Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Review: The Other Woman by Therese Bohman

Sometimes the title of the book gives you more than a good sense of what a book is going to be about. Therese Bohman's The Other Woman is one such title. There's no doubt that it's about an affair. What you still have to read it to uncover is the actual story though because all affairs are both alike and yet unique to the two people involved.

Our attractive, young, unnamed narrator is a working class girl taking a break from her education for lack of money. She works in the cafeteria of a hospital in the small Swedish city of Norrkoping and leads a monotonous, conventional life. But the narrator wants to write a novel and she wants to have a life worthy of being possible subject matter for that novel. The boring meaninglessness of her life, of her very existence, won't do. One day she sees an attractive, married, well dressed older doctor in the cafeteria, a man she has occasionally wondered about having an affair with and she accepts a ride home from him after missing her bus. As she is getting to know Carl and ultimately seducing him, she is also getting to know Alex, a girl her age who is exciting and friendly and who has a secret that will change everything for the narrator and have repercussions that resonate both in an out of her inevitable affair with Carl.

The novel is a slow psychological study with a selfish and often unsympathetic narrator. But for all that, she's still rather fascinating. Her pursuit of Carl and her subsequent fantasies inserting herself in his life feel predatory even though he is equally culpable in their affair. Her relationship with Carl and the jealousy she feels towards his wife and children is not the only destructive force here though. There are several depictions of power imbalances, the darkness of money and class differences, and the question of fidelity and its worth. The first person narration puts the reader directly in the narrator's head, seeing the manipulations as well as the naivete. The story is quite slow starting and very philosophical in tone. The narrator's pre-affair life is dull and no recounting of it will change that so it's a bit of a chore to get past it to the real meat of the story. Once you do though, you see that the narrator is creating a version of herself, the other woman, a writer, something more than her surface suggests. Even when her choices go from bad to worse, she is forging the identity of the woman she will become on the other side of this affair and the other side of her friendship with Alex. This is a translation from the Swedish and will appeal to readers who don't mind extended character studies, moral ambiguity, and a lot of introspection balanced with a healthy sense of self-worth.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this books to review.

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons.

The book is being released by Viking on July 11, 2017.

Amazon says this about the book: Raised in Pennsylvania, Thandi views the world of her mother’s childhood in Johannesburg as both impossibly distant and ever present. She is an outsider wherever she goes, caught between being black and white, American and not. She tries to connect these dislocated pieces of her life, and as her mother succumbs to cancer, Thandi searches for an anchor—someone, or something, to love.

In arresting and unsettling prose, we watch Thandi’s life unfold, from losing her mother and learning to live without the person who has most profoundly shaped her existence, to her own encounters with romance and unexpected motherhood. Through exquisite and emotional vignettes, Clemmons creates a stunning portrayal of what it means to choose to live, after loss. An elegiac distillation, at once intellectual and visceral, of a young woman’s understanding of absence and identity that spans continents and decades, What We Lose heralds the arrival of a virtuosic new voice in fiction.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

The Necklace by Claire McMillan.

The book is being released by Touchstone on July 4, 2017.

Amazon says this about the book: Two generations of Quincy women—a bewitching Jazz Age beauty and a young lawyer—bound by a spectacular and mysterious Indian necklace.

Always the black sheep of the tight-knit Quincy clan, Nell is cautious when she’s summoned to the elegantly shabby family manor after her great-aunt Loulou’s death. A cold reception from the family grows chillier when they learn Loulou has left Nell a fantastically valuable heirloom: a stunningly ornate necklace from India that Nell finds stashed in the back of a dresser in a Crown Royal whiskey bag. As predatory relatives begin circling and art experts begin questioning the necklace’s provenance, Nell turns to the only person she thinks she can trust—the attractive and ambitious estate lawyer who definitely is not part of the old-money crowd.

More than just a piece of jewelry, the necklace links Nell to a long-buried family secret. It began when Ambrose Quincy brought the necklace home from India in the 1920s as a dramatic gift for May, the woman he intended to marry. Upon his return, he discovered the May had married his brother Ethan, the “good” Quincy, devoted to their father. As a gesture of friendship, Ambrose gave May the necklace anyway—reigniting their passion and beginning a tense love triangle.

Crisp as a gin martini, fresh as a twist of lime, The Necklace is the intelligent, intoxicating story of long-simmering family resentments and a young woman who inherits a secret much more valuable than a legendary necklace.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Review: The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Sometimes a book washes over you and you find yourself stunned by everything about it. Such is Sarah Perry's The Essex Serpent, a novel about science and faith, desire and need, superstition and truth. Even trying to reduce it to these few paltry words makes it seem less than it is, encompassing so much more than can be easily articulated. It really is a magnificent and impressive Victorian tale.

Cora Seaborne is newly widowed and she's not shaping up to be a good widow any more than she was a good wife or a good mother. Cora was dutiful but nothing more to the wealthy and well-known man who broke her down and shaped her into the woman he expected her to be.  She can't possibly mourn his loss, except perhaps for their odd, young son Francis, a child with whom she has never been able to connect. Widowhood is, strangely enough, freedom for her: freedom from convention and constraints, freedom to pursue her interest in fossils and natural history, freedom to become the inquisitive and intelligent woman she is. With her newfound freedom, Cora leaves London for the wilds of Essex. Taking her son and her beloved companion Martha with her, Cora wants to uncover fossils, perhaps even a living fossil, in the salty estuaries of the country. Through the introduction of a mutual friend, Cora meets William Ransome, the vicar of Aldwinter, a small town sinking into the superstition and myth of the return of the Essex Serpent. Will is certain that the myth is just that, a myth, not a portent of evil or a sign of end times. But his parishioners ratchet up the fear with every further story, every unexplained disappearance or death of man or beast, and with nebulous almost sightings out on the Blackwater. Cora is not so quick to dismiss the possibility of the beast's existence, eager to uncover scientific evidence that might prove its existence. So is set the dichotomy between faith and science and although Cora and Will's beliefs are so at odds, they forge a deep and abiding intellectual relationship arguing their respective stances even as they respect the other.  In fact, in many ways, they are each one half of the other.

The story is not just one of faith versus science but one of relationship and connection. Even the novel's secondary characters, Luke Garrett, George Spencer, Martha, Will's beautiful, tubercular wife Stella, the Ambroses, the Ransome children, and Francis and their ties to Cora are vital to the unwinding of this philosophical, complex, seductive, and character driven story. There is an air of Gothic menace and light foreboding that permeates the pages leaving the reader uncertain how the tale of the serpent will ultimately pan out. Is it real or is it imagined? Perry has written an exquisite novel, full of beautiful, unsettling writing. Her portrayal of Cora as magnetic, unconventional, and rebelling against the usual role of women is thoughtfully done, as is her depiction of Will as both publicly close-minded and privately curious. The details of Stella's blue collection, the restraint with which Perry draws the peculiarities of Francis and his bits and bobs, and the unconscious way in which Cora collects the hearts of those around her is understated and effectively disturbing. Perry pulls in other advances of the time, that of health care and medicine and views of poverty and housing through the secondary characters in ways that don't overwhelm the primary theme but add historical verisimilitude and which weave seamlessly into the whole. The dense and atmospheric prose is leavened with unexpected humor lurking within serious paragraphs. Truly a brilliant, thoughtful novel, this is multi-layered and compelling and should be read slowly and savoured. But be warned that it is very much a modern rendering of a Victorian novel. It will creep up on you until you are compelled to finish it, but it might take a while before you realize that you are completely trapped by its hypnotic telling.

For more information about Sarah Perry and the book, check out her website or follow her on Twitter. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Review: Water From My Heart by Charles Martin

Book clubs can make you go outside of your usual reading choices. This can be wonderful, allowing you to discover books that you would never have chosen on your own. There are several books I have found this way that I am the richer for having read. But just as you can find amazing books, you can also find duds. It's definitely a disappointment when the latter happens rather than the former, but it is a risk you take when you allow others to direct your reading for you. Charles Martin's Water From My Heart was, unfortunately, one of those disappointments although the group had quite a time teasing out all of our frustrations with the novel.

Charlie Finn is a drug runner. His childhood was terrible but he managed to overcome it and go to Harvard. Incredibly smart and successful, he ends up working for his wealthy girlfriend's father, a man with very little conscience. In his role in this hedge fund, he manages to buy a coffee plantation in Nicaragua, completely destroying the people who live and work there without a second thought. After realizing that Marshall, his boss/potential father-in-law, doesn't think he's good enough for daddy's little girl, he quits his job and bums around Miami until meeting his new best friend Colin, another fabulously rich person. He ends up working for Colin as a drug runner. Despite his unsavory job, he's a really good guy, a part of Colin's family, close with his children, and engaged to a lovely doctor. But then things go horribly wrong. Colin's son Zaul ends up on the run from bad guys. Maria, Colin's young daughter, is badly injured when Zaul's gambling buddies try to collect from him. And Shelly, Charlie's doctor fiance, dumps him because he's lied to her about his life. The only way that Charlie can begin to make good on everything he's done wrong is to go after Zaul and save him for Colin. As he tracks Zaul down to Central America, he meets Leena, her daughter Isabella, and the people of a small Nicaraguan town, who give him yet another chance to redeem himself and allow good to triumph.

The theme of redemption is very strong and Charlie is given every opportunity to right all his wrongs.  If his conscience so much as pricks him, he is given the opportunity to fix it.  All of the characters here are one-dimensional and the plot, outlandish just in summary, is given over with ridiculous  coincidences. Martin draws all of the poor people Charlie comes across as uniformly noble and good. Everyone, good and bad, reaps what he/she sows in this novel. It might be nice if life actually worked this way but it doesn't.  Nuance and realism are missing entirely in the telling of this tale.  Add the unrealistic outcomes of every character's story line to the sloppy, oftentimes hokey writing and this is a treacly mess.e

Because this was a book club book, I was taking notes on it but had to stop when I realized that noting each and every inconsistency (Charlie spends weeks in Nicaragua--and not with ex-pats either--and never learns any Spanish?  If he's able to conduct all the business which he's flown down for remotely, why on earth did he need to fly down at all? Leena can figure out what the US company did to ruin her father but didn't know a bank could call in a loan? Massive mudslides destroy just about everything in the area but the coffee and mangoes survive because they are too vital to the plot to wipe out? A 5 gallon bucket is large enough to carry a chunk of rock that has entombed two intertwined people? For that matter, the mud that entombed them has become rock in less than two decades? And so on.) was just making me angrier and angrier at the time it was taking to read this book. Perhaps there was a seed of something there since so many other people have loved this book (although not in my book club, I feel compelled to add) but the writing was poor, cliched, and heavy-handed and I just couldn't get beyond that.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
In the Woods of Memory by Shun Medoruma

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts
The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Shelter by Jung Yun
The Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew J. Hefti
Paint Your Wife by Lloyd Jones
The Company They Kept edited by Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein
No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal
Lily and the Octopus by Stephen Rowley
Thousand-Miler by Melanie Radzicki McManus
Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley
America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Hope Has Two Daughters by Monia Mazigh
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Reviews posted this week:

I Hid My Voice by Parinoosh Saniee
The Beach at Painter's Cove by Shelley Noble
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

The Other Woman by Therese Bohman
The Florence Diary by Diana Athill
Seven Minutes in Heaven by Eloisa James
The Mortifications by Derek Palacio
The Young Widower's Handbook by Tom McAllister
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do But You Could've Done Better by Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell
To Love the Coming End by Leanne Dunic
Make Trouble by John Waters
The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Theriault
A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe
City Mouse by Stacey Lender
Cutting Back by Leslie Buck
Siracusa by Delia Ephron
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon
A Narrow Bridge by J.J. Gersher
The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson
The Heart of Henry Quantum by Pepper Harding
The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler
Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
How to Survive a Summer by Nick White
Bramton Wick by Elizabeth Fair
The Finishing School by Joanna Goodman
Meet Me in the In-Between by Bella Pollen
All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
The Island of Books by Dominique Fortier
Water From My Heart by Charles Martin
Lights On, Rats Out by Cree LeFavour
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
Him, Me, Muhammad Ali by Randa Jarrar
What Are the Blind Men Dreaming? by Noemi Jaffee
Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka
The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
The Talker by Mary Sojourner
When the Sky Fell Apart by Caroline Lea
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
'Round Midnight by Laura McBride
The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn
Last Things by Marissa Moss

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Civilianized by Michael Anthony
The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies
Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki
In the Woods of Memory by Shun Medoruma

Friday, June 16, 2017

Review: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Female spies. How many have you heard of? The only one I could have named before reading this book was Mata Hari. I'm not surprised that there are many more nor that they have been forgotten by history even though their contributions to war efforts have been remarkable. Kate Quinn's new novel, The Alice Network, brings a female run spy network back into view as it highlights the sacrifices that women made in wartime, the damage that war does, and the fierce loyalty so many women felt for family, friends, and country.

Charlotte St. Clair is in disgrace. A math major at Bennington, she has disappointed her wealthy family by coming home pregnant and unwed. To forestall gossip, Charlie and her mother sail to England on their way to Switzerland to take care of Charlie's "Little Problem." But Charlie wants to use this trip to find her French cousin Rose, who hasn't been heard from since 1944, three years ago now. Charlie has made some initial inquiries and so once in England, she slips away from her mother to follow the one lead she has, landing on Eve Gardiner's doorstep in London. Eve has no intention of helping the little Yank on her doorstep until Charlie utters a name that Eve hasn't heard since the end of World War I. Eve is a broken woman. Her hands are destroyed and she spends her nights completely pickled. She's brusque and angry and imperious. But if the man whose name Charlie invokes lived past WWI, Eve is willing to use Charlie's quest for her cousin for her own reasons. The two women, plus Eve's taciturn Scottish driver Finn, head to the Continent, in search of the past.

Alternating chapters tell the story of both Charlie and Eve and what drives them in their search. Charlie lost her soldier brother to suicide and blames herself for not being able to save him.  She is determined not to fail again and to find and save Rose. She is frozen emotionally and it is only in her determination on this journey that she allows herself to feel anything. Eve is carefully guarding her own wartime wounds. Unlike Charlie though, Eve's war was the First World War, when young and innocent, Eve became Marguerite Le Francois, a valuable member of the Alice Network, a female spy ring in France reporting from German occupied Lille. Eve, as Marguerite, one of the fleurs du mal, gets a job as a waitress in Le Lethe, a restaurant run by a French profiteer and patronized by high ranking Germans. In serving the Germans, Eve hears valuable information she can pass on to Lili, the leader of the Alice Network. As Charlie, Eve, and Finn motor through France searching out Eve's contacts in order to track down Rose and Rene, Le Lethe's owner and the man connected to both Eve and Rose, Eve's story slowly comes out.

Both Charlie and Eve are damaged and they don't really want to have to rely on the other, or anyone really. Each carries enough guilt to break them but they are both also fighters. While Charlie's story is interesting and heartbreaking, it is Eve's story, the story of an Alice Network operative and what lengths she needed to go to to uncover information that is most engrossing. Because of the alternating time lines, the story is quite action filled and the revelations that occur on the journey are fascinating. The reader is as curious about Eve's life in occupied Lille and how her hands came to be so destroyed as Charlie is. The reader is also invested in finding Rose and seeing how Charlie and Finn's growing friendship develops. The drive to know the truth makes the pages turn fast indeed. Quinn has drawn both WWI France and post WWII France carefully and the historical details of life in both times is well done. The tension in both story lines is delicately balanced and heightens in concert as the novel progresses. Tying together both World War I and World War II makes this story that much more fascinating, as does the note in the back of the novel detailing true roots of Eve's story. Historical fiction fans will thoroughly enjoy this novel of spying, betrayal, love, and hope. That it brings to light the little remembered fact of the Alice Network, the danger women faced as they worked for their country, and their important contributions is wonderful indeed.

To hear what some of my fellow bloggers talked with Kate about, check out this You Tube video.

For more information about Kate Quinn and the book, check out her website, like her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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