Thursday, September 14, 2017

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

“I can turn to that day as though it were a page in a book. It’s written so deeply upon my mind I can almost taste the ink.” 

Hannah Kent's Burial Rites is one of those books that sticks with you long after you've turned the last page. I remember finishing this book and feeling utterly depleted- in a good way! You know that feeling, after you've immersed yourself entirely in a story and then its just....over. I couldn't let go of Agnes, the brutal coldness of Iceland or the feeling of isolation Agnes felt while living with the hardworking family who kept her until her trial. A story based on the life of the last woman executed in Iceland, Agnes Magnudottir, and the events leading up to the crime that she is accused of. 

"To know what a person has done, and to know who a person is, are very different things." 

Told in multiple narrative (Agnes, the priest called to talk with Agnes and the mother of the family keeping Agnes before her trial), Burial Rites plays on what is good and evil, the ethics of capital punishment and what it means to judge another person. I found Agnes's narrative to be the most compelling and it was her character that I have been unable to let go of, even after all this time. The bleak surroundings as well as the future in front of Agnes means this is not a lighthearted or happy story. But its message is sound and its story compelling, in a way that holds on to you.

A few of my favorite quotes: 

“Any woman knows that a thread, once woven, is fixed in place; the only way to smooth a mistake is to let it all unravel.” 

“God has had His chance to free me, and for reasons known to Him alone, He has pinned me to ill fortune, and although I have struggled, I am run through and through with disaster; I am knifed to the hilt with fate.” 

“I remain quiet. I am determined to close myself to the world, to tighten my heart and hold what has not yet been stolen from me. I cannot let myself slip away. I will hold what I am inside, and keep my hands tight around all the things I have seen and heard, and felt.” 

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent 
314 pages
Published by Little Brown 

Friday, September 8, 2017

Stay With me by Ayobami Adebayo

Stay With Me is Ayobami Adebayo's debut novel about a marriage between two people in Nigeria, a marriage based on lies and the deepest desire to have children in a culture where bearing children is put above loyalty in a marriage.

When I read the summary for Stay With Me, I knew it was going to be an emotional story but I had no idea the scope of heartache I would feel throughout my reading. My heart hurt in equal parts for Yejide, who wants nothing more than to bear a child of her own and for her husband Akin, who's infertility causes such self destruction its almost hard to read with each turn of the page. They both desire the same thing, yet are unable to be open and honest with each other about their heartache.

"It was the lie Id believed in the beginning. Yejide would have a child and we would be happy forever. The cost didn't matter. It didn't matter how many rivers we had to cross. At the end of it all was this stretch of happiness that was supposed to begin only after we had children and not a minute before." p.221

I had to take quite a few breaks throughout my reading of Stay With Me, to cope with my own emotions and process what was happening in the story. Yejide's life is full of devastating losses and heartbreak, so much so that those final pages made my heart ache for her and all that she had lost.

As someone who has dealt with infertility and the desire for children in her own marriage, watching Yejide and Akin struggle was what left me the most emotionally scarred. Everyone handles the struggle of wanting children in their own way and Akin's choice of building a marriage around his lie was the worst thing he could have done. It hurt my heart to watch Yejide discover his lies and see how that affected her own thoughts about herself.

"But the biggest lies are often the ones we tell ourselves. I bit my tongue because I did not want to ask questions. I did not ask questions because I did not want to know the answers. It was convenient to believe m husband was trustworthy; sometimes faith is easier than doubt." P. 233

I'm so glad I read this book, as much as it made my heart hurt and brought a lot of my own emotions to the surface. Thank you to aaknopf for the copy!! I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a story outside their comfort zone, set in a place you're unfamiliar with. Especially if you don't mind shedding a few tears along the way.

Memorable quotes: 

"Besides, what would be left of love without truth stretched beyond its limits, without those better versions of ourselves that we present as the only ones that exist?" p. 75

"The reasons why we do the things we do will not always be the ones that others will remember. Sometimes I think we have children because we want to leave behind someone who can explain who we were to the world when we are gone." p. 119

"You can never cover the truth. Just as nobody can cover the sun's rays with his hands, you can never cover the truth." p.202

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo
260 pages
Published by Aaknopf

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

I waited anxiously all summer to read Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, holding on to my ARC copy from Penguin Press and hoping I would have time to read it before my baby was born. Thankfully I did, I ended up finishing it the first weekend we were home from the hospital, during nursing sessions.
"All up and down the street the houses looked like any others- but inside them were people who might be happy, or taking refuge, or steeling themselves to go out into the world, searching for something better." p. 366

One of my favorite things about this story is that it takes place in Shaker Heights, near Cleveland. There were so many references that I could nod my head at and say "YES", like Chagrin Falls and the depressing weather of NE Ohio. Among other things! It really made the story feel more personal, like it was all taking place the next street over from me. 

Celeste Ng has written a powerful family drama with Little Fires Everywhere, one I wasn't able to put down (until I had to!) and created a cast of characters I won't soon forget. I really appreciated Izzy, the youngest sister of the Richardson family and the one misunderstood by most everyone other than Mia Warren. I knew her character was going to evolve and grow throughout the story as she rebelled against the strict black and white morals and perfectly mowed lawns of her life in Shaker Heights. She was by far my favorite character. 

As I read this book I felt an overwhelming feeling as though I was spying on all of the characters through a window of their house, taking a peek into their worst moments and thoughts (looking at you Elena Richardson). Trying to make sense of what makes each of them "tick". What I thought was brilliant was that final scene, where the photographer, Mia, leaves each of Richardsons a photograph. It was like Mia had a glimpse into that window but was also able to figure out each of them. The photographs were extremely personal and telling and I felt this was an excellent bit of closure for her time with their family and all that had occurred. Hopefully a lesson learned on their part as well.

"All her life, she had learned that passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control. It scaled walls and jumped over trenches. Sparks leapt like fleas and spread as rapidly; a breeze could carry embers for miles. Better to control that spark and pass it carefully from one generation to the next, like an Olympic torch. Or perhaps, to tend it carefully like an eternal flame: a reminder of light and goodness that would never- could never- set anything ablaze. Carefully controlled. Domesticated. Happy in captivity." p.174

Overall, I rated this book 4 stars and am excited to share it with other readers! The symbolism of those "little fires" at the beginning of the story really hit home by the time I turned the last page- and thats what I think makes for a brilliant and well written story. I think we all need to take more time to light our own little fires (figuratively of course) and possibly change someones perspective or life. 

Thanks again to Penguin Press for my ARC! Little Fires Everywhere will be out September 12th! 

384 pages
Published by Penguin Press

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride

The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride is the story of a young girl during her first year of drama school and the relationship she has with a twenty year older man that takes place in London during the mid 1990's.

Reading the synopsis on Goodreads, a few reviews and the back of the book I was convince this was a book I was going to enjoy escaping into. A love story, coming of age in a big city, all the hallmarks of something I would normally not be able to put down.

What the synopsis and back of the book did not disclose is McBride's writing style. Written in an almost string of consciousness method, where sentences are met with phrases met with just a word or two in almost a poetic sort of way. This style of writing, to me, is incredibly challenging. I feel like I have to work hard to "get" the story, let alone understand any sort of deeper meaning that the author intended. Feeling frustrated that I was simply rereading certain sections over and over and not really understanding what was going on, I decided to put the book down for a bit.

Unfortunately the writing style really made it hard for me to finish the book and I hope theres a point later on when I will have the ability to really focus on the reading, possibly rereading and absorbing more slowly what the author intended. Right now, this just isn't the book for me.

Have you read this? I'm curious to read more reviews and see what other readers were able to take away from this book.

Thank you to Hogarth books for the copy in exchange for an honest review!

The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride
336 pages
Published by Hogarth

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The History of Bees by Maja Lunde

"Without bees, the flowers were just flowers, not blueberries, not bread and butter."

The History of Bees by Maja Lunde is one of those books that I read and then couldn't stop thinking about. Yes, the cover is absolutely gorgeous (that sparkle!!) but aside from that, the story itself was unforgettable. 

Told in three different time periods, Lunde was able to achieve something extra ordinary in doing so. She wove together a story that made you care for each character, while also appreciating the grander scope of what the story was about: the importance of bees to our world today and our future. Something that I don't think most people realize or fully understand. 

Our three main characters are as follows, William (inventor of the bee hives living in Victorian times), George (a modern day bee farmer struggling to keep his bees alive at the very beginning of the bee "disappearances"), and Tao (a bee pollinator living in a dystopian future where bees have disappeared). Each of these characters struggled with their relationship to bees and it in turn affected the relationships with those around them. My favorite character was Tao, a mother who will stop at nothing to find her child in a world that has all but disappeared along with the bees. 

One of my favorite scenes that Lunde wrote was Tao dragging herself through the empty streets of a mostly empty city thinking of nothing but her child and knowing she will do anything to find him. I was so struck by that scene and the following ones as she found out what had happened to her boy, as well as the final scene which was unexpected and definitely powerful. 

There is much that can be taken from this story, applied to our world today and the affect our relationship with bees will have on future generations. Reading the dystopian story alongside the other two really made the affect more powerful I think, of what a loss of these bees would mean to us as a society and to the world as a whole. 

I am so grateful to Touchstone books for the advance copy I received to review and the final copy as well! Its a book I will keep alongside my other "favorites" and look forward to rereading again someday. (As well as recommending to all of my friends!)

352 pages
Touchstone Books 

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