Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney


After keeping this book on my nightstand and carrying it with me alongside a few other current reads for about a month, I finally finished Sally Rooney's Conversation with Friends. (Thank you to Hogarth books for the copy!) For the first ten chapters or so I was really having a hard time connecting with the characters. I would read a few pages or get through a chapter and just not feel interested or invested in the story and put it down.

And then. AND THEN.

The other night I picked it back up with the determination to give it one more shot. I had a whole evening ahead of me to read and I wanted to finish this one either way. Before I knew it I was halfway through! I'm not sure if it was just me or if this book was really slow to start but man, once I got into the story...I think around Chapter 12, I couldn't put it down!

Told from the voice of Frances, a college student who is not sure where she's going with her life (in terms of love, work, a job, everything) we meet Bobbi (her close friend and ex-girlfriend) and married couple Nick and Melissa. From there this story becomes a love story of sorts, between Frances and Nick but also between Frances and the other characters in the story as well. We see her relationships in their truest forms, through her very self-centered and at times frustrating perspective. There were moments when reading her reactions to a situation that I just wanted to reach through the page and shake her a bit, so she could see what was really happening in front of her. But in truth, this type of storytelling also made Frances a more realistic character, which I appreciated.


I'm not sure what Sally Rooney intended with the title, Conversations with Friends, but as I became more engrossed with the story I felt like it was reading as if I was actually having a conversation with Frances. At least parts of it, I could picture her relaying to me over coffee in just the same way it was written. I think that had a lot to do with how quickly I become absorbed in the story once I reached a certain point.

I really feel that part of my issue with connecting with the characters began with my own assumption that there wasn't anything in the story for me to relate to. Im much older than both Frances and Bobbi and I certainly disliked Melissa and Nick, as well as the way their marriage was portrayed. Obviously, none of these things changed as the story continued but funnily enough, as I kept reading I found more and more moments that I was able to relate to. Moments especially from my own college days and the naivety I had when it came to relationships. Frances quickly grew on me during her stay in France with Nick and Melissa and by the time she returned home I couldn't put the book down.

Certainly these weren't the most likable characters ever written, most of them were incredibly selfish and concerned with their own feelings and opinions. But their actions and emotional moments throughout the story were believable in a way that made them more realistic than if they had been more "lovable". I'm still thinking about Frances and that last chapter in the book. Sally Rooney did an excellent job writing the characters and especially sticking to using Frances as the sole voice of the story. While I love seeing different perspectives throughout a story, in this case Frances became someone almost real and so much of that came from Sally Rooney's ability to write her in an honest way.

I rated this book 3.5 stars on Goodreads!

Thank you to Hogarth books for the copy to read and review.

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
320 pages
Published by Hogarth



Monday, August 14, 2017

The Misfortune of Marion Palm by Emily Culliton

"Marion Palm is on the lam."

Isn't that a great first line for a story? I read that line and knew I was going to be in for a surprising ride. Marion Palm isn't who you think she is, even from the synopsis whatever impression you may have of her character and personality will be totally different once you get to know her and turn that final page.

Written by Emily Culliton,  The Misfortune of Marion Palm is her debut novel and published by Knopf. I am so grateful for the copy they sent me to read and review! I am frankly still so impressed that this is Culliton's first novel, the writing and alternating story lines (including flashbacks), as well as the short chapters (all of which could have come across as choppy or disjointed) created a seamless view into Marion's life and helped the story move along. Truly a roller coaster of emotions, once I got to know the characters and Marion herself, I couldn't stop reading!

The Misfortune of Marion Palm is told through the view points of Marion Palm, her husband Nathan, each of their two daughters and even the detective on the case. Beginning with Marion, we learn of the embezzlement she committed while working at her daughters' Brooklyn private school and how quickly she was able to leave her husband and two daughters behind. Personally, I assumed I wouldn't be able to connect with her as a mother myself (I can't possibly imagine ever leaving behind my children!!) but by the end of the novel, I was actually rooting for her escape. The characters Culliton creates in this story are realistic in that they are all severely flawed and selfish. It was honestly hard to like any of them (even Marion) but yet the story itself and the actions of the characters made me want to keep reading. I had to know what Marion's fate would be in the end!

I gave this 3.5 stars on Goodreads and am again, so grateful to Knopf for the copy! If you're looking for a book that takes you to the heart of a family who is flawed by greed, selfishness and by a mother that is unhappy with her lot in life, this is your book! At times humorous (in a slightly tongue in cheek sort of way) as well as sad, The Misfortune of Marion Palm was really an entertaining book!

304 pages 
Published by Knopf Publishing Group 


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Live from Cairo by Ian Bassingthwaighte


Quote: 

" The right to migrate was really the right to move on fro your suffering. The right to joy, to reunion. The right to forget." p.71

"Her prayers had gotten lost in a city full of protests, full of smoke." 

Review: 

If you read the synopsis (here) you might think, like I did, that Live from Cairo doesn't sound like something you'd usually be up for reading much less move to the front of your ever growing TBR list. When I received this from Scribner books, that was my first thought! Its always hard to decide what book gets hauled to the front of that ever growing line up! There are so many good books out there. 

I decided to take a page out of a fellow bookstagrammers book and give the first chapter a read, at least. That way I'd know the writing style and maybe meet a character or two. And wouldn't you know, I was six chapters in before I even realized it!! Isn't that the mark of a great book? One that pulls you in with its writing or an unforgettable character or a setting that makes you want to crawl into the book and be there too? I was totally surprised! This book, Live from Cairo by Ian Bassingthwaighte, was not what I expected! 

Told from the perspectives of multiple characters, Live from Cairo is a story about what it takes to make the 'right' decision, to overcome politics and prejudice and fear to save somebody. Whether or not it succeeds in the end. Live from Cairo takes place during the Egyptian revolutions of 2011, after the overthrow of Mubarak. The characters we meet are grappling with curfews, with the army around every corner who takes people to the basement of the museum and tortures them to prove a point, as well as with their own personal struggles. Together, this combination creates a rather intense sequence of events that center around a refugee named Dalia who is stuck in Cairo awaiting a pass to meet her husband in the United States. 

I cannot say enough how surprising the entire story was for me. I enjoyed meeting each of the characters, seeing their lives unfold in a setting and story that was very outside of what I normally read. I really don't know much about what is involved with refugees applying for leave to other countries. Seeing these characters grapple with the concept that Dalia is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to the sheer number of people just like her wanting to escape their home countries, despite how devastating her personal story was, I couldn't wrap my own mind around it. The unlikely friendships formed around her case, as Hana and Charlie become more and more consumed with saving Dalia for as much their own personal reasons as anything else, made this such an interesting read. 

I tried not to spend too much time caught up in what I didn't know, the riots and the political atmosphere, etc. I did some research after I finished but felt it wasn't necessary to the story that I  do so while I was reading it. The characters themselves and the writing alone were enough to carry me through some of the confusing parts to the end. I cannot say enough how much I appreciated the ending to this story either. What could've been tied up nicely was made more realistic and believable than I could have hoped or anticipated. 

I highly recommend this book! Live from Cairo has a strong footing in our world right now,  one that may give a reader more empathy to those involved with refugee cases and the refugees themselves, waiting for absolution in the form of a yellow card. 


Thank you Scribner books for the copy! 

322 pages
Published by Scribner


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Little French Bistro by Nina George


Review: 

There is nothing I enjoy more than a story where I can fall in love with the main character, watch her shed her old skin and start over. Haven't we all wanted to do that at one time or another? Haven't you wondered what it would be like to just disappear somewhere, meet new people and loves and just be someone new? This is why Under the Tuscan Sun is one of my favorite movies (I have yet to read the book). I love that idea, as a fantasy. Especially disappearing to someplace foreign and strange but yet having it all work out (fantasies, right?).

Marianne is just that character and her story in The Little French Bistro by Nina George is just as heartwarming. Sometimes you don't need fireworks and mysteries to solve to capture and keep a reader and in The Little French Bistro Marianne and the cast of characters throughout her story are more than enough. Leaving her life behind, Marianne travels to the coast of Brittany and thus begins her own "awakening", her own leaving.

What follows is Marianne's story as she finds herself again and its written in such a quiet and unassuming, soft and pleasing way, that this story almost feels like a hug from a good friend. Its okay to read this before bed, to read a bit and put it down again, it will still be waiting for you. I LOVE that about a book. Even with such a terrible and hard to read beginning, even reading through scenes where Marianne's husband clearly has no love or respect for her, this story slowly builds to an ending that leaves both you and Marianne feeling so much better off than when you started.

Thank you to Crown Publishing and Blogging for Books for this free copy in exchange for an honest review! I am so glad I had the opportunity to read this and share it with others. The Little French Bistro was truly a delightful story to read!

The Little French Bistro by Nina George 
320 pages
Published by Crown Publishing

New Release: The Misfortune of Marion Palm by Emily Culliton


"Marion Palm is on the lam." 

With an opening line like that, how can you really go wrong? 

Marion Palm prefers not to think of herself as a thief but rather "a woman who embezzles." Over the years she has managed to steal $180,000 from her daughters' private school, money that has paid for European vacations, a Sub-Zero refrigerator, and perpetually unused state-of-the-art exercise equipment. But, now, when the school faces an audit, Marion pulls piles of rubber-banded cash from their basement hiding places and flees, leaving her family to grapple with the baffled detectives, the irate school board, and the mother-shaped hole in their house. Told from the points of view of Nathan, Marion's husband, heir to a long-diminished family fortune; Ginny, Marion's teenage daughter who falls helplessly in love at the slightest provocation; Jane, Marion's youngest who is obsessed with a missing person of her own; and Marion herself, on the lam--and hiding in plain sight. 

Are you ready to get to know Marion Palm a little better? With reviews from Kevin Kwan and Katherine Heiny, this debut novel by Emily Culliton is one I'm really excited to share with you. I'm currently on the chapter entitled "Pitchforks" (I LOVE a book with titled chapters, its so fun to have a peek at whats coming next) and theres no doubt I'll be finished with this today! Thank you to Knopf for the free copy! 

I love Tuesday release days, don't you? Happy Pub Day to Emily Culliton (and Marion Palm!)

Find THE MISFORTUNE OF MARION PALM by Emily Culliton here. Happy Reading! 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Girl In Snow by Danya Kukafka


Favorite quote: 

"It makes you wonder doesn't it- how its possible to be a secondary character in your own story." p.220

Review: 

Goodness gracious, this book. Where should I begin? I mean honestly. Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka is such a brilliantly written journey from page one to the final turn of the last page I don't know what to say other than simply READ IT. And I can't say enough how much I appreciate Simon Books for sending me this copy (along with that super cute snow globe!!! heart eyes!). I've had my eye on Girl in Snow since the Spring, getting more and more excited as the release date (August 1st!) marched closer. I don't often feel that way about books or upcoming releases, but this one really struck me from the first time I read a summary and I just knew it was going to be something special. All I can say is, well done Danya Kukafka!! This book is one of my favorites of the year, by far!

I must admit, I was slightly surprised by the direction this story took (from the small amount of reviews I read prior as well as the summary, I took it to be a thriller/murder mystery in a small town). And it was, a murder mystery for sure, but oh man Girl in Snow is much much more than that. To its bones, a character study of who we are when we aren't putting on a show for those around us, who we are when in the dark of our bedroom alone or hiding in the bathroom. Who we are when we think no one is watching, essentially, when our thoughts are free to roam unfettered.

Girl in Snow spans a few days, beginning with the discovery of a girl, Lucinda, murdered and left in the snow of the school playground. From there we meet our trio of characters: Cameron, the boy who silently watched Lucinda, stood outside of her house at night and drew her face over and over from memory because he loved her so much. Jade, the friend/not friend who shared a babysitting job with Lucinda and has done her fair share of watching from her own bedroom window. And finally, Russ, the cop who has an emotional history with Cameron's father and is placed on the case to find Lucinda's murderer.

One of the best things about Girl in Snow is how these three characters end up entwined, affecting each other's lives in seemingly small and then ultimately large ways at the culmination of the story. Each character is written in such a way that seeing so vividly inside their minds, their thoughts and feelings uncensored, makes you root for them. I crossed my fingers that neither Cameron, Russ or Jade had anything to do with Lucinda's death. By the end I felt they were each deserving of finding their own happiness and place in the world.

I pictured their neighborhood and the adjoining school almost like a movie set, with characters moving through and around each other while the story unfolds, the mountains of Colorado peaked in the distance and everything bathed in a blueish purple light reflected off the snow. I really feel that Kukafka did a remarkable job not only creating this setting which on the surface seems pretty standard/nothing special, just a small town, but in her way giving it its own life and color. Kukafka's writing was truly one of my favorite things about this book.

I also appreciated very much that after the murderer is brought to light, the story doesn't end there. We keep reading, seeing the characters in the aftermath of this news and how it affects each of them. I loved that. So many standard "thrillers" leave you right when the murder is solved and the bad guy taken away. More meaningful than any other part of this story to me was the chance we are given as the reader to continue following the characters we've been getting to know for the last three hundred pages, past the standard "ending", and further along their respective journeys.


I rated Girl in Snow 4.5 stars on Goodreads.

Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka
368 pages
Simon and Schuster








Monday Mood

Happy Monday bookish friends! I'm trying to catch up on some book reviews *there are many* but there are stacks of pretty books on my shelves in the dining room begging to be read. 

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt sent me this lovely package two weeks ago, a beautiful tote and two books I have been dying to read. I can't wait to start both! The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish is a bit heavy and I'm planning on starting it once the baby gets here, something I can read slowly and pick up/put down and work on in the quiet of early early morning feedings. I'm also really looking forward to Thisbe Nissen's new book Our Lady of the Prairie. I have been a fan of hers or many years. And don't get me started on that tote bag!!! I'm a sucker for a good, heavy tote and bonus points if its also really cute. 

Heres a quick summary of each in case you are interested!

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish
Set in London of the 1660s and of the early twenty-first century, The Weight of Ink is the interwoven tale of two women of remarkable intellect: Ester Velasquez, an emigrant from Amsterdam who is permitted to scribe for a blind rabbi, just before the plague hits the city; and Helen Watt, an ailing historian with a love of Jewish history.   

As the novel opens, Helen has been summoned by a former student to view a cache of seventeenth-century Jewish documents newly discovered in his home during a renovation. Enlisting the help of Aaron Levy, an American graduate student as impatient as he is charming, and in a race with another fast-moving team of historians, Helen embarks on one last project: to determine the identity of the documents’ scribe, the elusive “Aleph.”   

Our Lady of the Prairie by Thisbe Nissen
In the space of a few torrid months on the Iowa prairie, Phillipa Maakestad—long-married theater professor and mother of an unstable daughter—grapples with a life turned upside down. After falling headlong into a passionate affair during a semester spent teaching in Ohio, Phillipa returns home to Iowa for her daughter Ginny’s wedding. There, Phillipa must endure (among other things) a wedding-day tornado, a menace of a mother-in-law who may or may not have been a Nazi collaborator, and the tragicomic revenge fantasies of her heretofore docile husband.  Naturally, she does what any newly liberated woman would do: she takes a match to her life on the prairie and then steps back to survey the wreckage.  Set in the seething political climate of a contentious election,Thisbe Nissen's new novel is sexy, smart, and razor-sharp—a freight train barreling through the heart of the land and the land of the heart.