Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis

After reading a few very positive reviews online, I decided to read The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis as a change of pace from the historical fiction I have been reading of late. I was not disappointed! A coming of age story about a father and son, this is the type of book I usually hesitate to pick up. Heavy, emotional and not something I can usually relate to.

Surprisingly, I was hooked from the opening pages. Set in the backwoods of North Carolina, the descriptions of life in such a place was eye opening and heart catching. The people, the lives the led all brought me into the story right from the beginning. As we meet Henry Aster's father in his early years (a book lover and intellectual from an early page and very out of place in such a life), I felt so much promise for this young man. As he left for college and met his wife, I wondered how this story would circle back around to his life in North Carolina. And circle back around it did, as we watch his own young son grow up in those same backwoods between the mountains. As his father struggles to write the next great American novel, young Henry idolizes and worships the ground he walks on and it is clear how the stage is set for the remainder of the story, the relationship between these two characters.

I don't want to give away any spoilers but the tragedies that strike the Aster family as Henry is growing up change him in ways he cannot undo. As he moves ahead and away from his life in North Carolina, for college, he's unable to escape the affects his childhood and his father had on him. It was incredibly heartbreaking to read at times, to witness how such simple acts of selfishness and absorption from his father could wreck such havoc on a son's soul and person. And yet, that powerful bind between father and son couldn't be severed.

"-although much of the child's love I had once felt had been replaced, I think, by a souring and pathetic sympathy for the wasted existence my father had come to represent. Yet I knew he had a good heart, and a kind heart, and on this night it was comforting to simply be near him." p. 330

The Barrowfields, from opening line to the very last sentence, captured my heart and reeled me in. Lewis's writing is sublime, truly. There were passages about time and hell that just took my breath away, the truth of how fleeting our time is and how quickly our experiences and relationships are left meaning nothing to no one as generations pass on without us. I found myself rereading certain paragraphs, captivated by the truth in the words written not just about Henry and his father but life in general. It's been a long time since I read such a masterpiece of a story.

So grateful to Blogging for Books for this copy in return for my honest review! Thank you!

The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis 
348 pages
Published by Hogarth

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Dressmaker's Dowry by Meredith Jaeger

After finishing The Dressmaker's Dowry by Meredith Jaeger I needed to take a little break before selecting my next book. It's always hard to find your next read after finishing one that has completely swept you up inside it's world! I read this book pretty quickly because I had such a hard time putting it down!

The Dressmaker's Dowry is a story told in two parts, the first of two dressmakers in San Francisco during the later 1800's that are living under extremely poor conditions and with very abusive fathers and little siblings they must take care of. After meeting a wealthy gentleman and his cousin in their dress shop, the main character Hannelore, is taken with with him. Through a turn of a chance she ends up meeting him for a night at the opera. After Hannelore's dressmaker friend Margaret disappears, Lucas is the only person she can turn to for help. Thus begins their adventure and romance, spending time scouring the back alleys of the Barbary Coast and skirting the dangers there.

I found this part of the story to be extremely fascinating as I knew nothing previously of San Francisco during this time. I've read books that take place right before the turn of the century in Chicago or NYC but never out on the West Coast. Jaeger did a fantastic job describing life and situations the poor were met with, with exquisite detail and I really felt transported there. These chapters really kept the book moving and I felt compelled to find out what happened to both girls as quickly as possible!

The second part of the story, told in alternating chapters, is that of Sarah Havensworth and her "perfect" husband (so he seemed written in the story!) Sarah is struggling with a thesis paper when inspiration strikes as she stumbles across a newspaper article mentioning two dressmakers that disappeared during 1876. Intrigued, Sarah begins researching further and finds that her husband's family may have a direct link to the missing girls.

The chapters that involved this part of the story did not capture me quite as much as the others, mostly because I couldn't quite love Sarah's character. I found the way she approached her relationship with her husband to be strange, with being out researching or at bars with her friends while not really spending much time with him. I know this had a lot to do with her own secret and her pulling away from him but it made me like her less, if that makes sense.

What I loved most about the way the two stories came together were the little details that would pop up in the past and reoccur in the present (or vice versa). Sort of like a puzzle being put together, I was anxious for Sarah to find out what had happened to the dressmakers and how she fit into the story.

The ending was quite a shocker, considering where I though the story was going to go but I loved it! All the way up to the last page I was not disappointed. I think most of what Hannelore and Sarah  struggled with during the book was concluded in a respectful way (without it seeming overly perfect or tied with a ribbon).

Meredith Jaeger, thank you so much for sending me a copy of this book! I loved it! It was such an easy read to get lost in and I am already missing the world you created in San Francisco and the dressmakers.

The Dressmaker's Dowry by Meredith Jaeger
384 pages
Published by William Morrow Books

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

“There is music in your soul. A wild and untamed sort of music that speaks to me. It defies all the rules and laws you humans set upon it. It grows from inside you, and I have a wish to set that music free.” 

Ohhh Wintersong. I really feel so conflicted about you. I finished Wintersong last week after buddy reading it with a friend. I really loved so much of this book, there was a lot going on and the story felt like it had a lot of potential right from the beginning (although often it reminded me of The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden). 

The imagery and feelings invoked by S. Jae-Jone's writing was absolutely and by far my favorite part of the book. I was enchanted through much of my reading and still thinking about the world she created between readings, lost in the Underground with Liesl. Liesl's music, her experiences and her memories all felt so very real to me. 

What I found most frustrating was the disconnect between the first half of the book and the second. I would've loved to see Liesl and Kathe meet again at the end, after Kathe's character was given so much time and attention at the beginning. I kept wondering what was happening to her and was waiting for that reunion. I also felt that the back and forth between the Goblin King and the young man became a bit much, so frequent were the times he switched between the two (and without solid reason for why). I really felt his character had a lot more potential, instead of the rushed intimate knowing they finally had together towards the end. 

In the end though, I appreciate so much of what S. Jae-Jones did with this story. The symbolism of Liesl having to go to the Underground to find herself and her music was not lost on me, I found it to be the perfect parallel to Liesl's conflict of self and the ending was fitting in that sense.

I would recommend this book with a hesitant explanation of that disjointed feeling, but with the promise that the writing will sweep you in and enchant you. 

Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones
436 pages
Published by Thomas Dunne Books

Sunday, April 2, 2017

My April List

One of my favorite things about the start of a new month is selecting what books I think I may want to read! I try to not stress too much if I don't get to them all or if I had a few in, but its fun to think ahead. I've been trying to choose more books from my shelves and also more books from the library shelves (all in the name of spending less money on books) but I think every book lover knows how that goes.

My reads for April include quite a few I've been looking forward to. From the top!

1. The Dressmaker's Dowry by Meredith Jaeger: I received this book from Meredith via Instagram and was so so thrilled. She's the sweetest! I'm about halfway through and loving the historical context. Can't wait to share a solid review when I'm finished!

From Goodreads:
...this gripping historical debut novel tells the story of two women: one, an immigrant seamstress who disappears from San Francisco’s gritty streets in 1876, and the other, a young woman in present day who must delve into the secrets of her husband’s wealthy family only to discover that she and the missing dressmaker might be connected in unexpected ways.

An exquisite ring, passed down through generations, connects two women who learn that love is a choice, and forgiveness is the key to freedom...

2. South and West by Joan Didion: I love Joan Didion's writing and was so excited to see she was releasing a short book of essays from one of her personal notebooks. This should be a quick read and I'm really looking forward to it! 

From Goodreads: 
Joan Didion has always kept notebooks: of overheard dialogue, observations, interviews, drafts of essays and articles--and here is one such draft that traces a road trip she took with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, in June 1970, through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. She interviews prominent local figures, describes motels, diners, a deserted reptile farm, a visit with Walker Percy, a ladies' brunch at the Mississippi Broadcasters' Convention. She writes about the stifling heat, the almost viscous pace of life, the sulfurous light, and the preoccupation with race, class, and heritage she finds in the small towns they pass through. 

And from a different notebook: the "California Notes" that began as an assignment from Rolling Stone on the Patty Hearst trial of 1976. Though Didion never wrote the piece, watching the trial and being in San Francisco triggered thoughts about the city, its social hierarchy, the Hearsts, and her own upbringing in Sacramento. Here, too, is the beginning of her thinking about the West, its landscape, the western women who were heroic for her, and her own lineage, all of which would appear later in her acclaimed 2003 book, Where I Was From.

3. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart: My sweet bookish friend Amanda gifted this to me recently and I am looking forward to seeing what all of the excitement is about! She's already finished it and patiently waiting for my opinion on a few things I think. This is one of the only YA books that made my list for April! 

From Goodreads: 
A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from New York Times bestselling author, National Book Award finalist, and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart. 

Read it.

And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

4. The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood: I read this a few years ago and am so excited to read it again. I've seen quite a few other bloggers reading it also and have enjoyed reading their thoughts on Offred and the overall story of the book. This is one of the good ones. 

From Goodreads: 
Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now... 

5. The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman: This has been ALL OVER the internet what with the new movie coming out. Ive had this one on my shelves for years and only recently found it again! I thought I'd add it to my list this month just in case I get a chance to see the movie. (Books first! Always.)

From Goodreads: 
In 1939 Poland, Antonina Żabiński (portrayed by two-time Academy Award nominee Jessica Chastain) and her husband, Dr. Jan Żabiński (Johan Heldenbergh), have the Warsaw Zoo flourishing under his stewardship and her care. When their country is invaded by the Nazis, Jan and Antonina are—and forced to report to the Reich’s newly appointed chief zoologist, Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl). To fight back on their own terms, the Żabińskis covertly begin working with the Resistance—and put into action plans to save lives out of what has become the Warsaw Ghetto, with Antonina putting herself and even her children at great risk.

6. The Chilbury Ladies Choir by Jennifer Ryan: I have been waiting months for this book to come out! I love historical fiction set during either WWI or WWII and this one sounds really good! Its a nice break to read a book written through journals and letters sometimes too. I can't wait to read it and may make it my next book! 

From Goodreads: 
As England enters World War II's dark early days, spirited music professor Primrose Trent, recently arrived to the village of Chilbury, emboldens the women of the town to defy the Vicar's stuffy edict to shutter the church's choir in the absence of men and instead 'carry on singing'. Resurrecting themselves as "The Chilbury Ladies' Choir", the women of this small village soon use their joint song to lift up themselves, and the community, as the war tears through their lives. 

Told through letters and journals, The Chilbury Ladies' Choirmoves seamlessly from budding romances to village intrigues to heartbreaking matters of life and death. As we come to know the struggles of the charismatic members of this unforgettable outfit -- a timid widow worried over her son at the front; the town beauty drawn to a rakish artist; her younger sister nursing an impossible crush and dabbling in politics she doesn't understand; a young Jewish refugee hiding secrets about her family, and a conniving midwife plotting to outrun her seedy past -- we come to see how the strength each finds in the choir's collective voice reverberates in her individual life. 

7. The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis: I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a review and am looking forward to seeing what all of the hype is about! It has such good ratings already on Goodreads and Amazon. Father/son stories always get to me! 

From Goodreads: 

Just before Henry Aster’s birth, his father—outsized literary ambition and pregnant wife in tow—reluctantly returns to the small Appalachian town in which he was raised and installs his young family in an immense house of iron and glass perched high on the side of a mountain. There, Henry grows up under the writing desk of this fiercely brilliant man. But when tragedy tips his father toward a fearsome unraveling, what was once a young son’s reverence is poisoned and Henry flees, not to return until years later when he, too, must go home again. 

Happy reading this month!! 

We Could Be Beautiful by Swan Huntley

“It took me a long time to understand that what I had wanted was not a picture of something perfect. I already had that. What I had wanted was the feeling inside the pictures, the thing I had been trying to buy and drink and eat and not eat and fake my way to all my life. I wanted what everyone wanted. I wanted love.”

I love this quote. How real is that feeling in our land of Instagram and Facebook and Snapchat? Its SO SO easy to see something online and then see it again and again in various permutations and think "Oh, I want that." and then "Oh, I want people to think I have that too." Without even realize you're doing it. 

Swan Huntley's We Could Be Beautiful was so much of that sentiment, wrapped up in a twisty thriller of sorts. Catherine is a thirty something Manhattan woman with seemingly the "perfect" life. Fancy apartment, clothes, owner of a boutique card shop, spa days and a massages...all those things that cost money. What she doesn't have is love, which is a resounding theme throughout the story and the thing that makes her question what she's really doing with her life. When she meets William, a man with similar tastes, she immediately falls for him. He says and does all the right things. And she wants so desperately to love someone and be married and have all those married couple things. As their relationship continues she starts to pick up on some strange signs, words from her mother's diary, little things that make her wonder if William is being truthful about his past and their connection through their parents long ago. The ending was a bit of a shocker to me and something I'm not sure would really ever happen, but still good none the less, with where it leaves Catherine emotionally. 

There was a lot about this book that I loved. Reading this story through Catherine's privileged viewpoint was kind of like putting on a pair of fancy shoes and pretending you wear them everyday to work (and not just once a year on your birthday). I know some reviewers mentioned a disconnect because of this but I really loved reading about fancy lunches and dresses from Bloomingdales and buying art (real art!). It made the story more enjoyable, slipping on that lens for a while and viewing the world as if money was no object. 

I also loved that Catherine was able to come down from all of that "privilege" and learn something from the lack of responsibility she'd had for so long when it came to money. As much as this book was a page turner trying to figure out what William was really up to, it was also about Catherine figuring out whats really important, love. 

340 pages
Published by Doubleday