Having first come to Laura Andersen’s work through her Boleyn King and sequel Tudor Legacy series, I was intrigued when I learned she had a new novel that broke from the alternative history genre. Add the fact that the description for The Darkling Bride involved both literary and murder mysteries and it promised to check a surprising number of boxes in terms of what I enjoy in a novel. As I found with her other works, The Darkling Bride took me a little while to become invested but Andersen’s skill with weaving a tight plot from threads that appear too loose to hold their structure ensured a satisfying showdown and resolution.
Carragh Ryan needs a break from dealing with her family as she works to renovate her late grandmother’s house in Dublin. Spending a few weeks cataloguing an old, large, and private library at an estate where power is faulty at best and a cell phone signal is non-existent seems like the perfect excuse to continue her avoidance. That the castle of Viscount Gallagher and his family also has ties to one of her favorite nineteenth century writers is the icing on the cake. But a twenty-year-old double murder cold case begins to thaw soon after she arrives and the Gallagher family’s dark past threatens to suck her in too. Continue reading →
As much as I was looking forward to the release of Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Frost and Starlight, I did everything I could to keep my hopes down, and I’m so glad I did. Occupying an odd and understandably uncomfortable space between a true novella and a novel, A Court of Frost and Starlight addresses few of the questions still up in the air at the end of A Court of Wings and Ruin, which is unsatisfying. But it was never the purpose of A Court of Frost and Starlight to answer those questions. What this book needed to accomplish was transitioning the main narrative focus of this series away from Feyre (and Rhysand) directly, to the new focus(es) of the series (or at least of the next full novel)—Nesta and Cassian. I thought it accomplished that emotional and narrative transition fairly well, though the implications for the series’ timeline have me scratching my head a bit.
It’s been several months since the war with Hybern ended and the rebuilding of Prythian is moving along at a seemingly glacial pace. But the approaching winter solstice promises to bring everyone together… along with many of the lingering emotional and practical issues they’ve been avoiding. Elain still avoids Lucien. Lucien still finds himself an uncomfortable fit in the Inner Circle and so splits his time in several different places. Nesta has withdrawn from just about everyone, which seems to be a key factor to Cassian’s own unsettled demeanor—though he won’t exactly speak about it. Feyre is eager to help everyone else heal before tending to her own needs. As she comes to realize how broken everyone and everything in Prythian still are, there are some things about her future she decides she doesn’t want to put off till things are more convenient; circumstances will never be convenient so there is only the now. Continue reading →
I believe the first I heard of Ada Lovelace was from one of my college roommates taking a Women in Mathematics class. Years later, I learned the full extent of her influence on mathematics and early computer science, as well as the fact that she was Lord Byron’s daughter. When I read the description for Jennifer Chiaverini’s Enchantress of Numbers, I was excited to get a more tangible portrait of such a significant woman in STEM than I’d been able to find from simple, factual research (the humanizing of historic figures one of the reasons I adore historical fiction). However, Chiaverini’s approach to Ada Lovelace and the story of her life wasn’t what I had hoped it would be. It’s not badly written, but it did fail to resonate with me and often left me unexpectedly bored.
Enchantress of Numbers is told by Augusta Ada Byron Lovelace in the first person but is narrated by her as an adult and (unknowingly) near the end of her life. Yet it begins with a lengthy examination of how her parents met, married, and how that marriage fell apart. From there, it progresses chronologically through all but the very end of Ada’s life. It’s written as though it could be a memoir and it often felt more like a memoir than a novel. It also tended to feel more like a book about Lord Byron’s legacy and failed marriage than about his daughter. While I don’t doubt that coming to terms with her absent, famous father and the way it impacted how her mother raised her were crucial in how Ada Lovelace grew up and her personal sense of identity, it made the book (and Ada’s life) feel like it was all about her parents and not really about her at all. Just as she seems to reconcile the two influences in her life, the novel (and shortly thereafter, her life) ends. Continue reading →
Having loved The Bear and the Nightingale, I hoped that Katherine Arden’s sequel, The Girl in the Tower, would be the first book I previewed in 2018 but when the publication date was pushed up to early December instead of its original January release date, I simply didn’t have time to finish it and write a review before published. So instead, it is my first book review of 2018 and hopefully, will get me back onto a weekly (or possibly biweekly) book review schedule. Either way, in terms of material, The Girl in the Tower is a fantastic way to start 2018. Though sequels can be tricky, Arden’s follow up to The Bear and the Nightingale was everything I could have hoped and establishes a firm footing for the rest of this trilogy.
With her father and stepmother dead under mysterious circumstances and her village still reeling from the supernatural battle fought under their unsuspecting noses, Vasya has few options. Unwilling to submit to the choices offered by her family and society, Vasya flees and disguises herself as a boy in order to live the life she yearns to have. As her path takes her back into the lives of her beloved brother, Sasha, serving the Grand Prince, and her married sister, Olga, awaiting the birth of her third child, Vasya’s disguise comes under closer scrutiny with dangerous consequences if the truth of her identity should be discovered. Continue reading →
Unlike the wait I went through between reading Red Queen and Glass Sword, there was less than a week between when I finished Glass Sword and when I started King’s Cage. One of the aspects of the series I’ve been enjoying most so far has been the way each novel ends with a complete change in circumstances from the previous story. The characters are the same in many ways but their relationships with one another and their senses of self shift dramatically. Even when the plot misses, falls into predictability, or struggles against the limitations of first-person narrative perspective, the character studies at the heart of the series carry it forward with tremendous purpose.
Glass Sword ended with Mare agreeing to go with Maven in exchange for him letting Cal and the rest of their team go free. Picking up where the previous novel left off, King’s Cage sees Mare as a veritable slave in Maven’s palace. With constant guards and silent stone suppressing her powers, she struggles to make it through each day. But Maven’s mind and emotions have lingering scars from his mother’s manipulations and he can’t keep away from Mare as he wrestles with his feelings for her. She does what she can to manipulate him right back, hoping for the day he lets something slip and praying for the day the Red Guard and her friends will break her free if she can’t contrive to escape sooner. Continue reading →
It’s difficult to find a balance between reading only what pleases you and stretching your horizons from time to time. I like to try to be open minded and read a bit of everything but there are definitely certain genres that I avoid because I just don’t find them to my tastes personally. Not one to turn away free books, I accepted an offer to read Amanda Prowse’s recent release, The Art of Hiding, even though it falls into a subgenre of “women’s lit” that I usually avoid. While it is an incredible example of that genre and certainly addresses valuable themes related to personal identity and self-worth, it speaks to those themes with a heavy handedness I personally find annoying and distracting.
Nina and her husband, Finn, are well off and their sons go to a prestigious school, but she has never forgotten what it was like growing up in a very different environment. When her husband dies suddenly in a car accident, Nina’s world is turned upside down, but for more reasons than just losing the man she loved and her children their father. She learns that they were in fact, greatly in debt—bankrupt, actually—and it feels like the blows fall relentlessly in the immediate aftermath of that emotional toll. Nina must confront her relationship with her past while negotiating single-parenthood and the reevaluation of everything she thought she knew about her husband and their marriage.Continue reading →
Given how Red Queen ended, I was eager to start the second book in the series, Glass Sword. While there were more rough spots in Book Two, it expanded the fictional universe in interesting ways that continued to feed my enthusiasm for the series (Book Three is ready and waiting for me right now). The character studies that develop in this second book also add to the depth of Aveyard’s world and make up for most of the weaknesses in plot or execution that arise.
Mare Barrow and the fallen Prince Cal survived and escaped what were supposed to be their executions. The Red Guard help them to get further away from the newly crowned king’s clutches but both must deal with the betrayals they have suffered at Maven’s hands—and at each other’s. The plan Mare devises for challenging Maven—and distracting herself from all that she’s done to the people around her—is to find, recruit, and train the other “Newbloods” that were on Julian’s list before Maven can find and kill them—or worse. Continue reading →
If there’s a subgenre of historic fiction that I find difficult to turn down, it’s historic fiction set during the American Civil War. There were so many factors at play with consequences rippling through so many groups of people in so many places and so many ways that I don’t think we’ll ever run out of stories to tell about that period of American history. The sheer size and scope of it also makes it difficult to tackle in a novel and trying to engage with too many angles of it at once can be a mistake. There is so much in Daren Wang’s The Hidden Light of Northern Fires that is done well, but I found the novel as a whole to be underwhelming and I think that this is the culprit—plots with great promise that went underdeveloped because there were simply too many of them.
The town of Town Line in New York is near Buffalo but along the border with Canada. This means that the town is home to many slave hunters who make a living catching escaped slaves when they’re just steps away from freedom. But not everyone in town looks fondly on the practice, least of all Mary Willis whose father essentially founded the town and whose sawmill built most of it as well. When an escaped man called Joe turns up in their barn half dead, she calls on the doctor and helps to first heal then conceal the man from the men who would capture Joe and return him south. Tensions in the town rise when the war begins as many young men head off to fight for the Union where others have ties to the Confederacy. Continue reading →
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 →
As is often the case—especially with fantasy—it was the premise that caught my attention and made me want to read Kendare Blake’s Three Dark Crowns (okay, the cover too; young adult fiction really has some of the most alluring cover design). Actually reading the novel was an unexpected rollercoaster that definitely requires additional explanation, but I ultimately enjoyed the story and characters enough to be looking forward to the novel’s upcoming sequel… however nervous I am about the way that narrative will be presented.
It is the will of the Goddess that Fennbirn’s queen always gives birth to triplets and that those three girls are then raised by prominent families of the separate magical factions on the island, each according to the talent gifted her by the Goddess at birth. When the young queens reach the age of sixteen they begin a fight to the death with the last one alive claiming Fennbirn’s throne with her queen consort from the mainland at her side until the next trio of queens is born. The beginning of the Ascension year is approaching and the three queens—Katharine, a poisoner, Mirabella, an elemental, and Arsinoe, a naturalist—are preparing to fight for the throne and their lives. Despite the dominance of the poisoner queens over the last century, Katharine’s gift hasn’t strengthened as much as the Arrons would like. Rumor has it Mirabella is more powerful than any queen in recent decades and the Temple’s priestesses are already backing her. Only Arsinoe’s friends hold out any hope that her gift will show itself in time for her to put up any kind of fight against her sisters. Continue reading →
It’s an established fact that I’m a sucker for retellings and re-imaginings of fairy tales and other children’s stories. Peter Pan is among my favorites to see in new ways (which means I really need to get through Barrie’s Peter Pan at some point). There have been quite a few dark interpretations of the Peter character—among my favorite is Brom’s The Child Thief—but many of the re-imaginings I’ve read don’t pay a lot of attention to the character of Captain Hook and how and why the antagonism between he and Peter exists. Christina Henry’s new release Lost Boy is all about the lost boy who became Captain Hook.
There had to be a first and in Henry’s novel, the first boy Peter brought to the island as a playmate was Jamie. It’s been several hundred years since that day and Jamie’s memories of it are fuzzy but he’s one of the few boys on the island that’s lasted. But two of the latest boys Peter brought trigger major changes among the group of lost boys. Charlie is much younger than the others and Jamie feels a desperate need to protect him from the harsh realities of Peter’s sometimes-deadly games. Nip, meanwhile, means to supplant Jamie as Peter’s right hand and favorite. As jealousies grow and become increasingly violent, the bonds between Jamie and Peter slip. Jamie sees more of the truth about Peter and he begins to grow up, the magic of the island keeping the boys’ bodies as young as their hearts and spirits. Continue reading →
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 →
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 →
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 Leaversdrew 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 →
After finishing A Court of Thorns and Roses, I immediately put myself on the waitlist for the second novel in the series, A Court of Mist and Fury. But waiting for a copy through the library became too tedious so I caved and bought a copy instead and have rarely been happier with the decision (I went ahead and bought the third novel, A Court of Wings and Ruin before finishing the second so the review for that book won’t be too far behind this one). Though A Court of Thorns and Roses is a wonderful well-contained novel in its own right, A Court of Mist and Fury expands on Sarah J. Maas’ universe beautifully, taking the foundational elements of the first novel and building the characters, their back stories, and their relationships with incredible skill and detail. The trauma of the first novel’s final act is central to where the characters find themselves at the start of this second book and its harsh realities force a new perspective onto everything and everyone.
Though months have passed since Feyre’s trials Under the Mountain and having been remade as High Fae, Feyre still has stomach churning nightmares and her life at the Spring Court hasn’t been as restorative as she might have hoped. So far the High Lord of the Night Court, Rhysand, hasn’t bothered her or Tamlin regarding the bargain she made with him during her trials, but with her wedding to Tamlin approaching and Tamlin clearly worried with diplomatic matters he’s not telling her about, Feyre continues to stall in moving past her trauma. When Rhysand finally calls in his half of the bargain she struck, Feyre’s time away from Tamlin and the Spring Court help to open her eyes to how much she has changed since her human days Under the Mountain. Perhaps the love she gave her human life for isn’t enough for her fae life. Continue reading →
I like to think I’m a big science fiction fan but I tend to favor what’s probably better considered to be light science fiction. The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett is precisely the kind of light science fiction that I love. While it delves into the science and philosophy of a potential future for human kind—and how we might easily become almost entirely wiped out as a species—the real focus of the novel is the emotional side, the personal side, the human side that remains and endeavors to survive against all odds.
Jamie, like the entire human population scattered across the inhabited planets, has been at the mercy of a devastating virus that spreads quickly and leaves nothing but dust in its wake… except for those zero point zero zero zero zero one percent who somehow manage to survive and recover. The planet where she’s been living and working for a few months to hide from some personal (relationship) troubles is on the outskirts though and didn’t have a large population to begin with. Jamie’s panic lasts a few days as she makes her way to a port town and tries to send a signal to see if there are any other survivors out there. She doesn’t have to wait long and soon she has joined several others on their way to the capital planets and eventually back to Earth itself. But as survivors gather in larger and larger numbers, the underlying issues of the society that’s been wiped out prove to have survived the virus along with them. Continue reading →
Usually when I find new books to read it’s through recommendations or hearing something about them first. In this case, I moved by complete and total impulse. I saw the cover while I was shopping and it reminded me of one of my favorite books, The Night Circus, so I copied down the title and looked it up when I got home. The premise sounded intriguing enough and I’ve been on a streak of young adult aimed novels that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed so I went ahead and read it. While it has its moments, Caraval doesn’t quite fulfill the promise of its premise and leans too heavily into melodrama for my personal tastes.
For years, Scarlett had hoped that she and her sister might be invited to the magical Caraval game her grandmother had told them stories about that is held every year. But as she got older, Scarlett realized it was far more important to get married so she could leave her abusive father behind and take her sister, Donatella, to safety with her. Shortly before her nuptials (to a man of her father’s choosing and whom she has never met) she receives the long desired invitation to Caraval. It’s dangerous to go but Donatella won’t let Scarlett say ‘no’ and once they arrive on the island where Caraval takes place (with a little help) it turns out that the game the Caraval Master, Legend, has in mind is a more personal one for Scarlett. Donatella is kidnapped before they’ve even been there a full day and clues have been left behind for Scarlett and the other Caraval players to puzzle out in order to find Donatella and win Legend’s prize of a wish. But not everyone involved in Caraval is who they seem; magic and lies bend expectations and mislead and it’s up to the players not to get carried away by the game they’re playing. Continue reading →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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.
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 Landcame 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 →
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 →
Growing up, I read a lot of novels that centered on the Holocaust and World War II. Many of those novels were part of the public school curriculum and they frequently told tales of the persecuted and the brave people who tried to shelter them. While I still find myself drawn to historic novels set in that time period, in recent years I’ve found many more books that go beyond just the years of the war itself, just the Jews hiding in Germany and Austria and Poland, extending their stories into the years after the war officially ended and the world began piecing itself back together. Seeing examples of the lasting damage and turmoil across Europe after the Nazis had been defeated carries more weight for me now than it would have when I was in elementary and middle school. James William Brown’s upcoming My Last Lament is one such novel.
An old woman now, Aliki lives in the same village in Greece where she grew up but she is among the last of her generation and is the area’s last lamenter. An American student wanted to study and document her laments leaving a tape recorder behind so Aliki can record them when it’s convenient for her. In the process of trying to fulfill the student’s wishes, Aliki records the story of her own life beginning with her teenage days when her small village was occupied by German soldiers and two boys came into her life whom she would constantly find herself torn between. Takis is the young son of the woman who takes Aliki in after her father’s death and becomes a brother of sorts to her, though there is something strange and sometimes dangerous about him. Stelios is a little older than Aliki, a Greek Jew in hiding whom Aliki grows to love. But the lives of all three are threatened and tossed about as Greece reels in political unrest following the defeat and retreat of the Germans. Continue reading →
I have had Saima Wahab’s memoir In My Father’s Country: An Afghan Woman Defies Her Fate on my To Read list since I saw her interview on the Daily Show several years ago. Documenting her childhood in Afghanistan and then Pakistan as a refugee before moving to the United States to further her education, become a US citizen, and eventually travel back to Afghanistan to assist US troops during the war–and given the current political climate in the US—it seemed like the perfect time to finally make myself read this book.
First published in 2012, Wahab’s memoir begins with her earliest memories of life in Afghanistan as the Soviets invaded the country and her outspoken and rather liberal father was among the first taken into custody. She never saw him again and her family fled first to her father’s people in their small village and then across the border to Pakistan where they were safer. Wahab notes that even from a small age, she rejected elements of her native culture, especially with regards to how the women were controlled and restricted by the men of their families. Sent to her uncles in the US as a teenager along with her siblings and cousins, she embraced many of the freedoms of American culture even as it caused her to struggle with holding onto and preserving her sense of her culture as a Pashtun woman. Once she begins her exploration of her time working as a civilian alongside US forces in Afghanistan–first as an interpreter and then as a research manager on an HTT (Human Terrain Team) where she helped research and map the cultural differences between the villages in Afghanistan—her narrative focuses on her struggle to reconcile the two sides of her identity, Pashtun woman and American woman. Speaking the language and understanding the culture of the locals, she worked to educate and guide both the US soldiers and the local Afghan peoples as the nations aimed to work together to rebuild her father’s country. Continue reading →