Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin



"Most adults claim not to believe in magic, but Klara knows better. Why else would anyone play at permanence- fall in love, have children, buy a house- in the face of all evidence there's no such thing? " p. 103

When I started The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin, graciously given to me by Putnam books to review and share, I was excited but also a little nervous. I had been looking forward to this book for months and after talking to Chloe on IG a few times (she is the sweetest human) I was starting to worry...what if I didn't like it? I finally had a quiet evening ahead of me so I lit my favorite winter candle and settled in to read the prologue, wondering what I would think.

You guys. THIS BOOK. Now I am worried I have set my reading expectations for 2018 so high nothing else stands a chance at comparing (or at the very least getting a five star review). I finished the prologue, set the book down and took a deep breath. Already the Gold siblings were getting under my skin, in a good way. I am the oldest of four, we have the same Girl Boy Girl Boy age difference and I can see a little of each of us in each of them. It was slightly unnerving to then in my mind picture myself waiting in a dingy hallway to find out our fortune, knowing I would go last because I am the oldest. Wondering if my siblings were all okay.

These thoughts carried me through the rest of the story, as I met and grieved with each of the Gold siblings. Simon and his courage to live the life he wanted, Klara and her determination and belief in the power of magic, desperately trying to make her audience feel. Daniel and his steadfastness and quiet intelligence. Varya and her loneliness, hurt by so much and unable to break free from its weight. Each character brilliantly written, memorable in not just their actions but also their personalities.

Then there is the question. Would you want to know the day of your death? What would you do if you knew when it was? I thought these were easy questions before I started this book. Obviously, yes and then I would APPRECIATE EVERY DAY and LIVE LIFE TO THE FULLEST right? Right???! Except those questions aren't really all that easy. As Chloe's story weaves in and around the fortune teller's predictions for each of the Gold siblings, you slowly realize how devastating that afternoon was for each of them. How it pointed their lives down paths they may not have taken otherwise (good or bad) and the emotional toll of this knowledge pulled them apart from each other. It created a separation between them and any other person walking down the street. The ripple effect of the knowing was far reaching and frankly, catastrophic for all of them.

 I grieved alongside Varya throughout the entire book, even though we don't really "meet" her until the end. As the oldest, it was all too easy to imagine how she felt. Her responsibility as the oldest, caring for her mother and pushing away her own feelings and needs to ease the monumental pain that she had already endured. Too much.

Altogether, this book created in me such a feeling of hope. Hope in the unknown and the power of it. We don't need all of the answers (look how that turned out for the Gold siblings) to live a full life. I think that is what I took away from The Immortalists. That the power of the not knowing how much time we all have is what makes life full, what makes it something to appreciate and be grateful for every morning.  Chloe wove these themes brilliantly all the way to the end, in such a way that will make this story one I will remember and treasure for a long time.

Thank you so much to Putnam for sending me a copy of The Immortalists! And well done Chloe. You deserve every bit of praise and five star review.

Other memorable quotes:
"She held them in her mind so that she could feel nothing else- she loved them and loved them until they disarmed her, made her strong and broke her open, gave her powers she did not normally have." p.117

"She understands, too, the loneliness of parenting, which is the loneliness of memory- to know that she connects a future unknowable to her parents with a past unknowable to her child." p.134



Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The End We Start From by Megan Hunter

The End We Start From by Megan Hunter was graciously sent to my by Grove Atlantic a few weeks ago. Its a rather slim book, one that I knew I could pick up and read fairly quickly. You guys. This book! I finished it within an hour and had so much to process once I was finished...for such a small book it packs quite an emotional punch, especially as a mother.

Written in snippets and short paragraphs, The End We Start From reads almost like a journal. Other characters are named simply by their first initial and the narrator, the mother of baby Z, spends more time talking about her emotions and surroundings than actual or details of events taking place. I love books written this way, where I feel a more realistic connection with the main character and maybe less so with the setting events taking place. I felt completely immersed in the cocoon of warmth between mother and baby, their lives reliant solely upon the other despite the chaos surrounding them. With my own baby still newly here I felt so much of what the mother was feeling first hand, that dreamlike state nursing gives you in the early still dark morning hours, how that connection between yourself and this little being is so absolute. For me, it made this story all the more real and emotional.

"The gasping latch, and his breathing slows in the dark. The world inflates and deflates with him, a giant bellows." p. 52

Paired with the dread and panic surrounding them, the unknown of the everyday, there is so much hope wrapped up in baby Z as his mother marvels at his every growth and achievement. I really thought the ending was so perfect. R, the husband, I could honestly have cared less about. He seemed so unimportant, especially when he leaves them behind. Reading through each passage of hope and perseverance between mother and child made this story less of an apocalyptic doomsday type story and more of a study on how a mother's love for her child and a child's absolute dependence on their mother transcends all things. The world falling down around you and this love remains constant. How beautiful is that?

I highly recommend this story. Its beautiful, precise and brilliantly written. I cannot wait to read more from Megan Hunter! Thank you Grove Atlantic for my copy!



Monday, November 13, 2017

A Selfie As Big As The Ritz by Lara Williams


One of my favorite things about short story collections is the window they give you into an author's writing. (Not to mention during busy weeks, I can pick up a collection of stories and feel satisfied with a few pages of reading!)

A Selfie As Big As The Ritz by Lara Williams was sent to me by Flatiron Books in exchange for a honest review. I'm so grateful! I had read a few reviews on my own regarding Williams' writing and was excited to see for myself why everyone was loving it.

Some of the stories in this collection are just so beautiful, in an unassuming sneak up on you kind of way. I would turn a page, realizing it was the last and promptly start back at the beginning, letting Williams' words wash over me. I needed that second reading to really sink my teeth into the writing, some of it was so emotionally driven and real. Other parts just really funny and clever.

One of the stories, the very first one to be exact, It Begins, is so powerful. The final paragraph, the character sinking her hands into the earth, so simple but just right. I love a story that is more just a vignette, a camera shot, a group of stills that culminate a character's life. If an author can pull that off successfully in a few pages, gosh. I knew after reading It Begins that my opinion of this collection of stories being something I could read during pickup or at the doctor's office was incorrect. I needed quiet and solitude so I could reflect after each one.

This Small Written Thing was another powerful story for me, one that read almost like poetry? Or maybe the emotion was so well written that I was really able to just immerse myself and feel for Flora, the words carrying me along until I was able to picture myself climbing into that bed at the end. This sentence, "The performance of love and the fire of it; an endless negotiation; a series of audience asides, of controlled explosions." Wow.

I cannot say enough how much I enjoyed this book of stories. I know if I had read this ten years ago, at age 23, I would've had a completely different experience. That certain stories would have affected me differently, others would have left me wondering. I'm' so glad I had the opportunity to read this now, almost ten years into my marriage and at a point in life that allowed so many of these stories to move me emotionally. Well done, Lara Williams! And thank you again Flatiron Books for the copy!

A Selfie As Big As The Ritz by Lara Williams 
160 pages
Published by Flatiron Books

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende


After receiving an early copy of Isabel Allende's In the Midst of Winter from Atria books I couldn't wait to get started reading it. I've enjoyed many of Allende's books in the past, her writing is so fluid and engaging. I often feel her characters are written so well that I have a hard time leaving them behind once the story is finished. In the Midst of Winter was no different! 

Richard, Evelyn and Lucia are each lost in their own way and in a weird (and honestly somewhat contrived) set of circumstances they come together during a blizzard in New York City one winter. Told in alternating chapters and flashbacks, we slowly learn how each of them made their way to America from their home countries. Sharing similar themes of perseverance amidst struggle and hardship, pain and suffering, Allende weaves a story that makes you hurt for these three people and question what you may think you know about a person sitting across from you on a bus or in a restaurant. We all have a story to tell. 

I found the chapters that took place in the past far more engaging and interesting than the present day situation the three characters found themselves in. That story line seemed a bit far fetched and hard to swallow at times, making me skim quickly to get to the next flashback. I loved learning about each character's life far more than what they were going to do with the dead body in the trunk. 

That being the only drawback I found in this book, I rated it 3.5 stars on Goodreads. Thank you Atria books for the advance copy in exchange for my honest review! 

352 pages
Published by Atria Books



Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine


The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine can officially stay on my bookshelves, as it is a thriller that kept me guessing, had twisty and interesting characters told from multiple view points and an ending I wasn't expecting. Thank you Harper Books for not only the ARC and the finished copy, but also for sending me a thriller I actually enjoyed reading all the way through (and honestly had a hard time putting down).

I'm kind of a picky thriller reader. I get frustrated with stories that seem SO out of the realm of the real world or characters that are just AWFUL, completely unlikeable that I don't really care what happens to them by the end of the story. Usually I feel like they deserved everything they got.

Theres been a few thrillers lately that I've reviewed and really enjoyed...The Last Mrs. Parrish by sister writers working under the name Liv Constantine is definitely going on that list. I LOVED this story line, how the characters were introduced, the way the viewpoint shifted halfway through. The subtleness. It reminded me of a Hitchcock in some ways.

This is the story of an unhappy marriage, a wealthy husband, a wife hiding behind a facade because she has no other choice and a third woman who is determined to have it all for herself. I liked Daphne, but I also liked Amber (she had some serious stamina and dedication to her cause, haha). There were a few cringe moments where I had to shake off what I was reading but mostly, the twisted lives of the two women and Jackson Parrish left me thinking every time I put the book down.

If you are looking for a great thriller, I highly recommend The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine. It was quite a fun and wicked read!


The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine 
400 pages
published by Harper Books

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks by Annie Spence

THIS BOOK. Oh you guysssss. Are you a book lover? Of course you are. You're here reading this or follow thousands of bookstagrammers on Instagram. So OF COURSE you love books. Guess what? Me too. And I was SO excited when Caroline Bleeke from Flatiron Books granted my book wishes and sent me a copy of Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence. It's a gem of a book. A GEM. So tiny, such a sweet illustrated cover and chock full of letters to books from a book lover, librarian and all around just really witty lady. This book made me laugh, made me roll my eyes and made me feel melancholy, thinking of life before my kiddos and life when I'm old and gray. The feelings you guys! ALL OF THEM. 

So here is a little letter to Miss Annie Spence, if she should ever happen upon this post out on the inter webs. 

Dear Annie, 

Can I call you Annie? Is that okay? I feel like after spending all day with you and your lovely little book of letters we are kinda friends, ya know? I feel like I KNOW you. On a friend level but also on a BOOK LOVER level and every one who loves books knows what I mean by that. 

You book, Dear Fahrenheit 451, oh gosh. Where to even begin? I loved it. I loved it the way I love a warm mug of hot chocolate and my fuzzy striped blanket on a cold winter Saturday afternoon. I cozied up with your book the other day and didn't want to put it down until I had finished. (But I did, because, kids.) You are so witty! The letter to the fancy bookshelf in the fancy apartment, yes. Been there. Wondering who in the world bought books just for "show" and where the creased spine thrillers or romance novels are really hidden. Mostly when I was babysitting for wealthy people, not so much at any fancy parties but same thing, I think. 
The truck book? YES. I can relate. So many of those board books make me want to bang my head against a wall, but oh for the joy of cultivating a reader, do I read them again and again. Thankfully we've moved on to The Magic Treehouse but even so....
Twilight? Yes. All the same sentiments except I probably would have picked it up off the table for a quarter at the end. Its Edward!! I mean Jacob. I MEAN EDWARD. 
My favorite letter was to The Time Traveler's Wife. By far. I read it myself when I was in my early twenties and I haven't reread it in years. Certainly not since I've had children or persevered through trials in my marriage. This letter spoke to me in a way only a true book lover friend can and made me promptly pull it off my shelf for a much needed reread. 
Oh there were many more letters that struck a chord. I can't name them all. But I loved each one for some reason or another (whether a witty quip about an outdated book or a truth laid bare that made me think). I also appreciated the list of actual book recommendations in the back. Thank you! My copy of The Wilds thanks you as well. 

So, dear Annie, my new found book lover friend. Can we be pen pals? 

Love a fellow book lover and conscientious library patron (I haven't accrued any fines in over two years. Thats a record AND a fact.)

Renée



Tuesday, October 10, 2017

New Release: The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

One of my most anticipated releases for this fall is The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman! Huge thanks to Simon Books for the copy to read and review!

The prequel to Practical Magic, The Rules of Magic takes us into the world of the Owens sisters, this time focusing on the Aunts from Practical Magic. I cannot wait to start this because I just loved the way Hoffman intertwined magic and real life in her first book and I know The Rules of Magic won't be any different! The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman is out today, October 10th!

Heres a quick synopsis from Goodreads:

For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man.

Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk.

From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse.

The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered, and sometimes feared, aunts in Practical Magic, while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy.