The Shape of Mercy’s, Lauren, is the quiet introvert as in she doesn’t have any friends that she isn’t related to. She is forever trying to make up fo...moreThe Shape of Mercy’s, Lauren, is the quiet introvert as in she doesn’t have any friends that she isn’t related to. She is forever trying to make up for the fact that she isn’t the son her father wanted. So she does everything her family does not expect in an attempt to forge her own path in life. A literature major in college, Lauren is near obsessed with proving that she isn’t a rich snob, so she takes an odd job—transcribing a diary of an accused Salem witch. While earning her spending money she discovers kindred spirits in her employer, Abigail, a wealthy recluse and the diary’s doomed author, Mercy. Learning from the past while on the cusp of her future, Lauren questions her destiny.
Susan Meissner recently spoke about this book, and she relayed that this book is about the individual power everyone has to effect their own and other’s circumstances. When reading the book, the reader understands that it’s never too late to take an action towards improving our world. This message may be why the book is classified as Christian Fiction, not detracting from that message, but this novel could have just as easily been branded Women’s or Historical Fiction. The story transcends genre and becomes simply a great read as good a recommendation to your Grandmother as it is to pre-teens.
The book is well shaped with endearing characters that are near impossible to resist. Mercy’s fate, Abagail’s life, and Lauren’s preconceptions are all revealed slowly which builds the novel’s suspense layer by layer. This novel is at times syrupy sweet and sentimental but always satisfying. If you loved, THE HERETIC’S DAUGHTER by Kathleen Kent or DELIVERANCE DANE by Katherine Howe, you’re sure to enjoy Meissner’s Salem interpretation. (less)
Louise Dean’s the idea of Love is opens in modern day Provence, France and is first told through the eyes of Richard, a pharmaceutical salesman about...moreLouise Dean’s the idea of Love is opens in modern day Provence, France and is first told through the eyes of Richard, a pharmaceutical salesman about to launch antidepressants in Africa. Envisioning one hundred percent market share and possibly depressed himself, he sets off to sell sadness. While Richard pursues profits and one night stands, he leaves his beautiful but distant wife Valere at home to care for their son, Max. Valere and Max’s neighbor Rachel also takes to Africa where she is determined to do some good, and ends up alienating her philandering husband, Jeff. Rachel and Richard’s combined efforts in Africa begin to dismantle their precarious marriages and lifestyles.
I was expecting a rather sad tale about infidelity in marriage, but instead this novel turned out to be a shockingly edgy look at the constant struggles we all face: living with consequences, the failure to capture the elusiveness of happiness, and the very idea of love (get it)? This novel is reminiscent of Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, but Dean writes with a uniquely focused clarity. The Idea of Love is a triumph producing characters that do not in any way feel contrived. One inhabits these four people as they unravel with the precision and pace of an unraveling sweater. (less)
“You can never fully straighten bent metal; you can only make it less bent.”
Sometimes when I read a book that is particularly affecting, I refer to it...more“You can never fully straighten bent metal; you can only make it less bent.”
Sometimes when I read a book that is particularly affecting, I refer to it as “life altering.” But when I refer to The Blue Notebook as life altering, it isn’t to remark of its genius rendition, sumptuous prose, or eerily strong characterization. Simply put; The Blue Notebook by James Levine so thoroughly disturbed me, it left me haunted. I think we all know that the sickening practice of child sex slavery occurs, and we are justifiably disgusted. But only when confronted with the voice of a fifteen year old prostitute as she describes her tragic and hopeless world does one realize this is a global problem that we shouldn’t ignore.
Levine’s purpose is to raise awareness and funds to stop child exploitation. And his method is the tortuous bombardment of atrocities that are committed against his narrator and other children. Batuk was sold into slavery by her impoverished family at nine. She is quickly “taken” after which she ends up in a cage no larger than a toilet servicing around ten men a day. Her life is colored by sadism, rape, violence, starvation, and disease. She is betrayed in some form by everyone who can use her to some purpose to further their greed or perversion. Abused in everyway imaginable, Batuk considers herself blessed because she can read and write. And so Batuk journals, and uses every opportunity to scratch out her story and observations. “I am not sure why I write but in my mind I shudder that it may be so that one day I can look back and read how I have melted into my ink and become nothing.” These are her hopes to die, disappear, service only one man, or become deranged. It will suffice to say this is not an uplifting tale.
Levine is relentless with horrific details, and increasingly terrible situations in which he places Batuk. His only gift to the reader is that his story is relatively brief. The ending is ambiguous, after reading it several times; I’m still not sure what happened. Such a bizarre ending and menacing tone recalls Burnside’s The Glister. The Blue Notebook is an ugly story, but even if the writing was poor (instead it is excellent), I’d recommend this book. If you can manage to read it, do so, and if you can’t, buy it regardless. Levine’s passion is exceedingly obvious, so much so that he’s donating his proceeds to the International and National Centers for Missing and Exploited Children—the only bright spot his novel offers. (less)
The Pride and Prejudice we all know has been re-imagined. England is over run with brain lusting Zombies. Elizabeth and her sisters are trained and pr...moreThe Pride and Prejudice we all know has been re-imagined. England is over run with brain lusting Zombies. Elizabeth and her sisters are trained and practiced in the deadly art of Zombie slaying. Elizabeth’s best friend has been stricken with the “strange plague”. And a true gentleman beheads the Zombies for his lady, so that she will not soil her dress.
Without offending die hard Jane Austen fans, maybe Pride and Prejudice should have always had a Zombie element. The Zombies contrast our characters so nicely that they manage to make the sarcasm funnier, the villains more disgusting, and the story even more dramatic. It’s like classic literature in high definition. For instance, when propping Lydia, Mrs. Bennett or Wickham next to hordes of Zombies, the reader does briefly wonder who is viler.
Seth Grahame-Smith’s ingenious idea for a lethal mix of classic Austen text with Zombie references and battles spawns pure entertainment. This re-telling is obviously deliciously over the top. Here’s a taste: “But the presence of a woman who had slain ninety dreadfuls with nothing more than a rain soaked envelope was an intimidating prospect indeed”. And my favorite quote, “Elizabeth and Darcy happened upon a herd of unmentionables…crawling on their hands and knees, biting into ripe heads of cauliflower, which they had mistaken for stray brains”. This edition also contains illustrations detailing the action and adding to its charming ludicrousness.
I plan on gifting this to everyone. What a sneaky way to get my teenage brother to appreciate some classic literature. Literary types and Zombie lovers alike should appreciate the spirit of this reinvention, if they don’t relish every word. I have never read anything like it, so I’m officially begging for a series of classic literature injected with Zombie mayhem. (less)
I must confess that I do not read a lot of travel books, but I was impressed with I’ll Never be French (no matter what I do): Living in a Small Villag...moreI must confess that I do not read a lot of travel books, but I was impressed with I’ll Never be French (no matter what I do): Living in a Small Village in Brittany. Despite the lengthy title, the book is actually a rather brief literary romance between a man and his coastal French town. Against Greenside’s best efforts, he and a girlfriend plan a vacation to France. The relationship doesn’t last, but Greenside’s growing affection for Brittany and the populace does. In the rashest move of his forty some years, Greenside is coerced into the purchase of a house. Comical miscommunications, anxiety, and miraculous good fortune ensue.
One of the things I enjoyed most about this book was the total debunking of the myth that the French hate Americans. Total. Debunking. Instead the charming and ridiculously polite strangers, neighbors and friends that Greenside meets, go above and beyond to help him out. They come across as near saints because it turns out that Greenside needs a lot of help. Self styled throughout the book as an incompetent, he spends a few chapters of the book in dirty ripped pants, repeatedly falling out of his window and buying things he has no way of paying for. Greenside effectively bumbles his way through life in France reconciling his bi-continental lifestyles. He compares himself to a three year old an apt description that endears himself to the reader and French alike.
It’s worth noting that Greenside speaks and understands very little French. And his way of communicating such frustration with the reader, is to include a lot of French dialogue that he doesn’t translate. So unless you have a working knowledge of French, Greenside leaves you as lost in the conversation as he was. While it is an effective technique and does incorporate the reader, it can also be irritating to traverse.
Injected with humor, I’ll Never be French, transports with its descriptions. For those of us who will never make it Brittany, or who have been and are interested in Greenside’s take, it is a delightful arm chair travel experience. Diane Johnson of L’Affaire, Le Mariage and Le Divorce fame calls it, “one of the nicest of the trillions of books about France.” And I’d agree with that. (less)
It is 1914, and Barry Unsworth's The Land of Marvels opens on a frustrated archeologist, John Somerville, digging in Mesopotamia. The narration then a...moreIt is 1914, and Barry Unsworth's The Land of Marvels opens on a frustrated archeologist, John Somerville, digging in Mesopotamia. The narration then alternates between Somerville and those who make his acquaintance (a cast of con-men and murderers). Some bent on glory, others greed, but all wish to exploit the land of modern day Iraq. By the story's end everyone will have compromised themselves as oil mania consumes the region.
The plot is good, but the novel reads more as a political commentary about modern international diplomacy and worldwide oil greed. No country is rendered favorably. As the novel strives for importance, much of the story takes a co-starring role. The characterization is lacking as the male characters are all one note, the women are portrayed as dull and naïve. The story doesn't find a steady rhythm, so it is slow to engage the reader, and it only begins to pay off in the last few chapters when everything does tie up nicely. Devoted Unsworth fans, or those interested in Mesopotamian history will likely find this novel the most enjoyable. (less)
Erika Robuck’s debut novel, Receive Me Falling, is an interesting mix of historical fiction, literary mystery, and a tad of mysticism. Robuck introduc...more Erika Robuck’s debut novel, Receive Me Falling, is an interesting mix of historical fiction, literary mystery, and a tad of mysticism. Robuck introduces us to two women living in two time periods. Present day, is narrated by Meg, who has just lost her parents suddenly. She finds a plantation, Eden, amongst her estate on the Island of Nevis, and eager to put some distance between herself and her life, she rashly decides to visit. When Meg arrives in Nevis, she finds Eden to be haunted and the backdrop for more then one tragic occurrence. As Meg explores Eden looking for clues to its past, we are also treated to the perspective of nineteen century plantation owner, Catherine. Catherine runs the plantation for her father, an alcoholic, and they own hundreds of slaves at a time when abolitionists were calling for an end to the slave system. Catherine struggles with the practice of slavery, fears Eden’s overseer, and is captivated by a newcomer to the Island, and yet she too has some family secrets to unbury.
Both women are searching for absolution from the sins of their fathers, and their stories play out with calculated symmetry. The narration is reminiscent of Geraldine Brook’s The People of the Book, or the recently released The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, by Katherine Howe. However, this book is victorious on its own accord mostly thanks to the strong and complex central characters that not only progress with in the story, but also develop through the generations. The plot is also terribly engaging. The note to detail of the setting of Nevis during both time periods credits the unfolding events.
This is the type of book that you could read many times and catch new and clever elements over each subsequent reading. Robuck pens a graceful story in a shameful past. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and can recommend it as an important addition to any library. (less)
Here’s what she thought she knew: That she was in love with her soul mate. That she had a beautiful adopted daughter. At 44 she had finally enabled her d...moreHere’s what she thought she knew: That she was in love with her soul mate. That she had a beautiful adopted daughter. At 44 she had finally enabled her dream life style and financial situation. It was medically impossible for her to get pregnant.
Only to discover during a medical crisis that she was indeed six months pregnant. Due to her age and pre-natal neglect, her pregnancy is high risk, and she is grossly under insured. The doctors tell her with certainty that her baby will be born with one deformity or another. And that is if she can avoid a likely a pre-mature delivery. It is far too late for a legal abortion, so Cohen has few options in the face of an increasingly frightening pregnancy.
As each new piece of worse news filters in, Cohen repeats and repeats what she knows of her situation in a mantra of literary panic. The scarily candid Cohen admits to being not sure if she is capable of loving or raising her surprise baby. She also admits those thoughts are despicable, and yet it is hard to read that a mother could have such thoughts, but it is harder not to feel for her predicament. Cohen’s emotional story of a mother grappling with guilt and shame on the eve of an inevitable change of life is unforgettable. (less)
In this coming of age story, an ordinary girl fights to succeed in the most extraordinary environment. Fourteen-year-old scholarship student Lee attem...moreIn this coming of age story, an ordinary girl fights to succeed in the most extraordinary environment. Fourteen-year-old scholarship student Lee attempts to achieve greatness by enrolling in a prestigious boarding school. Besides the typical teenage girl drama (read boys and friends), she ends up battling mediocrity, loneliness, and class issues.
Lee is written with an authenticity that will make you cringe as she conjures memories of you as a high school student. She’s written with the unmistakable blend of vulnerability, narcissism, and naiveté that defines the teenage girl. The novel is undeniably chick lit, and may not offer much to the male reader, but is a relatable and modern coming of age novel. (less)
Kristen Hannah's Winter Garden is one of those books that picks up a little late in the page count, but absolutely pays off for eager readers. The sto...moreKristen Hannah's Winter Garden is one of those books that picks up a little late in the page count, but absolutely pays off for eager readers. The story is told on and off from the point of view of two sisters, Meredith and Nina, as their lives descend into emotional turmoil after their beloved father dies. Suddenly, the care of their estranged mother is forced on them, and while one instantly takes off, the other finds the care of their mother overwhelming when it seems mom may be slipping into madness. They both independently realize that they know almost nothing about their Russian mother. Compelled by a deathbed promise Nina tries and eventually succeeds in getting her mother to tell a childhood fairytale from which they learn the amazing story of a woman during the siege of Leningrad and a lot about their mom.
Meredith and Nina are the weakest part of the story though both are successful women neither seems to know what they want in the romance department. Their story can't stack up against what we slowly learn about their mom. However the subject matter of the fairytale is undeniably fascinating if at times vividly sad--be prepared to cry. If Hannah could have been persuaded to cut down the first part of her book some, and avoided tying up her ending a little too prettily, this might have been one of the best books I have ever read. (less)
Christopher Nicholson’s The Elephant Keeper is a surprisingly melancholy re-imagining of what is must have been like to introduce exotic animals into...moreChristopher Nicholson’s The Elephant Keeper is a surprisingly melancholy re-imagining of what is must have been like to introduce exotic animals into late eighteenth century England. The first half of the novel is a sweet mix of coming of age and innocent love story of Elephants and their Keeper, Tom. The second half of the book darkens and depicts Tom’s full blown obsession with his charges. Tom commits his life to the elephant’s care, dissociating himself with human kind in favor of his beasts. He makes several questionable moral decision is pursuit of the interest of his elephants. The result is a complicated and sad portrayal of loyalty and friendship.
Told in Dickensian style, the novel is very well written, and the elephants are undeniable endearing. Those who prefer a happy ending, or are looking for a heart warming tale of a boy and an elephant, this is not that book. Instead this book broaches tougher topics, and paints a bleak picture of lower class eighteen century lifestyles. Surprisingly layered and at times disturbing The Elephant Keeper is memorable if not enjoyable debut novel. (less)