I was actually looking forward to reading this book, since I love mysteries AND I adore novels with exotic settings, and this one had both. The book w...moreI was actually looking forward to reading this book, since I love mysteries AND I adore novels with exotic settings, and this one had both. The book was a quick read, but overall I found the writing to be fairly wooden and the story itself was, well, let's just say it would be a fine Law & Order Special Victims Unit plot. I loved the Finnish setting, and the author certainly makes you feel the cold right down to your bones. However, there is too much research dumped into the plot in huge chunks at times when the details serve little purpose other than to remind us that, duh, we're in Finland. (The detective conveniently has an American wife, whose main purpose seems to be as a vessel for him to fill with Finnish history and lore.) The main plot revolves around yet another slutty woman gutted and maligned for the color of her skin. I am not a squeamish reader, so I don't mind some graphic gore here and there in a crime novel, but jeez louise. Have we seen this plot before? Oh, wait, yes. About 5 million times. Still, the book held my interest enough for me to finish it. (less)
This is a brave, haunting love story with the breathless pacing of a mystery novel. Ostensibly the story of forbidden love between two women in an era...moreThis is a brave, haunting love story with the breathless pacing of a mystery novel. Ostensibly the story of forbidden love between two women in an era when such a thing was not only considered a crime, but a sin, BODIES OF WATER also catalogs the claustrophobia of being a stay-at-home mom in the 1960's when your husband's word was law. Despite the harsh, almost Shakespearean tragic story line, Greenwood writes with such empathy for all of her characters that readers are left with a feeling of hope--and a sense of gratitude that the world has, indeed, changed for the better.(less)
I find it astonishing that reviews of Susanna Sonnenberg's searingly honest memoir about friendships are so divided. Then again, maybe I shouldn't be...moreI find it astonishing that reviews of Susanna Sonnenberg's searingly honest memoir about friendships are so divided. Then again, maybe I shouldn't be surprised: Women are emotionally complex, so it makes sense that our friendships are, too.
Our friends are mirrors, showing us different sides of ourselves, and our relationships with them transform as we march through the different stages of our lives. The biggest life events like motherhood, marriage, divorce, grief and love have the potential to make our friendships develop, shatter, disappear, or even, blissfully, reappear as we experience our own life transitions and shore up our friends as they go through theirs.
Here, Sonnenberg lays her friendships--and herself--bare in a series of essays that pay tribute not only to the healing, nurturing power of friendships, but also to the sorrow and fury we feel when friendships fall by the wayside as a result of betrayals and disappointments. This is one of the bravest, most beautifully written memoirs I've read in a long time.(less)
Like most compelling, character-driven novels about complicated relationships and moral dilemmas, A Place for Us is keenly observed and well paced, wi...moreLike most compelling, character-driven novels about complicated relationships and moral dilemmas, A Place for Us is keenly observed and well paced, with dialogue that rings true and characters that leap off the page fully formed. What sets this book a step above others in its genre is the gripping tension created by conflicts that have every character facing up to truths about themselves—and about the people they love most—in ways that will always make you root for them, no matter how many mistakes those characters make. Liza Gyllenhaal is a writer who truly understands what makes the human heart tick, and what makes us resilient even when we think there is no hope for a better tomorrow.(less)
We read books to be entertained, to be informed, to have a laugh, to escape the day-to-day. And then, every now and then, we stumble across a book tha...moreWe read books to be entertained, to be informed, to have a laugh, to escape the day-to-day. And then, every now and then, we stumble across a book that we read at just the right moment in our lives for us to be bewitched, transported and transformed.
That just happened to me while reading Arcadia by Lauren Groff. This isn't a new novel—it was first published by Hyperion in 2012—and the fact of the matter is that I tried reading it four separate times before I finally was able to become absorbed by this book. That's what it feels like, once you get into the rhythm of the language: as if you're falling down a well or crossing through some sort of foggy membrane and entering another dimension entirely, your entire being surrounded by Groff's magical imagery.
The story revolves around Bit, who is a very young boy when the novel opens, living with his parents in a commune in the 1970's, and traces his life as the commune rises and falls, and as he has to make his way in the world after this Utopian dream shatters. The language in the novel is dreamy and complex, especially in the first half of the novel, when we are trapped in Bit's perspective as a child and can only glean from snatches of conversation what's going on around him. I was fully expecting the language to become simpler as Bit aged out of the commune and, in the second half of the book, is an adult living and working and parenting a young child of his own. Instead, the language grew even more lush, with image after image that floored me.
By the end of the novel, I was weeping not only for Bit's personal losses—and there are many—but also for the loss of our nation's innocence—an innocence that once allowed us, as children of the 1960's and 1970's, to truly believe we could be in harmony with each other and with nature instead of in constant conflict. It was a good cry—I don't mean to imply that the book is depressing. The emotions Groff provokes are complicated and cleansing. You will wake from the dream of Arcadia, as Bit does, determined to do whatever you can to stay more fully present in your life and aware of the magic of everyday things.(less)
As someone whose childhood parallels the time period in this book, it was fascinating for me to revisit it here. More importantly, though, this is a n...moreAs someone whose childhood parallels the time period in this book, it was fascinating for me to revisit it here. More importantly, though, this is a novel that reads like a mystery, with plenty of tension to keep you reading long into the night, while at the same time being filled with fresh imagery, lush writing, and profound emotions that you won't soon forget. I would keep the tissue box handy while reading, along with a notebook and pen. Leavitt's wisdom about the human heart, and the risks we frail creatures run when we open our hearts to one another, is evident on every page of this poignant novel. (less)
Despite the fact that this book has been garnering rave reviews all over the place, I almost gave it a miss. Really, I thought, what could be so inter...moreDespite the fact that this book has been garnering rave reviews all over the place, I almost gave it a miss. Really, I thought, what could be so interesting about two couples having dinner at a restaurant? The joke was definitely on me. This is one of the most twisted, tense reads I've picked up in years. I consider myself a pretty astute reader of both commercial and literary fiction, but I was completely gobsmacked by the surprises in this book. The writing is lively and comic, but there's a raw undertow that sucks you into the dark corners of our most pressing social issues even when you think you're coasting along, enjoying hysterical and mostly accurate observations about the absurdity of posh dinners, politicians, social media, and bumbling educators. It isn't until about halfway through the book that you realize you're in the grip of one of the most unreliable narrators in the history of literature.(less)
The best horror stories don't always have flesh-eating zombies or things that go bump in the night: they involve psychological chills of the neck-ting...moreThe best horror stories don't always have flesh-eating zombies or things that go bump in the night: they involve psychological chills of the neck-tingling variety that keep you looking over your shoulder because whatever you're reading seems like it could happen right around the corner, in the house next door, or, in this case, while you're having a cocktail after work with friends! This is one of those books. The characters are all believable and sympathetically drawn, even those who make mistakes, and they all, in one way or another, fall victim to Bianca, the sociopathic "friend" at the story's center. It was fascinating to read this book because you don't often get to see women this evil created so vividly on the page. I easily read it in a weekend! The only critique I had was that, at times, these supposedly smart women were so blind to Bianca's obvious manipulations, and I liked several of the characters so much that I would have loved to have seen them more vividly drawn. In the end it didn't matter, though, because not wanting these lovely women to fall prey to Bianca is kind of like knowing that the main character in your favorite horror movie should NOT go to the basement, the cabin, or the empty house alone. You find yourself screaming at the TV even knowing that, if she didn't go into that dark, damp place, there wouldn't be much of a movie! And the author's writing here is so smooth and fast-paced that I happily followed the characters right down into their respective basements. A great story, overall, and very well told.(less)
I have seen many reviewers fault this fine novel for being "too literary" because of Abbott's deliberate use of word and phrase repetition to build te...moreI have seen many reviewers fault this fine novel for being "too literary" because of Abbott's deliberate use of word and phrase repetition to build tension, and because there truly is a dark heart to this coming of age story. However, for me these two features of the book make it much more than just another off-the-shelf, tense psychological thriller. (Which, by the way, is reason enough to read it.)
Abbott's use of literary devices like repeating words or phrases is similar to other stylists like James Joyce in Ulysses (not a fair comparison, I know, but you get my drift), in that she builds a hypnotic trance state in the reader. This parallels the hypnotic trance state of our storyteller and protagonist, Lizzie, which she falls into as she becomes increasingly and urgently aware of her own sexuality.
What many readers object to as "too dark" at the core of the story is also this author's masterful attempt to convey the heightened sexuality of teen girls, which so many people try their best to overlook, believing that girls must be protected against the advances of boys, when often it's the other way around. (Yes, I have children, two daughters and three sons.) This is an important topic, because it's long past time when young women should own up to those urges and be able to discuss them, as the two girls do here, quite well, in fact. This book may make you wish you hadn't read it, as some readers said in their reviews, but I promise that it will make you think hard about all sorts of complex topics, including love, lust, betrayal, parenthood, life in the cozy suburbs, middle school, big sisters, families, and, not least of all, field hockey as you've never thought about it before.(less)
Set in McCarthy-era New York, Perfect Red is the story of one young woman coming of age and grappling with her sexuality, her urge to be the perfect p...moreSet in McCarthy-era New York, Perfect Red is the story of one young woman coming of age and grappling with her sexuality, her urge to be the perfect professional secretary, and her own ambition to write the novel that's haunting her. This is a delightfully fast read that will stay with you long after you finish the book, as you ponder your own career path and the choices you've made to achieve your goals--both good and bad. It will also make you realize how far we've come as women, and how important it is to never compromise your beliefs--or your integrity. Jennie Nash really knows how to spin a story that will keep you turning the pages all night.(less)
Every now and then, you come across a novel that you wish you could bring to life, because the characters seem like people you'd love to count among y...moreEvery now and then, you come across a novel that you wish you could bring to life, because the characters seem like people you'd love to count among your friends. Amy Sue Nathan has created just that kind of novel. The Glass Wives is a heartfelt story of a woman who finds herself in a very modern family predicament, struggling to make peace with a past that includes a cheating ex-husband and the woman who became his mistress and then his wife and widow. While I fully expected this novel to be emotional--and I was not disappointed, as there are certain scenes here that will have you reaching for the tissues on your bedside table--I was surprised over and over again by how much humor and hope Nathan managed to inject into what could have been a somewhat grim or overwrought tale in the hands of a less skilled author. She is a generous writer who gives her characters generous hearts. Even the characters who make mistakes in this book are redeemed and worth loving, which is what sets this novel apart and above so many others in this genre of fiction about family relationships. (less)
Truthfully, I expected to love this book, because of other reviews and because it's in a genre I love to read as an escape: psychological thriller, pa...moreTruthfully, I expected to love this book, because of other reviews and because it's in a genre I love to read as an escape: psychological thriller, parents embroiled in a mystery, missing child, etc. All the right elements for a thrilling, quick read, and indeed, this is a quick read--I finished it in a few hours--but that's part of the problem with it. The story line is fascinating, but the author uses extremely plain language, very little imagery, and every one of the characters is so dislikeable that, especially during the second half of the book, I honestly started to think I wouldn't trust any one of them. I realize the author was trying to do something darker than your average mystery, a bit noir-ish, but there are other writers who do this much better. For instance, check out Andrew Taylor's book, The Four Last Things, for a psychological thriller about a missing child, with even creepier villains and religious imagery, for a much lusher, deeper read of the same sort.
However, having said that, I would still say this is a good read, and I liked it enough to get Bell's second novel, The Hiding Place, where he definitely shows us his growth as a writer, handling characters on a much deeper level while maintaining the same tightly suspenseful narrative. I'm sure I'll read his next book, too.(less)
Tell the Wolves I'm Home is, by far, one of the best novels I've read in the past few years. With a sure hand and a generous spirit, Carol Rifka Brunt...moreTell the Wolves I'm Home is, by far, one of the best novels I've read in the past few years. With a sure hand and a generous spirit, Carol Rifka Brunt captures what it's like for a teenage girl to experience love for the first time as she tries to unravel the mysteries buried in the hearts of her sister, parents, uncle, and her uncle's boyfriend. The book is set at the start of the AIDS epidemic, and the social observations about that time in history are laid out gently but firmly. It is written in such lush, mystical language that you will want to reread various paragraphs just to see how the author makes such a complicated plot--and such tortured relationships--unravel so beautifully. This is a book that will make you cry as hard as you laugh. It will break your heart and then mend it again, over and over.(less)