Thursday, October 20, 2016

Review: Inheriting Edith by Zoe Fishman

Maggie is a house cleaner in Manhattan and single mom to a demanding toddler. She's just fine with her life when she finds out that a former client, one time friend, and bestselling author with whom she had a falling out has committed suicide and left her beautiful home in Sag Harbor to Maggie. The house comes with a stipend and everything Maggie needs to live there with two-year old Lucy. It also comes with Edith, Liza's octogenarian mother who has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Mothering a toddler is hard; add in caretaking for a prickly Alzheimer's patient grieving the death of her larger than life, beloved daughter and nothing about this bequest will be easy, especially as the irascible Edith is displeased with the whole set-up. This unlikely trio have to come to detente in order to live together peacefully. When Edith falls and she is even physically reliant on Maggie, detente slowly grows into a genuinely caring familial relationship. Maggie offers to write down Edith's quickly slipping away memories, and revives her own long-shelved interest in writing in the process. More than just reliving memories, both Maggie and Edith look closely at the secrets they've buried, the past hurts they've brushed under the rug, and make the difficult decision to allow the truth to come out so they can live with no regrets. Both Maggie and Edith have to learn about forgiveness and acceptance, which they'll do together.

The premise of the novel, inheriting a failing parent, is an intriguing one for sure and the concept of then creating a manufactured family is very well handled. It is a sweet, feel-good novel even though it touches on quite heavy themes: depression, death, abandonment, and Alzheimer's. Both Maggie and Edith are grappling with lives that have taken unexpected turns but the novel doesn't belabor what could be a much bleaker situation. Esther, Edith's best friend, is a pip and a delight. Lucy, Maggie's two year old daughter, is definitely in the throes of terrible two-hood and she is surprisingly verbal for a child her age. Sometimes her tantrums overwhelm the rest of the story but that does serve to show how difficult it is for Maggie as a part of the sandwich generation (no matter that Edith is not her own aging parent). The story line with the kindly Sam as a potential love interest for Maggie doesn't really come to fruition and stalls the tale out a bit. Although it is Liza's suicide, and therefore her absence, that sets the story in motion, more of her big personality would have been a nice addition to either Maggie or Edith's reminiscences. Inheriting Edith is over all an easy and enjoyable read, a heartwarming look at caring, love, forgiveness, and building a family even in the wake of terrible loss.

For more information about Zoe Fishman and the book, check out her website, like her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter. Also, check out the book's Good Reads 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 the HarperCollins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

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 Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon. The book is being released by Delacourt Press on November 1, 2016.

Amazon says this about the book: Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

Monday, October 17, 2016

Review: Mercury by Margot Livesey

When you get married and have kids, sometimes you have to put other things about your life on the back burner, at least in the early years when babies are so overwhelmingly needy. This can be incredibly difficult, especially when the thing you've sidelined is something that once brought you much joy or even defined a major piece of yourself. And if you come to find the time to pursue that passion once again, it can be that much more intense than it was before you knew what life was like without it. The trick is in the balancing of the life you've chosen and the newly rediscovered dream, not allowing one to subsume the other. This struggle and the way it changes the dynamic of the family involved is at the heart of Margot Livesey's newest novel, Mercury.

Donald and Viv Stevenson have what looks to be an enviable marriage. They have two children and jobs they enjoy well enough. Their personalities balance each other out and they hold the same liberal beliefs, working from the same moral stance. But in the past year, Donald has been felled by grief after the death of his father and he seems to have insulated himself from further emotion. While Donald is at an emotional remove from Viv and the kids, he is missing a complete sea change in his wife. Having given up a lucrative job in finance to work at her best friend's barn and riding school, Viv is happy working with young riders until a new horse comes to board at Windy Hill. Mercury, a beautiful thoroughbred, is an exceptional horse and he reawakens Viv's long dormant desire to compete. Slowly she is drawn into more and more obsessive and troubling behaviour around this horse that is not hers.

Told in three sections, with Donald's narrative framing Viv's, this story of a foundering marriage, obsession, omissions, and shifting perspectives is an interesting one. Donald is by far the more sympathetic character. He is an optometrist whose vision certainly isn't clear but he never betrays his base character. His worst sin is in missing the transformation of his wife. In fact, he has a long history of not confronting unpleasantness and waffling over decisions in his background, which causes him to take on quite a lot of unearned guilt over the terrible result of Viv's unhealthy obsession and possessiveness. In his narration, he struggles to discover where he has been willfully blind and therefore must take responsibility for missing pivotal moments that could have changed their eventual outcome. Inserted into the middle of his hindsight narration is Viv's section, which is written as if she is telling her version of events to Donald, justifying her actions and laying blame on his emotional unreachability. But it is only in the wake of the shocking happening that she reveals her secrets and her trespasses to his view. And even in the wake of this event, neither of them have any clarity on the moral imperative they face.

The novel is complex with ambiguities and blame, and the theme of sight and blindness is quite obvious throughout the narrative. The tension rises throughout Donald's first section but once the threatened action comes to fruition, the story becomes less alarming and more focused on internal reactions, the question of what is right and why, and whether a marriage gone so far off track can come together again. There is much that is troubling here, both intentionally written that way and for me as a reader. There is an overt political diatribe that could have been more subtly (and therefore effectively) handled and a couple of tangential plot lines had more weight than they deserved.  The ending is unrealistic and rather unsatisfying.  But over all, the novel is a quiet look at the secrets, omissions, and incremental changes in character that result in a marriage that is no longer what it once was and will appeal to those who enjoy reading about non-attention grabbing marriages in crisis or about the small, non-sexual infidelities that can, and do, change the tenor of everything.

For more information about Margot Livesey and the book, check out her website, like her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter. Also, check out the book's Good Reads 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 the HarperCollins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

Violation by Sallie Tisdale
Mercury by Margot Livesey
Fall of Poppies by a collection of authors
Inheriting Edith by Zoe Fishman

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

You Have Never Been Here by Mary Rickert
West With the Night by Beryl Markham
A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts
Riverine by Angela Palm
The Other Woman by Therese Bohman
The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Exposure by Helen Dunmore
I Will Find You by Joanna Connors
The Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engel
Eliza Waite by Ashley E. Sweeney
Shelter by Jung Yun
The Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
The Edge of Lost by Kristina McMorris
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The Last Time She Saw Him by Jane Haseldine
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
I Hid My Voice by Parinoush Saniee
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
A Different Kind of Daughter by Maria Toorpakai
A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew J. Hefti
Plus One by Christopher Noxon

Reviews posted this week:

News of the World by Paulette Jiles
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

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

Put a Ring on It by Beth Kendrick
One Perfect Summer by Paige Toon
The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth
The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel by Maureen Lindley
Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
American Housewife by Helen Ellis
The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman
The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton
Closer All the Time by Jim Nichols
The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett
Over the Plain Houses by Julia Franks
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Forsaken by Ross Howell Jr.
The Cosmopolitans by Sarah Schulman
The Spice Box Letters by Eve Makis
Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
A Very Special Year by Thomas Montasser
Specimen by Irina Kovalyova
One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid
The Telling by Zoe Zolbrod
The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera
The Boy Who Speaks in Numbers by Mike Masilamani
Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick
What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas
After the Dam by Amy Hassinger
Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns
Umami by Laia Jufresa
The Education of a Poker Player by James McManus
Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
Mrs. Engels by Gavin McCrea
The Iceberg by Marion Coutts
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Remarkable by Dinah Cox
Miss Jane by Brad Watson
The Inland Sea by Donald Ritchie
The Unseen World by Liz Moore
The Silver Spoon by Kansuke Naka
Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett
The Gilded Life of Matilda Duplaine by Alex Brunkhorst
The Honeymoon by Dinitia Smith
The Last Weynfeldt by Martin Suter
The Grand Hotel by Vicki Baum
Bottomland by Michelle Hoover
This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance by Jonathan Evison
The Lake by Perrine Leblanc
Orhan's Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian
A Girl From Yamhill by Beverly Cleary
If You Left by Ashley Norton
The Heart You Carry Home by Jennifer Miller
And Again by Jessica Chiarella
Man by Kim Thuy
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende
The Wonder Garden by Lauren Acampora
A Good American by Alex George
Bertrand Court by Michelle Brafman
When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams
The Winter War by Philip Teir
This Side of Providence by Sally M. Harper
Lost and Found by Brooke Davis
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling
Course Correction by Ginny Gilder
Charmed Particles by Chrissy Kolaya
300 Days of Sun by Deborah Lawrenson
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
The American Way of Eating by Tracie McMillan
The Tsar of Love of Techno by Anthony Marra
The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick
The Book of Harlan by Bernice L. McFadden
Hey Harry, Hey Matilda by Rachel Hulin
The Measure of Darkness by Liam Durcan
Finding Fraser by KC Dyer
A Mother's Reckoning by Sue Klebold
The Drone Eats With Me by Atef Abu Saif
Heat and Light by Jennifer Haigh
Moo by Sharon Creech
Dear Reader by Paul Fournel
Hotel Angeline by 36 authors
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen 83 1/4 Years Old by Anonymous
Xenophobe's Guide to the English by Antony Miall and David Milsted
No. 4 Imperial Lane by Jonathan Weisman
Lord Roworth's Reward by Carola Dunn
Violation by Sallie Tisdale
Mercury by Margot Livesey
Fall of Poppies by a collection of authors
Inheriting Edith by Zoe Fishman

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Review: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

We used to have a pair of African dwarf frogs on the counter in the kitchen. I spent countless hours watching them drift up and down in their aquatic home. I worried when the heavier frog seemed to be getting all of the food I put in the tank. (I had reason to worry, as it turned out, since Mossy ended up starving to death.) Even down to one frog, I was mesmerized by the tiny creature. And I was truly sad when Senor Flipper followed his fellow frog to the great aquarium in the sky. I loved watching the frogs just go about their daily business. So perhaps it isn't unusual that I found Elisabeth Tova Bailey's book about the wild snail she watched from her bedside as she was ill and bedridden to be a beautiful, completely engrossing, and meditative read.

After a trip abroad, Bailey contracted a terrible illness that almost killed her. In fact, it kept her bedridden for more than a decade. In that time, she had to learn to live the very constrained life she was capable of, even as she was robbed of mobility, strength, and everything she understood to be who she was. When a friend, knowing how much she missed the outdoors, brings a tiny wild snail and a small violet plant into Bailey's room, she can't have predicted the outcome. Bailey is fascinated by the snail, watching the small mollusc as it explores its new home, learning about the tiny creature in scientific terms, and uncovering other authors and poets who have, in their turn, been intrigued by and written about snails.

The book is a short one, easily read but it is a true gem for all its brevity, combining the inner life of a thoughtful and careful writer with the simple but elegant outer life of a snail. It is gorgeous, introspective, and quiet. It's filled with fascinating information and lovely passages. It is sustaining in the way that the best writing is and I hope that people who might not think to look at the beauty of a snail's life will in fact find their way to this book.

Thanks to Algonquin books for sending me a copy of this book for 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.

The Survivor's Guide to Family Happiness by Maddie Dawson. The book is being released by Lake Union Publishing on October 25, 2016.

Amazon says this about the book: Three women, three lives, and one chance to become a family…whether they want to or not.

Newly orphaned, recently divorced, and semiadrift, Nina Popkin is on a search for her birth mother. She’s spent her life looking into strangers’ faces, fantasizing they’re related to her, and now, at thirty-five, she’s ready for answers.

Meanwhile, the last thing Lindy McIntyre wants is someone like Nina bursting into her life, announcing that they’re sisters and campaigning to track down their mother. She’s too busy with her successful salon, three children, beautiful home, and…oh yes, some pesky little anxiety attacks.

But Nina is determined to reassemble her birth family. Her search turns up Phoebe Mullen, a guarded, hard-talking woman convinced she has nothing to offer. Gradually sharing stories and secrets, the three women make for a messy, unpredictable family that looks nothing like Nina pictured…but may be exactly what she needs. Nina’s moving, ridiculous, tragic, and transcendent journey becomes a love story proving that real family has nothing to do with DNA.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Review: News of the World by Paulette Jiles

We all have images in our heads of the Wild West, gunslingers, and cowboys. All of it is out-sized and iconic But how many of those images grew out of Hollywood movies or TV rather than out of a truth that might be less palatable or slower or not as outrageous? Paulette Jiles' newest novel, News of the World, finds a dreamier, more personal story set in a lawless West that does have a passing resemblance to the one depicted on screens and page but which is also more tempered and truthful feeling.

Captain Jefferson Kidd is a widower whose daughters are grown and gone. He was a soldier and a printer. Now retired from both professions, he's an itinerant news reader traveling through small towns reading articles and bringing news of the outside world to remote places in Texas. When he encounters a good man he knows in one of the towns, he agrees to take on returning a ten year old girl, a captive of the Kiowa for four years, to her aunt and uncle many miles away. The young girl, Johanna, doesn't speak English and has forgotten German. She doesn't remember life before joining her Kiowa family and she desperately wants to be returned to them. As they travel towards the white family she doesn't remember, Johanna and "Kep-dun" come to a fragile trust in each other. Kidd is weary and feeling his age. Johanna is fierce in the stoicism learned from her Native family. But ultimately they come to be each other's family, grandfather and granddaughter, on the long road, offering respect, protection, and concern for each other.

Jiles has written a slow, deliberate, and beautifully written character study here. In this novel, that sometimes has the hypnotic feel of sitting in a saddle and creaking back and forth along a trail, she has drawn a tale that captures the time, just after the Civil War when tensions were high, and the place, a Texas where the law was sometimes markedly absent, so very well. The characters of Captain Kidd and Johanna are spare and yet full. Kidd's careful selection of the news pieces for each stop on their journey to the Leonberger homestead tells not only the news of the world far from the towns they visit but also very much about the towns themselves. Told almost entirely from Kidd's perspective, with only small insights into Johanna's thoughts, the narrative leaves the child fairly enigmatic but gives the reader more insight into the goodness and personality of Kidd. The novel is quite short, muted, and quiet, despite a couple of scary situations, and it maintains a feeling of rightness and inevitable fatedness throughout its pages. It is not a wild western but a measured, almost hushed, lovely piece of work.

For more information about Paulette Jiles and the book, check out her website. Also, check out the book's Good Reads 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 the HarperCollins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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