Book Review – Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Another of the fantastic novels recommended to me by friends, Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies is an examination of a marriage that breaks from the traditions of so many marriage-centered novels. While Lotto and Mathilde face many challenges along the way, they tend to have more faith in their marriage than they do in themselves individually. Exploring the ways they view themselves as well as their spouse, Groff’s writing style is unique and not just in creating two characters with such distinct voices and perspectives.

Lancelot “Lotto” Satterwhite was born to privilege. With family money spouting from a bottled water business and parents who thought he could do no wrong, Lotto seemed poised for greatness from an early age and his mother especially encouraged that attitude to flourish within himself. But everything changed with the sudden death of his father and his mother’s grief-stricken turn inward. Eventually shipped off to a private school in the north, Lotto drifted easily through school and girls until the day he met Mathilde just a few weeks before graduating college. Within two weeks the pair had eloped to the shock of their family and friends. While they struggle to make ends meet in the wake of being financially cut off by his disapproving mother, Lotto is certain of one thing—his and Mathilde’s love for each other—but how much of the Mathilde he loves is really her and how much is who he thinks she is? Does it even matter? Continue reading

Book Review – A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

For me, the best way to find new books and series that I love is through recommendations from friends; they know enough of what I like, and I know enough of what they like, plus there’s the added fun of having someone already there to talk about it. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas was a friend recommendation and I can’t wait to dive into the next book of the series in anticipation of the third novel’s release in early May. Incredible fantasy world building with plot elements that echo (and occasionally invert) classic fairy tales, myths, and legends and engaging characters and pacing are some of the fastest ways to capture my attention.

Feyre may be the youngest of three sisters but when it comes to providing for her family in their relatively recently acquired destitute state, she is the one who can be counted on to keep them all alive. Having taught herself hunting, she has a deer in her sights when a monstrously large wolf enters the scene—a wolf so large, Feyre believes it might be fairy in nature. Given everything that the fairies have done and continue to do to humans, even with the treaty in place, she decides to use her precious ash arrow to be sure she kills it dead. But a few days later an even larger beast appears at her family’s door demanding repayment for the slain fairy—a life for a life—and Feyre must either go to live in the fairy realm of Prythian for the rest of her days or die before her family’s eyes.

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Book Preview – The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova

I have had Elizabeth Kostova’s debut novel The Historian sitting on my To Read shelf for some time so while I recognized her name when her upcoming The Shadow Land came up in my possible preview pile, I hadn’t actually read her work before. The Shadow Land also fell into my recent inclination towards historic fiction that explores the nations of Europe in the aftermath of World War II so I jumped to preview it. Though it proved for me to be slow reading, the depiction of life behind the Iron Curtain in the 1950s is a harsh one that the area struggles to deal with even in the decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Alexandra Boyd decided she needed a change so she signed up to teach English in Bulgaria but before she can even reach her hostel and start to settle in, things begin to go wrong. Assisting a middle-aged man and his elderly parents into a taxi, Alexandra soon discovers that one of their bags has gotten mixed in with her own. Containing the ashes of someone obviously dear to them, she sets about trying to find them again so she can return the urn and apologize for the mix-up. Her taxi driver, Asparuh who tells her to call him Bobby, offers to help her in her efforts to track the family down. Receiving an address from the police, Alexandra insists on returning the remains personally. As she and Bobby follow a trail of breadcrumbs, it becomes clear there’s more to the story of the man in the urn and his family than they realized. 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 Preview – The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown

witchfinder's sister - book coverOne of my favorite classes in college was a history course where our focus was on witches. We examined various outbreaks of witch scares in Europe and the American colonies, compared how they unfolded and the methods for dealing with the accused, we looked at who the accused tended to be and why they might have been accused (spoiler alert: mostly widows and single women who were in more independent positions than the men in their communities were comfortable with them having). So a novel like Beth Underdown’s upcoming The Witchfinder’s Sister should be right up my alley.

Having just lost her husband in an accident, Alice returns home to her brother, Matthew’s, home where their mother has also recently died. It has been several years since Alice has seen her brother who did not approve of her marriage and in their time apart it quickly becomes clear to Alice that much about him has changed. He has gained a noted position in their old community since he has become involved in taking down complainants’ accounts and questioning accused witches in the area. Alice is horrified but convinces herself that it will all blow over in the end while also piecing together the truth of what happened in her parents’ household that might be driving Matthew in his mission. Will she be able to save anyone from her brother? Continue reading

Book Review – Heartless by Marissa Meyer

heartless - book coverHaving so thoroughly enjoyed Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, her latest novel, Heartless was one of the first I purchased with the gift cards I received back at Christmas. A stand-alone novel rather than the start of a new series, Heartless delves into the life of the young woman who becomes the Queen of Hearts and terrifies Alice on her journey through Wonderland. Once again, Meyer demonstrates her skill at paying homage to the source material while expanding and incorporating additional elements, including characters from nursery rhymes and poems.

Cath is the daughter of the Marquess and Marchioness of Rock Turtle Cove in the kingdom of Hearts but what she wants above everything else is to open a bakery with her best friend, lady’s maid Mary Ann. Though Cath has already caught the king’s attention with her tasty treats, someone else has caught her eye—the new court joker, Jest. As a Jabberwock begins terrorizing the kingdom, Cath learns that there is more to Jest and his presence in Hearts than she’d originally thought and her dreams will clash with both reality and fate. Continue reading

Book Review – The Girls by Emma Cline

the girls - book coverEmma Cline’s The Girls was one of those books that appeared on so many “Best of” lists that it was inevitable I would eventually have a go at it. While it was pretty good, I don’t know that I agree it was one of the best books of 2016––though, it certainly wound up capturing some of the themes that seemed to plague 2016.

Evie Boyd was born into wealth and privilege as the granddaughter of an icon of Hollywood’s golden age but by the time she’s an adult, she’s more famous for her long-ago association with a small and notorious cult. Though she didn’t participate the night of their most heinous crimes, she’s spent a lot of time reflecting on how she got as far in as she did and exactly why she wasn’t there on the infamous night. Ultimately so much of it boils down to the girls and more specifically, Suzanne. 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 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 – Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

wintergirls - book coverSomewhere between Speak and The Impossible Knife of Memory, I missed that Laurie Halse Anderson had published another book—Wintergirls. Luckily I have friends who alerted me to my oversight and now I have corrected it. Always willing to dive into the darker realms of growing up, Anderson addresses the psychology of eating disorders—a subject everyone knows exists but few are willing to discuss or explore in the face of a society that doesn’t wish to change the ways it portrays and commodifies young women’s bodies.

Lia has been through treatment twice before to deal with her anorexia (a term that is not used within the narrative itself) but both times she has managed to escape intact, telling the doctors, nurses, her parents, and psychologists what they want to hear in order to hurry the process along. Though she and her best friend since childhood Cassie had suffered a falling out before their final year of high school, when Cassie turns up dead in a local motel and the other girl’s eating disorder is determined to be the root cause of her death, Lia finds herself haunted by Cassie’s ghost—Cassie had tried calling Lia thirty-three times the night she died. Is it in some way Lia’s fault? Will Cassie’s death turn out to be the wake-up call Lia needs or the final nudge over the edge? 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 – The Yard by Alex Grecian

book cover - the yardThere are times when, as a reader, circumstances converge in the most interesting ways. Since seeing the television adaptation of And Then There Were None last month (my favorite Agatha Christie novel and probably my favorite murder mystery of all time as well), I’ve been on a mystery kick. I’ve also recently been busy getting interested in the television show Penny Dreadful, so when I happened upon a murder mystery set in Victorian London in the wake of the Jack the Ripper murders, I was primed to enjoy the book. But I think my enjoyment of Alex Grecian’s The Yard, goes beyond the fact that I came upon it at a time when my interests happened to converge in just the right way; beyond the mystery itself, The Yard explores an intriguing set of characters at a point in history when so much was changing in terms of the criminal justice system—from the technologies used to catch the criminals to the way metropolitan police systems were organized.

The London police are still reeling from their failure to catch Jack the Ripper and it appears they may be more directly under attack when the body of one of their men—Inspector Christian Little—turns up stuffed into a trunk at a train station. The case falls into the hands of Inspector Walter Day who has just moved to London with his wife and is beginning to question the decision. With the assistance of his fellow inspector Michael Blacker and the unorthodox Dr. Bernard Kingsley who quickly becomes Scotland Yard’s first forensic pathologist, Day works to catch the killer before any more policemen can be killed. In a city like London, though, beat cops like Nevil Hammersmith already know all too well just how many murders and disappearances fall by the wayside and how difficult it can be to pick up a trail when hampered by bureaucracy and apathy.

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Book Review – The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

book of life - book coverOf the three books in Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy, this was the book I read the fastest. The final installment in the trilogy—though it’s unlikely to be the last in this universe she has created—The Book of Life deftly weaves together several of the plot threads that almost felt like they’d been dropped through the second book, while still holding tight to the newer plot threads from that second book. Once everything is brought together, the story presses toward a climactic showdown that probably won’t work for everyone but worked well enough for me.

Having returned from the sixteenth century with a better understanding of her powers and what they need to accomplish with regards to the Book of Life, Diana and Matthew must first adjust to the changes that have occurred in the twenty-first century in their absence—including the death of Diana’s aunt, Emily. Vampire customs and the rules of the Congregation’s covenant begin clashing with increasing frequency against the de Clermonts’ expanding family but their biggest problem proves to be a vampire son of Matthew’s who’d been disowned centuries earlier—Benjamin. Obsessed with discovering a way for vampires to reproduce with witches to create a master race, Benjamin has been working at the edges of things longer than anyone realized and is just as determined to find the Book of Life—and gain revenge on his sire by getting his hands on Diana and the twins she is carrying. Continue reading

Book Review – Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James

death comes to pemberley - book coverAs a general rule, I avoid what I consider unauthorized sequels to famous works—especially those that I love. In the last decade, there have been an absurd amount of novels along these lines for Jane Austen’s works and I have avoided them almost entirely. But having heard only good things about the 2013 television adaptation of Death Comes to Pemberely and recognizing the name of author P.D. James, I decided to make one of the rare exceptions to my general rule—and after all, I do like most twists on fairy tales and there are amazingly interesting novels like Wide Sargasso Sea (with its origins in Jane Eyre) and plays like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (with its origins in Hamlet), that I thoroughly enjoy. I feel that the novel, Death Comes to Pemberley falls somewhere between those and what I usually see as glorified fanfiction (which is not a criticism of fanfiction; when I say ‘glorified’ like that, I’m referring to books that would be considered ‘only fanfiction’ if the authors hadn’t found publishers and profited monetarily from them).

It has been six years since Elizabeth married Mr. Darcy and became mistress of Pemberley. As they prepare for the annual ball—referred to as Lady Anne’s Ball in honor of Darcy’s mother, who started the tradition—a terrible storm strikes along with tragedy. Elizabeth’s unfortunate and presumptuous youngest sister, Lydia, arrives in a carriage the evening before the ball, hysterical and claiming that her husband, Mr. Wickham, set out into the woods after their friend, Captain Denny, who first stopped the carriage to be let out, and that she fears one or both of the men must be dead having heard gunshots. When Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and a third gentleman set out to search for the pair, they discover Captain Denny dead and Wickham in a terrible state over his friend’s body, blaming himself for the man’s death. Bringing Wickham and the body back to Pemberley, Darcy must summon the proper authorities to deal with the inquest and the general suspicion that Wickham had more to do with Denny’s death than he’s willing to admit, dragging Darcy and Pemberley into the thick of things and notoriety once more.

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Book Review – Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

jonathan strange mr norrell - book coverOne of my friends back in college recommended Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell to me so I went ahead and bought a copy but with all the reading I already had to do for my literature classes, I didn’t have the time or motivation to start such a long book and it went into my massive To Read pile. Then last year BBC America started advertising their miniseries adaptation of the novel. Since I had a vacation coming up and would be spending many hours in the car—prime reading time—I decided it was the perfect time to tackle the book and thought I’d have it finished in time to watch the show. I quickly found myself bogged down by the pacing of the novel and ended up sidelining it, reading a chapter here and there between other books but after almost a full year, I’ve finally finished Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.

At the start of the nineteenth century, men of leisure in England are looking for new areas of study to explore and the illustrious history of English magic finds new life as Mr Norrell appears on the scene as the first practical magician in an age. But Mr Norrell is a bit possessive and controlling when it comes to magic. He hoards books of magic in his massive library, bars others from attempting to practice magic or call themselves magicians, and controls what magical theory is published—until Jonathan Strange stumbles into magic. Younger and with little knowledge of magical theory or history, Mr Norrell actually agrees to teach and work with Strange but he is still restrictive in what he will allow Strange to learn—a practice which begins to sow resentment between the pupil and his mentor until they eventually part ways and turn antagonistic towards one another. All through this, a faerie, initially summoned by Mr Norrell for assistance, intervenes with people in the two magicians’ lives to general misery without detection. Efforts to countermand the faerie’s enchantments may require the two magicians overcome their enmity and work together again. 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 Review – The Illusionists by Rosie Thomas

illusionists - book coverRosie Thomas’ novel, The Illusionists is one that I bought a few years ago after reading The Night Circus and rewatching a few of my favorite magic/illusion movies (The Illusionist, Scoop, The Prestige except for the last few scenes, etc.). I don’t remember now why I had put off reading it but it has inspired me to do another rewatch. The Illusionists captures more than just the wonder of the illusions the novel’s central troupe performs, it captures the ways that reality and illusion play into each of their lives as well.

Devil Wix is a struggling magician looking for more regular work than what he gets performing in the streets. He stumbles across a dwarf by the name of Carlo Boldoni who has a knack for devising illusions as well as gift for performing them. The two prove to be effective collaborators as their competitive sides drive them both forward. Nabbing a recurring act on the stage of the newly reopened Palmyra Theater, their biggest obstacle to success becomes the theater’s owner, a greedy man called Jacko Grady who knows nothing about marketing or talent. The pair aren’t the only ones dissatisfied with Grady and soon the performers and their friends outside the theater begin to form an alliance and finally a company of their own. Heinrich is an engineer who builds automatons but is socially awkward and has difficulty grasping the line between real and machine, the controllable and those with free will. Jasper knows Devil’s real name and history having grown up together as boys, but his waxwork models prove valuable to Boldoni and Wix’s illusions. Eliza becomes a focal point for most of the men in the company as she challenges so many expectations of women during the time in which the novel is set but knowing what she needs from a relationship in order to maintain her sense of independence, she cannot make them all happy though she aims to keep them balanced without losing herself. Continue reading

Book Review – Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

shadow of night - book coverSince I read and posted my review of A Discovery of Witches, I’ve heard that there will actually be more books in the series than just the initial trilogy. Having gotten further attached to the characters in the Shadow of Night, the second book in the trilogy, I’m excited that the next book won’t be the end—though I’m perhaps more excited to see how things played out in the present timeline while Diana and Matthew were in the past as well as how this particular plot ultimately wraps up.

Despite Diana’s familiarity with the history of Elizabethan England, when she and Matthew arrive after timewalking there, she has a lot to learn—about how to behave and live in the sixteenth century, about Matthew’s family and past, and about who she is and how her magic works. The tasks they set out for themselves—finding a witch to educate Diana and locating the Ashmole 782 text—aren’t as simple as they had hoped or planned them to be. Matthew becomes conflicted as he must act in accordance with his sixteenth century self though many of his beliefs have shifted drastically; Diana must come to terms with her magic, training so she can protect herself from those who covet her powers or might wish her harm. In the present, those Matthew and Diana have left behind wait and watch for signs of a changing history and portents of their return. Continue reading

Book Review – A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

discovery of witches - book coverI don’t recall where it was I first saw this book recommended but reading the summary caught my attention enough to stick it on one of my To Read lists. As part of the Harry Potter generation, I will forever have a fondness for fantasy novels dealing with witches and wizards, especially when they’re well plotted and the world building is thorough—both of which perfectly describe Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches, the first in her All Souls Trilogy. I know I won’t be able to wait too long to read and review the next book in the trio—I need to know what happens next.

Diana Bishop is the last in a long and famous line of witches but she prefers her life as a historian and, as a rule, avoids using her magic except when it’s absolutely necessary. Her research into early alchemical texts doesn’t count. But one day while researching at the Bodleian Library at Oxford, she discovers that one of the manuscripts she requested has magic shielding parts of it. Wary of what she might have stumbled onto, Diana sends it back and moves on but in the following days the library begins to fill with other creatures—witches, daemons, and vampires. Among those watching her is Professor Matthew Clairmont, a physician, research biologist, and vampire. Though she is cautious about him at first, she can’t deny the way she’s drawn to him, learning that he and everyone else are interested in the manuscript she was able to summon where so many had failed—a fact that, along with her blossoming relationship with Clairmont, put Diana in danger. 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 – Fallen Land by Taylor Brown

book cover - fallen landI honestly don’t remember what it was about the description for Taylor Brown’s upcoming Fallen Land that caught my attention—there’s a pretty good chance it was the Civil War setting and the mention of Sherman’s march to the sea. As far as historic fiction set during that time period goes, you usually get books where the characters are deeply engrossed in the actions of war—the battles, the army maneuvers, the women and children left behind to cope with occupation, etc. Fallen Land follows characters who manage to remain largely on the outskirts of those kinds of things—they’re obviously still impacted, but the war itself is a backdrop rather than the driving force of the plot.

Callum is a teen who has taken up with the Colonel and his band of Confederate-leaning guerilla fighters who raid where and when they can. When the band stumbles across the house where they find seventeen-year-old Ava alone, she becomes the target of some of Callum’s companions’ violent desires. Callum intervenes to protect her and is nearly killed for his trouble. The first opportunity he gets, he heads back to look for her, stealing the Colonel’s horse to do so and bringing him and his men after him. During an altercation with them at Ava’s house, the Colonel is killed and Callum and Ava decide to head south together since neither of them have anything left where they are. It doesn’t take long for them to learn that the Colonel’s men—along with his slave-hunter brother—aren’t going to let the matter drop and are still on their trail. Continue reading

Book Preview – Médicis Daughter by Sophie Perinot

medicis daughter - book coverI have long been fascinated by historic fiction centered around the Tudor Court in England. It’s an interesting period in history for so many reasons and the political, religious, and romantic intrigue are legendary. But with so much attention paid to the Tudors it’s easy to forget the cutthroat situations of other royal courts in Europe. When I saw Médicis Daughter by Sophie Perinot as an upcoming release–a novel centered around Marguerite de Valois, the youngest daughter of Catherine de Médicis—I was eager to see how another royal court of the period compared on the page (Catherine de Médicis, her husband, and his mistress also featured in It Ended Badly so with the names fresh in my mind, the premise caught my attention quickly).

Marguerite—Margot—is only about ten years old when she is finally invited to join her mother’s household in her older brother, Charles’ royal court. Initially close to her other older brother, Henri—later the Duc de Anjou—she slowly learns to navigate the flirtations and manipulations of French court, eager to do her duty to her family, her king, and her faith. The French Wars of Religion impact life at court for all but for Margot perhaps most. Though the court and her main companions are all strictly Catholic, there are other factors at play—family loyalties and plays for power and influence. Margot—struggling to build a future that suits herself—finds herself used and abused by her closest family and friends. But as she grows, she learns, and when the time comes Margot can and will take a stand against her mother and the formidable power she wields. Continue reading

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

1001 Books to Read Before You Die (Sort Of) Challenge #164

“You can spin stories out of the ways people understand and misunderstand each other.” – Ian McEwan

comfort of strangers - book coverThe more of Ian McEwan’s work that I read, the more convinced I become that when I started with Atonement, I started with his best work. The Comfort of Strangers took me two tries a year apart to get past the first chapter. Colin and Mary are on vacation in an unspecified ancient city and don’t appear to be enjoying themselves too much. They’re not quite connecting. They keep getting lost on their wanderings and the frustration is building with more than a week left of their holiday. One night a local man named Robert helps the lost pair, taking them to his bar where he tells them stories about his childhood. Coming across them again the next day, he invites them to dinner at his home with his wife, Caroline. Though Mary and Colin aren’t quite sure what to make of Robert and Caroline, they politely accept the couple’s hospitality. The experience seems to open the flow of communication between Mary and Colin for the rest of their vacation. Of course, in the end it turns out those odd, uncomfortable feelings were more than justified.

There wasn’t much I found to really hold onto in this story. Mary is an overt feminist and those few conversations where women’s rights arise were the parts I found most engaging. The twist at the end didn’t feel particularly genuine; Mary and Colin are impulsive but I can’t help feeling that some of their behavior was tweaked according to the laws of horror films (in which everyone does the exact thing any real person would know instinctively not to do). I wasn’t sorry for this book to end. I have higher hopes for the other McEwan novels on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list.

(And I just found out it was adapted into a film with Christopher Walken, Helen Mirren, Natasha Richardson, and Rupert Everett in the early 90s; not sure what to make of this new information.)

1001 Books to Read Before You Die (Sort Of) Challenge: 111-120

“In my reviews, I feel it’s good to make it clear that I”m not proposing objective truth, but subjective reactions; a review should reflect the immediate experience.” — Roger Ebert

Or in my case, what I remember of my immediate experience. Reading is as much about reactions to the material as it is about absorbing and taking it in. It’s one of my favorite things about the way history and literature interact (and why I wrote about it so much for both literature and history classes in college). What we read can change the way we think about ourselves, others, and the world we inhabit. What we think affects how we act and how we act can change the way the world and the people we interact with are. Which then inspires people to write new things for the rest of us to read and the cycle begins again.

By reading books from different periods of history, from different regions of the world, books that have become part of the literary canon (or have been removed from the literary canon) — like many of the books on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list — we get a glimpse into how people thought and acted at different points in the past. Sometimes the impact a book has cannot be clearly seen until after the dust settles; then we see whether the world has changed or whether everything remains the same.

Anyway. Enough of my philosophizing. On to the recap.  Continue reading