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. 

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."

Review:
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 


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.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Book Sparks POP UP Blog Tour! The Guineveres by Sarah Domet

I'm so excited to be a part of the Book Sparks Pop Up Blog Tour for The Guineveres by Sarah Domet!!! Look at this gorgeous book! I love the cover and have had it on my TBR list forever. Whats best about being a part of the tour is that I can follow along with so many other readers who are also starting it at the same time! So cool. 

I'm about 1/3 of the way in and looking forward to a quiet night of reading. Has anyone seen the old Hayley Mills movie Trouble with Angels? I used to watch it often with my momma, about two girls who will do anything to make their lives a little less miserable while living with the nuns every year.

 So far these four girl friends, all named Guinevere are making me feel the same way! I'm so interested to see where this story goes. 

Heres a quick summary from Goodreads: 

To four girls who have nothing, their friendship is everything: they are each other’s confidants, teachers, and family. The girls are all named "Guinevere"―Vere, Gwen, Ginny, and Win―and it is the surprise of finding another Guinevere in their midst that first brings them together. They come to The Sisters of the Supreme Adoration convent by different paths, delivered by their families, each with her own complicated, heartbreaking story that she safeguards; however, the girls are more than the sum of their parts and together they form the all powerful and confident "The Guineveres," bound by the extraordinary coincidence of their names and girded against the indignities of their plain, sequestered lives. Author Sarah Domet explores their almighty friendship as the desperate teens concoct a plan to escape from the isolated abbey


Can't wait to share a full review when I'm finished! :) Happy Friday! 


Thursday, August 3, 2017

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

Review: 

To be honest, I feel very conflicted about Elizabeth Strout's Anything is Possible. Having only read Amy and Isabelle (ages ago, in high school) I wasn't sure what to expect with this book. Going into reading it, I knew it was a collection of short stories centered around a small town in Illinois and characters that are somehow connected to each other through their childhoods and adult lives. 

I really enjoy books written in such a format. I sometimes find it more enjoyable to get to know characters in short snippets or vignettes. I think it can give a character a clearer, more accessible presence when they are presented in such a way that you can only view them through one setting, perhaps only one hour or one day of their life. In other words, I was intrigued by this book from simply that information alone and didn't delve much farther into any reviews prior to reading it. 

When reading a book like this its almost like people watching from a bench or looking through someones windows on a clear night when their curtains are open. You only get a small glimpse, but they aren't aware you are watching and thus left to behave and think in an honest way true to themselves. There were many passages that I underlined, truth found in the words of these characters. It left me wanting to know some of them a little bit better, which is part of Elizabeth Strout's magic. 

"...he understood that all that mattered in this world were his wife and children, and he thought that people lived their whole lives not knowing this as sharply and constantly as he did." p. 6

"Everyone, she understood, was mainly and mostly interested in themselves....This was the skin that protected you from the world- this loving of another person you shared your life with." p. 54

What I wasn't expecting while reading this book was the amount of uncomfortable sexual situations or themes that seemed prevalent throughout each of the character's stories. I'm not sure why it was important to include such themes repeatedly. (The story Cracked left me feeling very unsettled and confused). I haven't read her previous book, My Name is Lucy Barton, so I'm not sure if this is something that was important to her story (she is a repeating character mentioned in Anything is Possible). Regardless, I guess I was caught unawares and left a bit uncomfortable by some of it. By the end, enough of it had accumulated to almost deter me from my earlier awe at the passages I had marveled at. With each story being so short, these themes seemed to stand out more to me than had they been woven into a larger and more linear novel. So perhaps, that is what really struck me more than anything. Each character seemed tagged by one of these experiences, in my mind. 

Overall, this book was incredibly emotional and well-written. Elizabeth Strout did a wonderful job weaving together characters linked only by a place or knowledge of a girl named Lucy Barton (or the Barton family). Many of the characters beg for a chance to tell their own story, I feel, and I would love to read that. I will also be looking into her other books as well. 



The Chalk Artist by Allegra Goodman

Review: 

I'll be honest, one of the first things that drew me to Allegra Goodman's The Chalk Artist was the title and cover design. As an art teacher and lover of all things art related, I was instantly curious and looked up Goodman's website online to learn more. I've always been intrigued by chalk artists, the very fact that their art is erasable and impermanent. One of my favorite things to do in September is visit Cleveland's chalk festival at the Cleveland Art Museum. What the artists are able to create with just a piece of cement and their box of chalk is truly amazing. 

The Chalk Artist is about one such artist, Collin, who prides himself on being able to draw virtually anything but whose passion lies in a box of chalk and a blackboard. Nina, a first year teacher struggling to make an impact on her high school English students any way she can, is drawn to Collin as much as he is to her and thus their romance begins. Along side their story is Aiden, one of Nina's students who has become lost in the world of internet multiplayer gaming and struggles to remember what the "real" world is. 

Something about each of these characters, as well as Aiden's twin sister, really got under my skin. I felt like Goodman did something brilliant with their stories, connecting them in such small and then ultimately large ways to create a larger and more realistic emotional story. One of how art influences our lives, makes us better humans to ourselves and each other. Whether that art is a poem, a drawing sketched on a napkin, an intricate digital world. How it creates a connection between people or within us, connecting bits of ourselves into something greater. 

Recommendation: 

I highly recommend this book to you if you enjoy stories where characters are struggling to find themselves and each other, with multiple character viewpoints and a very real presence in today's world. I found the scenes where Aiden struggles with his life in the multiplayer game and his "real" life eyeopening. I've read articles about teenagers struggling with gaming worlds and being able to move forward into responsibility, college, jobs etc. This particular part of the story really stuck with me. 


352 pages
Published by Random House 

Monday, July 31, 2017

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

I am so excited to share this book with you guys! I've been sitting on this review for a while, waiting for the chance to finally focus on writing out my thoughts. I actually own two copies of this magnificent story, the UK version (I purchased on Book Depository in the Spring) and the US edition which was kindly sent to me by Grove Atlantic. You know you're a book nerd when having two different editions of a favorite book makes you SO happy. ;) 
Review

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt is her debut novel, a fictionalized account of the infamous Lizzie Borden murder case, where Mr. and Mrs. Borden were found gruesomely butchered in their home on a Thursday morning, August 4th 1892. You can read more about the actual Lizzie Borden case online and also visit the Borden home in Fall River, Massachusetts. 

Sarah Schmidt did something extraordinary with this story, it's almost hard to even explain. Using descriptive language in even the most mundane sentences, she created a sense of unease throughout all 319 pages that left me personally anxious to turn each page not knowing what I was going to find. She created a sense of dread that slowly crept up on you, with phrases that attacked your senses when simply describing the old mutton on the stove, the rotten pears on the ground or the smell of bodies in a room. Everything had a dark and gruesome undercurrent that built and built until the final page and sentence. 

Told through the alternating view points of various characters over the course of three days, alongside flashbacks, See What I Have Done takes you on a ride that makes you wonder what really happened to this family while also being altogether disgusted and disturbed by them (thanks again, to Schmidt's excellent writing). Some of the scenes were particularly gruesome and descriptive! Every sentence is written with intention, to create suspicion and unease which creates an atmosphere of anxiety and horror. But its so expertly done, you almost don't even notice it until you close the book and wonder why you have such an awful feeling in the pit of your stomach. (Oh right, it's because I've just spent too much time inside Lizzie Borden's head). 

She made my teeth want to sink into her flesh and eat her out of my life, made me want to swarm her mind and sort through all the thoughts she had of me, that I was being too stubborn, I was being too secretive, I was being bad, I was, I was. I felt her nastiness crawl over my skin, tiny deaths that made me want to become nothing.

It took me a few days to get this story out of my mind, while also continuously applauding Sarah Schmidt for creating such a beautifully written, dark and disturbing character study of Lizzie Borden and the terrible events that unfolded on that August morning. 

I love both covers of this book as well, not just because they are beautiful in their own right but because by the end of the book the significance of both the pear and the pigeon meant so much more. I can't look at either without remembering scenes from the book. Read this book and trust me, you'll feel the same way. 

I gave this book 5 stars on Goodreads and really can't say enough how brilliant this book was! When I saw it put out early at my local bookstore last week I just wanted to stand there and point it out to everyone who passed by..."THIS BOOK! Buy it. Buy it right now. There's nothing like it."



319 pages
Published by Grove Atlantic


Sunday, July 30, 2017

The River at Night by Erica Ferencik


Review: 

An intense story about a group of older women who have been friends forever that decide the best way to heal from each of their own wounds is to take an epic white water rafting adventure down an unpopulated river route in Maine. Of course, nothing ends up as simple as that and the friends are each tested at some point of the adventure, bringing the question of what you would do in a life or death situation to light. 

This was actually a fun, rollercoaster type story to read! I finished it quickly, in just two days, and had a hard time putting it down. I was anxious to find out what was going to happen to the girls and kept putting myself in their shoes. Scary! 

I did feel that the main character, Winifred, was given quite a few "deep, thoughtful" moments that didn't really jive with the rest of the writing or story. They seemed more than a little out of place given the nature of the story and the events taking place. 

All in all, this was a great thriller and left me wondering multiple times what could possibly happen to these women next, or how they were ever going to make it home. For sure, there will be no white water rafting adventures with friends in my future. We'll stick with trips to the local winery! 




304 pages
Published by Gallery Books