Book Review: Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood

Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc on 2014-08-28
Genres: Fiction, General
Pages: 288
Format: eARC
Source: Bloomsbury Publishing Pic

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

The 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

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.

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

The 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

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

Wake 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

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

Book Review: Evergreen by Rebecca Rasmussen

Evergreen by Rebecca Rasmussen
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on 2014
Genres: 21st Century, Fiction, Friendship, Girls & Women, Social Issues
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: Knopf Doubleday Publishing

From the celebrated author of The Bird Sisters, a gorgeously rendered and emotionally charged novel that spans generations, telling the story of two siblings, raised apart, attempting to share a life.

It is 1938 when Eveline, a young bride, follows her husband into the wilderness of Minnesota. Though their cabin is rundown, they have a river full of fish, a garden out back, and a new baby boy named Hux. But when Emil leaves to take care of his sick father, the unthinkable happens: a stranger arrives, and Eveline becomes pregnant. She gives the child away, and while Hux grows up hunting and fishing in the woods with his parents, his sister, Naamah, is raised an orphan. Years later, haunted by the knowledge of this forsaken girl, Hux decides to find his sister and bring her home to the cabin. But Naamah, even wilder than the wilderness that surrounds them, may make it impossible for Hux to ever tame her, to ever make up for all that she, and they, have lost. Set before a backdrop of vanishing forest, this is a luminous novel of love, regret, and hope.

My Review:

There’s an otherworldly quality to Rebecca Rasmussen’s writing and it really shows in Evergreen, her sophomore novel.  I loved The Bird Sisters, but it was Evergreen that tipped me over the edge and really made me sit up and pay attention.  While it still had its flaws, by and large, it was one of the most thoughtful books I’ve read this year.  While set in Minnesota, it still had a touch in it that reminded me of some of my favorite southern stories; a touch I can only describe as magical.

In Evergreen, we’re introduced to a young bride on her way to join her husband in a hard land that does not take pity on anyone, regardless of station.  There’s literally no backstory at the start of the book.  Instead, the reader is thrown into chaos, much like young Eveline, in a land that is unfamiliar and frightening.  And to top it all off – there’s a war about to start.

The majority of Evergreen is about Eveline’s steadfastness and her ability to survive through some of the most horrifying things that could happen to a woman.  Alone, save for a friend who lives relatively close by, Eveline learns how to manage on her own while her husband is away to see his dying father in Germany.  There’s quite a bit of survival tale in this book in addition to an interesting look at the dynamics of a family when something has happened to threaten its very being.

But only half of the book is about Eveline  – the rest being about her two children – a son, Hux, and a daughter, Naamah.  Both children come with their own issues, as evidenced by their later lives, and my heart felt like it was being pulled and tugged in every which direction as I read their stories.

I really enjoyed Evergreen.  There were moments when things felt a little far-fetched (Eveline’s book-learned talent, for example) but those moments were overshadowed by the power of Eveline and her children’s story.  This is one that should definitely be picked up upon its release next month.

Check out these reviews!

  • “Although themes of abandonment and loss permeate this novel, and characters often struggle with cruel circumstances, tragedy and abuse, this is not a sad or unhappy story.“ –  Bookdiscovery

So as far as that absence goes….

Things have been busy around here.  My reading has taken a hit, but it’s one I was willing to take in order to experience life in May and June.  In the last several weeks I’ve had family here, my nephew had a hospital stay, I’ve visited another island (Kauai), and I’ve been wrapping up piano lessons here before heading to Nebraska in August.  Yes, it’s been busy.

Still, I’ve been reading some and I have quite a few reviews to catch up on so I am holding myself accountable for them.  For streamlining sake, I’m making a few small changes to my review format (no more additional book recommendations, I’m trusting my plug-in to point you in that direction), and some other small changes that will hardly be noticeable (new plugins, etc).

But I wanted to say I’m back – and to apologize for my absence, let me give you a few pictures of the glory that I got to see this past week.

 

Book Tour: The Frangipani Hotel: Stories by Violet Kupersmith

Top Ten Tuesday is a fantastic meme hosted and created by The Broke and the Bookish.

Okay, so I’m a huge survival fan lately.  Like.. it’s what I crave in my books and it’s killing me that I can’t get to certain books due to other commitments (I’m looking at you, The Martian).  But I have read my fair share of survival stories so check these books out if you, like me, love a good snail and grub dinner… okay, not really that last part, but still!  I’m a bit tired, so I’ve only come up with eight good titles (that fit the theme of Lost anyway!) so here we go –

1. Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson

It doesn’t get more survivalist than this.  This is the most recent of the survivor type stories that I’ve read and it thoroughly gripped me – I was entranced throughout the whole thing and… how cool is it that it’s set in the ice age??

2. The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne

This book always ends up on my Top Ten Tuesday posts – I think it’s because it’s a favorite of mine.  The ultimate in survival guides, Verne applies his scientific knowledge (and primate knowledge) and creates a fantastic tale.

3.  Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss

I don’t know that it’s really PC these days to love this book, but I grew up with it and I remember watching the old Disney movie and wishing I, too, could live in a treehouse.  There’s no denying that it’s a heck of a story.

4. Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Another not really popular author in literature classes, still Tarzan is quite the story.  My dad is a huge fan of this series and had me reading them when I was young as well (and when I was a teenager – hey, I grew up in a very strict household, this was as racy as it got for me, folks!)

5. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Not a fiction book, but still – a pretty epic tale of survival.  This story was hyped so much that I was worried it wouldn’t stand up to all the talk, but it did and I loved it.

6. Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff

Speaking of non-fiction, here’s another one that really hit me in the right spot.  While the ending is heart-breaking, the story of survival told here is a fascinating one, and one we can all learn a lesson from.

7. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

This one needs no explanation (but have you noticed now that there are THREE Robinson’s on my list?  Strange).

8. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Yup, I’m throwing some science fiction into the mix – because I love Atwood and I love this trilogy.

What books have you read with that great survivor feel??

 

Book Review: The Garden of Burning Sand by Corban Addison

The Garden of Burning Sand by Corban Addison
Published by HarperCollins on 2013-03-26
Genres: Fiction, General
Pages: 448
Format: eARC
Source: HarperCollins

Lusaka, Zambia: Zoe Fleming is a young, idealistic American lawyer working with an NGO devoted to combatting the epidemic of child sexual assault in southern Africa. Zoe’s organization is called in to help when an adolescent girl is brutally assaulted. The girl’s identity is a mystery. Where did she come from? Was the attack a random street crime or a premeditated act?

A betrayal in her past gives the girl’s plight a special resonance for Zoe, and she is determined to find the perpetrator. She slowly forms a working relationship, and then a surprising friendship, with Joseph Kabuta, a Zambian police officer. Their search takes them from Lusaka’s roughest neighbourhoods to the wild waters of Victoria Falls, from the AIDS-stricken streets of Johannesburg to the matchless splendour of Cape Town.

As the investigation builds to a climax, threatening to send shockwaves through Zambian society, Zoe is forced to radically reshape her assumptions about love, loyalty, family and, especially, the meaning of justice.

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

I also recommend:

My Review:

Last Spring I was in a class that focused heavily on the issues surrounding the continent of Africa.  There were a lot of misconceptions, there was a lot of ignorance (myself included) and there was quite a bit of curiosity.  We watched movies, read short stories by South African authors, and were each assigned one country to thoroughly research – both the history as well as current events.  I was given the country of Nigeria – an assignment that has awakened a love for Nigerian literature (I just wish it wasn’t so hard to come by).  The Garden of Burning Sand by Corban Addison is a story involving Zambia, a country is in the southern part of Africa.   Much like many of the other countries on the continent, Zambia struggles with corrupted politicians, massive amounts of crimes, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic – although the improvements in the last area are intense.

What Corban Addison does in The Garden of Burning Sand is shed light on the corrupt system and some of the issues that are very prevalent today.  Namely, the rape and abuse of young Zambian girls.  One of the focuses is on the myth that a young man with HIV can “transfer” the disease to a virgin girl – and who better to be a virgin than a child, in their minds.  Corban approaches the story from the point of view of Zoe, a young, American woman with a love gifted to her from her mother, for the people of Africa, and whose father is currently on the campaign trail to become the President of the United States.  There’s politics surrounding all of Zoe’s life, but her focus is on those who cannot defend themselves.

The Garden of Burning Sand is part legal thriller/part social justice commentary.  It’s interesting, quite unputdownable as far as stories go, and definitely does not pull punches. What I struggled with, a bit, was how neatly the story wrapped up – but that may be just personal taste, since many of the books and stories I’ve read out of other African countries do not end so neatly.

I would say if you are looking to learn more about Zambia or enjoy legal stories and want to branch away from more well-known places, then pick this one up.  I’m looking forward to reading Addison’s previous novel as well.

Check out these reviews!

  • “The story was good with a great deal of suspense, mystery, and twists that did mean the ending was not a foregone conclusion.“ –  Books for my Briefcase
  • ‘”All the same, this is a fast paced legal crime book that cares.” –  Telling Stories
  • ” Corban Addison has woven a masterful tale, and it is hard to believe this is only his second novel.” – Christian Fiction Addiction

After the Book Deal – Guest Post by Jonathan Auxier

The Internet is full of great advice about how to sell a book, but what about after the sale? When my first book came out, I found it was surprisingly hard to find answers to some basic questions. Like most authors, I learned most of the answers through trial and error. And so in anticipation of the launch of my new novel, The Night Gardener, I’ve decided to write down everything I learned so I don’t make the same mistakes twice!

AFTER THE BOOK DEAL is a month-long blog series detailing the twenty things I wish someone had told me before entering the exciting world of children’s publishing. Each weekday from now until MAY 20, I will be posting an article on a different blog. Follow along and please spread the word!

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Day Four: A Night at the Movies

Yesterday, we talked about using social networks to spread the word about your book, today we’ll be discussing the ins and outs of book trailers.

Book trailers are a strange animal. Many casual readers don’t even know they exist, but within the book industry they can be extremely effective at building buzz. Case in point: super-librarian Mr. Schu has built a huge online following from sharing and spreading book trailers … if it’s good enough for Schu, it’s good enough for me!

Who’s Going to Make It? – before you embark on a book trailer, you’ll probably need to figure out who will be contributing the money and time to make it happen. Some possibilities …

Publisher: If your publisher is paying for a book trailer—congratulations! That’s a rare thing, and you should enjoy the support. For the vast majority of authors, however, book trailers are considered the domain of the author. (Whether this is fair is an entirely different question… which I’ll talk about in week four.)

Homebrew: If you like a challenge, you can always make your own trailer. Sometimes this takes the form of a talking-head video (easier) or a full-blown mini-move (hard). In the case of Peter Nimble, I decided to learn Adobe Flash and animate my own trailer which you can watch here. If you’re interested in this route, you might want to check out my blog post Five Things I Learned from Making my own Book Trailer, which goes into detail of the technical side of flash animation.

 

Going Pro: I get weekly emails from companies that produce book trailers for authors. The fees range anywhere from $500-$5000. I’ve seen demos from many of these companies, and have never been impressed with the product. While book trailers have some value, they do not justify this sort of expense.

Cheap Labor: Author EE Charlton-Trujillo recommends that authors get help from film school students—many of whom need a final project to graduate. Here’s an example of her most recent trailer for Fat Angie. While a good technique, I think it requires some serious know-how on the part of the author (lucky for EE, she’s a filmmaker herself).

Other Thoughts – Once you’ve figured out who will make the trailer, you now need to figure out what you want in your trailer. Some considerations …

Audience: Book trailers are perhaps even more valuable for younger readers. Not only are they internet natives, but some of them are reluctant readers—the excitement of a book trailer might be needed to help them get over reading anxiety. Take a look at your specific market and see if the books that succeed have trailers.

Length: Having watched a lot of book trailers, I would strongly recommend that your trailer fall under one minute. Usually after the first minute, trailers start accidentally giving reasons why not to read a book.

Timing: The ideal time to release a book trailer would probably be 2-3 weeks before launch. And don’t just uploat it to YouTube and wait for the crickets. Instead reach out to a blogger you respect and ask them if they will do an “exclusive” release of the trailer … turn its release into an EVENT!

Art: If you have an illustrated book, a trailer is much easier to make. Just use iMovie to throw together a little music, text, and floating images and you’re good to go. In this case, I would definitely say it’s worth your time.  (The master of this technique is the brilliant Dan Santat.)

Interest: This may seem obvious, but don’t waste time and energy on a book trailer unless you will ACTUALLY ENJOY doing it. If the thought of making a video makes you suicidal, then skip it. Many books succeed despite having no trailer.

Final Thoughts – Making my own book trailer for Peter Nimble was a huge pain, but I was glad I did it. It has 14,000 views, which is a lot of impact for the time and cost. Moreover, I have found the book trailer to be an invaluable tool for school visits (more on that in Week four).

So what about my Night Gardener book trailer? You’ll have to wait and see!

NightGardener Cover

That’s it for AFTER THE BOOK DEALTomorrow at Smack Dab in the Middle, where I’ll be talking about Giveaways! Please-oh-please spread the word!

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Jonthan Auxier Headshot - web square (1)JONATHAN AUXIER writes strange stories for strange children. His new novel, The Night Gardener, hits bookstores this May. You can visit him online at www.TheScop.com where he blogs about children’s books old and new

Book Review: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
Published by Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated on 2013
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Literary, Sagas
Pages: 512
Format: eARC
Source: Penguin Group USA

In The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction, inserting her inimitable voice into an enthralling story of love, adventure and discovery. Spanning much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the novel follows the fortunes of the extraordinary Whittaker family as led by the enterprising Henry Whittaker—a poor-born Englishman who makes a great fortune in the South American quinine trade, eventually becoming the richest man in Philadelphia.

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

I also recommend:

My Review:

Ok. Stop right now and grab some paper, because I’m about to tell you what your next book club choice should be.  Wait, you may say.  Didn’t you really dislike Gilbert’s memoir, the well-loved Eat, Pray, Love?  Why yes, I did not connect well with that book at all and I almost didn’t pick up The Signature of All Things as a result but oh boy, am I glad I did.  This is proof positive, folks, that you don’t have to like the person of the author as portrayed in her memoirs, but you can absolutely love her fiction.

Because I did love it.  I adored every single page of The Signature of All Things – even the ones that made me uncomfortable (binding closet, I’m looking at you).  This is not a book for the faint of heart because Gilbert attacks everything – every want, desire, love, sorrow, and challenge of being a single woman in a time where being a single woman was 100x harder than it is today.  Alma Whittaker is a character who, in spite of all of our differences, I could relate to on the deepest level.  I felt her longing and pain, but understood her desire for unlimited time – to live life at a crawl in order to learn everything possible about her passion.

I also discovered that although I have zero interest in botany, it’s something that could catch my interest.  I saw on the sofa, midway through the book, discussing orchids and vanilla beans from Tahiti, and she looked at me like I was crazy and asked me how in the world I knew so much on the subject, and I have Gilbert’s extensive research to thank for that.

Over and over throughout the book I paused to look up information – to see what was real and what wasn’t and so much was based on actual history.  It was beyond fascinating and I’ve been unable to stop talking about this book to those around me since I put it down.  So when I say that The Signature of All Things needs to be next on your book club’s list, I mean it.  There will be no shortage of conversation (and I’m sure no shortage of people who are offended by some of the contents) but all of that makes for some really fascinating discussion and something I really wish I could have had when I finished the book.

Check out these reviews!

  • “Usually, long books are difficult with my short attention span, but this novel kept me absolutely riveted for every second I spent with it.” –  S. Krishna’s Books
  • ‘”I recommend you forgive Gilbert the conceit of Eat, Pray, Love and pick this up.” –  Book’d Out
  • ” This book is bravely done, written with great pose and confidence. ” – Reading for Sanity