptive symptoms of dementia. While Elizabeth is Missing focuses more on the events of the past that the main character is remembering as her past and present blend, Still Alice places the focus on the disease itself and what it feels like to those who suffer from it.

Alice Howland is at the pinnacle of her career at work and has the almost perfect family at home. A tenured Harvard professor of psychology with a specialty in linguistics, her biggest concern is nagging her youngest daughter about her life choices between flights as she jets across the country from speaking engagements to family dinners and lectures. But soon the forgetfulness she thought was symptomatic of menopause begins to manifest in bigger and more alarming ways. Unwilling to worry her family, Alice seeks medical advice and receives a disturbing diagnosis: early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Finally confiding in her family, Alice struggles with maintaining her independence and sense of self as everything she knows is slowly stripped away by her disease.

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Book Review – Cannery Row by John Steinbeck, 1001 Books to Read Before You Die #161

UnknownMy favorite aspect of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath was the way he took frequent breaks from the Joads’ journey to offer glimpses at the lives and characters of those they met along the way from Oklahoma to California (I was one of those who understood and appreciated the turtle). While Cannery Row doesn’t fall into quite the same every-other-chapter pattern for those tangential character sketches, they help to create a more complex portrait of a community comprised of social outcasts.

Cannery Row is home to a brothel, a country store of sorts, a warehouse inhabited by a small community of vagrants, and Doc with his laboratory where he collects and ships specimens for dissection and experimentation across the country. The only thing everyone seems to agree upon is that Doc is a great guy but when Mac and the others living in the ware-less warehouse decide they want to do something for Doc, their ideas never seem to go as planned with destructive if not disastrous results. Continue reading

Book Review – The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams

9780345391810_p0_v1_s260x420Many times profound statements and observations are buried within the serious and the dramatic; the comedic and the lighthearted get dismissed as simple entertainment with not much substance. But with a writer like Douglas Adams, the slightly absurd nature of the story and the lighthearted delivery don’t mean there aren’t deep observations being presented. The second novel in his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe continues to point out the absurdities of life with profound eloquence.

As the Vogons attempt to destroy the ship carrying Arthur, Trillian, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Ford Prefect, and Marvin, some last minute maneuvering and assistance sets the quintet on a mission to meet the man who controls the universe. Zaphod had the plan laid out before having his memory wiped so he and his companions are at the mercy of those whom he no longer remembers agreed to help him. They’re also still trying to get Arthur to generate the Question to which forty-two was the answer in the great experiment that was Earth (a carry-over from the first novel). But as they learn when they find themselves at Milliways (the titular Restaurant at the End of the Universe), you don’t always get to where you want to go the way you thought you would get there, and when you get there, it may not be what you expected. Continue reading

Book Review – The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

9780307949707_p0_v1_s260x420There are many books on my To Read list that find their way on simply because I see them enough places and become intrigued. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis was one of those books. It seemed to be everywhere a year or so back and had a terribly long wait list at the library. The only problem with books like that is I tend to let my expectations get built up too much. The longer I wait to read a book I’m really looking forward to, the less likely I am to be satisfied with it.

Hattie Shepherd is a black girl raised in Georgia in the early twentieth century. She, her mother, and her sisters move north to Philadelphia when she is only fifteen. In a few short years, she meets and marries August and begins what seems to be her lot in life, birthing and raising children. Eventually giving birth to eleven children, the challenges and trials of raising them in the north with few resources and a husband determined to squander what little they do have comprise the tales in the novel. Focusing on a child or two at a time, the reader sees Hattie from many different angles and at vastly different periods in her life. Continue reading

Book Review – The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

9780316206877_p0_v19_s260x420I’ve been in the mood for mysteries lately so it seemed like the perfect time to tackle The Silkworm, the second in the Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith (a pseudonym used by J.K. Rowling). As usual, I wasn’t disappointed. Now that the main characters are pretty well established, the reader gets to see a little bit more of their backstories as a high profile case unfolds.

Picking up several months after Strike’s success with the Lula Landry case, he and his assistant, Robin, are busy with a string of new lucrative clients, allowing him to almost completely pay off the debts he owes. But as much as he appreciates the long list of wealthy, cheated-on lovers and spouses, the routine surveillance is getting old. Then Leonora Quine appears asking him to find her eccentric writer husband who has a knack for disappearing and showing up days later in a hotel with some woman. As Strike begins interviewing Quine’s publishing acquaintances, he learns that the writer’s latest book, Bombyx Mori, has caused an uproar and there are an increasing number of people Quine could be intentionally (or unsuccessfully) avoiding. Continue reading

Book Review – The Road by Cormac McCarthy

9780307387899_p0_v3_s260x420There are few writers’ whose styles are as instantly recognizable as Cormac McCarthy’s and it is front and center in The Road. A predominantly bleak portrait of a post-apocalyptic world, The Road is incredibly haunting even as the delicate sliver of optimism and hope maintains a dull shine throughout the novel.

It’s unclear exactly what happened to the world or when, but beyond the decimation of most of the human population, there are no animals and most of the plant growth is dead as well. The sun cannot penetrate the clouds and ash blankets the landscape like snow. As winter settles in, a man and his son slowly and carefully maneuver their way south along the road, hoping to reach the coast despite not knowing what they will find there. The man has developed a necessary wariness when it comes to the others they encounter on the road as some of those desperate to survive with food resources rapidly vanishing are willing to cross any and all lines of decency. Continue reading