March 26, 2018

Book Review: The Little Book of Feminist Saints by Julia Pierpont

In this luminous volume, New York Times bestselling writer Julia Pierpont and artist Manjit Thapp match short, vibrant, and surprising biographies with stunning full-color portraits of secular female “saints”: champions of strength and progress. These women broke ground, broke ceilings, and broke molds—including Maya Angelou • Jane Austen • Ruby Bridges • Rachel Carson • Shirley Chisholm • Marie Curie & Irène Joliot Curie • Isadora Duncan • Amelia Earhart • Artemisia Gentileschi • Grace Hopper • Dolores Huerta • Frida Kahlo • Billie Jean King • Audre Lorde • Wilma Mankiller • Toni Morrison • Michelle Obama • Sandra Day O’Connor • Sally Ride • Eleanor Roosevelt • Margaret Sanger • Sappho • Nina Simone • Gloria Steinem • Kanno Sugako • Harriet Tubman • Mae West • Virginia Woolf • Malala Yousafzai Open to any page and find daily inspiration and lasting delight. I envision giving this beautiful, fun and empowering book to my teen niece to inspire her. Like a traditional book of saints, each woman featured in the book has her own "feast day."  Although not every day is covered, one can read about a couple powerful and inspiring women per week to get you thinking. There are about 99 "saints" featured in all. The diversity of women covered is tremendous - you have Oprah, Malala, Madonna - as well as some pretty fantastic women I've never heard of such as Wangari Maathai (from Kenya), matron saint of sustainability; and Yayoi Kusama (from Japan),  matron saint of visionaries. From many ethnicities and many countries. Each "matron saint" gets a beautiful black and white portrait and a full page bio about her accomplishments.

March 19, 2018

Book Review: Everless by Sara Holland

In the kingdom of Sempera, time is currency—extracted from blood, bound to iron, and consumed to add time to one’s own lifespan. The rich aristocracy, like the Gerlings, tax the poor to the hilt, extending their own lives by centuries.

No one resents the Gerlings more than Jules Ember. A decade ago, she and her father were servants at Everless, the Gerlings’ palatial estate, until a fateful accident forced them to flee in the dead of night. When Jules discovers that her father is dying, she knows that she must return to Everless to earn more time for him before she loses him forever.

But going back to Everless brings more danger—and temptation—than Jules could have ever imagined. Soon she’s caught in a tangle of violent secrets and finds her heart torn between two people she thought she’d never see again. Her decisions have the power to change her fate—and the fate of time itself.

If you've ever seen the movie In Time, then you would get a glimmer of this fantasy version of a world where time is money. It all stems from the origin story of the Sorceress and the Alchemist, long, long ago, when the Alchemist somehow converted blood into time and tricked the Sorceress into giving away her heart (literally). I didn't much understand this fable but it is very prettily told.  In Everless, the Gerlings are the rich and Jules is one of the poor.  There is Roan who is the beloved golden son and Liam, the cruel, angry one, and if you don't see a love triangle coming then you have never read a young adult novel.

The premise lured me, but the very impetuous/kinda maddening Jules and the confusing origin myth inspired only lukewarm feelings upon completion.  But complete it I did so I would rate Everless as a mildly pleasant diversion.

Oh, and it is the beginning of series.

March 12, 2018

Book Review: The English Wife by Lauren Willig

Annabelle and Bayard Van Duyvil live a charmed life in New York: he’s the scion of an old Knickerbocker family, she grew up in a Tudor house in England, they had a fairytale romance in London, they have three-year-old twins on whom they dote, and he’s recreated her family home on the banks of the Hudson and named it Illyria. Yes, there are rumors that she’s having an affair with the architect, but rumors are rumors and people will gossip. But then Bayard is found dead with a knife in his chest on the night of their Twelfth Night Ball, Annabelle goes missing, presumed drowned, and the papers go mad. Bay’s sister, Janie, forms an unlikely alliance with a reporter to try to uncover the truth, convinced that Bay would never have killed his wife, that it must be a third party, but the more she learns about her brother and his wife, the more everything she thought she knew about them starts to unravel. Who were her brother and his wife, really? And why did her brother die with the name George on his lips?

I have been such a fan of Lauren Willig since The Ashford Affair, The Other Daughter, as well as The Forgotten Room.  The English Wife has the same unputdownable quality of her previous books. I read it in 2 sittings, fighting, then ultimately succumbing to, sleep at one point.

The novel opens in the middle of the glamorous Twelfth Night Ball just before Bay is found dead, with his wife, Annabelle, having disappeared. Their beautiful, privileged life is seen from the outside by Bay's sister, Janie, often overlooked and pitied. The narrative alternates between the aftermath of that night and the years before, starting with how Annabelle and Bay met.

Nothing is what it seems - let me get that out of the way.  The theme of Twelfth Night is not a throwaway detail at all - let that prepare you for having your expectations turned upside down and inside out, not once, not twice, but multiple times as it did mine.  Of course we find out that Bay and Annabelle's perfect marriage was anything but.  Just when I felt sure I knew how the story would turn, it goes in an unforeseen path.  Just when I thought I had pinpointed the murderer, the next chapter would undermine that theory and inspire a new one. 

Though the book is mostly tragic, it does end in a happy ending for some. Yet, I couldn't shake a haunted feeling as I read the last chapter - hoping for a sudden twist that sadly did not happen.

March 5, 2018

Book Review: The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

It isn’t paranoia if it’s really happening . . .

Anna Fox lives alone—a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble—and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.

At about the 75% mark, I gasped out loud and my mouth hung open for a minute.  "Whoa, whaaat?" I exclaimed to the otherwise empty room.  And then furiously debated whether to reread the entire book up until that point, only to decide in favor of pushing forward to the finish in order to find out what happens next.  Really, that's all you need to know. 

A.J. Finn doesn't try to hide his influences - As soon as the reader is introduced to agoraphobic Anna Fox, the film noir references start rolling in, with a particular emphasis on Hitchcock. The title and description immediately recall Rear Window. The title also neatly fits into the proliferation of "girl" thrillers (Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train) but now, thankfully, the protagonist has matured. She has graduated to a "woman."

Three previous works kept coming to mind when reading The Woman in the Window: The Girl on the Train, Rear Window and Vertigo. Despite these heavy influences, however, my ever-changing theories about whodunit and why did not bear fruit. Yes, many elements reminded me of something I've read before or seen before, but my mind was still blown and I can definitely say, "I did not see that coming."