December 3, 2018

Book Review: Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

Publication Date: December 4, 2018

Source: Netgalley

On a dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the river Thames, an extraordinary event takes place. The regulars are telling stories to while away the dark hours, when the door bursts open on a grievously wounded stranger. In his arms is the lifeless body of a small child. Hours later, the girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life. Is it a miracle? Is it magic? Or can science provide an explanation? These questions have many answers, some of them quite dark indeed.

Those who dwell on the river bank apply all their ingenuity to solving the puzzle of the girl who died and lived again, yet as the days pass the mystery only deepens. The child herself is mute and unable to answer the essential questions: Who is she? Where did she come from? And to whom does she belong? But answers proliferate nonetheless.

Three families are keen to claim her. A wealthy young mother knows the girl is her kidnapped daughter, missing for two years. A farming family reeling from the discovery of their son’s secret liaison, stand ready to welcome their granddaughter. The parson’s housekeeper, humble and isolated, sees in the child the image of her younger sister. But the return of a lost child is not without complications and no matter how heartbreaking the past losses, no matter how precious the child herself, this girl cannot be everyone’s. Each family has mysteries of its own, and many secrets must be revealed before the girl’s identity can be known.

“When a story is yours to tell, you are allowed to take liberties with it.”  

In Once Upon a River, the river Thames is a symbol for stories and storytelling – it is what connects people, winding its way from village to village, drawing them in, sometimes swallowing them whole.  Fascinating and dangerous, all at once.  The pale child, thought to have drowned but miraculously come alive, is a mysterious cipher.  She is the blank slate or canvas upon whom everyone projects their own interpretation of what she is and how she figures in their own tragic narrative.  The cast of characters is vast, but like the river, Setterfield unites them all and renders each with fine, specific strokes. 

They were collectors of words the same way so many of the gravel diggers were collectors of fossils.  They kept an ear constantly alert for them, the rare, the unusual, the unique.”

Like in The Thirteenth Tale and Bellman and Black, Setterfield weaves a rich and layered narrative in Once Upon a River. However, it might move a tad too slow – more like a still but deep river on a summer’s day, rather than a raging rapid. Also, the heavy-handed allusion to storytelling might be too distracting for some. Once Upon a River is best experienced by letting yourself surrender to the currents and drifting wherever the story takes you.

“So it was that after the impossible event, and the hour of the first puzzling and wondering, came the various departures from the Swan and the first of the tellings.  But finally, while the night was still dark, everybody at last was in bed and the story settled like sediment in the minds of them all, witnesses, tellers, listeners.  The only sleepless one was the child herself, who, at the heart of this tale, breathed the seconds lightly in and lightly out while she gazed at nothing and listened to the sound of the river rushing by.”

November 26, 2018

Book Review: The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton

My real name, no one remembers.
The truth about that summer, no one else knows.

In the summer of 1862, a group of young artists led by the passionate and talented Edward Radcliffe descends upon Birchwood Manor on the banks of the Upper Thames. Their plan: to spend a secluded summer month in a haze of inspiration and creativity. But by the time their stay is over, one woman has been shot dead while another has disappeared; a priceless heirloom is missing; and Edward Radcliffe’s life is in ruins.

Over one hundred and fifty years later, Elodie Winslow, a young archivist in London, uncovers a leather satchel containing two seemingly unrelated items: a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artist’s sketchbook containing the drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river.

Why does Birchwood Manor feel so familiar to Elodie? And who is the beautiful woman in the photograph? Will she ever give up her secrets?

Told by multiple voices across time, The Clockmaker’s Daughter is a story of murder, mystery, and thievery, of art, love, and loss. And flowing through its pages like a river, is the voice of a woman who stands outside time, whose name has been forgotten by history, but who has watched it all unfold: Birdie Bell, the clockmaker’s daughter.

This is a difficult review for me to write. Not because I don’t know what to say, but because how I feel about this novel differs from my usual rapturous response – couldn’t-turn-the-pages fast enough reaction - to previous Kate Morton novels.  To be clear, Kate Morton is still one of my top favorite authors of all time. And I will certainly pre-order all her subsequent books. I am willing to own that I may have been in a peculiar funk when I started reading.  Anything is possible.  

The Clockmaker’s Daughter has the hallmarks of the Kate Morton style (oft-imitated but still unequalled): The juxtaposition of past and present narratives, a tragic mystery in the past that still affects the present, doomed characters, and vivid writing that simply takes my breath away. Add to that a storyline about the Magenta Brotherhood – which is modeled after the Pre-Raphaelites (one of my loves), and The Clockmaker’s Daughter seems to fire all my reading cannons.  The evocative descriptions of the settings, seedy London and enchanting Birchwood Manor, as well the passages dealing with Edward Radcliffe’s paintings, bewitched me.  

Yet, I took an abnormally long time to finish this book. To pinpoint – the multiple storylines and array of characters bogged me down. The cast was simply too vast for me. There were only a few I really cared about and wanted to stay with, primarily Lily and Edward, Pale Joe, Elodie, and Lucy. The others, such as Leonard and Juliet, elicited only frustration on my part, and impatience to get back to the real story. Though they may have felt like digressions, by the end, upon uncovering the truth that “slipped through the cracks of time”, I was again fully invested in the novel and felt haunted by the main characters. 

“When he turned the handle of the gate, he stood, transfixed, as it opened like the cover of a book onto a scene that seemed too perfect to be real.  An effusive garden grew between the flagstone path and the house, foxgloves waving brightly in the breeze, daisies and violets chattering over the edges of the paving stones. The jasmine that covered the garden wall continued its spread across the front of the house, surrounding the multipaned windows to tangle with the voracious red flowers of the honeysuckle creeper as it clambered over the roof of the entry alcove.  The garden was alive with insects and birds, which made the house seem still and silent, like a Sleeping Beauty house. Leonard felt, as he took his first step onto the path, as if he were walking back through time; he could almost see Radcliffe and his friends with their paints and easels set up on the lawn beyond the blackberry bramble…”

November 5, 2018

Book Review: Milk Street: Tuesday Nights by Christopher Kimball

Publication Date: October 16, 2018

Source: Vine

At Christopher Kimball's Milk Street, Tuesdays are the new Saturdays. That means every Tuesday Nights recipe delivers big, bold flavors, but the cooking is quick and easy--simple enough for the middle of the week.

Kimball and his team of cooks and editors search the world for straightforward techniques that deliver delicious dinners in less time. Here they present more than 200 solutions that will transform your weeknight cooking, showing how to make simple, healthy, delicious meals using pantry staples and just a few other ingredients.

This recipe book is divided into 9 sections: Fast (45 minutes or under), Faster (35 minutes or under), Fastest (30 minutes or under), Easy Additions, Supper Salads, Pizza Night, One Pot, Roast and Simmer, and Sweets. Surprise, surprise, for weeknight dinners, I gravitated towards the Fastest section most often, which most of the time I could do in half-an-hour. I love that there are photos to accompany each recipes - my copy came in black and white, not sure if the finished book has color. 

I also love that these recipes come from all over the world: Moroccan Chicken Skewers, Vietnamese Shaking Beef, Singapore Chili Shrimp, Brazilian Chocolate Fudge Candies, etc., as well as the usual European influences such as Italy, Germany and France. If you want to shake up your weekly dinner lineup, this is a fantastic way to do so without diving into anything too complicated but still bringing a fresh and unusual spin on things. I found that the recipes were truly comprehensive, in that Kimball's team walks you through each step, often-times anticipating where the hurried cook might be tempted to shortcut or overdo a particular stage.

The recipes, as promised, seem thoroughly tested and vetted, with most recipes having a little tip for better execution: e.g. "Don't skip refrigerating the meatballs; chilling helps them hold together in the soup." "Don't dress the salad until you are ready to serve. The zucchini and herbs are delicate and quickly wilt."

I found that I had most of the ingredients already in hand, and 99% of those I didn't I could find in my local grocery store. The most exotic ingredients were fish sauce, lemongrass and specific kinds of chilies. To really get the most of this book, flag your recipes for the following week and plan it out by buying your ingredients ahead of time.

October 15, 2018

Book Review: Monstrous Devices by Damien Love

Publication Date: October 16, 2018

Source: Vine

On a winter’s day in a British town, twelve-year old Alex receives a package in the mail: an old tin robot from his grandfather. “This one is special,” says the enclosed note, and when strange events start occurring around him, Alex suspects this small toy is more than special; it might be deadly.

Right as things get out of hand, Alex’s grandfather arrives, pulling him away from an attack—and his otherwise humdrum world of friends, bullies, and homework—and into the macabre magic of an ancient family feud. Together, the duo flees across snowy Europe, unraveling the riddle of the little robot while trying to outwit relentless assassins of the human and mechanical kind.

With an ever-present admiration for the hidden mysteries of our world, Monstrous Devices plunges readers into a gripping adventure that’s sure to surprise.

From the first page on - this fast-moving middle grade novel will leave you exhilarated and fascinated. As an adult, I found some scenes to be heart-palpitating, with diminutive assassins and those monstrous robots.  From Prague to Paris, Alex and his sly and secretive grandfather race to discover the secret of these devices - which involves an old Jewish legend of the golem.  I was delighted by Love's evocative descriptions of his various settings and thrilled by twists and turns of the narrative.  I was at once charmed by Alex's witty silver fox of a grandfather but frustrated because he was so close-mouthed about everything that was happening to Alex, even when he was clearly in danger.  The novel ends with questions left unanswered, paving the way for a sequel(s).

"The toy stood about five inches tall and was wonderfully grotesque.  Angry and pathetic-looking, it was made from a cheap, thin gray-green tin, with a bulky torso resembling and ancient boiler, held together with tiny rivets.  Little dials were painted on its chest, as if it ran on steam.  It grimaced with a mouth like a tiny letterbox, filled with a jagged nightmare of ferocious metal teeth.  It eyes were two holes, framing a hollow interior blackness."

October 8, 2018

Book Review: In the Night Wood by Dale Bailey

Publication Date: October 9, 2018

Source: Vine

Failed father, failed husband, and failed scholar, Charles Hayden hopes to put his life back together with a new project: a biography of Caedmon Hollow, the long-dead author of a legendary Victorian children’s book, In the Night Wood, and forebear of his wife, Erin. Deep in mourning from the loss of their young daughter, they pack up their American lives, Erin gives up her legal practice, and the couple settles in Hollow’s remote Yorkshire mansion.

                In the neighboring village, Charles meets a woman he might have loved, a child who could have been his own daughter, and the ghost of a self he hoped to bury. Erin, paralyzed by her grief, immerses herself in pills and painting images of a horned terror in the woods.

                In the primeval forest surrounding Caedmon Hollow’s ancestral home, an ancient power is stirring, a long-forgotten king who haunts the Haydens’ dreams. And every morning the fringe of darkling trees presses closer.

                Soon enough, Charles and Erin will venture into the night wood.

                Soon enough, they’ll learn that the darkness under the trees is but a shadow of the darkness that waits inside us all.

In the Night Wood starts out auspiciously enough (after some telling epigraphs and a prologue) - with our young hero alone in the library of a great estate and finding a very special book.

"The supple leather boards were embossed with some kind complex design. He studied it, mapping the pattern - a labyrinth of ridges and whorls - with the ball of his thumb. Then he opened the book. The frontispiece echoed the motif inscribed on the cover; here he could see it clearly, a stylized forest scene: gnarled trees with serpentine roots and branches twining about one another in sinuous profusion. Twisted, and bearded with lichen, the trees projected an oddly menacing aura of sentience - branches like clutching fingers, a hollow like a screaming mouth. Strange faces, seemingly chance intersections of leaf and bough, peered out at him from the foliage: a grinning serpent, a malevolent cat, an owl with the face of a frightened child."

If this passage does not seduce you like it did me, then there is no hope for you. It represents the dark gothic fairy tale style of In the Night Wood. If this were a children's story, the hero would then be transported into an adventure upon the opening of this extraordinary book. But because this is adult fiction, the boy instead grows up into a "failed" man who suffers a grievous loss. Only then because of his mourning and guilt, does he venture into the Night Wood. By this time, the reader has come to understand that the wood is a metaphor for the landscape of his soul. Also, that the author wants the reader to be aware of Story, with a capital S, as he iterates "Once upon a time" several times and actually begins the novel with a discussion of the purpose of fairy tales as though this were the beginning of an essay. Rather than get lost in the story, as I prefer to when reading, I was made constantly aware of Metaphor.

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 caf├ęs 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