I've discovered that posting only two times a week (rather than four) means that I don't post very many reviews (like, pretty much none). In a way, I'm okay with that, because who really has time to write all these reviews? But on the other hand, I love having that record of my reading and my opinion to look back on. So I thought I would write a few two sentence reviews of books I've recently read.
The Fifth Avenue Artists Society by Joy Callaway
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
Story Thieves by James Riley
The Moonstone is a mystery. Depending on who you ask, it's possibly the first detective novel written. The moonstone is a very large diamond stolen from India. It's given to Rachel Verinder on her eighteenth birthday, and inexplicably disappears in the middle of the night. Renowned Sergeant Cuff from London is called in to solve the case, but even he runs into dead ends as he attempts to figure out what happened that night.
I love the way this story is told. It is divided into nine sections, each told by a different narrator. Franklin Blake, Rachel's cousin and the deliverer of the moonstone, has asked the major witnesses to record their recollections and experiences involving the diamond. The first large section of the book is told by Gabriel Betteredge, the Verinders' steward. He is a wonderful character to get to know, just the sort of English butler you would suppose - except he finds inspiration and wisdom in Robinson Crusoe. Each new section is told by a character with a distinct voice and personality. The variety of narrators is part of what makes this book so enjoyable.
The mystery will also keep you guessing to the very end. It's very different than today's mystery novels, which often owe more to action and violence than clues and investigative work. This is not an action-packed book. Yet for all that, it is difficult to put down as each narrator adds their piece of the puzzle.
The Moonstone is not a short book, yet it is a surprisingly fast read. The mystery and the characters combine to draw you into the story completely. This is one detective novel that you won't be sorry that you read!
Completely unplanned, I happened to read two books set in the 1990s practically back-to-back. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the 90s doesn't seem to be a very common setting. I really enjoy reading books set in the 90s because it reminds me just how far we've come in the past 20 years. Even though I lived through these changes, it's hard to see it in perspective unless we're reminded what life was like back then.
My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff is a nonfiction memoir, although it really reads like a novel. Fresh out of grad school, Rakoff lands a job at a literary agency in New York City. But not just any agency - they have the reclusive J.D. Salinger as one of their clients! Through Rakoff's experiences, we get a look not only at how literary agencies worked at the time, but also what life was like in NYC. We run the gamut from one of the fanciest hotels to her little apartment that didn't come with a sink - or heat. Rakoff does a fabulous job of recreating the atmosphere of NYC in the 90s, as well as telling a story full of books and authors.
Attachments by Rainbow Rowell is really set on the cusp of the new millennium. Lincoln works for the IT department of a newspaper. It's his job to monitor employees' computer and email usage, which means reading other people's emails. This leads to a slight addiction to reading the emails sent between Beth and Jennifer. Which leads to more than a slight crush on Beth. What exactly are the ethics in a situation like this? (It's also Lincoln's job to prepare for Y2K - remember that panic that was all for absolutely nothing?) In a book that's told half through emails, it's amazing how Rowell can make her characters leap off the page. Just like the YA novels I've read by her, I swear that Beth and Jennifer and Lincoln have to be living their lives somewhere in this world right now.
Rowell leaves you guessing to the very end, but you never stop cheering for these characters who have become your friends.
I have no problem admitting that I am an Anglophile. I've been to England four times. I would probably move there if I could. And yes, I loved the fairy-tale wedding of Will and Kate. And I will look at pictures of their adorable children any day.
So when The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan crossed my radar, it immediately went on my TBR list. I'm really not much of a sappy romantic, but didn't every little girl dream about getting swept away by a prince at some point?
The Royal We pleasantly surprised me, though, in being so much more than fairy-tale romance. It's understandably being linked to Will & Kate a lot, but it is much more than thinly veiled fan fiction. Here's why:
1. There are characters that make mistakes. I know it's part of being the royal family and all, but don't they always seem so perfect? Like they can never do anything wrong, although we all know better. Nick and Bex are clearly fallible humans just like us, complete with plenty of bad choices.
2. We see the good and the bad. The romantic moments and the fights. The confessions of love and the break-ups. This is not just a story about two people falling in love. This is the story of a relationship and what it takes to make that work.
3. We get a taste of what goes into making someone the picture-perfect princess. And what a sacrifice that must be for everyone who lives in the spotlight like that.
This book is much more than Cinderella meets the prince. It's even a lot more than Kate Middleton meets the prince. If you're looking for a book about a relationship, not just a love story, then this is the one.
I don't honestly remember how I first stumbled across The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens. My guess would be a review from a fellow book blogger. But I've actually seen very little in the blogosphere about The Books of Beginning series. It could have just been a random library find. I guess it doesn't really matter, though, how I discovered this series in the first place. The point of this post is that you need to read them, too.
1. Kate, Michael, and Emma are the heroes of the series. They've been sent from orphanage to orphanage, believing that the parents that abandoned them would never come back for them. And yet, despite - or because of - that, they cling to each other with ferocity. Their love for each other is what gives these books their heart.
2. Just because they love each other doesn't mean they always get along. John Stephens perfectly captures sibling interactions (maybe he stole these from his own kids?). The dialogue between the siblings seem so authentic.
3. Plot twists like you wouldn't believe. When you add time travel and magic to the mix, anything can happen.
4. There are three siblings and three books - each character gets a chance to shine in their own book, but the plots are entwined throughout the series.
5. It's an extremely satisfying series. I just read the third book in the trilogy, which is what prompted me to write this post (I reviewed the first book when I read it a couple of years ago). This is a series that will not let you down. I'm not saying it won't make you cry. I'm just saying the author did a good job of upholding the integrity of the series.
6. These books are funny. Elves and dwarves and their rivalries provide comic relief, as do the siblings' interactions and teasing. I laughed out loud more than once. This alone could hook any middle grade reader, and it certainly hooked me.
Even though I teach fourth grade, I really don't read much middle grade fiction. But this was a series I could not put down and I could not forget about. I couldn't wait for the third book to be released this year, and I devoured it as soon as I could. If you like Narnia or The Hobbit or Harry Potter - or if you would just like to meet some really great kids - then you should most definitely read The Books of Beginning by John Stephens!
Reviewlets - 5* Character Edition [The Secret Life of William Shakespeare; The Curriculum Vitae of Aurora Ortiz; Glamorous Illusions]
There have many books, both fiction and nonfiction, written about the life of William Shakespeare – despite the fact that we don’t know all that much about his life. Was he even the playwright he is claimed to be? How could a lowly glover's son become the most famous playwright of all time?
Jude Morgan tackles that question, and answers it in a perfectly plausible fashion. Shakespeare comes to life on these pages, with all of his restlessness and passion to be on the stage and to be writing for the stage. Despite that, this book really doesn't spend much time on the writing of the plays. Instead, it focuses on Shakespeare’s relationship with his wife, Anne, who was left behind in Stratford while he ran off to London. Not an easy relationship, to be sure. Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson make cameo appearances. And Will Shakespeare himself becomes a sympathetic, but flawed, man. If you want a version of Shakespeare’s life that could have been the real one, then this is the book for you.
Reading a book in translation is more than just being able to read the words in English. It gives you a glimpse of another culture through the eyes of that culture. Aurora Ortiz is a young widow who is looking for a job. She sends her resume to a temp agency, but her version of a resume is a long letter baring her heart. And it’s not the only long letter like this that she sends to the agency. It’s not a very long book, and it took me awhile to really get a feel for the author’s intent. How exactly were we supposed to feel about naïve Aurora? (And this is where I think getting a glimpse of another culture comes in.) But soon I was totally drawn into Aurora’s struggle to find her place in the world, and I was cheering for her every step of the way. Aurora Ortiz is a character that will stick with you for a very long time, one that will make your life better by knowing her.
Cora Diehl has come home to the family farm in Montana, only to have her life turned upside down. Her father has a stroke, and then it turns out that he isn’t really her father. Soon, Cora’s summer plans include the Grand Tour in Europe with her newly discovered half-siblings.
I loved this book from page one. First of all, it’s Christian historical fiction, which means I don’t have to worry about swearing. And the characters turn to God to help them through their struggles. Extremely refreshing!! Secondly, Cora is strong in her faith and strong in herself. Yes, she goes through a lot of soul-searching to discover who God means her to be. But in each of those struggles, she is very relatable and real. And who of us hasn’t wished we could have gone on the Grand Tour, spending months in Europe seeing all the major sights?
This is the first book in a trilogy, and I can’t wait to see where Cora and her family travel next and what God brings them along the way.
I really enjoyed this book. It was a fun, quick read with wonderful characters.
But it could have been so much more.
It was fine the way it was. But it had the potential to be more. A.J. Fikry is the owner of an independent bookstore on Alice Island. His wife died in a car accident not long ago, and subsequently, his life is falling apart. Then someone leaves a little girl in his bookstore, and he has to figure out how to build a new life for both of them. It’s a novel full of zany characters; a book that has you cheering for A.J. from the very first page. There are literary references galore, and a love of reading that shines through clearly on every page. It’s a fun summer read.
But it could have been so much more than just a breezy summer read. The problems that A.J. and other characters encountered were solved too quickly and too neatly. These characters faced real struggles, things that each of us could someday face in our own lives. And instead of watching them fight through these struggles, we simply turn the page to see everything packaged with a neat bow. This could have been a book you turned to during those struggles in your life, a book you could empathize with, a book you could turn to for guidance. Instead, it’s just a quick summer read.
I really did enjoy this book. I read it in one day, and I loved meeting each and every new character. But I wish it was a book of more depth and less surface. If it were, it would have easily found a place on my bookshelf and to-be-reread-soon list. As it is, it was a quick read that will be too quickly forgotten.
I just finished reading Lost Lake, which makes the fifth book I’ve read by Sarah Addison Allen. (I’ve read – and own – all of hers except for First Frost, her newest, which I’m dying to get my hands on.) I loved Lost Lake, and it’s got me thinking of all of the reasons why I love Sarah Addison Allen’s books. There are many, so I decided to make a list:
1. My discovery of Allen is a library browsing success story. I picked The Girl Who Chased the Moon off the shelf because I loved the title. And I quickly became hooked on the author.
2. She was my introduction to magical realism, which I can now claim as one of my favorite genres. Magical realism basically means that the story could happen – except for that hint of magic that makes almost anything possible. The possibilities are so intriguing, and Allen handles them so well.
3. Her stories are about relationships, but not necessarily the romantic kind. Yes, romance is often part of the story. But more importantly, her books are about families. Building and repairing the connections that mean the most.
4. Her characters are quirky. I think Devin from Lost Lake may be my favorite character of hers yet. But everyone has a little quirkiness. Sometimes that’s because of the magic, and sometimes that’s because the character is just weird.
5. Her characters have real heartaches. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one or a difficult childhood, her characters have lived through some real challenges and are coming out stronger on the other side.
6. The locations sometimes provide the magic in and of themselves, and I want to visit them all!
7. Allen’s writing is delicate. That’s the best word I could find to describe it. It’s gentle, with just the right phrase on every page. It’s never crude or harsh. It creates the atmosphere that pervades each of her books.
I could probably keep going on, but I think I’ll rein myself in here. I have thoroughly enjoyed every book I’ve read by Sarah Addison Allen, and I hope you have – and will – enjoy them as well!
I was able to fit in three L.M. Montgomery reads in January, which was a wonderful way to start the year. I always reread one Anne book for this challenge, and this year, it was Anne of the Island. I’d be hard-pressed to pick a favorite Anne book, but this one may just be the winner. She goes away to college and makes new friends. Who wouldn’t want to live in Patty’s Place?? And there’s finally a happy ending (beginning, really) for Anne and Gilbert. Took them long enough!
I also read Pat of Silver Bush and Mistress Pat for the first time. I haven’t ventured too far out of Montgomery’s Anne and Emily, so I was looking forward to meeting Pat. As a child, Pat was absolutely delightful. She left out a dish of milk for the fairies each night, she believed that new babies came from the parsley bed, and she loved her home of Silver Bush passionately. She also hated change, which was bound to cause some trouble for her in life. The fairies and the parsley obviously faded as she grew older, but the love of Silver Bush and the hatred of change remained her dominant characteristics throughout the two books. As much as I hate to criticize one of my all-time favorite authors, I’m not sure that was enough to build a character on. Pat didn’t feel as alive to me as Anne or Emily, especially in the second book of the series. What can you do with a character whose favorite thing to do is clean the house?
I loved Montgomery’s descriptions of nature as always. There’s a lot of that in these two books because Pat is one of those people who notices the world around her. I love the way that I’m more observant of nature after reading a Montgomery book.
I guess not everyone can be Anne Shirley, and that’s okay. I still enjoyed getting to know Pat and her family (and the indomitable Judy Plum). And I’m looking forward to discovering some of L.M. Montgomery’s other heroines.
I was thrilled to discover this book – another novel in my new favorite genre of magic realism. Anyone who has enjoyed Sarah Addison Allen’s books will enjoy this book. The Wishing Thread is the story of three sisters. Bitty, the oldest, has been practical with her life and married rich. Now she’s discovering that planning logically doesn’t always work out. Meggie, the youngest, follows her own unique path in life, although she’s hoping it overlaps with the path of their mother, who left them. And Aubrey, the middle sister, is in charge of the Stitchery. That’s where the magic comes in.
I honestly think I would have gotten more out of this if I were a knitter, but it’s not at all essential to be a knitter to enjoy the story. Van Allen has created so many lovable characters. You end up cheering for each and every character in this story, even the grumpy ones. She follows each of the sisters’ paths of discovery so believably. And she keeps you guessing on the happy ending to the very end. The Wishing Thread knits together all the parts necessary for a story that stays with you far beyond the last page.
I had heard so much about this book that I just had to read it. (It didn’t hurt that the main character was a writer. Those sorts of books just draw me in.) Wren and Cath are twins and freshmen in college. This means that a whole bunch of change is coming their way. Wren is ready to be independent, wholeheartedly embracing the stereotypical party life. Cath is ready to go back home. New people and new adventures aren’t really her thing. Instead, she throws herself into a world she knows – writing fanfiction about the Simon Snow series (think Harry Potter). There are a few things I wish I had known about this book before I dived in – the swearing for one, and the homosexual relationship between Simon and Baz. Neither of those were necessary in my opinion, and are sadly keeping me from buying a copy of this book. But everything else about this book I loved – the characters were so real, their experiences so genuine. That is what made this book. You could walk onto any college campus and find Wren and Cath, Reagan and Levi. And oh, how I wish I could! I’ll just have to settle for adding them to my long list of fictional friends.
If you like character-driven novels, then this book is for you. Honestly, the entire plot more or less takes place in the first ten pages. The town of Clarence, Minnesota, is home to a psychopharmaceutical factory. A factory accident spills a chemical called deletrium into the air, which makes the residents of the town remember in vivid detail anything that had ever happened to them. There’s a wide range of characters to follow – everyone from the widowed psychology professor to his eight-year-old daughter to the residents of a nearby senior citizen home. Plenty of story lines to keep a reader interested, and plenty of unique characters to keep a reader hooked. This is one of those books that I was often reluctant to pick up because I cared so much about the characters, and it was hard and often sad for them to relive all their memories. This is not a light read, but it is a good one. It makes you think about your own life and the nature of memory.
If you’re looking for an action story about a chemical spill, this is not it. However, if you’re looking for a book with characters that will live in your thoughts weeks after you finish reading, then this is the book for you.
My name is Julie, and I own a lot of books. As in, they are stacked on the floor because I've run out of room on the shelves. And those shelves? There are so many books on them that they smile -- not sag; smile. This blog will cover book reviews and all manner of other bookish things.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.