Review: A Million Junes

“Two families.

Two Ghosts–one warm and sad, one cold and hungry.

Two tears in our world–one at an impossible tree and one in a starlit pool.

One curse, tying the puzzle together, and infinite memories holding the answer to what created the hungry darkness, the brutal cycle that will eventually swallow Saul or me.”

I love Book of the Month Club. I have been a member for over a year now, and though I have received some duds, I have also discovered surprising treasures that I may have never tried otherwise. A Million Junes by Emily Henry is one of those.

junesAs I was choosing my June BOTM pick, I saw several that I had heard quite a bit about, and I was interested in them.  Then, I saw the cover for A Million Junes, a novel that I had not heard of before. I promise I don’t always judge books by their covers, but this cover is stunning (seriously, that cover).  When I read the description, I thought it would be a lighthearted, fun, fantastical read perfect for summer. I wasn’t wrong. But, this book was so much more than I expected. I wasn’t prepared for my reaction. I never wanted A Million Junes to end. Continue reading

Review: The Fifth Petal

I tend to have pretty strong reactions to books. I love them–or at least love parts of them. Or, I hate them and, therefore, bail. I think one of the reasons for my reactions is that I honestly only read books if I’m in the mood for them. It is, therefore, a rare occasion that I read a book that I want to love, that has me intrigued, but at the end, my reaction isn’t that strong. That’s how I feel about Brunonia Barry’s newest novel, The Fifth PetalContinue reading

The Bear and the Nightingale: A Review

Anyone who knows me also knows my love of fairy tales. However, I know a lot about fairy tales and haven’t encountered an unfamiliar telling since reading Uprooted by Naomi Novik a couple of years ago. Until, I discovered Katherine Arden’s debut,  The Bear and the Nightingale.

bearandthenightingale_ecards_v2-2The Bear and the Nightingale takes readers on a thrilling journey to a northern village in medieval Russia where religion and magic coexist and where the long winters are cruel. When Pyotr’s wife, Marina, dies in childbirth, he tries for years to raise his children alone, including his last-born daughter. Vasya is a wild, strong-willed, “unmaidenly” girl with “fae green eyes” and the abilities of her grandmother to see magic all around her.  Continue reading

The Strays by Emily Bitto: A Review

I believe in supporting emerging literary voices, so in 2016, I vowed to read more debut novels. I read many, and some were my favorite books of the year. Emily Bitto’s The Strays was one such book. I read the book in the Fall of 2016, but The Strays only became available to readers in the U.S. yesterday, January 3, 2017 (hence, I didn’t include it in my 2016 list of books).

the-straysIn 2015, debut novelist, Emily Bitto, received the Stella Award, a book award that recognizes Australian women writers of fiction and nonfiction and the second major literary award in Australia.

Her debut, The Strays, is story of friendship, an avant-garde artists’ colony, a band of bohemian artists, and secrets that bind or break relationships. The novel is framed as a memoir. In 1985, Lily reflects on one of her most influential childhood friendships and her experiences living with the eccentric Trentham family in the 1930s.

Lily and Eva meet  when they are eight years old, though they come from very different worlds. Lily, a child of middle-class suburban parents, lives a relatively “normal” and sedate life, a life filled with routine and order. Eva, the child of two wealthy, bohemian parents lives in a world of beauty, chaos, and passion. For Lily, her attraction to  Eva and the Trentham family is immediate and profound. It is this attraction that Lily describes in the opening of the book:  Continue reading

A Year End Review: Books

I will get caught up. I will get caught up. I will get caught up.

That has been my mantra this year. I never seemed to get caught up, however. In my last post (in October! gasp!), I mentioned some of the busyness and teaching difficulties I was dealing with. Just when things seemed to be settling down at the beginning of November, I was asked to take over an ENG 102 class when the instructor had to take a leave of absence. With only six weeks left, I had to teach a crash course in research writing to a group of tired and overwhelmed students. We all survived (and some really good things came out of the class), but my blogging, reading, and writing came to a halt. Now that I can breathe a little, I decided a good place to start back would be with a year end review of my favorite books this year.

Before I begin, I need to provide a few caveats.

  • I have a love/hate relationship with end-of-the-year lists. I love to read them, to see what books other readers enjoyed, to affirm my own loves of the year, and to add to my ever-growing TBR. But, I also hate when books are overlooked, and I find it so difficult to come up with a list.
  • I don’t read books that I don’t enjoy. If I don’t like it, I stop reading (there will be a post about this in 2017). The result is that my list of books at the end of the year is a list of books I loved–or at least liked–which makes narrowing the list really difficult.
  • I challenged myself this year to read more diversely. I wanted to expand the genres I read, the authors I read, the places, experiences,  and cultures represented in the books I read. In some areas, I succeeded. I read more creative nonfiction and debut novels (categories severely lacking in my previous reading lists). In others, I still need more work.
  • Although I still don’t feel like it’s enough, I read more this year than I have the last three years. I’ve enjoyed something about every book that I read. The books that follow, though, are ones that have stuck with me the most.

Continue reading

The Wolf Road: A Review

“A good knife is hard to come by, about as hard as finding a good person in this damned country. When your life is your only currency and you got debts to pay, a good knife can make all the difference.”

One of my reading goals this year was to read more debut novels, and I’ve read several. The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis was one such novel that I had added to my TBR almost a year before it was released in July. But, where The Wolf Road differs from the other debuts I’ve read is that this novel doesn’t read like a debut. This is a stunning novel written by a skillful writer and storyteller.  Continue reading

Snow White: A Review

I received my first copy of Grimm’s fairy tales before I was old enough to read. Almost every day I  leafed through the gilt-edged pages looking only  at the beautiful, painted illustrations and telling stories to myself. That book began my love affair with fairy tales in all of their forms.

Because my first encounter with fairy tales was through images, it seems quite fitting that my most recent experience would be similar.

Matt Phelan’s graphic novel, Snow White, will be published by Penguin Random House on September 13, 2016.  Matt Phelan is an illustrator and writer who has been nominated for two Eisner Awards and who has won the prestigious Newberry Medal and Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction.

snow whiteA beautiful retelling of a classic fairy tale, Matt Phelan’s Snow White is set in depression-era NYC. He remains faithful to the classic, literary versions of the tale (namely that of the Grimm Brothers) while adapting the story in a way that is moving and unique in 1920s New York.  Continue reading

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife: A Review

Meg Elison’s The Book of the Unnamed Midwife received the Philp K. Dick Award in 2015, and it’s not hard to see why. Philip K. Dick once said,

“Today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups… So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.”

midwifeGood science fiction allows us to imagine an alternate reality and, in many cases, to challenge those systems of power that structure our world. The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, examines and challenges social structures like gender, sexuality, injustice, morality, religion, and ultimately power.  Continue reading

Siracusa: A Review

“In life one rarely knows which remarks of the hundreds uttered in the course of a day will turn out to be auspicious. In fiction, foreshadowing is planted and flagged in some (hopefully or desperately) subtle way, drama demands it.”

In July, I joined the Book of the Month Club, and I’m so glad I did. Each month, BOTM judges choose five books from which members can choose. Members receive one book as part of their membership, but they can also add additional books for $9.99. BOTM has allowed me to explore new titles that I maybe wouldn’t have purchased in hard cover, and so far, I have enjoyed both of the books I’ve chosen. Siracusa by Delia Ephron was my choice for August, and it has been moved to the top of the list of the best books I’ve read this summer–possibly this year (joining Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi).

siracusa

For those unfamiliar with Delia Ephron, she is a prolific and talented writer who is responsible for numerous plays, movies (including You’ve Got Mail and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants), and books (like Sister, Mother, Husband, Dog and The Lion is in).

Siracusa recounts two couples’ travels in Italy and the disastrous consequences when secrets and betrayals are unveiled. Michael and Lizzie are writers from NYC. He is famous and award-winning and desperately trying to complete a novel that will reaffirm his talent. She is a not-so-successful journalist looking for the next big story.  They are joined on the trip by Lizzie’s college boyfriend, Finn, and his wife, Taylor. Snow, their pre-teen daughter, further complicates the awkward dynamics of the group.   Continue reading

All the Birds in the Sky: A Review

“And at the last, a war between magic and science that would leave the world in ashes. At the center of all this were a man and a woman, who were still children now.”

allthebirds

All the Birds in the Sky is a quirky, urban fantasy that reminded me at times of some of Terry Pratchett’s work–though not as entirely successful.

Patricia Delphine and Laurence Armstead are outcasts–in their families and in school. And they both have special abilities. She has the magical ability to talk to birds and to fly (on occasion). He is a computer and engineering genius who is trying to create a sentient system in his bedroom closet. The two meet as children and form what seems to be an unbreakable bond when they are separated in middle school. Patricia and Laurence grow up and live their own lives only to reunite in San Francisco as the world begins falling apart and to find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict. She on the side of magic and nature. He on the side of science and technology. The two must navigate their own belief systems and set aside preconceived notions if they are to save humanity and this little “rock” we call Earth. Continue reading