Friday, May 30, 2014

The Golem and the Jinni - Book Review

Every now and then I read a novel that I enjoy so much it practically renders me speechless (I know, hard to believe). The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker is one of those books.

I was stuck in the car without the book I was reading so I pulled up the Kindle app on my phone and there it was mixed in with all the other ebooks that I buy but rarely get around to reading. The Golem and the Jinni. I knew very little about the book except that a few of my book blogger friends had enjoyed it.

From the cover :

In The Golem and the Jinni, a chance meeting between mythical beings takes readers on a dazzling journey through cultures in turn-of-the-century New York.
Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life to by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic and dies at sea on the voyage from Poland. Chava is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899.
Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, trapped in an old copper flask, and released in New York City, though still not entirely free
Ahmad and Chava become unlikely friends and soul mates with a mystical connection. Marvelous and compulsively readable, Helene Wecker's debut novel The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature, historical fiction and magical fable, into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.

My thoughts :

That is all.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Secret Life of Violet Grant - Book Review

Vivian Schuyler got two surprises that afternoon at the post office. First, an old suitcase had been sent to her by mistake. After some digging around, she discovers the valise actually belonged to an aunt Violet Schuyler Grant who had left her affluent New York family to pursue her study of science in England, but later murdered her husband and disappeared with her lover. The Schuylers have neither heard from her or talked about her since.

Vivian's second surprise was the handsome Doctor Paul who volunteered to carry the large package home from the post office. Charming and helpful, Vivian can't get the doctor or her newly discovered aunt off her mind.

Vivian will discover the truth regarding what happened between her aunt Violet and her professor husband on the eve of the first World War, while learning just how much heartache and love her own heart can handle.

The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams is a definite page turner. It's another split narrative (so many of those lately) as the reader follows both Vivian's search for the truth and Violet's life with Professor Grant in alternating chapters. That formula works well in William's novel. I enjoyed both the intrigue of Violet's story and Vivian's melodramatic love life as well as the satisfying and bridging conclusion.

Vivian's spunky character is unforgettable. Her absolute open candor and her 1964 short skirts are daring and delightful. While she's open and frank, Vivian is more vulnerable than she lets on and she works her way right into the reader's heart. She's definitely my favorite part of the novel.

There are some disturbing sex scenes and vulgar language.

The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams is published by Putnam on May 27, 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Secret Life of Violet Grant in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. No additional compensation was received.**

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Girl Who Came Home - Book Review

The sinking of the great Titanic is steeped in romanticism and tragedy. We're all familiar with the drama and calamity as thousands of people lost their lives in the frozen sea. The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gaynor, tells the story of the group from Ballysheen, Ireland traveling together on the Titanic to begin their new lives in America. Staying in steerage, the group is excited and anxious to cross the wide Atlantic and are mesmerized by the grandeur they witness from the first class passengers and accommodations.

Maggie Murphy is seventeen years old and traveling with the Ballysheen group organized by her aunt. She has left behind a boyfriend she can't easily forget. Her lovely best friend Peggy bedazzles one of the porters who shows the girls about the ship and is a crucial help as the tragedy enfolds.

Seventy years later, Grace Butler is floundering in her young life--struggling to make decisions and plans for her future. Her great-grandmother shares the story of her experiences on Titanic and helps inspire Grace to make important changes in her own life.

The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gaynor is at its best when describing the drama regarding the fateful night that Titanic sank. From the perspective of those in third class struggling for a place on the few life boats, Gaynor creates the tangible feeling of panic and desperation. Ambitiously, Gaynor shows the reader glimpses of so many real people who lost their lives that fateful night. I appreciated her research and the weaving of fact with fiction.

"To me, Titanic was about real people, real lives, real hopes for the future. That was what I saw disappearing into the ocean."

With chapters dedicated to too many characters, The Girl Who Came Home was unable to focus adequately on anyone. Also, interspersing journal entries and letters with the narrative proved distracting. I didn't make a deep connection with any of them and while I was curious about what happened to the survivors after Titanic sank, I didn't have any depth of feeling for Grace or her personal struggles.

The Girl Who Came Home is a thoughtful retelling of the aftermath and effects of the Titanic tragedy on the survivors and those who lost loved ones. Gaynor reveals the stories of many of the third class passengers whose dreams of a better life in America ended that night in the cold sea. I also appreciated that the novel is free from vulgar language and sex scenes.

The Girl Who Came Home : A Novel of the Titanic by Hazel Gaynor was published by William Morrow in April 2014. The novel is also $1.99 for the Kindle during the month of May.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Girl Who Came Home in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. No additional compensation was received.**

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Shadow Year - Book Review

The idea is sometimes appealing--escape from all the hectic requirements of life; the need for material things and outside influences and live off the land. The idea of putting up enough food for the winter has always seemed so romantic to me. I've helped my mom put up everything from green beans to raspberry preserves so I know it's not as easy as it sounds. However, every now and then the concept of slipping away from society and responsibilities with my family (and all my books, of course) and living a quiet existence seems pretty good.

In The Shadow Year by Hannah Richell, five college friends are about to graduate and embark on their careers. Not ready to give up the camaraderie and idyllic life together, they decide to live in the abandoned cottage by a lake they discover on their last holiday weekend. Pooling together their resources, they quietly disappear from their lives to spend a year harvesting the produce from the small garden, gathering berries and nuts from the woods, fishing from the lake and catching rabbits with their snares. Relying on each other and the land, the friends live an idyllic existence by the lake and Kat finally has captured the attention of Simon. However, Kat can't resist sending a reassuring letter to her little sister. Freya soon arrives and throws off the careful balance that has existed among the friends. Mix in the hardships of winter, building tensions and secrets and there is bound to be some drama.

Some thirty years later, Lila unexpectedly inherits a mysterious cottage in the woods. Grieving the death of her baby daughter, Lila needs some distraction and restoring the dilapidated, hidden cottage. She'll come to love the place but it is clear something tragic has happened here. As Lila discovers the truth, she'll be able to mend her heart and her fractured relationship with her husband.

The Shadow Year by Hannah Richell is the She Reads Selection for the month of May. I had never heard of the book before it landed on my doorstep several weeks back. I'm not sure I would have noticed it at the book store or even given it a second glance. However, I was quickly taken in by Richell's lyrical writing and the carefully plotted novel.

The novel draws in the reader with the beauty of the setting and the strength of the characters. There is also plenty of subtle foreshadowing of eminent tragedy and mystery. While the Walden-type Utopian experiments are rarely successful, The Shadow Year throws a unique twist on the experience and shows how the characters' motivations and personalities are heightened in the confinement of their small society.

The Shadow Year by Hannah Richell is a compelling and thrilling read that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Published by Grand Central Publishing in May 2014 (originally published last year) The Shadow Year by Hannah Richell is the May selection for She Reads. Read other reviews from She Reads members *here*. 

**I received a complimentary copy of The Shadow Year through She Reads is exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. No other compensation was received.**

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

I've Been Reading (big surprise)

Over the past few weeks, I've actually read a few books off my to-read shelf in my bedroom and one from my growing collection of ebooks. Here are some quick thoughts combined into one simple post.

GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn :

How could I skip Gone Girl? It's been one of the most talked about books of the last few years. Every psychological thriller published since wants to be compared to it. It's a part of pop culture now and the movie is coming out later this year. I bought it months ago and I finally pulled it off the shelf a few weeks ago during Dewey's Read-a-thon. Gone Girl was a great choice during the read-a-thon because once I picked it up, I could barely put it down.

Gone Girl is a fabulous psychological thriller with exciting and shocking plot twists and psychopathic characters that you can help but root for and pray that you never meet in real life. The ending is absolutely insane and at the same time perfect.

However, the novel is full of vulgarity. I'm not just talking a lot of swear words. It's crass and suggestive and obscene. So there, you have been warned.

ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell is another one of those buzz books. I mostly liked Rowell's novel Fangirl so there was no way I was going to be able to resist Eleanor & Park. I read it on my phone and was so annoyed that my battery gave out just as I was reaching the exciting conclusion. (One more reason I love real, physical paper books.)

Teenage relationships are intense. With all the hormones, angst and drama surrounding and/or created by teenagers, it just makes sense that their relationships are also dramatic. But Eleanor and Park transcend the usual teenage love story. They're not your typical romantic leads. They have more than their share of angst and most of it isn't their fault. They're just so normal and fabulous and approachable and normal while being just a bit weird.

I adored those kids.

There's a lot of swearing.

BLACKMOORE by Julianne Donaldson

Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson was the choice of the month for my neighborhood book club. I read it quickly the day before our meeting. It's a romance set in the Moors of England. A rather predictable, quick read, Blackmoore is enjoyable. Donaldson's writing has improved. I wasn't compelled to skim some sections like I had to do with her novel Edenbrooke.

I was generally annoyed by the main character and her motivations. For someone trying to protect her true love and her own heart, she seemed to make choices that would injure everyone. I was actually hoping for the "sad" ending over the tie-it-all-up-nicely romantic finish that is expected. I know. I know. I'm cruel.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Steady Running of the Hour - Book Review

From the cover :

In 1924, the English mountaineer Ashley Walsingham dies attempting to summit Mount Everest, leaving his fortune to his former lover, Imogen Soames-Andersson—whom he has not seen in seven years. Ashley’s solicitors search in vain for Imogen, but the estate remains unclaimed. 

Nearly eighty years later, new information leads the same law firm to Tristan Campbell, a young American who could be the estate’s rightful heir. If Tristan can prove he is Imogen’s descendant, the inheritance will be his. But with only weeks before Ashley’s trust expires, Tristan must hurry to find the evidence he needs. 

From London archives to Somme battlefields to the Eastfjords of Iceland, Tristan races to piece together the story behind the unclaimed riches: a reckless love affair pursued only days before Ashley’s deployment to the Western Front; a desperate trench battle fought by soldiers whose hope is survival rather than victory; an expedition to the uncharted heights of the world’s tallest mountain. Following a trail of evidence that stretches to the far edge of Europe, Tristan becomes consumed by Ashley and Imogen’s story. But as he draws close to the truth, Tristan realizes he may be seeking something more than an unclaimed fortune. 

My thoughts :

I was about a third of the way into the novel when I happened to notice that the majority of the Goodreads reviews for The Steady Running of the Hour were two star reviews. I was surprised because I was already quite enraptured with the novel. I avoided reading their opinions but guessed that perhaps the book must have a disappointing ending. 

After finishing this absolutely mesmerizing and ambitious novel, I am still shocked by the poor reviews. The novel is sprawling. It's a long book and Go tends to add historical asides that don't seem to advance the plot. Personally, I found the tangents rather fascinating. I was especially engrossed in the stunning and savage descriptions of Ashley's experiences in the trenches during World War I and his attempt to climb Mount Everest. 

There are no overly passionate love scenes. The characters are bound more by emotional connections that are enduring and more powerful. The characters themselves are subdued and often subtle. Imogen is the most animated character in the novel, though she her demanding and impulsive behavior is frustrating. Her motivations are not entirely understood.

I loved this book. I actually loved the slow, sometimes plodding nature of the language. I loved the rich history and imagining the climbers' attempt at the mountain with their crude gear. I loved the characters. I loved the satisfying yet un-Hollywood-style conclusion. I loved Tristan's search for his ancestors and how he couldn't exactly explain how clues and information just happened to fall into place. It reminded me of how many people describe their personal search for family history. The discoveries are often random or coincidental. I loved the deep emotional ties the characters had with each other. 

The Steady Running of the Hour by Justin Go is definitely a book I won't soon forget. However, I won't recommend it to just anyone. It would obviously be unfair to the book. It deserves a reader willing to stretch and appreciate and be consumed.

The Steady Running of the Hour by Justin Go was published by Simon and Schuster and released in April 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Steady Running of the Hour in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. No additional compensation was received.**

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

One Hundred Names - Book Review

Kitty Logan's life is a mess following a libel suit. As a journalist she should have done better research and digging before reporting that a teacher had affairs with two students and fathered a child. She lost her dream job at the television station. Her boyfriend moved out. Someone is vandalizing the front door of her apartment with increasingly disgusting things. Finally, her mentor Constance, editor of Etcetera where Kitty first got her start, has passed away. Desperate to save her career and pay tribute to her mentor, Kitty pitches the idea of writing Constance's last story--the story she didn't have time to write and left in a sealed envelope in her filing cabinet.

Kitty is surprised to find a single sheet of paper in the envelope. One hundred names. Random. Nothing to go on. No connections. Yet Kitty must find a story.

One Hundred Names is the newest novel from Cecelia Ahern, (author of the popular P.S. I Love You). The story is cute enough. Kitty saves her own life as she learns about and helps others tell their own stories. It's refreshing. While possibly cliche and very coincidental, I liked the story of healing, unselfishness and finding love. Over the top and slightly ridiculous, I can see it being optioned as a romantic comedy movie. It will play out nicely on the screen.

Here's the thing though, it's too long. The novel has too many words not saying enough. I found myself skimming through Kitty's repetitious thoughts to get to the meat and heart of the story. It just took a little too much work to finally make my way through to the culminating scene that earned Kitty her redemption as a journalist.

**I received a complimentary copy of One Hundred Names in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and no additional compensation was received. **

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Weight of Blood - Book Review

Everyone else in town seems to have already forgotten but Lucy just cannot let it go. Her friend Cheri disappeared over a year ago but then recently her dissembled body was discovered in a tree along the riverside. After Lucy discovers a necklace that she once gave Cheri, she is determined to figure out where Cheri was during the missing year and who killed her.

No one in town has forgotten Lucy's mother. The bewitching Lila was new to Henbane, deep in the Ozark Mountains. Folks were sure she was a witch. But Lila fell in love, married and gave birth to beautiful daughter before disappearing forever.

The two mysteries are intertwined as Lucy delves into the dangerous clues and searches for answers for her friend and ultimately finds the disturbing truth regarding her mother, as well.

The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh is a haunting and mysterious debut. Her words clearly paint the back-woods town where people keep each other's secrets and it's difficult to know who to trust. As Lucy uncovers hidden secrets and criminal activities of those she loves--her family, her blood--the reader is pulled into the intrigue and risk.

McHugh populates her town with characters who make a realistic blend of good and bad choices. They are each distinct in their personalities and come alive as very authentic and substantial beings.

As a reader, a knot formed in my stomach as I read further and further and worried about Lucy as she got closer to the truth. The build-up to the climax is intense. It's spooky and wicked and unsettling--a perfect thriller.

There is some language in the book and scenes of violence.

The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh was published by Spiegel & Grau in March 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Weight of Blood in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. No compensation was received.**