The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain

What would you do if you found out your entire life was a lie? Riley MacPherson has just lost her father. Years before, she lost her mother. Even before that she lost her sister. Only her recluse of a brother remains to help her pick up the pieces of her father’s death. As the pieces fall into place, the truth is slowly revealed. Riley finds herself at the center of a decades old crime that only she can solve.

AND….my book club ladies didn’t let me down! Although we were all in consensus that The Silent Sister was a fun, if not dark, entertaining read, that’s where I draw the line. While some of us totally love, love, loooooved it, I wasn’t thoroughly impressed.

To be blunt, I found it utterly predictable. I figured it out in the first few chapters. There were no surprising twists, no startle effect, no “Ah-Ha!” moment. Kind of a let down really. Although you don’t know for sure what happens until the end, you basically know for sure how it will end by the beginning. So, naturally, I was bored.

The best part about the book was the discussion it generated. We talked about different themes from the book like child abuse and adoption. Lately we’ve been reading a lot of books that make mention of pedophilia and child molestation. I asked why do they think that is? Which led us to a broader discussion of contemporary themes in literature as a whole.

The book itself is not a study in critical reading, but it got a decent discussion brewing. Quick and easy breezy The Silent Sister is a great beach-time summer read. Somewhat engaging but not too heavy. Perfect for this July summertime heat.

Pleasant Reading!

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald


H is for Hawk is the story of Helen Macdonald’s journey through the grief over her father’s death, and the Hawk that saved her. In the wake of her father’s death Macdonald tries her hand at flying the notoriously fierce and difficult Goshawk. Paralleled with a pseudo-biography of T.H. White, who also wrote a devastating treatise on training his own Goshawk, Macdonald leads us down a bloody, brutal rabbit hole where no bird can follow.

When I closed the book for the final time, I felt as though I knew Macdonald intimately. She has a way of writing that is incredibly eloquent and yet conversational. Through her experiences, Macdonald has extracted and buffed tiny pearls of wisdom, and paired them magnificently with the glamor and magic of medieval England.

But, as a forewarning, for some, the sheer beauty of her writing does not always compensate for the grit and grime that accompanies it. This is, after all, a story about grief. It is at times bleak, with some hard edges. The hawk is fierce, and so is Macdonald in her approach. Macdonald often claims she wanted to be as the hawk, “numb to the hurts of human life.” But though we see periods of this numbness in Macdonald, we ourselves are not immune.

And, though I fell in love with the book from the very first pages, it was not always easy to read. This is one of those books wherein what you get out of it will change significantly based on your values, upbringing, and even your location. City folk, I’m talking to you. Especially if you happen to be a vegan animal rights activist. I’ve heard this book described as “disgusting,” and was seen as a portrayal of exerting control over the uncontrollable.  

I personally did not take offense, but it’s more my style to be open to information whether it galls me or not. The more you know, right? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a million times, I’m a firm believer in reading what makes you uncomfortable. For all intents and purposes, it makes us better readers, and better people. Did I squirm a bit when White was quite obviously damaging his hawk irreparably? Yes. But that doesn’t change the fact that he did it, or that Macdonald used that knowledge to better her own skill set.

What I saw in Hawk was not tasteless or vulgar. I saw her hopelessness, her despair, her struggle to rise above it. I didn’t see animal cruelty; I saw a vision of a rich and long standing tradition. I saw the love for her hawk. Once you get past the jargon, the grit of the hunt, and the unfortunate retelling of White, you will be amazed at the beauty you will find. I urge you to read it ‘til it’s over. You’ll be better off for it.

  

 

The Blondes by Emily Schultz

I love book club days. I host them once a month at my branch. Hands down, every time we read a book that no one seems to like we have THE BEST discussions. Every time! I love it! The Blondes was no exception (except that I actually thought it was a decent read unlike my older counterparts). I like to push my group a little bit into unfamiliar territory. I try to get them out of their James Pattersons and Danielle Steeles. I want them to read books that they normally wouldn’t take a second look at. AND, if I have to read for work, well then I’m just gonna come right out and say it, I want to read books that I like, you know!? (Fun Fact: A “!?” is called an interabang. Isn’t that fabulous!?)

So, while my peeps had a hard time getting past the whole “zombie apocalypse” thing, and thought it was all rather silly, the discussion allowed us to get deeper into the novel and revealed some pretty choice things. I’ve actually had a number of patron’s approach me and tell me that they read the books not because they like them, but because I lead them to getting something new out of it. How awesome is that? Makes me feel like I’m doing my job. Spreading the bug. It’s catching isn’t it? But, I digress. And, please excuse my terrible, terrible pun.

Hazel Hayes is a redhead getting by in a world of SHV, Siphonaptera Human Virus, which affects only blondes (natural and well…bleached). For those of you that have not specialized in Latin or in Entomology, Siphonaptera are fleas, which is how “they” think the disease was transmitted. But interestingly enough, Wikipedia (what in the world did we do before the almighty Wikipedia?) says that “[Fleas] are wingless, with mouthparts adapted for piercing skin and sucking blood. Fleas are external parasites.” As a satirical commentary on everything from perceptions of beauty, to human interactions, to mass media, to consumerism, to inequality (you name it you can make a parallel to it), a simple description of a flea does a pretty great job of summing up the most basic of points that (I think) Schultz is making.

Once infected, the blondes exhibit superhuman strength, unintelligibility, and violence. They pretty much turn rabid and destroy anything in their path. Think “Vegan Zombies,” although there was a particularly intense (and my favorite) scene where a toddler goes off and starts biting people. Don’t worry, that was not a spoiler. Anyways, the gore stays at a minimum, though the novel recounts its fair share of tragedy and hardship. One reader said they were left feeling quite cold. While I didn’t exactly feel warm and fuzzy, I was certainly diverted and I definitely had a few chuckles. I think Schultz really hit her mark, and I thought the book was well thought out and put together. You don’t get a lot of closure, but, hey, that’s how life just is sometimes.

In a world full of Kardashians, be an Emily.

Pleasant Reading!

PS. Schultz’s rise to fame is a pretty awesome story. You can read her viral blog posts here: Spending the Stephen King Money

God Help the Child by Toni Morrison

This was a pretty tough call for me. I mean, who am I to criticize a Nobel Laureate? I obviously don’t have the skills or expertise that Morrison does. I mean, I’m a lifelong reader. I majored in English Literature, Language, and Criticism. I’ve taken my fair share of creative writing classes. I studied medieval manuscripts in my graduate years. I’m a librarian. It’s a part of my job to be able to recommend books without passing judgement. But here I am passing it anyway. My paltry list of qualifications is so sadly insignificant next to the blinding brilliance of one of the greatest writers of our time. But, I read the book. I’ve thought about it for a few days. And so the review must go on.

In this stream-of-consciousness narrative, Bride must confront her past in order to successfully navigate her future. While this theme is directly correlated by multiple characters, it is most clearly symbolized by the Benjamin Button effect that Bride experiences as we move deeper into the novel. Bride’s mother, Sweetness, could pass for white, something she called “high yellow.” But, Bride was born “so black she scared me. Midnight black, Sudanese black.” Ashamed and embarrassed of Bride, afraid to touch her own daughter, Sweetness is the catalyst for all that is to come. A sparse yet vivid account of race, colorism, and facing your childhood demons, God Help the Child is a bold testament to the fragility of men and women.

From the get-go, Bride is wildly out of touch with reality. At first I thought it was because the plot points were too unbelievable. Unbelievable in the way that contemporary fiction can romanticize an aspect of life to the point where its realness, the essence of being real, is called into question. There is a certain balance that has to be in play when a reader is asked to suspend belief. And I could do that for the actual bizarreness of the novel, but not with the “real” parts. So, I felt a little discombobulated and turned around. But, then, I thought Bride herself is discombobulated and turned around. She is a product of what her mama made her, both because of and in spite of.

I suppose I am partially biased as I read this so close on the heels of Ruby, which covers a lot of the same territory. God Help the Child is a single ripple in the tragic ocean that is Ruby. In comparison, it is the low-fat version of very similar tropes.

God Help the Child is a very quick read. You can finish it in one sitting. Morrison obviously is a talented writer. It was only after much discussion and contemplation that I realized just how nuanced and complex her novel is, particularly in the face of how sparse it is. But, even then I was disappointed, and I can’t quite put my finger on why. I’m not sure that God Help the Child lives up to the Morrison hype. With that being said, I would like to visit some of her more noteworthy works because now I feel like I’m really missing out on something spectacular.

Pleasant Reading!

Ruby by Cynthia Bond

Warning. This program is intended for mature audiences. Viewer discretion is advised. I felt like there should be a huge disclaimer about how unflinchingly sadistic Ruby is. I wasn’t expecting it in the least, but the more I read the more I couldn’t put it down.

Ruby Bell is many things. She’s a victim, she’s a heroine, she’s a spark, she’s a mother, she’s a body, she is madness, she’s a child, she is rage, she is strength. Every page brings us a new insights into her being. Bond unravels the knots of Ruby’s life, sometimes yanking, and other times gently, gently so that in the end you’re not sure what is up and what is down.

We see Ruby through her own eyes, but mostly through the eyes of Ephram Jennings and the people he encounters in his day to day drudgery. Ephram and Ruby knew each other as children, until Ruby ran off to New York. When she returns to Liberty (and let me assure you, there is nothing liberating about that town) she is a shell of a human being. But, Ephram sees the little girl she once was lurking somewhere deep inside of her. Ruby in turn, breathes life back into Ephram.

Bond infuses her novel with magical realism. The rich traditions of southern folklore and voodoo are woven so deep and so seamlessly that it is impossible to separate the magic from the madness. Ruby is a trauma. It will hit you like a rogue wave, monstrous and unseen. But when the waters calm, and all that is left is destruction, hope remains that all will be washed clean.

At the top of her craft, Bond is without a doubt one of the most gifted writers I have ever read. I just wanted to take note of each color and stuff them into a crayon box so I can pull them back out at will and paint my own world over. The spectrum of browns alone will blow your mind. She has a way of spinning words that stab or soothe, suffocate or release. It’s like she has tapped into some hidden vein that tells her exactly how to describe the entire range of human emotion in the most beautiful and most utterly convincing way possible. One of my favorite lines (and there were many): “The train pulling away from the station spit a spark of malice that landed in the tinderbox of Ruby’s throat. It conjured a wall of black soot and flames that filled her mouth, making it difficult for her to speak in full sentences.” What an impossibly accurate way to describe someone was choked up. It’s like I was reading this and thinking, Yes! Exactly!

Bond herself was a victim of human trafficking, and in many interviews has spoken about writing as her way of healing. Indeed, in the novel, the characters themselves say that if you have the courage to speak, I should have the courage to listen. You really will need some courage to read Ruby, but I found that it was so very worth it. I’m a firm believer that we should all read things that make us uncomfortable. Things that make us squirm and cringe. I think it builds us up. Makes us more understanding, more compassionate, kinder, sympathetic. Books like this open your eyes. Walk that proverbial mile in someone else’s shoes.

I was spellbound. Absolutely spellbound.

Below you can watch an interview with Cynthia Bond from the OWNSHOW on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

Pleasant Reading (and watching)!

The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure

So. I just wanted to preface by saying that this was another book discussion novel from my library. Our demographic absolutely LOVED this book. They really enjoy Holocaust reads. I found myself in the minority when I said that I didn’t really like it. One of the great things about writing this blog, which I do mainly for my own enjoyment, is that after a life of reading I am only now really figuring out what exactly it is about a book that makes me like it.

I enjoy books that have complex characters. Characters with depth, with some sort of inner turmoil that needs to be resolved. I need to feel invested. I’m pretty wide open when it comes to genres, settings, and writing styles. But I need to believe in the characters. I need time to develop a relationship with them. So I can laugh with them, or cry with them. For me, the characters are the life breath of the story. If they aren’t fleshed out, the book begins to feel shallow. The Paris Architect helped me to realize this.

Lucien is a French architect who is struggling during the German Occupation of France during WWII. He is a simpering juvenile man who is only happy when his ego is being stroked, even if he has to do it himself. Lucien receives some work from a very rich man called Manet. But, Manet wants him to use his skills to hide affluent Jewish persons in many of his city apartments. We watch as Lucien battles his inner demons, and questions his ethics and morality.

Rather than the more commonly seen village, ghetto, or camp, the backdrop is the opulent and decadent side of Paris. Fashion models, fashion designers, architects, Gestapo. It’s all a little hoity-toity. All the women are beautiful, all the men are powerful.

Belfoure kills off characters left and right. Usually I’m ok with this…(thank you George R.R. Martin…) but Belfoure introduced a character only to kill them off again in the same chapter simply for the sake of killing them. And, I will point out that these are pretty short chapters. I am sure he did this to demonstrate the monstrosities committed by the Nazis in WWII, but it just all felt a little hollow. I suppose we gain some insight into the soulless Gestapo, but all in all the characters and events are pretty one-dimensional across the board.

When reading about The Holocaust, it, you know,…it should make you feel all the feels. But I found myself becoming very apathetic while reading The Paris Architect. While there is torture, there is no intensity. While there is intrigue, I found too much predictability. I think Belfoure didn’t really rise to the occasion, which is too bad considering his platform. I don’t need a happy ending. I don’t need lovable characters. I don’t need rainbows and sunshine. But I do need to FEEL something. Anything. And, I may be assuming things here, but isn’t that what Holocaust novels are supposed to make you do? Feel something? Anguish, rage, joy, horror? The Paris Architect really missed the mark for me. It fell flat. Really flat.

If you really enjoy WWII novels, I’m sure you will like the Paris Architect. It may not make your top 10 list, but it may be worth a read. It’s Belfoure’s debut novel, and, if you put stock into such things, it made the New York Times best sellers list in July 2015. So, someone out there liked it. Maybe its you?

 

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Single White Female, Scream, Urban Legend, I Know What You Did Last Summer. Do these movies sound familiar to you? If not, Ware’s debut novel may not be right for you. In a Dark, Dark Wood reads like the teen horror movies of decades past. I didn’t love it. It’s not the end all be all of English Literature, but I did enjoy it. In part because I can relate to the characters who are in their mid-twenties, out of college, getting married, smoking cigarettes, and who are (fatally, as it turns out) flawed.

Leonora (AKA Lee AKA Leo AKA Nora) has woken up in hospital with no memory of how she got there. The police are asking her questions that she doesn’t know the answer to. What she does know, is that someone is dead. What follows is the recollection of Leonora as she tries to piece together the events from her weekend away in a glass house in the woods. Invited by Flo, Clare’s BFF 4 E&E, Nina and Leonora take a weekend holiday for Clare’s hen (in American English: a bachelorette party). Then the traditional horror/suspense formula ensures. The phone lines go dead. There are no cellphone signals. There’s even a seance DUHN DUHN DUHN! Feeling scared yet? There’s a gun and a car chase, and poison and a girl fight. For all my 90’s chicks out there, though there is a modern edge, the spirit of all those 90’s movies is alive and well in the Wood. And speaking of 90’s chicks, Reese Witherspoon is said to be adapting the novel for a film.

Overall, In a Dark, Dark Wood is a quick and easy read. Probably great for vacation or beach reading. Dark Wood definitely achieves what it set out to do: Entertain the masses. It appeared in NPR’s Best Books of 2015 list and on the New York Times Best Sellers list. In an interview with NPR, Ware admits to drawing inspiration from Scream and Agatha Christie. I’d say she landed on a hell of a combo that is sure to leave readers wanting more.

With all that being said, I totally guessed the ending only halfway through the novel, and the older readers in our Book Discussion at the library were less than thrilled. There were some who enjoyed it, and one member who enjoyed it only because she felt closer to her kids by reading things that they might like. There was also a member who read it too far out in advance of our meeting and couldn’t remember much, which speaks volumes. I think they had a hard time overcoming the age gap as Dark Wood leans toward Pop Culture. Again, the consensus here was that it was enjoyable but it wasn’t making anyone’s top 10 favorites list.

So, to circle back around to the beginning, if you enjoy this kind of thing, than go for it. If you are on the fence, I would actually still recommend you go for it. Just, you know, don’t read it alone at night in the woods.

Happy Reading!

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

My first thought about Miss P’s was that it was a tasty mix between X-Men and Harry Potter, with a dash of Edward Scissorhands, and just a hint of The Goonies. If you’re anything like me, then I think you’ll find Miss P’s right up your Diagon Alley! Diagon Alley…get it? I crack myself up!
Jacob Portman is a sixteen year old endearingly wimpy kid and heir to a pharmacy chain store empire. As a child he is raised on a steady diet of his Grandfather’s fairy tales and horror stories. As Jacob gets older, he resents having believed so whole-heartedly in Grandpa Portman’s ridiculous claims…that is until Grandpa Portman dies under suspicious circumstances and Jacob, through a journey of self-discovery and coming of age, finds out that all those stories were true.
Traveling to Wales to uncover the secrets of Grandpa Portman’s past, Jacob is immersed in a seductive fantastical otherworld. While the reading seems light on the surface, Miss P’s tackles some darker issues including depression and anxiety, dealing with death, failure, and…well…peculiarities. Miss P’s straddles the line between Young Adult and general fiction which makes this a great read for anyone of any age.
Riggs developed Miss P’s around a series of vintage photographs that he gathered from ten different collectors, including himself. I almost expected the narrative to feel forced and disjointed, but it was no such thing. In fact, I was so delighted with it that I purchased the sequel, Hollow City, released in January of 2014. The third installment, Library of Souls, is set to release September, 2015.
The photographs were a brilliant edition to the text and couldn’t have released at a better time. I think we as a society living in the Age of the Selfie are about as obsessed with photos as we are going to be. Granted, the photos in Miss P’s and the photos in Kim Kardashian’s Selfish are of two completely different calibers. And, just so we are clear, I am not endorsing K-Dash even a little bit, but if that’s your bag then knock yourself out. No judgements here. Well…maybe just a little bit. Seriously, if you are going to read a photo-based book, Miss P’s is it. Sorry Kim. No hard feelings?
Riggs also delivers some fantastic philosophical truisms that caught me by surprise. My favorite line in the whole of Miss P’s is when Jacob is arguing with his father and he storms off outside, because “sometimes you just need to go through a door.” What a wonderful way to phrase something that is in itself so basic, but the breadth of which is immeasurable. We as humans have always had an obsession with both physical and metaphorical doors. The eyes are the doors to the soul; when one door closes, another one opens; if opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door; death has a door; you can darken someone’s door; something can come in through the backdoor; one can go out of a backdoor; you never know what goes on behind closed doors. Indeed, sometimes…you do just have to go through a door. Or a portal…you know…depending on what book you’re in.
And now I am sure we are all experiencing semantic satiation, that creepy phenomenon when a word repeated one too many times loses all meaning and feels weird in your mouth. Door. What a funny word.
With that,
Pleasant Reading!