Saturday, July 14, 2018

Finding her Time

Clock Dance by Anne Tyler 


Willa’s life hasn’t been extraordinary, but it also hasn’t been uneventful either. When she was 11, her mother’s sudden, but thankfully temporary disappearance, was an experience marked Willa’s young life. When she was in college, she married her sweetheart and abandoned her education to raise a family. When she was only 41, her husband died in a tragic car accident. Now, 20 years later, one phone call from a total stranger is about to change Willa’s life once again. 
(Thanks for the free book, @PRHGlobal/@prhinternational)

Once again, Anne Tyler brings us a late-stage, coming-of-age story of a woman who you might have seen dozens of time on the street, but who you might never strike up a conversation with, and more the pity. Because if you did get to know her, maybe she might be very different than you might have thought. What Tyler likes to do in her novels is draw people who surprise us, and sometimes themselves along the way. In fact, although Willa is the center of attention here, almost all of Tyler’s characters in this novel start out to be seemingly one thing and then, turn towards being something else. Yes, there are some more predictable characters here, such as Willa’s second husband, who never seems to stray from being self-centered; but in general, most of Tyler’s characters have a tendency to do unlikely things, and at the most unexpected times. 

Saturday, July 7, 2018

An Eve or a Lilith?

Ecstasy: A Novel of Alma Mahler by Mary Sharratt 


Part of the blurb for this book on Goodreads says “Coming of age in the midst of a creative and cultural whirlwind, young, beautiful Alma Schindler yearns to make her mark as a composer. A brand-new era of possibility for women is dawning and she is determined to make the most of it. But Alma loses her heart to the great composer Gustav Mahler, nearly twenty years her senior. He demands that she give up her music as a condition for their marriage. Torn by her love and in awe of his genius, how will she remain true to herself and her artistic passion?” 

This book sounds exactly like what I look for in historical fiction novels; a story about a lesser known (or unknown) woman in the life of a very famous man. Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of Mahler’s music, but some of the other blurbs I read about this book mentioned one of my favorite artists, Gustav Klimt. Since I didn’t know anything about Alma, the idea of reading about someone who was being hyped as one of his muses, was intriguing. What I found with this book, however, wasn’t exactly that, but it did tick many of my boxes. 

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Between Two Sisters

A Fist Around the Heart by Heather Chisvin 


Goodreads says that “The story of Anna Grieve and her fragile older sister, Esther, begins in Russia in the 1880s. The vicious persecution of Jews has come to such a point that the girls’ mother makes the decision to send her children to Winnipeg with her wealthy employers.” They also add, “When Anna receives the unexpected news of Esther’s possible suicide on “If Day,” an unusual day in WWII history when a simulated Nazi attack took place in Winnipeg in order to raise funds for the war effort, she immediately returns to Canada. Only she can piece together what really happened all those years ago in Russia…” 

I must admit that after I got this book, I almost regretted the request and avoided reading it for a while. With all the depressing news across the globe, I wasn’t sure I was in the mood for something that sounded depressing, and for some reason I thought this was going to be more about the Holocaust. However, after realizing that this debut novel is something of a family history Chisvin, I decided to put my trepidation aside and get on with it, mostly because I like to read new authors, and partially because I’ve had a family history novel in my own head for a while now.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Q&A with Eric Houston, author of The Lost Artist: Love Passion War (Part 1)



I recently heard about Eric Houston's memoir "The Lost Artist: Love Passion War (Part 1)" and was immediately intrigued. While I couldn't fit this book into my reading list, I decided instead to feature this work here, by asking him one question. Here's his answer to:


What was one of the most interesting experiences you had when researching this book? 


I was stunned by much of what I found while researching The Lost Artist: Love Passion War (Part 1). My father knew they were all going to die at El Alamein, Egypt. It was July 3, 1942, the first two lines were wiped out, and his third line, the last line of defense, was out of ammo. But they all stood firm. If Rommel had broken through there was nothing to stop the Nazis. In Berlin, they were celebrating having won the war, and the Grand Mufti was setting plans to murder every Jew in Palestine and the Arab nations. 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Opening Lines

The Lost for Words Bookshop by Stephanie Butland 


Loveday Cardew hasn’t had an easy time of it. When she was only 10 her life fell apart, but 15 years later, she has a job in a bookshop in York, which is ideal for her, because she likes books much more than she likes people. Although Loveday thinks she’s escaped from her past, now it seems like its coming back to haunt her. 

I’ve never read anything by Butland before, but apparently, she’s published several novels already. As a book reviewer, the opportunity to read any book with the word “bookshop” in the title is immediately enticing. The fact that the novel takes place in one of my favorite British cities, York, was also a huge draw for me. Add to this the aspects of a strong female protagonist and a touch of a mystery, and you’ve got me completely sold. I mean, who wouldn’t love a young woman who gets tattoos with the first lines of her most beloved novels (including one of my own all-time favorites, “The English Patient”). 

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Leaping Late in Life

The Little Breton Bistro by Nina George 


When 60-year-old Marianne Messmann is visiting Paris on vacation with her husband, she decides to commit suicide by jumping off the Pont Neuf bridge. Her failed attempt leads her to let her husband go back to Germany on his own and search out the Breton town of Kerdruc. Why Kerdruc? Only because it looked so lovely on a painted tile she found while in the hospital, so why not. What she finds there is far more than she bargained for. 

I truly appreciate a coming-of-age story that involves someone my age, rather than a young person. These types of stories remind us that finding ourselves is not related to age or chronology, and that no matter how old or young we are, there is always something new we can learn about ourselves. This is the biggest reason I wanted to read this book, but also because I found George’s previous novel, The Little Paris Bookshop, to be so charming and fun. That’s was a good enough reason to pick this novel up, if you ask me, but I’m afraid that although I loved the premise, and enjoy George’s writing, I was a touch disappointed with this book, and liked it less than I did her previous novel. 

Friday, June 1, 2018

Storms and Longings


Us Against You by Fredrik Backman


Goodreads summarizes Backman’s sequel to his 2017 novel Beartown, saying “After everything that the citizens of Beartown have gone through, they are struck yet another blow when they hear that their beloved local hockey team will soon be disbanded. What makes it worse is the obvious satisfaction that all the former Beartown players, who now play for a rival team in Hed, take in that fact.”

All my readers already know that I am addicted to Fredrik Backman’s novels, and there is good reason for that. However, to prove to them that I don’t automatically adore every word that Backman puts on the page, I’m going to start this review by noting the reasons I almost gave this less than five stars. The biggest reason was foreshadowing. Admittedly, this is a personal pet peeve of mine, which to my chagrin, Backman employed many times throughout this book. I must admit that although it bothered me to begin with, each time he did this, I felt slightly less annoyed. This was probably because he only allowed himself a short sentence of foreshadowing each time.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Lost and the Findings

My Name is Venus Black by Heather Lloyd



From Goodreads: “Venus Black is a straitlaced, straight-A student obsessed with the phenomena of astronomy—until the night she commits a shocking crime that tears her family apart and ignites a media firestorm. Venus refuses to talk about what happened or why, except to blame her mother. Adding to the mystery, Venus’s developmentally challenged younger brother, Leo, suddenly goes missing.” It also says, “In this gripping story, debut novelist Heather Lloyd brilliantly captures ordinary lives upended by extraordinary circumstances. Told through a constellation of captivating voices, My Name Is Venus Black explores the fluidity of right and wrong, the meaning of love and family, and the nature of forgiveness.”

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Stories with Spurs

Close Range: Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx


In this collection of 11 stories, including “Brokeback Mountain,” Proulx looks at the many sides of the people and vistas of Wyoming, a state that according to most sources is the 10th biggest in land size, and the second least densely inhabited (behind Alaska). Landlocked by Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah and Idaho, Wyoming has 2/3 of its western part covered by the Rocky Mountains and is home to both the Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons National Park. With these stories, Proulx attempts to create the types of unique characters who would choose to make their lives within this vast natural beauty.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Consequences of Peace

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje


From Goodreads: “It is 1945, and London is still reeling from the Blitz and years of war. 14-year-old Nathaniel and his sister, Rachel, are apparently abandoned by their parents, left in the care of an enigmatic figure named The Moth. They suspect he might be a criminal, and both grow more convinced and less concerned as they get to know his eccentric crew of friends: men and women with a shared history, all of whom seem determined now to protect, and educate (in rather unusual ways) Rachel and Nathaniel. But are they really what and who they claim to be? A dozen years later, Nathaniel begins to uncover all he didn’t know or understand in that time, and it is this journey – through reality, recollection, and imagination – that is told in this magnificent novel.”