This beautifully crafted novela says as much with only 92 pages as any longer classic. It's easily read in one sitting. I wish it were longer, but it This beautifully crafted novela says as much with only 92 pages as any longer classic. It's easily read in one sitting. I wish it were longer, but it ended at the right point. Keegen's more recent Small Things Like These was even better or perhaps just larger in scope. If you haven't read this author, you should. What a fabulous gift from my daughter!...more
Great choice if you're looking for a feel-good story that is predictable but satisfying, almost like a children's book for adults. There are lots of wGreat choice if you're looking for a feel-good story that is predictable but satisfying, almost like a children's book for adults. There are lots of well developed characters, some more likable than others but all well observed. My favorite was the meddling octopus. Very impressive debut! Excellent gift from my husband....more
A fascinating story about a real race horse told in alternating time periods between his life in the past and representations of him in the present, iA fascinating story about a real race horse told in alternating time periods between his life in the past and representations of him in the present, including the role of slave labor in the race horse industry and the legacy of slavery/racism in contemporary times. Geraldine Brooks makes the past feel as vibrant as current times. Unforgettable human and animal characters!...more
Overall a well written book with fascinating historical details that flowed into the narrative. Although this novel was framed around the death of ShaOverall a well written book with fascinating historical details that flowed into the narrative. Although this novel was framed around the death of Shakespeare's son and his inspiration to write for the theater, the parts about his wife and domestic life during that time were far more interesting. His character wasn't believable as a genius and the links to what we know about Shakespeare felt forced at times. For example: why he left his second best bed to his wife. It was hard to read about the plague during an ongoing pandemic, but important to have novels such as this nonetheless. ...more
4 1/2 stars Similar to The Picture of Dorian Gray, 23-year-old Addie makes a deal with the devil to avoid the constraints of marriage and time but at 4 1/2 stars Similar to The Picture of Dorian Gray, 23-year-old Addie makes a deal with the devil to avoid the constraints of marriage and time but at a high cost. Over the course of 300 years, Addie struggles to leave a mark on history. I loved the concept and the feminist slant!
Although VE Schwab's latest novel was written for adults, it plays with several YA tropes: love triangles, life or death high stakes, broody green eyed lovers with dark hair, and a plucky ageless heroine, who frequently acts more like a teenager than a 300 year old woman. This fairytale like story was beautifully told, well crafted, and surprisingly light despite its dark themes. Chapters alternated between the past, mostly set in France, and pre-pandemic trendy Brooklyn.
Personally, I would have preferred more history (especially those missing WWII spy years) and less romance, but it was an entertaining and quick read despite its length. Hence only 5 stars from rounding up. I would certainly like to read more books by this talented author. Will there be a sequel?
Thanks to Cathy Fiebach of Main Point Books for gifting this book to me!...more
Small Things Like These is a perfectly crafted novela with a social justice message that every writer should read. In only 118 pages, Irish author ClaSmall Things Like These is a perfectly crafted novela with a social justice message that every writer should read. In only 118 pages, Irish author Claire Keegan develops her characters, immerses the reader in a multi-sensory setting, and builds a moral dilemma with the depth of a much longer classic.
The story takes place over Christmas of 1985, but the cozy Irish village setting is timeless and the characters Dickensian. Coal merchant Bill Furlong strives to be a good husband and father, having lost his mother at a young age without learning the identity of his father. Although a child born out of wedlock to a domestic servant is an unlikely hero in a Catholic town, Bill's ability to empathize with others makes him extraordinary and well appreciated. His charitable instincts also create conflicts at home given limited resources for five daughters.
The drama steps up a notch when Bill witnesses an atrocity, a not so secret crime thinly shrouded in lies and complicity, that shakes the foundations of his faith. His moral quandary ignites the pleasantly languid story with burning energy, making you wonder not only what Bill will do but also what would you do yourself in a similar situation. The resolution is as messy as real life but deeply satisfying. This is character driven literary fiction at its best.
As soon as I finished, I wanted to reread from the beginning. I was so caught up in the story that I forgot to analyze the quiet, masterful writing. Not a single word was out of place. My husband enjoyed the authentically voiced audiobook so much that he bought the hardcover from our local bookstore to add to our personal library. We plan to listen to another of her books together. With its gorgeous woodblock print cover, Small Things Like These would certainly make an excellent Christmas gift. ...more
This somewhat fictionalized memoir presented as graphic novel is stunning, dealing with dark issues without relinquishing hope and dreams. It's a workThis somewhat fictionalized memoir presented as graphic novel is stunning, dealing with dark issues without relinquishing hope and dreams. It's a work of art and a tribute to the hardships of that life....more
4 1/2 stars What an impressive debut! I loved this family centered perspective on 20th century Chinese history. The importance of a scroll and storyte4 1/2 stars What an impressive debut! I loved this family centered perspective on 20th century Chinese history. The importance of a scroll and storytelling really held the three generation narrative together. There were lots of strong female characters with realistic flaws. I especially appreciated the inclusion of a biracial character who didn't fit in with other children of Chinese immigrants but also wasn't fully accepted by white Americans. Racist microaggressions were well observed.
There was such a strong sense of place and the story felt true to the shifting time periods. The amount of detail created a historical framework without info-dumping or confusing the reader. Language acquisition in all its complex aspects and consequences was an integral part of the narrative. The historical and cultural contexts were expertly rendered. It felt very personal and true. Despite the grim history, the outlook was hopeful. The characters were restricted by circumstances but had agency.
Overall the writing was lovely, but there were a few rookie mistakes. The pace was good and the book hard to put down, but sometimes transitions contained too much summary. The narrative was stronger when it was showing rather than telling. More concerning, several key characters disappeared without a known explanation or died before explaining their motives. This may have been realistic for the tumultuous time period, but an important plot string was left loose and frayed, which was a bit unsatisfying at the end. However, I'm still eager to read Melissa Fu's next book!
Similar novel although about the Korean diaspora: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee...more
This debut poetry collection is both eclectic and true to the complex backstory of the poet. David Cranmer is an Army veteran and a risk management adThis debut poetry collection is both eclectic and true to the complex backstory of the poet. David Cranmer is an Army veteran and a risk management advisor who has worked in Haiti. His opening poem "The Inconsiderate" is a disturbing account of murder in Port-au-Prince. The focus shifts from the corpse to his mother to show the added cruelty of lost compassion:
"The weeping woman is mother of the deceased But they do not flinch - it is lost on them How they are treating her son's remains Like the trophy hunters of some big game."
The subsequent poems are by contrast far more quotidien but no less skilled in their execution. My favorite was the amusing "No Line for a Common Thread" about a typical commute by train, which strikes a universal cord, all the more resonant for the contrast of wartime life before it:
"Temporary exchanges Signifying little to nill Just daily superfluous asides Make up a shared human experience"
Darker are the poems of drinking to escape. One notes how alcohol can be like a vine strangling a tree. There are memorials to murder victims and a sad ode to losing one's mother to Alzheimer's Disease. Lighter are the poems celebrating the poet's love for his wife and their young daughter.
Dead Burying the Dead Under a Quaking Aspen reveals the troubled soul of a veteran, trying to integrate back into civilian life. Despite the horrors of the past, he tries his best to be a good husband, father, and son. The book is dedicated to his daughter, but in this short collection is a poem for everyone. Nice cover too!...more
Usually I don't enjoy bestseller fiction, but I loved everything about this 1950/1960s novel: women in science, cooking, rowing, parenting while workiUsually I don't enjoy bestseller fiction, but I loved everything about this 1950/1960s novel: women in science, cooking, rowing, parenting while working, romance, and a great dog. It tackled the issues but still managed to be uplifting, empowering, and often funny. I recommended it to my husband and gave it to my mother who was a young woman during this time and to my chemist niece who is lucky to be born afterwards. Thanks to Cathy of Main Point Books for the recommendation! ...more
After reviewing novels for 15 years and plotting my own, it's not often that a book surprises me, but Neruda on the Park is an astounding debut. The sAfter reviewing novels for 15 years and plotting my own, it's not often that a book surprises me, but Neruda on the Park is an astounding debut. The set-up reminded me of the movie You've Got Mail: a naive young woman falls for the charming developer who threatens to destroy her world. However, as the beautiful cover art reveals, Neruda on the Park is more of a mother-daughter story than a romance, unless Nothar Park, their Dominican neighborhood in NYC, is the main love interest. What the story becomes is true to the multidimensional characters in our uncertain times but not what you'd expect from genre scaffolding.
Natera's novel has such a wonderful sense of place of both Manhattan (where I grew up) and the Dominican Republic (where I've visited). The generosity and rivalry of neighbors in a close knit community was well observed. I especially enjoyed the descriptions of food: "Pastel making started out as it always did - hours peeling skin, grinding the flesh of plátanos, yautias, and yuccas until the grainy yellow paste was smooth enough to be mistaken for cooked cornmeal." There's so much local flavor: from the decorative (not pandemic) masks celebrating Dominican Independence Day to the sidewalk barbecues with extra food to share, but crime, sexism, racism, and ICE lurk around the corner.
The book opens with commercial glitz: successful women wear designer suits with mortgageable shoes and dine in trendy restaurants. The power players, both black and white, live in private brownstones, where jewelry and books are displayed behind glass like trophies of social status. Double Ivy League educated herself, Luz Guerrero wants to grasp everything that is withheld from her. Her name in Spanish means light warrior, and she earns it, fighting for justice. To please her doting parents and her mentor-boss, Luz works long hours as a corporate lawyer, pouring her savings into her parent's retirement home back in DR and buying designer clothes for herself on credit. After her career hits an unexpected setback, Luz meets a handsome billionaire in a hot yoga class (don't quit reading). Although white and privileged, Hudson apologizes for his mistakes, speaks better Spanish than hers, recites Pablo Neruda's poetry from heart, and welcomes Luz into his luxurious world without reservations. Hudson wants the best for her. So why does her mother hate him?
Halfway through the book, the seemingly predictable plot warps like a Dali clock, resetting our perception of reality. What I enjoyed the most was watching the characters develop and twist the storyline in unexpected directions, but I won't say any more to avoid spoilers. Except go pre-order this May 17th book from your local indie bookstore before it sells out. Publishing rights to Neruda on the Park sold at auction for all the right reasons. Will there be a movie?
This might be the best novel by one of my favorite authors. Quite meta to set a ghost story in her own bookstore and to be a minor character herself! This might be the best novel by one of my favorite authors. Quite meta to set a ghost story in her own bookstore and to be a minor character herself! Despite tackling the darkest issues of the pandemic and George Floyd, it managed to be quite humorous at the right times.
My only criticism was it felt a bit like the central ghost story got hijacked by the shocking events of the momentous times in which Erdrich wrote her novel so that the narrative was a bit fragmented, but it all came together at the end. So much to think about! I may need to reread it.
Although I received The Sentence as a gift a year ago, I'm glad I waited for a more hopeful time to finish reading it. Don't be put of by the shocking opening scene as the protagonist grows over the course of the narrative. Nothing is gratuitous. ...more
It's been a while since a novel kept me up to 2:00 am on a work day! This compelling story about artificial intelligence and the sacrifices one is wilIt's been a while since a novel kept me up to 2:00 am on a work day! This compelling story about artificial intelligence and the sacrifices one is willing to make for love reminded me of NEVER LET ME GO. However this speculative novel was less dark. Ishiguro is a master storyteller....more
If you loved All the Light We Cannot See as much as I did, you'll be delighted to hear that Anthony Doerr will be releasing a new and equally epic novIf you loved All the Light We Cannot See as much as I did, you'll be delighted to hear that Anthony Doerr will be releasing a new and equally epic novel, Cloud Cuckoo Land, on September 28th. His latest book is structurally more complex as it is narrated in multiple voices from antiquity, the recent past, and the future. It’s an ode to ancient texts, to libraries, and most of all, to readers.
The historical storyline follows two teenagers on opposite sides of a walled city during the 1453 siege of Constantinople. Anna is an orphan who should be embroidering birds and flowers for Christian priests but instead sneaks off to learn how to read Greek. Beyond the fortified walls, Omeir is more concerned in the wellbeing of his oxen than in the plunders of war. A birth defect makes it easier for him to win the love of animals than of people outside his family, but of all the characters, Omeir is the least bitter and the most capable and generous.
The contemporary storyline is set in Idaho and alternates between a troubled youth, Seymour, who befriends a threatened owl, and an 86-year-old Korean War veteran, Zeno, who is struggling to translate fragments of an ancient Greek text. I found it interesting that the "contemporary" storyline was set in February 2020, right before the pandemic. Perhaps to avoid its absence from the narrative? Some savvy editor or perhaps the author himself might have adjusted the dates right before the galleys were printed. I'm guessing that the pandemic will divide literature like World War II did in the last century.
The futuristic story is narrated only from the perspective of Konstance, a teenage girl on an arklike spaceship to save humanity from the climate crisis. To avoid spoilers, I won't say much about this storyline other than it was the most compelling and had a brilliant plot twist that took even a seasoned reader like me by surprise. My only criticism was I would have liked to have learned more about Konstance's future. The other storylines were better resolved, but all three were woven together well.
Cloud Cuckoo Land was brilliantly crafted. Although the galley was 618 pages and covered equally weighty material, it was a fast read with short cliffhanger chapters and alternating narratives. I read most of it over one weekend, and it was a welcome escape from the current worries of the world, even though it dealt with many of them. Like Harry Potter and the Seraphina series, Cloud Cuckoo Land brought me back to the childhood joy of getting lost in the alternative universe of a book. Although Doerr's novel was written for adults, it would crossover very well to teenagers.
With its time hopping stories and linked motifs, Cloud Cuckoo Land reminded me of David Mitchell’s masterpiece, Cloud Atlas (was the "cloud" in the goofy title an homage?) The environmental themes were also similar to The Overstory by Richard Powers. Following a book through time reminded me of another favorite, People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. Even so, Cloud Cuckoo Land was original and will appeal to all book lovers.
"Each of these books, child, is a door, a gateway to another place and time. You have your whole life in front of you, and for all of it, you'll have this. It will be enough, don't you think?"...more
A beautifully written story about a girl aging out of foster care set on an enchanting island off Seattle. This contemporary YA novel delves into the A beautifully written story about a girl aging out of foster care set on an enchanting island off Seattle. This contemporary YA novel delves into the harsh psychological costs of children in foster care but still leaves the reader with lots of hope. There's an environmental theme running through the narrative as well. My only criticism was the mean girl characters felt like cardboard cutouts, standing in sharp contrast to the other well developed characters, young and old. I'd recommend WHAT I CARRY to anyone looking for a book that tackles gritty issues but still makes you feel better at the end....more
This beautifully crafted novel renders a very personal view of the political upheaval in Iran during the 1950s, centering on a stationery shop romanceThis beautifully crafted novel renders a very personal view of the political upheaval in Iran during the 1950s, centering on a stationery shop romance between star-crossed teen lovers. The narrative also captures the limited choices available to young women in both Iran and in the USA during the 1950s. Although the central plot is a romance, The Stationery Shop is also a story of immigration and assimilation.
Kamali expertly portrays a vivid sense of time and place without bogging down the narrative with excessive detail. I especially enjoyed the descriptions of Persian food and how cooking nurtures relationships and triggers nostalgia. The plot was meticulously crafted and the characters well developed and multi-faceted. For a historical novel, it was a very quick read. My only criticism was that I would have prefered more gritty politics and less idealized romance. However, romance fans will adore this book.
This short novel with engaging plot twists and feminist themes would crossover well to teen readers and their grandparents since the perspective shifts between the characters in their teens and in old age. Read with a box of tissues. It would make a great gift. The cover is gorgeous too!...more
I strongly recommend this prize-winning history book to everyone and wish I could give it an extra star. The author, an NYU professor of Modern JewishI strongly recommend this prize-winning history book to everyone and wish I could give it an extra star. The author, an NYU professor of Modern Jewish History, filled the academic laguna on Holocaust history by focusing on the experience of Jewish women, who were disproportionately murdered in Nazi Germany. Although this book is academically rigorous, it was written in an accessible style and is only 237 pages. The author describes the history but uses engaging personal stories to illustrate the range of experiences. The content is of course disturbing, but important to read and to remember.
I read Between Dignity and Despair after enjoying Kaplan's Dominican Haven to research my WIP, a novel about Jewish refugees in the Dominican Republic during WWII. I now understand the Germany my female protagonist fled, and her luck at being able to escape a worse fate. I will consider the family she left behind. ...more