This is a mesmerizing account of Vincent van Gogh's final days, told from the perspective of Dr. Gachet, who befriended van Gogh and collected his wor...moreThis is a mesmerizing account of Vincent van Gogh's final days, told from the perspective of Dr. Gachet, who befriended van Gogh and collected his works (and who was the subject of one of van Gogh's most famous portraits). Descriptions of van Gogh's paintings -- and his artistic process -- are beautifully rendered; you can almost smell the paint coming off the pages. Readers who know little about van Gogh's life, or who may think of him as a mad genius, will gain a great deal of insight into the complexities of his diagnosis and his artistic vision. (Among the book's many poignant scenes are images of van Gogh, mentally distressed and unable to work, wandering in the wheat fields with a blank canvas that gets progressively filthier).
Van Gogh's eerie calm and rationality, mixed with his instability, is fascinating. His brother and art dealer Theo van Gogh is also a compelling and sympathetic figure, as we see him battling syphilis and struggling to sell his brother's paintings and trying to support his family, including Vincent van Gogh. But it is Dr. Gachet who emerges with the most compelling portrait in this book. He is a doctor who is interested in new methods of treating mental illness, who has deep sympathies for the plight of the mentally ill. He is also a doctor wrestling with demons of his own: aging, his own artistic aspirations and shortcomings, his inability to save his wife from the ravages of tuberculosis, and, above all, his struggle to save his friend Vincent van Gogh. By the end, the issue of whether or not Dr. Gachet "saves" Vincent -- and who is really "sane" -- will make for fascinating book club debates. (less)
I bought this book because I've traveled in Turkey and I seldom see contemporary Turkey represented in fiction. Vendela Vida absolutely nails what it'...moreI bought this book because I've traveled in Turkey and I seldom see contemporary Turkey represented in fiction. Vendela Vida absolutely nails what it's like to travel in this fascinating country, taking her heroine from coastal towns (both sparkling and downtrodden) to the lunar landscape of the Cappadoccia region. But she also nails her protagonist's internal journey, which is equally fascinating. Halfway through, I realized I was being swept into the undertow of a quiet thriller, and was powerless to get out. The main character, a widowed teacher in her fifties, comes to a small coastal town to reconnect with memories of her honeymoon there twenty-eight years prior. The surprises she finds in her vacation rental, and the consequences of befriending some locals -- including a young boy on the beach -- ramp up in unexpected ways. This could be a beach read, but not as light as it looks; it will linger with you. (less)
I really enjoyed this very clever mystery/adventure! I haven't read anything quite like it. Nice balance of rich, descriptive detail and heart-stoppin...moreI really enjoyed this very clever mystery/adventure! I haven't read anything quite like it. Nice balance of rich, descriptive detail and heart-stopping action. Lots of unexpected twists and tours and a very cool love interest from another time. Highly recommend. (less)
I recently found a box of my old Nancy Drews in my mother's attic. This one was right on top. I remember, at age nine, loving the exotic aspects of th...moreI recently found a box of my old Nancy Drews in my mother's attic. This one was right on top. I remember, at age nine, loving the exotic aspects of the story: an Oriental rug with an encoded message, a scimitar that seemingly leaps out of said rug on its own, an eerily beautiful mannequin, a romp through Istanbul and a kidnapping at the Grand Bazaar. All the ingredients here are still great. As a YA mystery writer, I wanted to go back to Nancy Drew and see if there were tools I could use in my toolbox, in terms of pacing, suspense, planting clues, etc. Mostly what I ended up thinking, on this reread, was "Wow, my writing critique group would NEVER let me get away with this!" I had that thought a lot. Like about the rushed, implausibly set-up trip to Istanbul, near the end. Or the way Nancy's strong hunches, based on zero evidence, lead to logical deduction and even police procedures. The way shopkeepers cheerfully give out personal information about their customers and clients, including home addresses. I could go on. But there is still something nostalgic and charming and wonderful about good old Nancy Drew, and when I read this book as an artifact from a time capsule, I found ways to quit rolling my eyes and be a little more generous. Nancy displays grit and determination in many scenes, and her pluck and tenacity, as well as a creative way of looking at a mystery, kept me turning the pages all these years later.(less)
How to explain this feeling of simultaneously wanting to linger on a page and wanting to race forward at the same time? There should be a word for it....moreHow to explain this feeling of simultaneously wanting to linger on a page and wanting to race forward at the same time? There should be a word for it. The exquisitely detailed art in this graphic novel is stunning. I marveled at details on garments, the lush scenery of rural Korea, the careful attention to flowers (which are heavily symbolic here). The overall panel layout also propelled the story forward for me, even when the premise or dialogue felt a bit thin at times, or when the characters felt too predictable. (As an example of that, the close and relatively untroubled relationship between a tavern-owner mother and her sexually awakening daughter could be viewed as sweet but perhaps implausible to some modern readers. Also the love interest storylines for both mother and daughter do not always hold a great deal of suspense). I think the way to read this book is to just dive in to a distant time and a different culture, and submerge yourself in the amazing artwork. Some aspect of the story will grab you along the way. I'm eagerly moving on to Book 2 of the trilogy.(less)
I absolutely loved Paul Griffin's two previous books, and I loved STAY WITH ME for similar reasons: the sharp dialogue, the authentic contemporary tee...moreI absolutely loved Paul Griffin's two previous books, and I loved STAY WITH ME for similar reasons: the sharp dialogue, the authentic contemporary teen voices, the gritty day-to-day realities of urban youth, the avoidance of easy stereotypes, the high emotions without sentimentality, the complex stories told simply and well. But this novel, a love story, had an even tighter hold on me, and I think it's Griffin's finest writing. Also, the book is longer than his other two, so there's more time to get to know the compelling lead characters, Cece and Mack, and to follow the rhythm of their alternating narrations. These unlikely young lovers (a high school dropout and an honors student) bond over a rescued pit bull, but when Mack loses control one night, their course is completely altered. Their love story alone was intense enough to keep me up late turning pages. Yet there's a lot more going on here to add tension, with the characters' complicated family lives, and their painful and secret pasts. Griffin offers up a rich cast of characters, including a restaurant owner named Vic who speaks in crossword puzzle-ese, a mother struggling with her son becoming a soldier, an empathetic prison warden, and some truly amazing pit bulls. (In fact, this book has changed how I view these animals, and I learned a great deal about them). I always come away from Griffin's novels feeling as though I've glimpsed the lives of real people, and briefly felt their joys and pains. I felt that even more so with STAY WITH ME, so much that I'm having trouble moving on to another book. Highly recommend! (less)
As a Seattleite, I loved the way Gallagher brought Seattle to life, especially in her depictions of the Seattle art scene. I was drawn in (no pun inte...moreAs a Seattleite, I loved the way Gallagher brought Seattle to life, especially in her depictions of the Seattle art scene. I was drawn in (no pun intended) by the main character's desire to grow up quickly and to get attention from her art, and the consequences of some of her impulsive decisions. The novel reads quickly, but is deeper than it might appear; it asks great questions about art, and what it means to make an artistic statement.(less)
This is an utterly charming, extremely clever page-turner about the mystery behind some Albrecht Durer drawings and the art of friendship. In this cas...moreThis is an utterly charming, extremely clever page-turner about the mystery behind some Albrecht Durer drawings and the art of friendship. In this case, the unlikely friends are a boy named James and a highly talented beetle who lives in his apartment and helps to solve the mystery. It's for middle grade readers but adults can enjoy it too! Readers of all ages will appreciate learning about what happens to stolen art, how lost art can be recovered, and what makes something a masterpiece. Thought-provoking discussion questions about art, values, friendships, family, and world-building can be found in the back of the book.(less)
I'm a huge fan of Laura Reseau; I love how she writes for young people about different countries and cultures. I also used to work in Ecuador. So I wa...moreI'm a huge fan of Laura Reseau; I love how she writes for young people about different countries and cultures. I also used to work in Ecuador. So I was thrilled to find her latest, THE QUEEN OF WATER, a novel co-written with Maria Virginia Farinango, an Ecuadorian woman. The novel is largely based on Farinango's amazing story of what it was like to grow up as an indigena, from a small village in the Andes, and how she became literally enslaved by a mestizo family who used her as a maid and nanny for eight years. Many of Farinango's experiences are truly harrowing, and the strength of her spirit after enduring years of verbal and physical abuse is astonishing. The claustrophobia of her girlhood experiences -- being locked in her employers' apartment, living in broom closet, visiting her biological family in their tiny shack -- is counterbalanced beautifully by lush descriptions of the Ecuadorian landscape. I could not put this book down once I started it; Farinango's strength, her cunning, and her vision for a better life -- exquisitely narrated -- make this a must-read!(less)
Gina Rosati's YA debut AURACLE is a great ride. 17-year-old Anna Rogan has an unusual talent: astral projection. It was apparently triggered by an all...moreGina Rosati's YA debut AURACLE is a great ride. 17-year-old Anna Rogan has an unusual talent: astral projection. It was apparently triggered by an allergic reaction to peanuts as a child. After years of exploring her ability, she's able to slip out of her body while lying in bed at night or even dozing off at school, and travel, in her spiritual form. Enabling her do things like slip out to visit Hawaiian volcanoes or to check in on the boy next door (her longtime best friend Rei, for whom she's developing stronger feelings), Anna's skill seems fun and harmless. At first. Rei -- the only one who knows about her ability -- is right to worry about her logging some spiritual frequent flier miles. While out of her body, she witnesses the death of a classmate, who then takes up residence in Anna's body and refuses to leaves. She and Rei have to find highly creative ways to get Anna back in her body and to help their friend Seth avoid murder charges. Rosati balances the high stakes crime issues with moments of horror (the mean girl who occupies Anna's body is capable of great cruelty) and humor (at one point Anna reflects, "I'm jealous that she looks better in me than I do.") Romance laces through the story as Rei and Anna, despite the physical obstacles and other mounting complications, explore their deepening feelings.
This is one of my rare forays into the paranormal, and I'm happy I branched out of my usual genre preferences and read this book. The paranormal aspects are deftly handled, the romance compelling, the characters rich and complex.