Book Review: A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

Book Review: A Sudden Light by Garth SteinA Sudden Light by Garth Stein
Published by Simon and Schuster on 2014-09-30
Genres: Fiction, General
Pages: 400
Format: eARC
Source: Simon and Schuster
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three-half-stars
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When a boy tries to save his parents’ marriage, he uncovers a legacy of family secrets in a coming-of-age ghost story by the author of the internationally bestselling phenomenon, The Art of Racing in the Rain.

In the summer of 1990, fourteen-year-old Trevor Riddell gets his first glimpse of Riddell House. Built from the spoils of a massive timber fortune, the legendary family mansion is constructed of giant, whole trees, and is set on a huge estate overlooking Puget Sound. Trevor’s bankrupt parents have begun a trial separation, and his father, Jones Riddell, has brought Trevor to Riddell House with a goal: to join forces with his sister, Serena, dispatch Grandpa Samuel—who is flickering in and out of dementia—to a graduated living facility, sell off the house and property for development into “tract housing for millionaires,” divide up the profits, and live happily ever after.

But Trevor soon discovers there’s someone else living in Riddell House: a ghost with an agenda of his own. For while the land holds tremendous value, it is also burdened by the final wishes of the family patriarch, Elijah, who mandated it be allowed to return to untamed forestland as a penance for the millions of trees harvested over the decades by the Riddell Timber company. The ghost will not rest until Elijah’s wish is fulfilled, and Trevor’s willingness to face the past holds the key to his family’s future.

A Sudden Light is a rich, atmospheric work that is at once a multigenerational family saga, a historical novel, a ghost story, and the story of a contemporary family’s struggle to connect with each other. A tribute to the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, it reflects Garth Stein’s outsized capacity for empathy and keen understanding of human motivation, and his rare ability to see the unseen: the universal threads that connect us all.

I received this book for free from Simon and Schuster in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

I have a confession to make.  I have not read THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN.  I’ve seen the title – in fact, my feed reader was inundated with book reviews and buzz about the book when it came out, but for some reason, I’ve just never felt the urge to pick it up and read it.  Still, I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking at the cover on Amazon, in my local bookstore, and I’ve even seen it at some garage sales.  I can picture it clearly in my mind, and so, when I saw that A SUDDEN LIGHT was being released I thought – why not read the newest Garth Stein book and actually be on top of things?

And it was going well at first.  I really dug the concept of the book – man returns home with son to put to right some ancient wrong and make peace with his past.  I loved the setting – I’ve always been a huge fan of the Pacific Northwest and, in fact, it’s my dream to live there someday.  I really loved the writing style – Stein has a poetic way with words, there is no denying that.  But something happened when I hit about the midway point.

Things started to get a bit dull.  I wasn’t as creeped out as I had been by the ghost element for the first half.  I didn’t care nearly as much about the outcome of certain events because, due to extensive explanations and histories being fleshed out, I had an idea of where things were going to go.  By the time the end of the book came around, I felt like Stein had taken my hand and carefully led me through the maze of a story then handed me a shiny lollipop at the end of the story and said, here you are! Aren’t you surprised by my treat?

I wasn’t.  But that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the journey to some extent.  Parts of the book reminded me of a creepy, modern Jane Eyre type story.  I was fascinated by the initial descriptions of the house and loved and devoured the portions of the book that described secret stairways and rooms.  I drooled as certain items were revealed (rare books – looove) and found myself daydreaming a few times about how amazing it would be to stumble upon such a treasure.

But ultimately, what it came down to was, I felt the book was just too long.  There was too much detail, too much explaining and history-story telling, and not enough left to the reader to puzzle out along the way.  Just before I felt like I was reaching an “aha!” moment, Stein would sweep the rug out from underneath me by telling me exactly what I had been about to come up with.  So, yeah, I felt cheated a bit, and that’s why I didn’t rate this book higher, even though I would have dearly loved to.

Check out these reviews!

  • “Strike a match if you dare and walk through the secret passages of A Sudden Light… You won’t be able to stop yourself from moving forward… or turning those pages as fast as you can!  –  Chick with Books
  • Overall I found this to be a well-written book with a rather slow pace There were times when I struggled to pay attention and other points when a tornado could not have torn my attention away.” – Readful Things Blog
  • “If you’re looking for an enjoyable read for late evenings when ghosts seem a lot closer to reality, then this is the book for you!” – A Universe in Words

Book Review: Florence Gordon by Brian Morton

Florence Gordon by Brian Morton
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on 2014-09-23
Genres: Contemporary Women, Fiction, Literary
Pages: 256
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A wise and entertaining novel about a woman who has lived life on her own terms for seventy-five defiant and determined years, only to find herself suddenly thrust to the center of her family’s various catastrophes Meet Florence Gordon: blunt, brilliant, cantankerous and passionate, feminist icon to young women, invisible and underappreciated by most everyone else. At seventy-five, Florence has earned her right to set down the burdens of family and work and shape her legacy at long last. But just as she is beginning to write her long-deferred memoir, her son Daniel returns to New York from Seattle with his wife and daughter, and they embroil Florence in their dramas, clouding the clarity of her days with the frustrations of middle-age and the confusions of youth. And then there is her left foot, which is starting to drag. With searing wit, sophisticated intelligence, and a tender respect for humanity in all its flaws, Brian Morton introduces a constellation of unforgettable characters. Chief among them, Florence, who can humble the fools surrounding her with one barbed line, but who eventually finds there are realities even she cannot outsmart.
My Review:

I read a book recently about an older man who was grouchy and all “get off my lawn!” and…well, you know the type, surely you do.  I loved that book.  I wanted to meet that old man and live in his world and keep him company as he went about his daily routine.  When I picked up FLORENCE GORDON by Brian Morton, I have expected to have found the companion to that book – now I’d be reading about a grouchy old lady and I’d be falling in love all over again.  What I got was something totally unexpected.

FLORENCE GORDON was a helluva surprise.  I laughed in shock and shook my head more times than I can count.  Florence, the title character, is quite the character. She’s brash, borders on rude but leans more toward the very outspoken side of the thin line, and she makes absolutely no excuse for who she is because she doesn’t need an excuse.  She’s Florence Gordon, a leading feminist voice who lived during a time when women’s rights made huge strides.  She married a disappointment of a man, had a son who married a woman that views Florence as some kind of saint, and she has a granddaughter who, she might admit, to having a feeling here and there of sentimentality toward.

Unlike that first book I was talking about, there is very little heart-warming going on in FLORENCE GORDON.  Instead, Brian Morton paints a picture of how this generation of women differs from Florence’s generation.  How little we actually know about the feminists of the 70’s and how little, yes this, how little respect is actually shown for them.  Florence is not a mean, bitter old woman.  She’s a woman who learned early to speak up and to make her voice heard.  She’s a woman who felt so much passion that she refused to bow to societal norms – even to the end of her story.  I loved that about her and I am very, very thankful that this book did not bow to what society may expect from it as well.

FLORENCE GORDON is not a sappy story about an eccentric, endearing old woman.  It’s a story that motivates and inspires and I’ll take that kind of story over one that has me weepy and lovey any day.

Have you reviewed FLORENCE GORDON by Brian Morton?  If so, leave a link to your review in the comments!

Review: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

Review: Afterworlds by Scott WesterfeldAfterworlds by Scott Westerfeld
Published by Simon Pulse on 2014-09-23
Genres: Love & Romance, New Experience, Paranormal, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 640
Format: eARC
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three-stars
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Darcy Patel has put college and everything else on hold to publish her teen novel, Afterworlds. Arriving in New York with no apartment or friends she wonders whether she's made the right decision until she falls in with a crowd of other seasoned and fledgling writers who take her under their wings… 

Told in alternating chapters is Darcy's novel, a suspenseful thriller about Lizzie, a teen who slips into the 'Afterworld' to survive a terrorist attack. But the Afterworld is a place between the living and the dead and as Lizzie drifts between our world and that of the Afterworld, she discovers that many unsolved - and terrifying - stories need to be reconciled. And when a new threat resurfaces, Lizzie learns her special gifts may not be enough to protect those she loves and cares about most.

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

I’m a fan of Scott Westerfeld, but his books make me often frustrated.  He has this knack, this ability to come up with really interesting ideas and then get about 80% of the way into really knocking them out of the park but then the last 20% of that effort just never seems to match up with the rest of it.  I was hoping AFTERWORLDS would finally push that 80% to a 90% or even, dare I say it, 100% … but unfortunately, it fell right into the same trap that LEVIATHAN and UGLIES did for me.

What do I mean by that 80/20% thing?  Well 80% of AFTERWORLDS was absolutely fantastic.  I loved having a heroine last name Patel, I loved hearing descriptions about a life that is different from your average, run-of-the-mill white girl experience that YA fiction seems to center around.  I loved the introduction of a very adult, very out-of-the-norm for YA fiction relationship as well as the family’s reaction to it.  I adored Darcy’s little sister to pieces.  But there were so many missing pieces connecting all of these things that I felt a bit, at the end of the book, as if I’d been smacked around.

While I love the concept of a novel within a novel (and the book is told in alternating chapters, we read Darcy’s story in-between chapters of her own real life story), I think the effort put into creating a book like this means that something had to give.  Unfortunately, in this case, it was Darcy’s real life story.  AFTERWORLDS became more believable in the Afterworlds sections of the book than in the real words section.  I had a hard time getting behind an instant love connection.  I had a very, very hard time with the simplistic budget that Darcy seemed to be able to live on (and honestly, $150k/year is not much at all when it comes to NYC).  It felt very unreal that she was able, for example, to find an apartment that was large enough to host a fairly good size party and she didn’t need a roommate to help with the payment of rent.

Then there’s the Aunt figure, that mysterious family member who is able to grant wishes because it’s inconvenient for the parents to do so.  I just wasn’t buying it all.

That said, I did love the introduction to the Hindu death god, and the whole incorporation of the Hindu religion.  Not something you see in literature and something I would love to see explored more.  I really enjoyed the AFTERWORLD part of the story, and although there were issues there as well, they were nothing as glaring as the real world story.

Would I recommend picking up AFTERWORLDS?  That depends.  If you are a huge fan of Westerfeld and have faith in his ability to tell a good story, yet still can accept some disappointment and move on, then sure – pick it up.  If you don’t want to sink into this 600+ page book without knowing that it will reward you for your efforts, I’d say move on.  In fact, I wish it would have been possible to release this novel in a two-set book or something, allowing us to read AFTERWORLDS before, or after, we read Darcy’s story.  Probably impossible, but something neat to think about.

Check out these reviews!

  • I think each storyline could stand on its own and be good, but paired, the stories each become exceptional. –  ginny writes
  • “The writing is masterful — for both Darcy’s life and Lizzie’s story. The stories, however, weren’t quite as riveting as I’d hoped.” – Proud Book Nerd
  • “I really liked this book and would recommend it to those looking for an unique read or who loves stories within a story. ” – Shelves of Books

Book Review: Reuben and Rachel: Or, A Tale of Old Times by Susanna Rowson

Book Review: Reuben and Rachel: Or, A Tale of Old Times by Susanna RowsonReuben and Rachel by Susanna Rowson
Published by Broadview Press on 2009-02-18
Genres: Europe, Fiction, Girls & Women, Historical, Literary, Multigenerational, Sagas, Values & Virtues
Pages: 420
Format: Paperback
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four-stars
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Susanna Haswell Rowson, a popular and prolific writer, actress, and educator in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, had a truly transatlantic life and career, moving twice from England to America and publishing extensively in both countries. A transatlantic sensibility informs her fictionalized "history" of America, Reuben and Rachel, which traces ten generations of an extended family, beginning with the marriage of Christopher Columbus's son to a native Peruvian princess, moving through the Tudor succession crises and the colonial settlement of New England, and ending with the title characters, who leave England for America, renounce titles of nobility, and consider their children "true-born Americans." In Rowson's representation, the American character derives from fusion and hybridity, the results of intermarriage across racial, religious and national lives.
My Review:

If you are anything like me, Susanna Rowson is not a name you’ve stumbled across at any point in your life.  I’ve read a lot of books, but I tend, generally, to avoid early American novelists because, well, the puritan thing really gets to me.  However, now I’m in a class that has me studying four of those novelists and Rowson was first up on the list.  I got a taste of her in reading CHARLOTTE TEMPLE, but REUBEN AND RACHEL really took that taste and made it into a full-fledged meal, including dessert.  If you are at all interested in exploring this author, let this review serve as a guideline to help you through the book.

First, have a pen and paper handy.  No, make that a pencil and paper, because you will be erasing things.  This is important because, ultimately, REUBEN AND RACHEL is a multi-generational saga that will expand on a family tree way too intricate for you to keep track of in your head.  And, to make matters worse, the story will begin somewhere in the middle of that family tree, trace itself back through a series of letters, and then continue forward in a way that reminded me of a full-speed locomotive.

Now that you are prepared, let’s talk about the two volumes of this story.  The first volume is mostly historical.  There’s not a lot of action, there is some, but it’s nothing compared to the second.  Mostly, you need to remember that Rowson was playing with a very important historical figure here (Christopher Columbus) and teasing out his relationship with Ferdinand and Isabella.  This leads into a very convoluted story that explores the exploitation of people in Peru, the glorification of Columbus into a sort of Christ-like figure, and finally, the worship of Isabella as she reappears in the names of various women in Columbus’s genealogy throughout the book.

That said, once you get through the letters and move onto the the actual saga, things get interested.  Provided you keep track of where you are (again, the pencil and paper help for notes – get used to pinging and ponging back and forth across the Atlantic), the story moves at a good pace.  Just don’t expect the title characters to show up for a while.

On page 194, just a mere page away from the start of Volume 2, REUBEN AND RACHEL make their appearance.  It’s incredible what you’ve gone through at this point.  There’s incest, murder, various deaths due to other natural reasons, chains, arrests, rape, accusations… the list goes on and on.  So it was a relief to finally get to the title characters, as you can imagine.  Little did I know.

Volume 2 flies by, folks.  Seriously, hang on to your seat and keep that pencil and paper handy because all sorts of men will fly in and out of Rachel’s life.  If you get invested into stories like I do, you will find yourself gasping out loud and angry and righteously incensed at the mistreatment of Reuben and Rachel from the various people in their lives but that is what Rowson wants! Remember that!  There are even moments when she interjects her own voice to bring you around to her way of thinking.

This is a book that spawns hours of conversation in a classroom so keep that in mind when you pick it up.  Choose it for a book club or read it in partnership with a friend so you can have someone to discuss it with.  I promise, REUBEN AND RACHEL will hold your interest just as much as any modern thriller would.  Just give yourself time to invest yourself in it.

Have you read REUBEN AND RACHEL?  Link to your review in the comments below!

Book Review: Naked and Marooned by Ed Stafford

Book Review: Naked and Marooned by Ed StaffordNaked and Marooned by Ed Stafford
Published by Virgin Books Limited on 2014-06-05
Genres: Biographical, Survival Stories
Pages: 320
Format: eARC
Source: Virgin Books
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three-stars
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'I stood on the beach truly alone for the first time. I would not see another person for sixty days. I was on an uninhabited tropical island and I had nothing with me to help me survive. No food, no equipment, no knife and not even any clothes. All I had was my camera kit so that I could intimately record my self-inflicted sentence.' What if you were abandoned on a tropical island with no food or water, no basic equipment, not even a knife, and no clothes - could you survive? Extreme adventurer Ed Stafford isn't sure, but he's about to find out as he pushes himself to the limit in this gripping and inspirational test of human survival. For sixty days, with only his explorer's instinct and a video camera to record his experiences, Ed faces the ultimate feat of physical and mental endurance. He confronts blazing heat and brutal loneliness; eats snails to escape starvation and battles illness, dehydration and fatigue in what is his most dangerous, and at times life-threatening, challenge to date. This epic story of survival, full of exhilarating highs and devastating lows, is told with raw emotion and captivating honesty. This book will leave you amazed and exhausted.

I received this book for free from Virgin Books in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

It’s only natural that since I am fascinated by survival stories in fiction that I should also look to some crazy real-life stories.  That’s exactly what caught my eye when I saw Ed Stafford’s book.  NAKED AND MAROONED is a heck of a title and a little bit of marketing genius.  Who could pass something like that up?  Then, upon further reading, I noticed that he spent his time in the South Pacific and, given my recent time spent in the Pacific, I had to know what it was like.

I’ve never been a survivalist. I cringe away from bugs, scream at snakes and rats, and would not be able to spend the night outside even if you promised me a really, really big paycheck at the end of it all.  Knowing this, I opened up Stafford’s story fully aware that there would be parts of his story that would have me gagging at the thought of it all and I was not mistaken.  Stafford does not hesitate to talk about the most minute detail of his experience – from the shape and texture of his “poos” to the day in and day out eating of raw snails.  Yes. Raw snails.  Gag.

Still, it was what I was expecting from a survival book and, I’m sad to say, that the first few weeks were the most interesting because he was actually exploring and learning his new surroundings.  Where the book faltered and eventually died off for me was when he got into the building mode.  From shelters to traps to rafts, I just could not picture what he was doing and, I think unless one was very “build-mode” oriented, not many people would be able to see it well either.  I got lost in descriptions of “Y” shaped poles and something about hibiscus something-or-other and it just wasn’t all that interesting.  There were moments when Stafford would say something out loud or look at the camera and joke or reveal a bit of the turmoil he was going through, but the majority of those pages focused so much on the building that there wasn’t much of anything else happening.

I don’t know if my expectations were just unrealistic, but I never once felt as if he was really exploring this to the full.  He was there with cameras, antibiotics, a phone, and a beacon and just 8 sea miles away there was help.  So yes, he was naked and marooned and I have no doubt that it was the hardest experience of his life, but it never actually was something he had to be fearful of – because help was just a phone call away.

So overall, NAKED AND MAROONED came off as just an experimental journey, something to see if he could do it but with a catch in the contract to help him if he couldn’t.  Maybe I should look to my survival stories in fiction because there is no real guarantee there that the character will actually survive.  That sounds extremely thoughtless and uncaring of me, but there’s enough of the bloodthirsty adventurer still inside, under all that wishy-washy, scaredy-cat-ness, to wish that this story had been just a little more dangerous.

Have you reviewed NAKED AND MAROONED by Ed Stafford?  Link to your review in the comments below!

Book Review: The Hidden Child by Camilla Lackberg

Book Review: The Hidden Child by Camilla LackbergThe Hidden Child by Camilla Läckberg
Series: Fjallbacka #5
Published by Harper on 2011
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fiction
Pages: 506
Format: eARC
Source: Harper
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four-stars
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Crime writer Erica Falck is shocked to discover a Nazi medal among her late mother's possessions. Haunted by a childhood of neglect, she resolves to dig deep into her family's past and finally uncover the reasons why.Her enquiries lead her to the home of a retired history teacher. He was among her mother's circle of friends during the Second World War but her questions are met with bizarre and evasive answers. Two days later he meets a violent death. Detective Patrik Hedström, Erica's husband, is on paternity leave but soon becomes embroiled in the murder investigation. Who would kill so ruthlessly to bury secrets so old?Reluctantly Erica must read her mother's wartime diaries. But within the pages is a painful revelation about Erica's past. Could what little knowledge she has be enough to endanger her husband and newborn baby? The dark past is coming to light, and no one will escape the truth of how they came to be ...

I received this book for free from Harper in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

I don’t read a lot of crime books.  I was burned out on them years ago, but there are a few authors that make the cut for me and Camilla Lackberg is one of them.  I’ve been following her Fjallbacka series since the first book was released and I’m always excited to see a new release pop up in my notices.  THE HIDDEN CHILD did not disappoint.  It solidly landed among some of my favorites of Lackberg’s books and I was reminded, once again, of just how intensely absorbing this genre of book can be when it’s written well.

In THE HIDDEN CHILD, Lackberg explores the relationship of two brothers, each with a vastly different view of WW2 due to each of their circumstances (age, etc).  She takes her readers through the story by revealing other bits and pieces of what the war was like in Sweden; how it affected families and lives and the dynamic of life – especially as relating to the border of Norway. But more than just a history lesson, Lackberg immerses us in the story through Ericka, a crime writer/new mother who just happens to be married to a detective Patrik Hedstrom.  So in addition to the story of a crime unfolding, the story takes on a more personal, human feel as the couple tries to navigate their lives and who fits what where and learns that, well, life can be messy.

I really enjoyed THE HIDDEN CHILD.  I read it in a single afternoon/evening and not once thought about putting it down to do something different – including dinner.  I snacked and laughed and gasped as various aspects of the story were revealed to me and I think fondly of that day as a day that I just had a really good time.  I don’t think there really is higher praise that I could give a book, so I’m going to leave it at that.

 

Check out these reviews!

  • “Reading Camilla Lackberg books are such a pleasure. I just love her writing! –  Bill’s Book Reviews
  • “From a criminal plotting perspective this is probably Läckberg’s best novel, incorporating two strong plots.” – Reactions to Reading
  • “I continue to be impressed by Lackberg’s skill as a writer. I felt The Hidden Child flowed perfectly.” – The Book Lovers Boudoir

Book Review: Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood

Book Review: Stone Mattress by Margaret AtwoodStone Mattress by Margaret Atwood
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc on 2014-08-28
Genres: Fiction, General
Pages: 288
Format: eARC
Source: Bloomsbury Publishing Pic
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five-stars
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A recently widowed fantasy writer is guided through a stormy winter evening by the voice of her late husband. An elderly lady with Charles Bonnet's syndrome comes to terms with the little people she keeps seeing, while a newly-formed populist group gathers to burn down her retirement residence. A woman born with a genetic abnormality is mistaken for a vampire. And a crime committed long-ago is revenged in the Arctic via a 1.9 billion year old stromatalite. In these nine tales, Margaret Atwood ventures into the shadowland earlier explored by fabulists and concoctors of dark yarns such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Daphne du Maurier and Arthur Conan Doyle - and also by herself, in her award-winning novel Alias Grace. In Stone Mattress, Margaret Atwood is at the top of her darkly humorous and seriously playful game.

I received this book for free from Bloomsbury Publishing Pic in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

I have a confession to make.  I haven’t been reading as much as I want to – well, I haven’t been reading fiction “for fun” as much as I have wanted to.  The reason is that now that school is in session and I’m focusing on a specific area of literature and navigating my way through graduate school, I just can’t afford to set aside time to read for pleasure.  But then, the other night I was thinking about that and I realized that it shouldn’t be the case.  Just because I’m in school and reading other things doesn’t mean I can’t pick up a book for fun and so the first one I picked up was STONE MATTRESS by Margaret Atwood.

There’s a reason I went to Atwood.  She never fails – not once – to get me out of a reading slump.  Her style of writing just grabs me by the throat and, essentially, forces me to continue to read until the last page has been turned and the story finished.  STONE MATTRESS was no exception.  I loved – no I adored this collection of short stories.  I think it’s Atwood at her absolute sharpest in wit and her best in storytelling.  There’s a story in here where a woman commits the “perfect murder,” a connected group of stories about the art of writing and what makes for good literature and what doesn’t and explores the lives of people who think they determine these things… the stories just go on and on and every one kept building on the one before until I felt completely overwhelmed (in a good way) with the sheer genius on the page before me.

I know it’s a stylish thing these days to gush over Atwood.  If you are any serious sort of book lover, it seems to be expected that she ranks high on your list, but I have to say all that aside, she’s just a damn fine writer and deserves every bit of praise coming her way.  STONE MATTRESS is testament to that and I highly recommend you pick it up as soon as possible and discover what I found in there.  I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Check out these reviews!

Book Review: The Children Act by Ian McEwan

Book Review: The Children Act by Ian McEwanThe Children Act by Ian McEwan
Published by Nan A. Talese/Doubleday on 2015-06
Genres: 21st Century, Contemporary, Fiction, Literary, Literary Fiction, Values & Virtues
Pages: 240
Format: ARC
Source: Nan A. Talese
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five-stars
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Fiona Maye is a High Court judge in London presiding over cases in family court. She is fiercely intelligent, well respected, and deeply immersed in the nuances of her particular field of law. Often the outcome of a case seems simple from the outside, the course of action to ensure a child's welfare obvious. But the law requires more rigor than mere pragmatism, and Fiona is expert in considering the sensitivities of culture and religion when handing down her verdicts. 


But Fiona's professional success belies domestic strife. Her husband, Jack, asks her to consider an open marriage and, after an argument, moves out of their house. His departure leaves her adrift, wondering whether it was not love she had lost so much as a modern form of respectability; whether it was not contempt and ostracism she really fears. She decides to throw herself into her work, especially a complex case involving a seventeen-year-old boy whose parents will not permit a lifesaving blood transfusion because it conflicts with their beliefs as Jehovah's Witnesses. But Jack doesn't leave her thoughts, and the pressure to resolve the case—as well as her crumbling marriage—tests Fiona in ways that will keep readers thoroughly enthralled until the last stunning page.

I received this book for free from Nan A. Talese in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

There are three types of books I enjoy reading and, as a result, there’s generally three types of authors that go along with those books.  Sometimes an author will cross over and write something that dabbles a little bit (or jumps completely into) one of those other two types of books, but generally speaking, they stick to what’s been done before under their name.  One of those types of books (and authors) I really enjoy employs beautiful language and a storytelling ability that transcends everything else.  When I read this type of book I can feel my world view expanding and my thoughts and ideas and preconceptions being challenged and tested.  Ian McEwan writes books that not only deliver a sucker punch to my gut, but makes me grateful for being there to get punched in the first place.  THE CHILDREN ACT delivered yet another punch and, while it didn’t hurt as much as ATONEMENT or SOLACE did, the after-effects are still rocking me a bit.

There are really two stories happening in THE CHILDREN ACT. One story deals with the marriage of Fiona Maye and the bomb that’s dropped into her lap by her husband of 30-odd years.  The other story deals with the legal system in England, specifically those cases which, repeatedly, brought to mind the old stories of Biblical Solomon that I was taught as I was growing up.  You know the cases – the separation of twins that will lead to the death of one of them; the determination of which parent takes the child home when, quite frankly, neither may deserve it, and finally, the case the book centers around, the battle between religion and medicine.

This second part of the story is a big part.  It trumps even the issues within Fiona’s marriage, but rather than completely overshadowing them, it brings details like the discussions and interactions of Fiona and her husband into delicate, crystal-clear view. Everything seemed so sharp and the case had me on such pins and needles that everything else just seemed to poke and prod at me in all my weak spots.  If it was affecting me, the reader, in such a way, man…my imagination goes crazy on how it would have affected anyone living this in real life.

McEwan is a masterful storyteller, there’s no doubt about that.  In the pitch I received for this book, the writer said he experiences awe and envy at the ability that McEwan has with words.  There is absolutely no doubt that McEwan’s vocabulary and, more importantly, his perfect execution of that vocabulary, makes anything he write a masterpiece.  It’s such an added bonus when the story lives up to it.

Have you read and reviewed THE CHILDREN ACT by Ian McEwan?  Leave a comment with the link below!

Book Review: The Memory Garden by M. Rickert

Book Review: The Memory Garden by M. RickertThe Memory Garden by Mary Rickert
Published by Sourcebooks, Incorporated on 2014-05-06
Genres: Contemporary Women, Family Life, Fiction, Ghost
Pages: 304
Format: eARC
Source: Incorporated
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three-stars
Buy the Book at AmazonBuy the Book at Indiebound
Nan keeps her secrets deep, not knowing how the truth would reveal a magic all its own

Bay Singer has bigger secrets than most. She doesn't know about them, though. Her mother, Nan, has made sure of that. But one phone call from the sheriff makes Nan realize that the past is catching up. Nan decides that she has to make things right, and invites over the two estranged friends who know the truth. Ruthie and Mavis arrive in a whirlwind of painful memories, offering Nan little hope of protecting Bay. But even the most ruined garden is resilient, and their curious reunion has powerful effects that none of them could imagine, least of all Bay.

I received this book for free from Incorporated in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

I finished reading THE MEMORY GARDEN by M. Rickert last May and now, months later, I still have conflicted emotions when I think about it.  I remember thinking that this should be the perfect story for me – an old family secret, a girl surrounded by characters who have rich pasts, conflict, friendship, love – maybe even a little magic, be it of the supernatural or the chemistry kind.

Unfortunately, I think THE MEMORY GARDEN really fell short for me on most of these.  I remember, while reading, that I would feel these little kindling thoughts like.. this could be it, this could be where the story really gets moving – but instead those bits of kindling died out and, instead, I found myself trudging through more story and more text (because some of it, honestly, was quite dull).

That’s not to say it was all bad.  There were those moments.  And that’s why I’m having a hard time giving this book less than a 3-star rating, in spite of my reservations about it. Because those moments were…almost… magical.  I can practically feel my fingertips tingling a bit as I remember the bits and pieces, and I just wish that the rest of the book would have followed suit.

THE MEMORY GARDEN by M. Rickert may just have been one of those books I read at the wrong time.  Perhaps it needed to be read when there was rain outside and fall colors and a cup of tea by my side instead of in sunny Hawaii while sitting at the beach.  Maybe I’ll try it again and see if the setting can make a difference.  I wouldn’t discourage anyone to not pick this one up because maybe you will just have better luck with it than I did this time.

Check out these reviews!

  • The novel is very finely written. With its single location and limited cast of characters, it feels almost like a play. – Strange Horizons
  • I enjoyed the read, it just fell a little flat for me.” – The Book Stop
  • Even though this book didn’t work for me, readers who like quirky tales, ghost stories, and magical realism might want to give it a try..” – Book of Secrets

Book Review: Wake by Anna Hope

Book Review: Wake by Anna HopeWake by Anna Hope
Published by Random House Publishing Group on 2014-02-11
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Literary, War & Military
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: Random House
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two-stars
Buy the Book at AmazonBuy the Book at Indiebound
Wake: 1) Emerge or cause to emerge from sleep 2) Ritual for the dead 3) Consequence or aftermath.

Hettie, a dance instructress at the Palais, lives at home with her mother and her brother, mute and lost after his return from the war. One night, at work, she meets a wealthy, educated man and has reason to think he is as smitten with her as she is with him. Still there is something distracted about him, something she cannot reach...Evelyn works at the Pensions Exchange through which thousands of men have claimed benefits from wounds or debilitating distress. Embittered by her own loss, more and more estranged from her posh parents, she looks for solace in her adored brother who has not been the same since he returned from the front...Ada is beset by visions of her son on every street, convinced he is still alive. Helpless, her loving husband of 25 years has withdrawn from her. Then one day a young man appears at her door with notions to peddle, like hundreds of out of work veterans. But when he shows signs of being seriously disturbed—she recognizes the symptoms of "shell shock"—and utters the name of her son she is jolted to the core...

The lives of these three women are braided together, their stories gathering tremendous power as the ties that bind them become clear, and the body of the unknown soldier moves closer and closer to its final resting place.

I received this book for free from Random House in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

Nope. No.  Not at all.  WAKE by Anna Hope did not work for me.  The problems were plentiful and the good things.. well, good thing, it was scarce.  I was so angry through this book but even that anger sputtered and died as I felt myself careening toward an end that was sure to disappoint.  And, honestly, maybe that’s exactly what that ending was supposed to do.  I hate literary devices like the one used to end WAKE and that was the final nail in the coffin for me.

The only, and I do mean only, reason WAKE gets a generous two-star rating from me is because of a single story that’s told.  A story that lays out the events of three men on the front and finally put my mind at ease.  Why didn’t Matthew come home and why didn’t his mother get a second letter?  That was the only pressing question I had, and even so, it was not a hard pressure at all.  Just a mild…. ok, I’m a bit interested.

The whole four-person narration thing, and one of those narrators being a collective people suffering from the war, did not work at all.  I was constantly confusing Evelyn and Hettie and their brothers (Ed and Fred?).  I still had to check to see which brother belonged to which girl, and then which girl belonged where.  Then I’d think, Oh yeah.. Hettie is the dancer and Evelyn the pensioner…but then the brothers would enter the picture or something would happen with some other man.. Robin or Gus or.. oh man, I don’t know. I’m so confused and it wasn’t at all engrossing like I had hoped it would be.

I walked away from WAKE with a splitting headache and a desire to kick something.. my wall or a desk.  I was frustrated and angry and, yes, as I said before, the ending it sucked.  I hate, hate, hate tricks and “literary expressions” like the one used to end WAKE.  I would really only recommend this book as a doorstop – I don’t get what all the people out there are raving about.  Unless you are really, really good with keeping names and places and professions straight in your head while a bunch of random strangers are thrown at you with the fourth narrative (which should have been the clear, center focus of the book and it was not), steer clear of this one.

Check out these reviews!

  • Wake is not one to miss, and in the centenary of WWI, essential reading. –  Book Snob
  • Wake was an intelligent, thoughtful read and I would love for there to be a follow up.” – Time Waits for No Mum
  • Anna Hope wove her spell and managed to conjure up an intriguing tale, quite rich with emotion that held me entranced until the last page.” – Lynn’s Book Blog
Bear