Bird Box Book Review

Bird Box Book Cover Bird Box
Josh Malerman
Dystopian, Post Apocalyptic, Thriller
05/13/2014
Kindle
272 pages

At a Glance:

Malorie and her children live in constant fear. Five years ago something began to wreak havoc on Earth. No one knows exactly what it is or where it came from, but once a person sets eyes on it, they become uncontrollably violent and eventually kill themselves. Most survivors, including Malorie and her children, never leave their homes for fear of accidentally encountering one of these mysterious creatures. But now, Malorie must find a way to get her children to safety, and that means going outside...where THEY are.

 

I’m back! It’s been an absolutely crazy six months, but I really, really missed blogging. So I’m back and going to do my best to keep putting out reviews for you guys to read. And I’m going to start with a book I read at the beginning of this year. Enjoy!

My Review:

So, full disclosure, I’ve been on quite the post-apocalyptic/dystopian fiction kick as of late. Not sure why, but the genre has really hooked me. The genre has also caused me to stay up nights thinking “what if?” and “could this happen??” and “holy crap is the end coming?!”

the-end-of-the-old-syllabus-is-near

LOL. Anyways, Bird Box was the book that first got me into this genre. It’s a very interesting concept. Earth has been taken over by some sort of creature. And whenever a person looks at one of these…things…they go crazy and end up committing suicide. So now nobody ever goes outside without blindfolding themselves. The main character, Marjorie, lives in seclusion with her two young children. She has trained them, from birth, to use their other senses so that they can function extremely well in a world without sight. She eventually realizes that it’s not tenable to continue living in the old house they stay in, so the three of them have to venture outside to try to get to a safer place.

One of the things I like most about post-apocalyptic or dystopian fiction, is getting to learn about how people live. In this new world that they’re living in, how have the daily functions of live changed? By this I mean finding food, shelter, water, etc. I just find it fascinating to learn about how people persevere through, what may appear to be the most mundane of tasks, but in reality are the actions that make the most difference.

In Bird Box, the story alternates between present day and flashbacks. I loved this because you slowly learn the events that led Marjorie to be living alone with her kids. You slowly start to see the adaptations Marjorie had to make to make life in her new reality possible. You can see the progression of events that turned Marjorie from a fun-loving woman into a hard and no-nonsense mother. This alternating format also allowed for the suspense to really build. There are two very climactic points in the narrative, and I found myself racing through the book to find out what happened.

Overall, I really liked Bird Box. There were definitely moments where I wanted more…more explanation, more back-story, etc. But, I think Malerman did a great job crafting a suspenseful story that really draws the reader in. If you’re into that delicious shiver of anticipation you get from a proper thriller, give this a book a try!

Next Up: My recap of BookCon 2015! I’ll be posting about all of the fun panels I attended, and ALL of the goodies I picked up. Check back soon!

 

All The Light We Cannot See Book Review

All The Light We Cannot See Book Cover All The Light We Cannot See
Anthony Doerr
Historical Fiction, World War II
05/06/2014
Kindle
531

 

At a Glance:

Marie Laure lives in Paris with her father, the master of locks for the Museum of Natural History. Marie is also blind, but her father has, through a miniature model of their neighborhood, done his best to teach her to utilize her remaining senses to be somewhat independent. They lead a quiet and happy life, until the Nazi's invade France, and Marie and her father are forced to flee to Saint-Malo, on the Brittany coast, in hopes of temporarily evading the military.

Werner, an orphaned German boy, displays a talent for mechanics. He is given a place at an elite Nazi Youth Academy, where he is able to develop a radio tracking system. He is conscripted into the military, and uses his radio to track members of the Resistance. Eventually his job leads him to Saint-Malo.

All the Light We Cannot See is the telling of Marie Laure & Werner's stories, how their paths connect, and their experiences during World War II.

My Review:

Hi Guys! I’ve been so excited to share this review with you because All the Light We Cannot See is, by far, my favorite book of 2014! This book was chosen for a monthly book club that I’m in with a few girlfriends. I had heard a lot of good things, and as you all know, historical fiction is my jam, so I felt like this would be right up my alley. I was not disappointed at all! This is one of the most beautiful and unique books I’ve read in a long time. So let’s get into the review.

As my synopsis said, All the Light We Cannot See tells the parallel stories of a French girl (Marie Laure) and a German boy (Werner), their experiences leading up to and throughout the War, and how their paths eventually cross. There is also an ancillary story of a mysterious and beautiful diamond called the Sea of Flames, which has the power to grant immortality to its owner. Unfortunately this immortality comes with a steep cost – while the owner lives forever, those around him or her are cursed:

” ‘The curse was this: the keeper of the stone would live forever, but so long as he kept it, misfortunes would fall on all those he loved one after another in unending rain.’ “

So, the first thing I want to say about this book is that is has the most beautiful, detailed, and illustrative writing. I haven’t read anything else by Doerr, so I can’t say if this is just how his writing always is, but wow. Seriously, wow. At every point of the book, I felt like I was there, experiencing everything with these characters. I could actually see the bumblebee frescoes in the Hotel of Bees in Saint Malo. I could smell the seashells in the laboratory of the the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle. Here’s an excerpt where the author describes the seaside town of Saint-Malo:

“Saint Malo: Water surrounds the city on four sides. Its link to the rest of France is tenuous: a causeway, a bridge, a spit of sand. We are Malouins first, say the people of Saint-Malo. Bretons next. French if there’s anything left over. In stormy light, its granite glows blue. At the highest tides, the sea creeps into basements at the very center of town. At the lowest tides, the barnacled ribs of a thousand shipwrecks stick out above the sea. For three thousand years, this little promontory has known sieges. But never like this.”

Amazing.

One thing I noticed is that this is a very different perspective on World War II. Typically, in the WWII accounts I’ve read, the focus is on the 6 million+ Jews who were systematically murdered through mass genocide. But, what many of us don’t know is that the Nazi’s also targeted non-Jews: Roma (i.e. gypsies), people associated with Resistance efforts, homosexuals, and both physically and mentally disabled people. There is no consensus on how many of these people were also mass-murdered, as many records were destroyed by the Germans, but experts guess around 5 to 6 million.

What I liked about this book is that it shed light on these victims and told their stories. Marie Laure and her family were French citizens, non-Jewish, and were still targeted by the Germans. There were many reasons why Marie Laure & her father had to leave Paris, but I think one was that he was afraid of what the Nazi’s would do to a blind girl, who didn’t conform to their standards for the “ideal race.”

Werner, a German boy, was  not the typical Nazi Youth that we’ve all learned about. He knows he has a talent that is valuable to the Reich and leverages it to improve his situation and his future. But, he is also able to compartmentalize, and not become completely brainwashed by the Nazi indoctrination. As Werner goes through the Nazi Youth Academy, and later his military job, he questioned the things he saw around him. And that was a big theme, especially with Werner’s storyline: questioning whether something is really right even though everyone else is doing it. We know, based on history, that most Germans did not question. They absorbed Hitler’s propaganda, and perpetuated his atrocious acts. And while Werner did not vocally question the Nazi beliefs, he did not let himself get swept up in their frenzy. He knew that, in order to survive, he had to act like he believed, but he didn’t actually have to believe.

All in all, this is an amazing book. I can’t praise it enough. I highly, highly recommend it to anyone. I really think this is a book that could appeal to any reader. At 531 pages, this book may seem a little lengthy, but I felt that I wanted to take my time while reading, to really savor all of the prose. This is not a book you’re going to want to rush through, simply because you’ll miss all of the stunning details and imagery. Give it a chance, I promise you’ll enjoy it!

Microreview Monday – Is This Tomorrow and 3 More

Happy Monday Guys! Hope you all had a fun Halloween. I’m back today with another round of Microreview Monday. Here are 4 quick reviews for you. Enjoy!

1. Is This Tomorrow by Caroline Leavitt

Book Review of Is This Tomorrow

  • Synopsis: Lewis is a 12 year old kid living in Boston in the 1950s. His parents are divorced in a time when broken homes are a rarity, and consequently he and his mother, Ava, are ostracized by the other families in their neighborhood. Lewis’ only friends are siblings Rose and Jimmy, who are also low in the social ranking of their suburb. The unlikely trio are inseparable, until the day that Jimmy goes missing. Life changes dramatically for Rose, Lewis, and Ava after Jimmy’s disappearance. Until, years later when Jimmy is found, and they are all reunited.
  • My Review: I found this to be a really beautifully written book. When I first picked it up, I thought the story would focus on Jimmy’s disappearance. And while you do eventually find out what happened to Jimmy, it wasn’t the main part of the story. Rather, the book delved into how people are changed by the events that occur in their lives. It also dealt with the issue of divorce in a time when it was not so widely accepted.
  • Read or Refrain: Read, it’s a little slow-moving, but if you stick with it, you won’t be disappointed.

2. The Case of the Love Commandoes by Tarquin Hall

Book Review of The Case of the Love Commandos

  • Synopsis: Ram and Tulsi are in love and are determined to get married. Unfortunately, Tulsi’s father is against the match and threatens Ram. When Ram suddenly disappears, premier Indian Private Detective, Vish Puri, is called in to solve the mystery.
  • My Review: Star-crossed lovers, a disapproving father, gangsters, and a bumbling PI? This seriously could be the screenplay for a Bollywood movie. I downloaded this book on a whim as it was a Kindle Daily Deal. It doesn’t hold a candle to the Cormoran Strike books by Robert Galbraith, and there were definitely more than a few scenes that had me rolling my eyes, but it was fairly entertaining. Vish Puri has his moments as the stubborn but lovable Detective, and the mystery was definitely engaging.
  • Read or Refrain: Read – if you’re into detective mysteries, and looking for a quick and easy to digest story.

3. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Book Review of The Goldfinch

 

  • Synopsis: Theo Decker is only thirteen years old when his mother is killed in a tragic accident. Theo manages to survive, and is drawn to a painting that reminds him of his mother. As he grows up, Theo moves from New York to Nevada and back to New York, and the painting remains with him. Ultimately it pulls him into the art & antiquities black market world.
  • My Review: This book got A LOT of hype, so I was eager to read it. Maybe it just wasn’t for me, but I didn’t really get it. I found it very rambling and verbose. There were a lot of characters that came and went in the narrative, and by the time I slogged through to the end of this 700+ page book, I just didn’t think there was much payoff.
  • Read or Refrain: Refrain; seems like it’s kind of an esoteric story.

4. The Circle by Dave Eggers

Book review of The Circle

 

  • Synopsis: Mae is a recent hire at The Circle, the most powerful Internet company in the world (think Google or Amazon). She quickly becomes enamored with the high-technology atmosphere, the company perks, and the charismatic leaders. Mae jumps head-first into the company tenet of “Transparency” – basically being connected always, and in all ways. But, over time, she starts to realize that transparency comes with a cost, and there may be a darker side to The Circle.
  • My Review: This was a pick for one of my Book Clubs, and I really, really enjoyed it. I work in the world of digital marketing, and the issues of constant connectivity and privacy concerns hit close to home. I did feel like the story went off on unnecessary tangents at times, but overall it was definitely a chilling story that made me think hard about being “on the grid.”
  • Read or Refrain: Read, especially if you’re curious about what our digital-driven world could look like one day.

Blog Announcements + the first Micro-review Monday!

Hi Guys! Time for some real talk. My schedule has been packed to the brim lately with work, family obligations, and extra-curriculars with friends. It’s been challenging to keep up with Every Book and Cranny and my review schedule. I’ve been trying to think of an easier way to keep up with my backlog of read books, and to ensure I’m posting new reviews at least 3x per week. So, I’ve decided to change up the format of my posts a bit:

  • Micro-review Mondays: I’ll post 4-5 short reviews of titles I’ve recently read.
  • Full Review Wednesdays will be reserved for full reviews on my absolute favorites out of my recent reads.
  • Audiobook Fridays will be for reviews on the latest audiobooks I’ve listened to.

I’m really excited for this new schedule and I think it’ll help me keep my posting more regular!

Now that the business is over, let’s get to the first Micro-review Monday! I have 4 quick reviews for you guys today:

 

1. The Headmaster’s Wife by Thomas Christopher Greene

  • Synopsis: The novel starts with the narrator, Arthur Winthrop – the headmaster of an elite prep school in Vermont, being picked up by the New York City police for wandering naked around Central Park. At the police station, Arthur begins to recount the events leading to this day to the police, and what emerges is the story of his life, his marriage, and his family.
  • My Review: What I really enjoyed about this book is that it surprised me. The first part of the book, narrated by Arthur, details his recent affair with one of his students and how it led to a semi-mental breakdown. But, there’s a big twist in part two, and suddenly the book morphs into a different story, discussing love and loss and how the two affect each other.
  • Read or Refrain: Read!

 

2. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

Synopsis: This book is about the Binewski’s, a traveling carny family who have bred their own children to be sideshow freaks. Narrated by Oly, the albino dwarf daughter, the story follows her parents, Al and Lil, her siblings, Arty the Aqua Boy, Iphy and Elly the Siamese Twins, and Chick, and their dark journey across the country.

My Review: This was selected by a coworker for my Work Book Club, and was definitely a book I would never picked up on my own to read. It was different…very dark, somewhat obscene, but still entertaining. Overall, I liked it – It was firmly outside of my comfort zone, but I enjoyed the challenge of reading something out of the norm. One complaint however: I felt that it was unnecessarily long. I think the book could’ve been cut down by about half and still would have achieved the same affect.

Read or Refrain: Read, but with a caveat: this book is not for everyone. There are some very graphic parts, and if that’s not for you, then I would pass. If, however, you like reading Chuck Palahniuk or enjoy watching American Horror Story, I think you’ll dig this one.

 

3. The Crown by Colleen Oakes (Queen of Hearts #1)

Synopsis: Dinah is the Princess of Wonderland, and the future Queen of Hearts. She spends her days with her tutor, Harris, her best friend, Wardley, and her younger brother, Charles. Her father, the King of Hearts, seems to despise her, and she cannot figure out why. When a mysterious stranger named Vittiore arrives at the castle, Dinah begins to sense that her throne is threatened. She starts to receive clues about what’s really happening in Wonderland, and realizes that there are dangers lurking all around her.

My Review: Alice in Wonderland is one of my all-time favorite stories, so when I heard there was a book that went into the history of the Queen of Hearts, I was really excited to read it! I enjoyed the book, but it was by no means perfect. The book is part fairy tale, part fantasy, and the author has done a good job at creating the fantasy world of Wonderland. But, the writing seemed fairly amateur, and the plot didn’t always make sense. That being said, there’s a good cliffhanger at the end, and I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

Read or Refrain: Read, but don’t expect this to be a great work of literature.

 

4. Hidden by Catherine Mckenzie

Synopsis: One day Jeff Manning is hit by a car and killed. Two women mourn him – his wife, Claire, and his co-worker Tish. The story details the relationship Jeff has with each woman, and how his secrets have a ripple effect on their lives after his death.

My Review: I had high hopes for this one. And while it was a compelling story, I felt like it really dragged. It took forever to figure out the true relationship between Jeff and Tish. I also think there wasn’t much action in the book, just a lot of reminiscing and talking. It just got old for me.

Read or Refrain: Refrain; I don’t think it’s really worth the read.

Of Marriageable Age Book Review

Of Marriageable Age Book Cover Of Marriageable Age
Sharon Maas
Fiction, South Asian Fiction
03/14/2014
Kindle
530

 

At a Glance:

Of Marriageable Age is the story of three different characters: Savitri, a servant girl growing up in British-ruled India; Nataraj, the son of a small-town doctor in South India; Saroj, a headstrong girl growing up in Guyana. How these three characters are linked forms the crux of the story, and takes readers on a journey from India to South America to London.

My Review:

I really wanted to like this book. I’m a big fan of South Asian fiction (I’ve enjoyed Jhumpa Lahiri, Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni, Indu Sundaresan, and many more), but I found Of Marriageable Age to be a really bad example of the genre.

In the beginning, it was interesting to read from the three different perspectives of Savitri, Nataraj, and Saroj. I was engaged in trying to figure out how the three characters were connected. But, due to bad writing/editing, it quickly because confusing and error-ridden. From a simple plotline perspective, the story didn’t make sense. I’m all about a plot twist, but Maas employed too many and the story became addled. The writing was very lengthy and I found that the story dragged in many places. In addition, I felt that Maas’ details were redundant, which added to the lengthiness.

Overall, I was not impressed with Of Marriageable Age at all, and would not recommend it to anyone

The Book of You Book Review

The Book of You Book Cover The Book of You
Claire Kendal
Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
04/24/2014
Audible
384; 9 hrs 43 mins

 

At a Glance

Clarissa is a 38 year-old woman living and working in London. Through her job, she comes into contact with Rafe, the man who eventually becomes her stalker. As Clarissa tries to ignore the issue in the hopes that it will go away, she is called to serve on a Jury for a trial involving the brutal kidnapping and rape of a woman. As Clarissa goes through the trial, she begins to see that she must find a way to fight back against Rafe and his suffocating nature in order to regain her freedom.

My Review

The Book of You is the story of a woman dealing with a terrifying stalker, the lengths he’ll go to in order to control her, and how she tries to break free. Clarissa is a quiet woman who lives alone and keeps to herself. One evening, she’s coerced into going to an event held by her co-worker, Rafe. From the events that transpired that night, Rafe has built an obsession with Clarissa, and will not leave her alone. He’s constantly following her, watching her, calling her. Clarissa, unsure of how to handle this unwanted attention, is slowly unraveling. She tries to speak up to friends about her fear of this situation, but no one believes her. Her only peace comes when she’s selected for jury duty in a neighboring town. The weeks she’s in the courthouse serve as a respite from Rafe and his incessant stalking. She connects with Robert, another juror, and their blossoming friendship brings some light into her dark life. Clarissa tries to find the courage to shut down Rafe’s advances once and for all. Unfortunately, this only serves to excite him more and his horrifying behavior begins to escalate.

I decided on this book for my monthly Audible subscription pick because it seemed like it would be a fast-paced story with an aspect of suspense. (Sidenote: if you’re not already an Audible subscriber, I highly recommend you check it out. The plans are priced very reasonably and it’s a great option, especially if you commute or travel a lot. I listen to my monthly book to and from work and I love it!)

First things first, the narrator, Orlagh Cassidy, is amazing. She was able to differentiate the different voices in the book really well. Every time she spoke any of Rafe’s dialogue, it sent chills down my spine. She was able to capture all of his sliminess and treachery and really bring that character to life.

The story itself was interesting, and, at first, I really connected with Clarissa’s character. This may have been a result of listening to Ms. Cassidy narrate; thus hearing the story versus reading. From the beginning, I got wrapped up in Clarissa’s story, and how hopeless and isolated she felt. But, by the half-way point of the book. I felt that the story started to lag and become repetitive. Clarissa’s passivity became extremely annoying and I found myself wanting her to just do something, anything. From the summary of the book, I thought there would be more parallels between Clarissa’s situation and the trial she was involved with. Instead, I found the trial difficult to follow and it took away from the main plot. Also, there were some very graphic portions of the story; e.g. rape, torture, etc., that I wasn’t prepared to hear. Finally, I didn’t like the ending at all. It felt like an afterthought and, based on the ending, I didn’t see the point of Robert’s character or his storyline at all. I almost feel like I started one book, and finished a completely different story.

Overall, I liked it but definitely not one of my favorites. I felt it was a good debut effort, and I’m interested to see what Claire Kendal comes up with next.

The Invention of Wings Book Review

The Invention of Wings Book Cover The Invention of Wings
Sue Monk Kidd
Historical Fiction
1/07/2014
Hardcover
373

 

At a Glance

Taking place in early nineteenth century Charleston, The Invention of Wings is the story of two women from very different backgrounds and their individual struggles with slavery. Sarah Grimké, an actual abolitionist that inspired this book, is the middle daughter of a wealthy judge and slave-owner in Charleston. On her eleventh birthday, she is given ownership of Hetty "Handful" Grimké, a slave meant to be her personal lady's maid. Readers are taken on a journey across thirty-five years, from Charleston to Philadelphia and back again, learning the true meaning of resilience in the face of devastating adversity.

My Review

I absolutely loved Sue Monk Kidd’s first novel, The Secret Life of Bees, so I had been meaning to read her latest offering for quite a while, but never seemed to get around to it. Then, it was fortuitously chosen as the July pick for a book club I do with a few girlfriends. I had read a lot of positive reviews of the book, and since I’m a fan of historical fiction, I was expecting to enjoy the book. What I did not expect was to become so captivated by the stories of Sarah and Handful Grimké! As soon as I cracked open my copy of The Invention of Wings, I was transported into Sarah and Handful’s worlds.

Sarah is a daughter of one of the prominent families in Charleston’s planter class – basically members of elite society. She is morally against slavery, but she realizes there is not much she can do while living in Charleston, as slavery is very deep-rooted in the South. Sarah has a thirst for knowledge and a longing to be a judge, like her father. However, her intelligence is suppressed because she is a female. Sarah struggles with the hypocrisy displayed by her father and brothers, and realizes that as a woman, she will always be tethered to a man and his needs.

“When I’d espoused my anti-slavery views during those dinner table debates, Father beaming and spurring me on, I’d thought he prized my position. I’d thought he shared my position, but it hit me suddenly that I’d been the collared monkey dancing to his master’s accordian.”

Handful is the slave gifted to Sarah on her eleventh birthday. She and her mother, Charlotte, are just two of the many slaves that live and work on the Grimké estate. Handful, like Sarah, is also intelligent and ambitious. But, she lives in a very different world from Sarah, and learns to restrain her desires for freedom. Handful becomes adept at “playing the game” so to speak – being able to smile and kowtow to white people, while at the same time cradling her hopes and dreams inside.

“I have one mind for the master to see. I have another mind for what I know is me”

Alternatively narrated by Sarah and Handful, the story follows their intersecting lives and complicated relationship from 1803 to 1838. By the laws of the time, Sarah is the master and Handful must obey her every wish and command. But, because of Sarah’s deep abhorrence of the practice of slavery, she cannot bring herself to rule over Handful, and instead tries to free her. When this fails, she secretly teaches her how to read; illegal at the time. Handful, at times resenting Sarah’s status as a white woman, still begrudgingly cares for her.

The Invention of Wings juxtaposes these two women’s stories, and you’re able to see how similar they are, even though their skin color is different. For example, both Sarah and Handful yearn for freedom – Sarah to be free to choose her vocation, and Handful to be free from slavery. Both women lose a parent around the same time. Both women become involved in rebellious activity. Of course, there are stark differences too. Sarah has the freedom to leave Charleston, and travels by boat to Philadelphia. Handful has to be content with just watching the boats in Charleston’s harbors and dreaming of one day leaving. Sarah, as a white woman, is considered a human being, while Handful, and all other Negros, are valued as goods.

Obviously a huge topic of this book was slavery. Kidd discusses the daily workings of a Southern estate and how slaves were used in various functions. However, she also provides, at times horrifying, detail about the punishment tactics used by whites to ensure slaves stayed in their place; e.g. whippings, the Work House treadmill, the collar/foot contraption. While these were hard to read, it is also important to be aware of these atrocities, as they are part of American history. Another subject Kidd discusses is how Sarah’s interest in the abolitionist cause naturally segued into the suffragette movement. I’m sure most of us never think of the two as so closely connected, but they were and it was interesting to learn more about how that came about, especially for Sarah. Kidd also touches on an issue that America is still dealing with today: discrimination of skin color.

” ‘It has come as a great revelation to me’, I wrote to her, ‘that abolition is different from the desire for racial equality. Color prejudice is at the bottom of everything. If it is not fixed, the plight of the Negro will continue long after abolition.’ “

How true and profound. Because that discrimination was not rooted out appropriately at the time, we are still seeing repercussions almost 200 years later.

The Invention of Wings is a beautiful and uplifting story of two women trying to fly above the worlds they live in and find freedom. More than anything, this books shows what it was like to be a woman in the 1800s, both from a black and white perspective. I absolutely loved it and could not put it down. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, or want to learn more about American history, this is definitely a great read!

*Note about Kindle edition: I usually buy Kindle editions of books, but the reviews on Amazon were overwhelmingly negative. It seems that, since this is an Oprah Book Club book, the Kindle edition includes her notes inline, which can be very distracting. For that reason, I purchased the Hardcover edition, which did not have any notes.

The One I Left Behind Book Review

The One I Left Behind Book Cover The One I Left Behind
Jennifer McMahon
Fiction, Thriller
1/02/2013
Kindle
422

 

At a Glance

The summer of 1985 was a turning point in the life of Reggie Dufrane. She was thirteen years old when her hometown of Brighton Falls, CT was targeted by a serial killer. Neptune, as the killer was nicknamed by the press, would kidnap local women and hold them captive for five days. On day one, he would leave a severed hand of the victim by the police headquarters. On day five, the lifeless body of the woman would be posed by a local landmark. As the police scrambled to find Neptune, Reggie and her friends, Charlie and Tara, mount their own investigation, mainly just as a way to pass time. But, the stakes are raised when Reggie's own mother, Vera, disappears, and her hand shows up at the police department. Reggie, Charlie, and Tara try their best to find Vera, but their search is fruitless. Vera's body is never recovered, and Neptune is never heard from again.

Until, twenty-five years later, when Vera, presumed dead after all of these years, turns up in a homeless shelter. Reggie, now a successful architect, returns to Brighton Falls to take care of her mother. The police and media catch wind of Vera's homecoming, and try to speak to her to find out who Neptune was. Vera is battling cancer and experiences varying levels of lucidity. But then, Neptune resurfaces and Tara, Reggie's old friend, is his latest victim. Reggie must try to navigate her memories as well as her mother's to solve the mystery of Neptune and save Tara before it's too late.

My Review

I’m a big fan of thrillers, most likely stemming from my love of Law & Order: SVU. So, this book seemed to be right up my alley with a serial killer and a twenty-five year-old mystery. I’ve read a few other Jennifer McMahon thrillers in the past, but I have to say that The One I Left Behind was the one that most impressed me.

The story starts off with Reggie receiving a phone call informing her that her mother, Vera, has been found alive after being missing for 25 years. Right off the bat, you’re caught up in the suspense: Who is Neptune? Where has Vera been for all of these years? From there the story alternates between present-day (narrated by adult-Reggie) and 1985 (narrated by teenager-Reggie).  You’re able to get to know 13 year-old Reggie, and learn about the complicated relationship she had with her mother. The present-day chapters give you an understanding on how Vera’s disappearance affected Reggie, and how she’s still dealing with those issues. You meet a variety of characters, and it seems there’s a possibility that anyone could be Neptune.

Overall, I really enjoyed The One I Left Behind. Once I got used to the back and forth narration, I felt the plot moved at a fairly fast pace. I found myself reading as quickly as possible to try to figure out who Neptune was and what happened to Vera. McMahon drops little clues throughout the story, and it was fun to try to guess who the serial killer was. The end payoff was worth it, as I was surprised by the final twist.

The One I Left Behind is a quick read, but it packs a punch. If you’re into criminal thrillers, I think you’ll definitely be a fan!

The Storied Life of AJ Fikry Book Review

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry Book Cover The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Gabrielle Zevin
Fiction
4/1/2014
Kindle
258

 

At a Glance

A.J. Fikry is the grumpy owner of Island Books, a bookstore on Alice Island near Massachusetts. Things are not going well for him as of late. His wife died recently in a car accident. The sales at his book store have plummeted. A very rare and valuable edition of Tamerlane by Edgar Allen Poe was stolen from his apartment. And, as a result of all of these misfortunes, A.J. has fallen into a deep depression. One day, he receives an unexpected and special delivery to the store - an abandoned baby named Maya. How A.J. reacts to this new guest, and uses this incident to turn his life around is the crux of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.

My Review

Being a recent transplant to Philadelphia, I wanted to start a book club at my new job as a way to get to know my new coworkers and push myself to keep reading regularly. I talked to a few of my coworkers about the idea and when I got an overwhelmingly positive response, I decided to go forward with the book club. For our first book, I wanted to pick something that could appeal to a broad audience, wasn’t too long, and obviously had good reviews. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry fit all of these criteria. I had been hearing a lot of praise for this book, but the main reason I picked it was because of this line from the description on Amazon:

Gabrielle Zevin’s enchanting novel is a love letter to the world of books–an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.”

What a great choice for my first work book club – a book that reflects on why reading is so enjoyable! And after reading it, I have to say that it lived up to the reviews!

When I began reading The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, I thought the main plot would be trying to figure out who stole A.J.’s copy of Tamerlane. And while that mystery weaves in and out of the story, that plot-line becomes less important as you began to get to know the various characters. There’s Maya, Amelia, Ismay and Chief Lambiase, and they’re all wonderful people who play an important part in A.J.’s rebuilding of his life. They all, in turn, are in some way touched by Island Books. Witnessing the transformation of each of these characters was the best part of the book. I loved reading about how Lambiase’s interest in reading grew, and how Maya’s lifelong love of reading translated into her desire to be a writer. Most of all, I loved seeing how A.J. came out of isolation and allowed himself to build a group of friends and family members.

I gave it 4 stars of out 5, simply because there were times that I wanted more. At times, I felt like Zevin needed to keep the book under a certain number of pages, so she just quickly summarized what were, in my mind, really major events in the plot.; e.g. the adoption process of Maya or A.J.’s wedding. It would have been nice to get more details there.

Otherwise, I have no complaints. I loved reading A.J.’s little book summaries at the beginning of each chapter. I loved that it was about a small-town bookstore that succeeded. And, I loved that it was a lesson in how books can bring people together. It shows the positive affect a love of reading can have on a person, at any age. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a perfect beach read, or just something to curl up with when you want a comforting, quick story to transport you to another world.

Instructions for a Heatwave Book Review

Instructions for a Heatwave Book Cover Instructions for a Heatwave
Maggie O'Farrell
Fiction
6/18/2013
Kindle
338

 

At a Glance

It's July 1976 and all of the UK is undergoing a massive heatwave. Robert, patriarch of the Riordan family, goes out to run an errand and never comes back. His wife, Gretta, is left with the task of informing their three grown children that their father is gone, and that he's withdrawn a large sum of money from his bank account on the way. Michael Francis, Monica, and Aoife all return home to support their mother and try to unravel the mystery behind their father's disappearance. But, at the same time, they are also dealing with their own problems. Michael Francis' marriage is falling apart, and Monica and Aoife haven't spoken to each other in three years. Each child also has a difficult relationship with Gretta, stemming from her lifelong martyr syndrome. In Instructions for a Heatwave, O'Farrell, explores the secrets that can tear a family apart, and a mystery that might bring them back together.

My Review

I actually came across this book in a very random way. I was on a flight to Atlanta and I noticed a woman seated ahead of me holding a copy of Instructions for a Heatwave. I always like to check out what others are reading, so I quickly searched for it on Goodreads. The plot seemed interesting and there were plenty of good reviews, so I thought I would give it a whirl.

I was not disappointed. Instructions for a Heatwave has been my favorite book I’ve read this year. It was engrossing and tugged at my emotions in a way that doesn’t normally happen.

The mystery of what happened to Robert drew me in at first. Was there foul play? Did he have a medical issue that he hadn’t told anyone about? Was he, after 40 years of marriage, simply done with Gretta and his children? But as the book progressed, I found that the main plot fell away, revealing these amazingly complex characters and their individual back stories. I couldn’t put this book down, simply because I wanted to hear more and more about these interesting people.

Michael Francis is a middle-aged teacher who’s married and has two young  children. He was smart and ambitious from a young age, but unexpectedly got his wife, Claire, pregnant and had to settle into a life that he did not plan. Now, he and Claire are experiencing marital issues and he’s unsure if they’re going to make it. He resents having to deal with the issue of his father disappearing, on top of everything else he’s already juggling, but also struggles with his need to be a good son to Gretta.

Monica, always their mother’s favorite, is in her second marriage, and still pining over her first. She’s always been the dependable child, and Gretta relied on her a lot to help with raising Aiofe. Monica was a second mother to Aiofe, but three years ago they stopped speaking over an issue related to Monica’s ex-husband. Her divorce and estrangement from Aiofe has turned Monica into a bitter and judgmental person. Out of the three siblings, she understands Gretta the best and is able to navigate her temper flares and mood swings.

Aiofe is the youngest and was the most difficult child. She cried constantly as a baby, and then grew into a strange and willful child. She did very badly in school (due to undiagnosed Dyslexia), and eventually left London after school. She moved to the US, and gained work as a photographer’s assistant in New York City. She misses her relationship with Monica, and doesn’t quite understand what went wrong between them. Aiofe also has a very tempestuous relationship with Gretta, bristling at her overbearing nature.

Gretta is the most faceted character of them all. She’s an Irish mother who tried her best to instill cultural values in her children, even as they grew up in London. Gretta loves her family more than anything, but it’s also hard for her to express this. She can be hysterical, manipulative, and sometimes, downright mean. Gretta is also harbouring some secrets that may be the key to understanding what happened to Robert. But, getting her to be open is like pulling teeth.

Learning more and more about each of these unique personalities as the pages turned was a complete delight. Each character was written in a way that you got to know their strengths and their flaws, and you couldn’t help but hope things would get better. For example, there were times that I cringed at how self-absorbed Michael Francis was being, but at the same time I felt bad for him and genuinely wanted things in his life to work out. Same thing with Monica – she could be so cold and vengeful, but I knew that was coming from a place of pain and loneliness.

Instructions for a Heatwave takes readers on many journeys – from London to New York City to a village in Ireland, and then also from 1976 back in time to the 1940s and ’50s. It discusses many hard-hitting topics that weren’t talked about in the ’70s, such as adultery, learning disabilities, and abortion. One of the underlying themes was obviously family, and how difficult they can be. Sometimes the ones we are closest to can also inflict the most pain on us, simply because they know us the best. But, I think the positive message in the book is that while family knows which buttons to press, and which secrets could hurt us the most, they are also the ones we to turn to in a crisis. And, Instructions for a Heatwave shows how even the most fractured families can find their way back to a better place.