October 1, 2018

Libreria Acqua Alta in Venice

Libreria Acqua Alta
Calle Longa S. Maria Formosa, 5176/b, 30122 Castello, Venezia VE, Italy
It is a bookshop that could only exist in Venice. A black gondola sits marooned in the middle of the narrow store, as though it had been pulled out of the canal a few steps away with its cargo of novels. Outside more books are held in baskets and wagons.  The Libreria Acqua Alta, as its name expresses, knows full well the danger its wares are in from the sea.  In its courtyards, towers of moldering, waterlogged books serve as a staircase to the street.  Books and water do not mix, and yet this shop sits below street level in a sinking, often-flooded city.

Being inside, looking at the stuffed shelves and barrels makes me uneasy, as I can't help but imagine the nearby sea rushing in and drowning all of it. Like everything else in Venice, the Libreria Acqua Alta's very beauty lies in its ephemeral nature. It is something that should not exist, but does.

A book that only exists in Venice.

September 24, 2018

Book Review: Ghosted by Rosie Walsh

When Sarah meets Eddie, they connect instantly and fall in love. To Sarah, it seems as though her life has finally begun. And it’s mutual: It’s as though Eddie has been waiting for her, too. Sarah has never been so certain of anything. So when Eddie leaves for a long-booked vacation and promises to call from the airport, she has no cause to doubt him. But he doesn’t call.

Sarah’s friends tell her to forget about him, but she can’t. She knows something’s happened–there must be an explanation.

Minutes, days, weeks go by as Sarah becomes increasingly worried. But then she discovers she’s right. There is a reason for Eddie’s disappearance, and it’s the one thing they didn’t share with each other: the truth.
Source: Urban Dictionary
You’re going to think that you have the whole thing figured out close to the beginning – like I did. And perhaps debate on whether or not to read on. DON’T STOP READING. Just when you think you know exactly what happened – why Eric didn’t call Sarah – the book will flip the script on you.  Come a certain point I had to reread a bombshell of a sentence three times. Then a bit further on, just when I was really invested, I cried out loud, “No! Why are you playing with my feelings like this???” 

Ghosted didn’t quite break my heart – but it certainly came close to it. And if you’re like me, you will want to settle in for a good chunk of time because you will not want to stop for anything to get to the truth. I read all night – and it was worth it!

Yes, this book is wish fulfillment fantasy reading for anyone who’s ever been ghosted and left wondering. You might have even done some mental gymnastics to explain why he didn’t call – he got in an accident and broke both his hands, as well as his phone, and had temporary amnesia, etc… Just as Sarah does in this book. You might have shrugged off your friends' gentle piercings of your bubble, sure of the undeniable chemistry between the two of you. And just like Sarah you might have done some cyber investigating, looking through social media to find clues as to what ever happened to the guy who inexplicably disappeared from your life.  

However, the typical ghosting situation probably doesn’t have the complicated backstory in this book. So, I hate to break it to you – but he probably just wasn’t that into you.

September 17, 2018

Book Review: I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land by Connie Willis

Jim is in New York City at Christmastime shopping a book based on his blog—Gone for Good— premised on the fact that “being nostalgic for things that have disappeared is ridiculous.” Progress decides for people what they need and what’s obsolete. It’s that simple. Of course, not everyone agrees. After Jim bombs a contentious interview with a radio host who defends the sacred technology of the printed, tangible book, he gets caught in a rainstorm only to find himself with no place to take refuge other than a quaint, old-fashioned bookshop.

Ozymandias Books is not just any store. Jim wanders intrigued through stacks of tomes he doesn’t quite recognize the titles of, none with prices. Here he discovers a mysteriously pristine, seemingly endless wonderland of books—where even he gets nostalgic for his childhood favorite. And, yes, the overwhelmed and busy clerk showing him around says they have a copy. But it’s only after Jim leaves that he understands the true nature of Ozymandias and how tragic it is that some things may be gone forever…

Ozymandias by Percy Bysse Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

I expected, after reading this neat novella, to have been persuaded to the opinion that print is sacred and that e-books are evil, as the aforementioned radio host declares.  The media of the present can become degraded over time; therefore, the digital books of today might be unreadable tomorrow which means that its contents, if not backed up, would be forever gone. 

I'm not sure what message, if any, Willis was trying to prove.  But whether in print form or digital - books are precious to me for their content. Yet, Jim's journey through the vast expanse of Ozymandias, which is full of books he has never heard of - "rescued" from fires, estate sales, and other disasters - fetishizes the printed word. The demise of any physical book is portrayed as tragic. But most of the books in Ozymandias have titles such as How to Remodel Your Patio, No Effort Weight Loss, a 1928 Brooklyn phone book.  In other words - they are not worth saving. The vast wasteland of forgotten books doesn't inspire as much sadness as I thought it would. Like Ozymandias of the Shelley poem - these books are the last vestiges of a dead empire.

September 10, 2018

Book Review: Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton

They go through both bottles of champagne right there on the High Line, with nothing but the stars over them... They drink and Lavinia tells Louise about all the places they will go together, when they finish their stories, when they are both great writers-to Paris and to Rome and to Trieste...

Lavinia will never go. She is going to die soon.

Louise has nothing. Lavinia has everything. After a chance encounter, the two spiral into an intimate, intense, and possibly toxic friendship. A Talented Mr. Ripley for the digital age, this seductive story takes a classic tale of obsession and makes it irresistibly new.

Yes, Social Creature pretty much follows the plot of The Talented Mr. Ripley:  Poor nobody cons her way into becoming friends with one of the rich and beautiful people. The conniving nobody, Louise, is only somewhat sympathetic. Lavinia, the fascinating creature she becomes obsessed with, quickly becomes annoying. She is a manic pixie dream girl on steroids and sounds more exhausting than intriguing. Neither comes off in a particularly flattering light. Lavinia's rarified existence, and her circle of friends who share the same, makes a dreary contrast with the life of regular folks like Louise. When things take a drastic turn for the worse, I wanted to shake Louise for lacking self-respect and dignity yet at the same time hoping she gets away with her con. Upon finishing, I couldn't tell if Louise ultimately succeeded or not. The ambiguous ending leaves room for a sequel(s). 


The "social" of the title refers to Louise utilizing social media to aid in her deception. Being set in the digital age, I had to question how slowly her crime(s) were uncovered.  Considering surveillance cameras, geo-location of snaps and photos, as well as cell location data - Louise should have been caught immediately, especially as her crime(s) involved a rich and Insta-famous person.  

September 3, 2018

Book Review: Paris Ever After by K.S.R Burns

Source: Author

When Amy left her stale life and crumbling marriage in Phoenix for the enchanting gardens and cozy cafés of Paris, she not only conquered her food issues and learned to enjoy a good croissant, she began to build the beautiful, elegant, and loving life she’d always longed for. Then, on Amy’s thirtieth birthday, her estranged husband William shows up—with no warning. Before Amy has a chance to find out if he’s after reconciliation or separation, a second newcomer arrives, unleashing a chaos that threatens to leave her homeless. As secrets are revealed and surprises occur on seemingly an hourly basis, Amy must choose between two very different worlds, each with a claim on her heart. 

Paris Ever After is the sequel to The Paris Effect, which I did not read. Although you get the gist of what happened in the first book, I think you would be better served having read The Paris Effect prior to the sequel. I found myself disoriented for the first 3 chapters, which detracted from my enjoyment of the story itself. I kept wondering why Amy ran off and left William in the first place. I really wanted more details on how Amy met the people that are now so important in her life in Paris. (And maybe take some notes. What incredible luck to have found such loyal friends!) Finally - the first book has a party in the catacombs! Worth reading just for that. There are only tantalizing references to that legendary scene in the sequel, which sadly has no similar scene.  

However, it does have some surprises of its own – such as a magical scene of a castle hidden in the midst of urban Paris, a character very shockingly turning up from the dead, a kidnapping, and of course … you have Paris.  

“…the first time I stepped onto a Paris sidewalk, I felt wholly at ease.  The sky was the color of pewter. The streets were shiny jet black from a night of rain. I walked for miles, sloshing straight through puddles, invincible in my boots and then-pristine black fingertip-length trench coat.  It was, to date, the nicest walk of my entire life.”

I have to say, no matter how unstable Amy’s life in Paris got, life in Phoenix never stood a chance. 

August 27, 2018

Book Review: The Girlfriend by Michelle Frances

She loves your son. She wants your life. How far would you go to protect your son?

Laura has it all. A successful career, a long marriage to a rich husband, and a twenty-three year-old son, Daniel, who is kind, handsome, and talented. Then Daniel meets Cherry. Cherry is young, beautiful and smart but hasn’t led Laura’s golden life. And she wants it.

When tragedy strikes, a decision is made and a lie is told. A lie so terrible it changes their lives forever . . .

No matter how terrible your relationship with your in-law is, I will bet anything that it will look downright pleasant compared to what happens in The Girlfriend. Things start out promisingly for Cherry, Daniel and Laura and then somehow things snowball from bad to worse to yikes!  Neither Cherry nor Laura end up looking great. Both do some things that are unforgivable. But one definitely gets the off-the-charts-psycho-crazy crown. And Daniel certainly seems clueless, torn between his mother and Cherry.  One thing I couldn't become convinced of is how fast and hard Daniel fell for Cherry. There seemed to be nothing special in their interactions that would warrant how seriously their relationship evolved. But despite this disbelief, I was hooked and quickly read The Girlfriend, wanting to see what crazy development happens next. 

August 20, 2018

Book Review: How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

Tom Hazard has just moved back to London, his old home, to settle down and become a high school history teacher. And on his first day at school, he meets a captivating French teacher at his school who seems fascinated by him. But Tom has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. Tom has lived history–performing with Shakespeare, exploring the high seas with Captain Cook, and sharing cocktails with Fitzgerald. Now, he just wants an ordinary life.

Unfortunately for Tom, the Albatross Society, the secretive group which protects people like Tom, has one rule: Never fall in love. As painful memories of his past and the erratic behavior of the Society’s watchful leader threaten to derail his new life and romance, the one thing he can’t have just happens to be the one thing that might save him. Tom will have to decide once and for all whether to remain stuck in the past, or finally begin living in the present.

The Age of Adeline, but with Shakespeare and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Okay, our protagonist actually ages, unlike Adeline - but very, very slowly, about a decade for every century.  Not bad, right? There is no magical component to Tom's "agelessness," but a medical condition which is the opposite of the better known progeria (which is an abnormally advanced rate of aging).

Like The Age of Adeline, Tom has to deal with the dangers and curse of seemingly never aging. In the 1700s, he is accused of black magic - although appearing to be fourteen when you're really eighteen doesn't seem that alarming or noticeable to me. Appearing to be fourteen for a decade would.  (This was my problem with the movie as well.) I think moving and assuming a new identity every 8 years seems a bit much. But then I live in a time when almost 60-year-olds like Madonna retain the appearance of youth through botox, plastic surgery, and clean living.  I suppose in the olden days people aged much faster and so moving every 8 years might have been smart. 

As to the name-dropping - I just had to scoff every time someone famous (and male) entered the narrative.  Not everybody who lived in 1700s London met Shakespeare. Not everyone in 1920s Paris drank with Fitzgerald. I suppose that's what I appreciated about The Age of Adeline - as it dealt with an otherwise normal human being trying to live discreetly as she outwardly retains a 29-year-old appearance for 80 years. 

"The first rule is that you don't fall in love."

"You are, of course, allowed to love food and music and champagne and rare sunny afternoons in October.  You can love the sight of waterfalls and the smell of old books, but the love of people is off limits... Don't attach yourself to people and try to feel as little as you possibly can for those you do meet. Because otherwise you will slowly lose your mind."

I also was not convinced of Tom's modern romantic situation - not enough there to make me believe his 400-year-old heart will suddenly be rejuvenated.  

So far, if you're keeping count, I was far more taken with The Age of Adeline than How to Stop Time. However, the book has an ace up its sleeve in the form of the handsome Benedict Cumberbatch.  Yes, it's going to be a movie folks.  I'm more than curious to see how this translates on film and will definitely go see it.  

August 13, 2018

Book Review: Believe Me by J.P. Delaney

Source: Vine

A struggling actor, a Brit in America without a green card, Claire needs work and money to survive. Then she gets both. But nothing like she expected.

Claire agrees to become a decoy for a firm of divorce lawyers. Hired to entrap straying husbands, she must catch them on tape with their seductive propositions.

The rules? Never hit on the mark directly. Make it clear you’re available, but he has to proposition you, not the other way around. The firm is after evidence, not coercion. The innocent have nothing to hide.

Then the game changes.

When the wife of one of Claire’s targets is violently murdered, the cops are sure the husband is to blame. Desperate to catch him before he kills again, they enlist Claire to lure him into a confession.

Claire can do this. She’s brilliant at assuming a voice and an identity. For a woman who’s mastered the art of manipulation, how difficult could it be to tempt a killer into a trap?

But who is the decoy . . . and who is the prey?

I have been reading so many psychological thrillers lately that I’ve started seeing some of the same tropes repeated (you have no idea how many times twins ends up being the twist) and nothing seems fresh anymore. It was going to take quite some doing to surprise me – and believe it or not, Believe Me managed to do just that. (Spoiler alert - No twins here!)

I wasn’t planning on reading this book in one sitting, but from the first page, I was completely immersed and had to drop everything to continue until the end.  I thought the story was going one way, only for it to reverse, then turn upside down and sideways until I didn’t know what to think – except for one thing, which is to hang on for the ride. And a wild ride it is. I guarantee you are going to say WTF?! at least a couple times (in a good way) and then thumb back towards prior chapters/scenes just to realize, yep, it actually went there.

Let’s talk about style for a second – at times the narrative was told in script format (like a play or movie script) which I thought at first was just a gimmick because Claire is a struggling actress. But since I’m mentioning it here, you know it isn’t a throwaway detail. 

Now let’s talk about substance. I loved how Delaney wove in Charles Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil and Baudelaire’s personal life as an integral part of how the story unfolds. This touch elevated Believe Me into another realm and made me want to revisit Baudelaire’s poems and read more about his life. Someone should stage My Heart Laid Bare – please!!!

I have more memories than if I had lived a thousand years.
An old desk full of dead ideas
Is not more full of secrets than my aching head…

It’s a necropolis; a grave in which the dead-
Those bodies I once loved – are tumbled willy-nilly,
Prodded and nudged incessantly
By morbid reveries, like worms.
Charles Baudelaire's Grave
Montparnasse Cemetery

August 6, 2018

Book Review: Grim Lovelies by Megan Shepherd

Source: Netgalley

Publication Date: October 2, 2018

Seventeen-year-old Anouk envies the human world, where people known as Pretties lavish themselves in fast cars, high fashion, and have the freedom to fall in love. But Anouk can never have those things, because she is not really human. Enchanted from animal to human girl and forbidden to venture beyond her familiar Parisian prison, Anouk is a Beastie: destined for a life surrounded by dust bunnies and cinders serving Mada Vittora, the evil witch who spelled her into existence. That is, until one day she finds her mistress murdered in a pool of blood—and Anouk is accused of the crime.

Now, the world she always dreamed of is rife with danger. Pursued through Paris by the underground magical society known as the Haute, Anouk and her fellow Beasties only have three days to find the real killer before the spell keeping them human fades away. If they fail, they will lose the only lives they’ve ever known…but if they succeed, they could be more powerful than anyone ever bargained for.

Grim Lovelies bewitched me from the first page to the last. I love everything about this book –starting with the decadent black and red cover which perfectly embodies everything inside its pages:

Goblins partying in the catacombs
Witches who as get their powers from living things
Beasties – animals transformed to humans 
Fighting topiaries
Hermes bags masquerading oubliettes
Animal sacrifice (FYI)

And … Paris!

“The more she saw of Paris, the more dreamlike it was; she wasn’t sure where the streetlights ended and the stars began.”

Grim Lovelies married two of my reading loves: Paris and rich fantasy.  Shepherd’s worldbuilding – of a magical Paris alongside an unsuspecting human one – is intricate. I willingly fell under its spell.  Once I started reading, I didn’t want to stop, eager to experience whatever strange and beautiful/repulsive surprise she had in store. Besides the storytelling, I loved the inclusion of gay and transgender fairy tale themes which made the narrative all the richer.  

I cannot wait for the sequel … The Gargoyle Witch???

“’You aren’t heroes.’

“’Then what are we?’

“’Monsters! Oh come, don’t look surprised. Nothing good is ever created from magic. You were made to be the most terrifying thing in the known world.’”

July 30, 2018

Book Review: Nightmare House by Douglas Clegg

Some houses go bad. Harrow was born that way. Claiming his inheritance, a young man unlocks long-buried secrets within his occultist-grandfather's house of infinite hauntings, awakening a nest of hungry ghosts. 

Don't be fooled by the rather pulpy, sensational title - Nightmare House is a well-written, old-fashioned novel which brought to mind Turn of the Screw by Henry James and Wilkie Collins.  I'm glad I decided to take a chance with it, clued in from the synopsis that it was not going to be a cheap thrill.  And when it opened to an epigram from "The Lady of Shalott," I quirked an eyebrow - this should be interesting.  There was a time in my life when I was obsessed with Tennyson's poem and the related Pre-Raphaelite paintings.  (I kind of still am, actually.)  I had to smile in appreciation once I saw how Clegg developed this theme throughout Nightmare House in a most ingenious interpretation. As far as I know, this novel stands apart in the "oeuvre."  

"I would never all a work of architecture evil; now would I suggest that a house could be anything but a benign presence. It is always the human element that corrodes the stones and the wood and the brick and the foundation. It is the human heart that bends the floors and burns the rooms and imbues the structure with the spirit of error and false remembrance."

Although it is set in the 1920s, Nightmare House is written in the style of a full-blown Victorian gothic. Clegg masterfully sets the tone with ominous foreboding when Ethan Gravesend arrives at Harrow estate, his inheritance. Of course not long after arrival, he makes a horrifying discovery whose mystery he tries to solve - leading him to the center of his worst nightmare.

July 23, 2018

Book Review: Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

Everyone knows a couple like Jack and Grace. He has looks and wealth; she has charm and elegance. He’s a dedicated attorney who has never lost a case; she is a flawless homemaker, a masterful gardener and cook, and dotes on her disabled younger sister. Though they are still newlyweds, they seem to have it all. You might not want to like them, but you do. You’re hopelessly charmed by the ease and comfort of their home, by the graciousness of the dinner parties they throw. You’d like to get to know Grace better.

But it’s difficult, because you realize Jack and Grace are inseparable.

Some might call this true love. Others might wonder why Grace never answers the phone. Or why she can never meet for coffee, even though she doesn’t work. How she can cook such elaborate meals but remain so slim. Or why she never seems to take anything with her when she leaves the house, not even a pen. Or why there are such high-security metal shutters on all the downstairs windows.

Some might wonder what’s really going on once the dinner party is over, and the front door has closed.

Grace is an idiot.  Her learning disabled sister has more going on than she does - and coincidentally is my favorite character with my favorite scene in the whole novel. Grace is one of the characters that you just want to shake.  There is one scene in particular where after having discovered the full extent of the dangers she's in, she decides to take a shower so she can refresh herself- thereby dooming herself and her sister for a long time.  Despite this "Are you out of your mind?!" scene, I did continue all the way to the end.  The villain gets their comeuppance - although it is off-scene.  The ending is ultimately satisfactory despite the protagonist's frustrating decisions.  If a movie does get made, the script writer is going to have to fix the holes in the narrative for the audience to adequately suspend their disbelief.  

Poor George Clooney...

July 16, 2018

Book Review: Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Louise is a single mom, a secretary, stuck in a modern-day rut. On a rare night out, she meets a man in a bar and sparks fly. Though he leaves after they kiss, she’s thrilled she finally connected with someone.

When Louise arrives at work on Monday, she meets her new boss, David. The man from the bar. The very married man from the bar…who says the kiss was a terrible mistake, but who still can’t keep his eyes off Louise.

And then Louise bumps into Adele, who’s new to town and in need of a friend. But she also just happens to be married to David. And if you think you know where this story is going, think again, because Behind Her Eyes is like no other book you’ve read before.

David and Adele look like the picture-perfect husband and wife. But then why is David so controlling? And why is Adele so scared of him?

As Louise is drawn into David and Adele’s orbit, she uncovers more puzzling questions than answers. The only thing that is crystal clear is that something in this marriage is very, very wrong. But Louise can’t guess how wrong—and how far a person might go to protect their marriage’s secrets.

In Behind Her Eyes, Sarah Pinborough has written a novel that takes the modern day love triangle and not only turns it on its head, but completely reinvents it in a way that will leave readers reeling.

Once you get to the last, big twist, you'll either going to be stunned and think how brilliant or stunned and think you've been had. I'm firmly of the camp that feels it has been tricked.

If you're still curious, I would caution you to stop right here and just read the book.  

Still here?

Okay, don't say I didn't warn you.

Because although this book is marketed as a thriller, it is not.  It's actually a supernatural story masquerading as a domestic thriller.  I kept reading expecting an ingenious but empirically-based reveal only to find myself in the paranormal realm.  If one weren't expecting this switcheroo one might find it amazing and inventive and creative.  I just felt duped.  Instead of unreliable narrators, this book has an unreliable classification.  

Shame! Shame! Shame!

July 9, 2018

Book Review: City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

Publication Date: August 28, 2018

Cassidy Blake's parents are The Inspecters, a (somewhat inept) ghost-hunting team. But Cass herself can really see ghosts. In fact, her best friend, Jacob, just happens to be one.

When The Inspecters head to ultra-haunted Edinburgh, Scotland, for their new TV show, Cass and Jacob come along. In Scotland, Cass is surrounded by ghosts, not all of them friendly. Then she meets Lara, a girl who can also see the dead. But Lara tells Cassidy that as an In-betweener, their job is to send ghosts permanently beyond the Veil. 

Cass isn't sure about her new mission, but she does know the sinister Red Raven haunting the city doesn't belong in her world. Cassidy's powers will draw her into an epic fight that stretches through the worlds of the living and the dead, in order to save herself.

How cool is it that Schwab set part of this novel in Edinburgh and somehow worked in the cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter and Greyfriars Cemetery where Rowling got inspiration for some of the characters?! I made a special Harry Potter pilgrimage to Edinburgh a couple years ago so I could clearly picture the places mentioned and described.  

But aside from this connection -I especially enjoyed Cass and Jacob's friendship and interaction.  Even though she's alive ... and he's not.  I also liked Cass's quirky ghost-hunting parents. The story moved fast, especially when the setting changed to Scotland and Cass makes a friend, as well as frightening spectral enemy called the Raven in Red.

Ghosts, mysteries and chills - City of Ghosts is an engaging middle grade fantasy that this adult enjoyed. I'm sure the 7-11 year olds will enjoy as well

July 2, 2018

Book Review: The Summer List by Amy Mason Doan

A breathtaking secret that will change everything…

As young girls, Laura and Casey were inseparable in their small California lakeside town, playing scavenger hunts under the starry skies all summer long. Until one night, when a shocking betrayal shatters their friendship seemingly forever

But after seventeen years away, the past is impossible to escape and Laura returns home. Tthis time, a bittersweet trail of clues leads brings back her most cherished memories with Casey. Yet just as the game brings Laura and Casey back together, the clues unravel a stunning secret that threatens to tear them apart.

The title pretty much encapsulates the mood and flavor of this novel.  It is a story set in summers past and to be read in the long, languid days by the beach or pool. 

When we first meet Casey and Laura, they are estranged adults who have not seen each other in many years. It is a tense and awkward meeting with troubling undercurrents.  Once close and inseparable childhood friends, they are now estranged.  What happened in the intervening years is unspoken and through the following narrative, with flashbacks of summers past and different points of view, we discover the complicated story or, rather, stories. Not just a story about friendships, the novel also delves into the girls' relationships with their mothers. 

What most touched me and remained with me after the last page were the parts set in the past summers when Casey and Laura were young and close. Doan perfectly captured the special and magical bonds of friendship. 

Put this book in your summer reading list.

June 27, 2018

Book Review: The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

Grace Bradley went to work at Riverton House as a servant when she was just a girl, before the First World War. For years her life was inextricably tied up with the Hartford family, most particularly the two daughters, Hannah and Emmeline.

In the summer of 1924, at a glittering society party held at the house, a young poet shot himself. The only witnesses were Hannah and Emmeline and only they -- and Grace -- know the truth.

In 1999, when Grace is ninety-eight years old and living out her last days in a nursing home, she is visited by a young director who is making a film about the events of that summer. She takes Grace back to Riverton House and reawakens her memories. Told in flashback, this is the story of Grace's youth during the last days of Edwardian aristocratic privilege shattered by war, of the vibrant twenties and the changes she witnessed as an entire way of life vanished forever.

The novel is full of secrets -- some revealed, others hidden forever, reminiscent of the romantic suspense of Daphne du Maurier. It is also a meditation on memory, the devastation of war and a beautifully rendered window into a fascinating time in history.

I was tearing through a steady diet of domestic thrillers this month when I had a sudden craving for something different. Something that Kate Morton might write, thought I. I half-heartedly perused online, which did not lack for suggestions. “For fans of Kate Morton” is an enticing promise on many a historical novel. But none could tempt so I just decided to read the original, one-and-only.  The House of Riverton is the one that made me a Kate Morton fan and upon revisiting it, I fell in love once again with this haunting story. 

Current summaries compare this novel to Downton Abbey but The House of Riverton was written years before --- and did it much better. The upstairs-downstairs dynamic. The glimpse of English gentry just before and then after World War I, class uprising and suffrage changed everything. 

Secrets, terrible mistakes, doomed love affairs – it’s all here, irresistibly unfolding before my captive eyes and beguiling me anew as if I had not read it all twice before. The journey and the ending are no less devastating. 

This time around, after turning the last page, I began imagining who I would cast as the main characters if I were to make the movie.  If you’ve read The House at Riverton, what do you think of my casting choices?

Robbie Hunter – I immediately thought of Colin Morgan as the doomed poet. He’s striking and beautiful, dark and tragic.

Emmeline Hartford – This was an easy pick as well. Lily James is a shoo-in for the reckless society girl.

Hannah Hartford – I had a bit of trouble with this character. Not only did she have to be beautiful, but have a mysterious aloofness to her. Some substance and spirit, in contrast to Emmeline’s party-loving personality. I loved Blake Lively’s performance as the remote beauty in Age of Adeline, which reminded me very much of Hannah.

Grace – I had trouble with this one too, and in the end I had to refer to the book’s rather suggestive minor character – an actress in modern times who will play Grace in the movie in the book, whose name was “Kiera.”

June 18, 2018

Book Review: Matchmaking for Beginners by Maddie Dawson

Marnie MacGraw wants an ordinary life—a husband, kids, and a minivan in the suburbs. Now that she’s marrying the man of her dreams, she’s sure this is the life she’ll get. Then Marnie meets Blix Holliday, her fiancé’s irascible matchmaking great-aunt who’s dying, and everything changes—just as Blix told her it would.

When her marriage ends after two miserable weeks, Marnie is understandably shocked. She’s even more astonished to find that she’s inherited Blix’s Brooklyn brownstone along with all of Blix’s unfinished “projects”: the heartbroken, oddball friends and neighbors running from happiness. Marnie doesn’t believe she’s anything special, but Blix somehow knew she was the perfect person to follow in her matchmaker footsteps.

And Blix was also right about some things Marnie must learn the hard way: love is hard to recognize, and the ones who push love away often are the ones who need it most.

Matchmaking for Beginners is a very charming book, much like the eccentric and otherworldly Blix.  She sees people’s auras and colors and has a sixth sense of which person should go with whom. Knowing that she’s about to die, she bequeaths her Brooklyn house to Marnie, her nephew’s ex, whom she’s only met once. Along with the house, Marnie inherits Blix’s friends and Blix’s magical matchmaking gift. Marnie is at first resistant but eventually, she finds that she was meant for this life.

“You need to forget what society has told you about life and expectations, and don’t let anybody make you pretend.  You are enough, just the way you are – do you hear me? You have many gifts.  Many, many gifts.”

Although the book ends happily, some aspects of the story just felt wrong to me. First is Blix’s declaration to Marnie that she was meant for a “big life” as opposed to the ordinary life Marnie saw for herself – being married, domestic bliss, a job, children, etc. But by “big life”, Blix meant a life in Brooklyn in a charming brownstone with a collection of bohemian friends.  That doesn’t sound very “big” to me.  To me, “big life” means she’s going to find the cure for cancer or have adventures in the Amazon or jump out of planes. Suburbs = small.  Brooklyn = big.  I found nothing especially “big” about the life the author described.  

Secondly, it really grated on my nerves when Blix, and then Marnie, insisted on the introverted Patrick attending parties. The author made it seem like preferring to be around one person at a time versus lots of people as pathetically sad.  Only when he came upstairs to go to their parties was he deemed saved by their extroverted ways.  As an introvert, I found nothing wrong with Patrick preferring to hang with one friend at a time. I hate it when people insist that something must be wrong with me for not wanting to be around lots of people all the time.  This of course is my personal preference. I just saw these scenes in a different way than the author intended. I felt really bad for Patrick being forced to be sociable when he did not want to be.  Blix and Marnie should just have accepted Patrick just the way he was – the way true friends should.

“There is so much fear to wade through before you get to love.”

“The subversive truth about love is that it really is the big deal everyone makes it out to be, and it’s not some form of security or an insurance policy against loneliness.  It’s everything, love is.  It runs the whole universe.”

June 11, 2018

Book Review: Half Bad by Sally Green

In modern-day England, witches live alongside humans: White witches, who are good; Black witches, who are evil; and sixteen-year-old Nathan, who is both. Nathan’s father is the world’s most powerful and cruel Black witch, and his mother is dead. He is hunted from all sides. Trapped in a cage, beaten and handcuffed, Nathan must escape before his seventeenth birthday, at which point he will receive three gifts from his father and come into his own as a witch—or else he will die. But how can Nathan find his father when his every action is tracked, when there is no one safe to trust—not even family, not even the girl he loves?

In the tradition of Patrick Ness and Markus Zusak, Half Bad is a gripping tale of alienation and the indomitable will to survive, a story that will grab hold of you and not let go until the very last page.

I dare you to read the first 3% of Half Bad and not immediately want to drop everything else in your life. Because that happened to me and unfortunately, I was at work so spent an unbearable but delicious few hours until I got off, anticipating how I was going to tear into the following 97% for the rest of the night.

What hooked me so hard and so fast? I knew very little about this book before downloading it.  Witches.  That’s it. That’s all I knew. So when the novel opened with an arresting second person POV– putting me in the place of the boy in the cage - I was instantly riveted.  How was this poor creature going to escape his impossible situation and how did he end up in a cage in the first place? I literally woke up at 1:00 a.m. in the morning just to continue reading this book. 

The white witches are considered “good” and the black witches “bad.” The dichotomy is very stark and troubling as it seems to be along racial lines as well. The white witches seem to be, well very white Caucasians and the baddest of the black witches is darker-skinned. Green stops short of making an overt statement about good/bad white-skinned/dark-skinned, but perhaps she’ll develop this further in the sequels.  

Inspite of the great amount of wince-inducing violence, mostly directed at our protagonist, Nathan, and my not-so-clear understanding of how this magical world operated, Half Bad was an exciting discovery. Doubly so because I instantly got the next book, Half Wild, as soon I finished reading the last page.  

June 4, 2018

Book Review: What Should Be Wild by Julia Fine

Cursed. Maisie Cothay has never known the feel of human flesh: born with the power to kill or resurrect at her slightest touch, she has spent her childhood sequestered in her family’s manor at the edge of a mysterious forest. Maisie’s father, an anthropologist who sees her as more experiment than daughter, has warned Maisie not to venture into the wood. Locals talk of men disappearing within, emerging with addled minds and strange stories. What he does not tell Maisie is that for over a millennium her female ancestors have also vanished into the wood, never to emerge—for she is descended from a long line of cursed women.

But one day Maisie’s father disappears, and Maisie must venture beyond the walls of her carefully constructed life to find him. Away from her home and the wood for the very first time, she encounters a strange world filled with wonder and deception. Yet the farther she strays, the more the wood calls her home. For only there can Maisie finally reckon with her power and come to understand the wildest parts of herself.

"They grew me inside my mother, which was unusual because she was dead." - Don't even try resisting this book with a first line like that. 

Maisie kills her mother while still her womb because she has the power to kill - and revive - with a touch of her hand.  Somehow, she survives in her dead mother's womb and is delivered to a life where her protective father and housekeeper keep her sequestered from the world in the family estate called Urizon.  She grows up without being hugged or kissed or touched at all.  Her power is such that she can even make inanimate objects, such as wood floors, come alive. It turns out the Maisie is one in a long line of women who are "cursed" with supernatural gifts that have somewhat to do with the mysterious wood near Urizon. 

The narrative alternates between Maisie's story and that of the other women in her family throughout the ages who have been afflicted. I was more drawn to these other storylines and felt a shock every time the narrative switched back to the present. The overall theme linking the past and Maisie is one of magic intertwined with female sexuality and oppression. Somehow the wood, where the women disappear into is at once menacing and a safe space - where they live in immortality. What Should Be Wild has a strange atmosphere that drew me in immediately.  I took my time in this world and although some of the revelations were unexpected, the novel was an overall satisfying experience.