Summer Travels

For the past several weeks, I had the opportunity to spend some time away from home. I attended the four-week Denver Publishing Institute program at the University of Denver in pursuit of changing careers. I learned so much about the book publishing industry and am extremely grateful for all the people I met and connected with while I was there.

While my reading was slowed down a bit by lectures, editorial homework, and general sight-seeing, I thought I would share some recaps of the books I DID manage to finish in July as well as some of my travel experiences!

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Before I even left for Colorado, I spent a weekend with some friends in Provincetown, MA where I was able to finish this fun thriller on the beach. I picked this up after seeing it all over instagram (Thanks Reese Witherspoon!) and had a lot of fun speeding through it. There are some aspects of the plot that make you want to yell in frustration over the narrator’s naivete, but that was actually part of the fun – knowing that the characters were getting in too deep before they realized it themselves. This is a fun, suspenseful novel that is easily read over a few days lounging at the beach and I’d highly recommend it!

Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman

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On my way home, I started my next summer read: Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl. I’ve been a fan of Pessl’s work since her first novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, and so I was thrilled to see that she had a new book release since it had been several years since her last book.

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Neverworld Wake is her first foray into YA fiction and definitely a bit more in the realm of fantasy than her last two books. I was lucky enough to meet Pessl at BookCon in June and she shared with me at the signing that she meant for this book to be a fast-paced read to be finished in a day or two. I felt her description was on point – the story is a bit more out of my typical fiction choices, but I loved her blend of fantasy and YA thriller. There’s a dreamlike quality to the entire story and Pessl is the master of writing memorable characters. Fans of her other two books won’t be disappointed by this one!

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In preparation of my travel day to Colorado, I decided to pick up Kristin Hannah‘s The Great Alone – both for the theme and the length (I wanted a book that would last me two flights and a layover). I kept seeing rave reviews about this one and so I added it on as an “extra” to my  June BOTM pick.

Despite it’s length, this was actually a pretty fast read for me. I absolutely fell in love with Hannah’s descriptions of Alaska and I felt so personally connected to Leni that I had a hard time letting this book go even after I finished the last page.

This is NOT a light read – it deals with a lot of heavy issues (alcoholism, depression, physical/emotional abuse), but Hannah has a knack for balancing the darkness with real beauty and so the story is not as devastating to read through quickly as say Yanagihara’s A Little Life.

I’m now a Kristin Hannah fan and can’t wait to read her other novels!

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After finishing The Great Alone and an intense first week at DPI, I decided to change gears and pick up a fun, semi sci-fi thriller for my first weekend in Denver.

No joke – I finished this in ONE DAY! I was able to spend an entire afternoon lounging in an Adirondack chair on campus in order to speed my way through The Anomaly. The descriptions of this being a mashup between Indiana Jones and the X-Files are spot on. While this is definitely part horror story, the plot is so unique and thrilling that defining it as horror doesn’t do the book justice. I only hope that this will be made into a film because I’m dying to see how someone interprets all the descriptions of the creepy cave creatures on screen.

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Between some of the crazy weather we ended up experiencing during my second week and the heavy amount of homework I received, I wasn’t able to spend another weekend outdoors reading. Instead, I squeezed in time where I could to finish my other June BOTM pick – The Book of Essie.

This turned out to be a much heavier novel than anticipated, but so beautifully written that I found myself taking more time to savor it (despite it’s shorter length). There were aspects to the plot that I didn’t originally anticipate, but that really added to the novel in the end and I appreciated the story even more because of those details (I’m being vague to avoid spoilers!).

While religion obviously plays a huge role in the book, this is more of a serious family drama that’s heavy on characterization. Maclean Weir really does a stunning job of demonstrating how broken people use religion to hide behind to avoid responsibility without ever sounding “preachy” and I’m excited to see what she writes next.

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I bought a book (duh) after attending an event at one of the Tattered Cover locations in Denver for DPI. I brought plenty to read with me in my luggage, but kept seeing this book all over social media and used the 15% DPI discount as an excuse to get my own copy.

The Ruin started a bit slow for me and I initially had a hard time getting into the story. Luckily, things picked up after a few chapters and I finally started to feel more connected to the characters and the interconnected plots.

I can see why McTiernan’s debut has been compared to Tana French, but I found The Ruin to be a bit weaker with characterization than French’s Dublin Murder Squad series. She does make up for it with her storyline, but I would worry that readers might be disappointed by the book as a whole if their expectations are to discover the next Dublin Murder Squad series.

As far as police procedurals go, this is definitely one of my recent favorites and I’m anticipating some growth in characterization in the next book in the series!

Just for fun, here are some photos from my visit to the Tattered Cover:

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After DPI finished, I spent some time traveling around Colorado! First stop, The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park (yes, the hotel that Stephen King stayed in and got his inspiration for The Shining from). It was beautiful by day, but definitely a little creepy at night.

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During my stay, I took advantage of the location to make a day trip to Cheyenne, Wyoming.

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A huge breakfast burrito was consumed about 30 minutes after this photo was taken:

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Perhaps it was pure luck, but after wandering around the small downtown area, I found a pour-your-own-beer brewery – my first experience with one!

After checking out of the Stanley, I spent a day at Rocky Mountain National Park. The pictures don’t do it justice – everything was breathtaking (despite being caught in a hail storm for a little while!)

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After Estes Park came a few days in Boulder. While most of the time was spent hanging out in the Pearl Street Mall area, I had snagged an adorable studio cabin about 15 minutes outside of downtown. Unreliable wifi meant guaranteed reading time.

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I also made a few trips to the Boulder Bookstore, but kept the book buying to a minimum since I already had two full boxes of (free!) books to ship back home thanks to DPI.

Since books go well with tea just as much as beer, I made a trip to Celestial Seasonings for a tour and free samples. I now have plenty of tea to balance my craft beer intake for the next few months!

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My final day consisted of an evening back in Denver’s downtown district for some beer, a Rockies game, and one final trip to a Tattered Cover bookstore location.

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I am forever grateful to have spent so much time in such a beautiful state! I gained so much from my time at DPI and am hoping I can now use my time back at home to land a new position in the book publishing world. Cheers!

 

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All the Beautiful Girls

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It was unimaginable. When she was eight years old, Lily Decker somehow survived the auto accident that killed her parents and sister, but neither her emotionally distant aunt nor her all-too-attentive uncle could ease her grief. Dancing proves to be Lily’s only solace, and eventually she receives a “scholarship” to a local dance academy–courtesy of a mysterious benefactor.

Grown and ready to leave home for good, Lily changes her name to Ruby Wilde and heads to Las Vegas to be a troupe dancer, but her sensual beauty and voluptuous figure land her work instead as a showgirl performing everywhere from Les Folies Bergere at the Tropicana to the Stardust’s Lido de Paris. Wearing costumes dripping with feathers and rhinestones, five-inch heels, and sky-high headdresses, Ruby may have all the looks of a Sin City success story, but she still must learn to navigate the world of men–and figure out what real love looks like.

With her uncanny knack for understanding the hidden lives of women, Elizabeth J. Church captures both the iconic extravagance of an era and the bravery of a young woman who dances through her sadness to find connection, freedom, and, most important, herself.

All the Beautiful Girls by Elizabeth J. Church

Publication Date: March 6, 2018 by Ballantine Books

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

I had the luck of discovering Church’s novel after my wife nabbed me a ticket for the Random House Open House this past spring. I enjoyed listening to her in the panel conversation and she was a joy to meet afterward at the cocktail hour when all the guests had a chance to meet the featured authors.

All the Beautiful Girls is a unique coming-of-age story that holds a lot more depth than I anticipated from the general summary of the book. Readers should know that there are some serious issues here that probably warrant a trigger warning (I was a bit taken aback by the sexual abuse that is addressed very early in the story), but this brutal honesty plays an important role in Lily’s life and clearly has a major impact on her future relationships as an adult.

I’ve never been to Las Vegas and so I don’t have any foundation on which to compare the “new” Las Vegas to the sin city of the 1960s when showgirls and the Rat Pack were at their prime, but Church’s gorgeous descriptions and very evident research make it easy to create a vision of what it was like at that time. Despite the seriousness of story, there really is beauty in many of Lily’s experiences as a dancer and her relationships with the other women she meets early on. I also had a major soft spot for the man known as The Aviator which only increased once more is revealed about him as the book progresses.

All the Beautiful Girls is also a poignant story about sexuality, gender roles, and the impact sexism has on women in particular. Even though Lily is struggling through these issues in the 60s, it’s easy to compare many of the women’s experiences in the book to our current society – women are still viewed as “sluts” if they choose to engage in casual sex or dress “provocatively” and yet that is all young girls see in the media. Lily struggles with wanting to pursue her passion for dancing while also having to confront the “morals” her aunt and uncle placed on her about being chaste and “lady-like” (at the same time she was being raped by this same uncle). Lily is very relatable despite her showgirl fame and this is what really made the book a memorable read for me.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark

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For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.

Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called the Golden State Killer. Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark – the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death – offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Framed by an introduction by Gillian Flynn and an afterword by her husband, Patton Oswalt, the book was completed by Michelle’s lead researcher and a close colleague. Utterly original and compelling, it is destined to become a true crime classic – and may at last unmask the Golden State Killer.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

Publication Date: February 27, 2018 by Faber & Faber

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

Pictures of this book kept popping up around social media sites and I immediately marked it for my future TBR pile since true crime novels are right up my alley. Once I heard news that the bastard had finally been caught after decades of eluding the police, I immediately snagged a copy so that I could catch up on the case. My only regret is that I didn’t pick this up sooner!

Michelle McNamara was an extremely gifted writer. Her knowledge about the Golden State Killer/East Area Rapist was encyclopedic and her genuine passion for wanting him to be caught is palpable in the way she shares the case’s extensive history and missing pieces. What could have easily felt a bit clinical is actually a really personal read and McNamara’s empathy for the survivors and anger for the victims is easy to sense in every chapter.

While I have always loved true crime novels and documentaries, the stories often focus more on the person responsible – it’s very hard to feel close to the victims of a killer because they are not there to share their story directly and much is relied upon through the third person narrative. What makes I’ll Be Gone in the Dark stand out is how close Michelle McNamara makes the reader feel to the victims of the EAR. This aspect of her writing style is also what makes the book so absolutely terrifying because you feel like you know the victims and are there when the EAR shatters their sense of safety in their own home. I live in a third floor walk-up and still had difficulty getting to sleep after reading a few chapters of this book – McNamara makes the EAR’s vicious attacks on people you’ve never met feel so up-close and personal.

It is clear that McNamara was haunted by this case both through the parts of her life she shares directly and in the details of research that is revealed after her death. After reading her book, I think it’s safe to say that she played a pivotal role in the hunt for the Golden State Killer and reigniting the public interest in getting justice for his victims. While it is sad to know that she was not alive to see it happen, her husband’s continued involvement in the publication of her book and the current updates in the case are a fantastic homage to her life and her work.

Sweetbitter

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Newly arrived in New York City, twenty-two-year-old Tess lands a job as a “backwaiter” at a celebrated downtown Manhattan restaurant. What follows is the story of her education: in champagne and cocaine, love and lust, dive bars and fine dining rooms, as she learns to navigate the chaotic, enchanting, punishing life she has chosen. As her appetites awaken—for food and wine, but also for knowledge, experience, and belonging—Tess finds herself helplessly drawn into a darkly alluring love triangle. In Sweetbitter, Stephanie Danler deftly conjures with heart-stopping accuracy the nonstop and high-adrenaline world of the restaurant industry and evokes the infinite possibilities, the unbearable beauty, and the fragility and brutality of being young in New York.

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

Publication Date: May 24, 2016 by Knopf

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

“I still like Dave Matthews Band,” he said. “That’s kind of embarrassing.”
“No,” I said. “Nothing you do is ever embarrassing. You’re not a girl.”

I LOVED this book and it’s yet another one that I put off starting because of such strong and scathing reviews (just like Emma Cline’s The Girls– a novel I ended up obsessing over).

Is it pretentious? Yes, but in that way that only seems appropriate for a coming-of-age story about a 22-year-old woman who has just moved to New York City on a whim. Tess’ story made me reminisce a bit of how fun it can be to be that young and naive, but at the same time made me appreciative of everything I’ve learned since then. While I couldn’t necessarily relate to Tess now, I could see aspects of my younger self in her and her struggles (mistaking sex for romance, accepting that you have a lot to learn about food, wine, life, etc.) and that made me root for her.

I also really liked Simone’s character. Yes, there’s a seriously frigid aspect to her personality, but that made me love her more. On the surface, Simone embodied everything that a younger woman could only hope to grow into – intelligent, confident, worldly and with a seriously badass apartment in the city. It was easy to see why Tess could so quickly fall under her spell and both envy/adore her (and perhaps ignore her seriously creepy relationship with Jake).

For the same reasons I will never tired of Anthony Bourdain’s show No Reservations, Sweetbitter spoke to my endless hunger for good food, better wine, and new experiences. It encouraged me to be more courageous and curious at my local wine shop and to also reminisce about mussels in Nice, camembert in Cannes, and the freshest sushi I’ve ever had in Osaka. It seems just a bit too easy to write off this novel as pretentious when so many of us are always craving new experiences – whether that’s through travel, food, drink, or even just through the books we read.

The High Season

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No matter what the world throws her way, at least Ruthie Beamish has the house. Lovingly renovated, located by the sea in a quiet village two ferry rides from the glitzier Hamptons, the house is Ruthie’s nest egg–the retirement account shared with her ex-husband, Mike, and the college fund for their teenage daughter, Jem. The catch? To afford the house, Ruthie must let it go during the best part of the year.

It’s Memorial Day weekend and Ruthie has packed up their belongings for what Jem calls “the summer bummer” the family’s annual exodus to make way for renters. This year, the Hamptons set has arrived. Adeline Clay is elegant, connected, and accompanied by a “gorgeous satellite” stepson.

The widow of a blue-chip artist, in a world defined by luxury and ease, Adeline demonstrates an uncanny ability to help herself to Ruthie’s life. Is Adeline just being her fabulous self, or is she out to take what she wants?

When an eccentric billionaire, his wayward daughter, a coterie of social climbers, and Ruthie’s old flame are thrown into the mix, the entire town finds itself on the verge of tumultuous change. But as Ruthie loses her grasp on her job, her home, and her family, she discovers a new talent for pushing back. By the end of one unhinged, unforgettable summer, nothing will be the same–least of all Ruthie.

In a novel packed with indelible characters, crackling wit, and upstairs/downstairs drama, Judy Blundell emerges as a voice for all seasons–a wry and original storyteller who knows how the most disruptive events in our lives can twist endings into new beginnings.

The High Season by Judy Blundell

Publication Date: May 22, 2018 by Random House

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

When I received an email with the opportunity to request a copy of The High Season for a lunch book club discussion at Penguin Random House’s Spring Open House, I saw it as the opportunity to continue my quest to read novels outside of my comfort zone. After taking a half day at work yesterday in an attempt to give myself some much-needed rest time, I sat down on the couch with the intention of reading for an hour or two. I ended up reading almost the entire novel that afternoon/evening because I became so wrapped up in Blundell’s characters and their personal narratives!

The High Season contains all the elements that made me love Big Little Lies – memorable characters, genuine drama, and a whirlwind of feelings. While it took me a few chapters to get fully absorbed (not the novel’s fault – I was worried the book would be a little “fluffy” for my taste), I found myself especially connected to Ruthie, Jem, and Doe and couldn’t stop reading until I knew how everything would end up for them.

I can see why Blundell has been so successful as an author of YA – everything about her characters felt so genuine and despite the novel having quite a few characters and storylines to keep track of, it was easy to feel attached to everyone and recognize that they all were more complicated than at first glance.  While the book is in some ways easy to categorize into a “beach” read because of the setting (hello, Hamptons), The High Season is a rich, complicated novel that I can only wish would get enough attention to be turned into its own mini-series (I’m looking at you, Reese Witherspoon).

February Wrap-Up!

Phew! February has been a hell of a month and unfortunately, that means I neglected posting about all of the amazing books I was able to read over the last few weeks. Since I finally had some time tonight to sit down after work and relax, I thought it only fitting that I end the month with one major wrap-up post for all of my February reading.

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When Myriam, a mother and brilliant French-Moroccan lawyer, decides to return to work, she and her husband are forced to look for a caretaker for their two young children. They are thrilled to find Louise: the perfect nanny right from the start. Louise sings to the children, cleans the family’s beautiful apartment in Paris’s upscale tenth arrondissement, stays late whenever asked, and hosts enviable kiddie parties. But as the couple and the nanny become more dependent on each other, jealousy, resentment, and frustrations mount, shattering the idyllic tableau.

The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani

Publication Date: January 9, 2018 by Penguin Books

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

For such a slim book, Slimani’s novel is a very heavy, intense read. The book explores issues of race, gender, and socio-economic status all in a way that blends perfectly together and makes it hard to label Louise a monster despite her monstrous act.

The reader is aware heading into the story that Louise has murdered Myriam and Paul’s two young children and so the novel focuses more on the characters and their intertwined relationships rather than trying to determine the “why” of the act.

The Perfect Nanny gets right into the head of the characters and there was something so disquieting about this type of narration. I essentially felt on edge the entire time I was reading – not so much because I was waiting for something to happen, but more so because I could sense from the interactions between the adults and the thoughts each individual was focusing on that something wasn’t quite right and I just could never really put my finger on what that was.

There is no simple way to tie up a story like this that the reader knows eventually ends with a tragic event, but there was something poetic in the way Slimani leaves the reader to process his/her own feelings as to what would lead to Louise to murder her two young charges. I would recommend this psychological thriller to anyone who likes novels that leave them with more questions than answers!

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We all say there is no justice in this world. But what if there really was? What if the souls of murdered children were able to return briefly to this world, inhabit adult bodies and wreak ultimate revenge on the monsters who had killed them, stolen their lives?

Such is the unfathomable mystery confronting ex-NYPD detective Willow Wylde, fresh out of rehab and finally able to find a job running a Cold Case squad in suburban Detroit. When the two rookie cops assigned to him take an obsessive interest in a decades old disappearance of a brother and sister, Willow begins to suspect something out of the ordinary is afoot. And when he uncovers a series of church basement AA-type meetings made up of the slain innocents, a new way of looking at life, death, murder and missed opportunities is revealed to him.

A Guide for Murdered Children by Sarah Sparrow

Publication Date: March 20, 2018 by Blue Rider Press

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

First, I want to express my gratitude to the publisher for providing me with a free copy of this novel prior to its publication date in March! I was so excited to win a copy through a Goodreads giveaway after reading the synopsis since the combination of crime thriller and dark fantasy/supernatural sounded like such a unique premise! However, much like with The Book of Joan, I enjoyed this concept much more than the actual execution.

A Guide for Murdered Children is a hefty book dominated by dialogue (both between characters and internal). The first half of the book is slow to start and focuses predominantly on providing character background rather than following a decipherable plot line. Part of the disconnect for me personally came with my dislike for one of the main characters, detective Willow Wylde. His character felt like a caricature of a “bad cop” stereotype and I never really became invested in his story.

Events in the novel began to snowball about halfway through and the change in pace was a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, I had a hard time following the dialogue, especially when characters were not only interacting with each other, but hosts and children were swapping within one body throughout much of the story.  It was extremely difficult to always understand who was really speaking.

I felt a Red Queen vibe with this book. I enjoyed Victoria Aveyard’s first novel in the trilogy, but the second felt more like a film script than a novel and reading about her background (and the book’s intention) solidified those thoughts. Sarah Sparrow is a pseudonym for an established author, but despite my online sleuthing, I was only able to determine that Sparrow lives in Los Angeles. Perhaps this book is a film in the making? Because of the originality of the idea, I could see it being an interesting movie adaptation – perhaps this would be one of those rare times where I enjoy the on-screen version more than the book itself.

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“I have been acquainted with the smell of death.” So begins Clytemnestra’s tale of her own life in ancient Mycenae, the legendary Greek city from which her husband King Agamemnon left when he set sail with his army for Troy. Clytemnestra rules Mycenae now, along with her new lover Aegisthus, and together they plot the bloody murder of Agamemnon on the day of his return after nine years at war.

Judged, despised, cursed by gods she has long since lost faith in, Clytemnestra reveals the tragic saga that led to these bloody actions: how her husband deceived her eldest daughter Iphigeneia with a promise of marriage to Achilles, only to sacrifice her because that is what he was told would make the winds blow in his favor and take him to Troy; how she seduced and collaborated with the prisoner Aegisthus, who shared her bed in the dark and could kill; how Agamemnon came back with a lover himself; and how Clytemnestra finally achieved her vengeance for his stunning betrayal—his quest for victory, greater than his love for his child.

House of Names by Colm Toibin

Publication Date: May 9, 2017 by Scribner

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

I’ve made a promise to myself to focus as much as possible on female authors this year, but I made two exceptions for male authors this month (John Boyne being the second). One reason being that I have a soft spot for Irish authors, but also because Scribner graciously sent me a copy of this and The Heart’s Invisible Furies months ago and I felt it was time to sit down and dig in!

House of Names instantly appealed to me because I have a real fondness for Greek mythology. It has been awhile since I’ve read any though and so Toibin’s unique take on Clytemnestra’s story was extremely refreshing.

While the storyline itself is all to Toibin’s credit, he chose to maintain its original setting rather than modernizing it and I’m very glad for that. Despite being about Greek mythology, this is a fast-paced and easy to absorb story – don’t let a lack of prior mythology experience scare you away!

The novel is broken up into several chapters told by the point of view by Clytemnestra, her daughter Electra, and her son Orestes. I felt connected to all three and it was easy to get pulled into each of their narratives – my only disappointment is that I wish I could have read more of Clytemnestra’s point of view, but the story ultimately transitions into Orestes’ story about midway through the novel.

I personally felt like Toibin’s retelling of Clytemnestra’s story was a great example of how toxic masculinity can have such a far-reaching effect on individuals. I recognize that this is my own modern interpretation of their family tragedy, but I will admit that there was something satisfying in Clytemnestra’s bloody revenge on her husband. I also felt my heart aching for Orestes at many points in the story and all these complicated feelings about complicated characters made the book that much more enjoyable!

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Cyril Avery is not a real Avery or at least that’s what his adoptive parents tell him. And he never will be. But if he isn’t a real Avery, then who is he?

Born out of wedlock to a teenage girl cast out from her rural Irish community and adopted by a well-to-do if eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun, Cyril is adrift in the world, anchored only tenuously by his heartfelt friendship with the infinitely more glamourous and dangerous Julian Woodbead.

At the mercy of fortune and coincidence, he will spend a lifetime coming to know himself and where he came from – and over his three score years and ten, will struggle to discover an identity, a home, a country and much more.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne

Publication Date: August 22, 2017 by Scribner

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

Sometimes a book comes along that is every bit as good as all the hype that surrounds its release – Boyne’s novel is absolutely one of those gems. I was reluctant to start it due to its hefty weight and small font, but this actually turned out to be one of my quickest reads for February!

The story spans Cyril Avery’s entire life – it is a novel that at times is downright hilarious, but a few chapters further on can quickly bring you to tears. In short – the book is a total masterpiece.

It’s difficult to share my reading experience without cheapening the book’s contents. By the end, it felt very reminiscent of Yanagihara’s A Little Life because it is such an epic portrayal of the narrator’s life – both love and loss – in the most personal and touching way possible. From start to finish, I felt deeply invested in Cyril’s life as well as those of the other characters. I am also thrilled that this book dove deeply into LGBTQ issues as I am always looking to expand this area of my reading list and The Heart’s Invisible Furies gives an intimate view of what it meant to be gay in the 1960s-1980s, particularly in Ireland.

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Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Publication Date: February 6, 2018 by Algonquin Books

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

This book is equally impressive for Jones’ master storytelling as well as for the commentary it provides on American society and our viciously warped and racist justice system.

Perhaps it’s because I work in public education in a large, urban school district, but I have always made a point to stay aware of current politics related to the justice system. While I’ve read plenty of non-fiction on related topics, An American Marriage is the first fictional book I’ve read recently that has made issues of race, American culture, etc. such a truly personal experience.

An American Marriage consists of chapters that transition back and forth between husband and wife, Roy and Celestial (with a few later chapters told by their friend Andre’s point of view). About midway through, the novel briefly transitions to an epistolary style as the couple writes letter to each other while Roy is incarcerated for a crime he has not committed. I really loved the structure of the novel since it allowed for a deeper view of Celestial and Roy’s characters and personal experiences. Jones also presents a hauntingly sad reality for the many people in this country directly impacted by racial inequality through the ways in which Roy’s incarceration not only changes Roy and Celestial, but both of their families as well.

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The world as we know it is ending. Evolution has reversed itself, affecting every living creature on earth. Science cannot stop the world from running backwards, as woman after woman gives birth to infants that appear to be primitive species of humans. Twenty-six-year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker, adopted daughter of a pair of big-hearted, open-minded Minneapolis liberals, is as disturbed and uncertain as the rest of America around her. But for Cedar, this change is profound and deeply personal. She is four months pregnant.

Though she wants to tell the adoptive parents who raised her from infancy, Cedar first feels compelled to find her birth mother, Mary Potts, an Ojibwe living on the reservation, to understand both her and her baby’s origins. As Cedar goes back to her own biological beginnings, society around her begins to disintegrate, fueled by a swelling panic about the end of humanity.

There are rumors of martial law, of Congress confining pregnant women. Of a registry, and rewards for those who turn these wanted women in. Flickering through the chaos are signs of increasing repression: a shaken Cedar witnesses a family wrenched apart when police violently drag a mother from her husband and child in a parking lot. The streets of her neighborhood have been renamed with Bible verses. A stranger answers the phone when she calls her adoptive parents, who have vanished without a trace. It will take all Cedar has to avoid the prying eyes of potential informants and keep her baby safe.

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

Publication Date: November 14, 2017 by Harper

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My Thoughts:

This novel was a hit and miss for me. Louise Erdrich’s writing style is gorgeous, but I went into this book with certain expectations that it just ultimately did not meet. Future Home of the Living God centered more on Cedar’s experience as a young, pregnant woman and her journal narration to her unborn son than on the dystopian world she found herself living in.

Perhaps it was because of the book’s narrative style, but I felt a bit claustrophobic reading about Cedar’s experiences predominantly through her journal writing. It felt so closed off from everything that was going on around her and while I understand that ultimately this story is about Cedar’s journey through pregnancy in a new and dangerous world, I just never felt very connected to her.

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

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

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

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

Publication Date: January 2, 2018 by William Morrow

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My Thoughts:

I was instantly drawn in by the synopsis for The Woman in the Window (and very happy that the author used the word “woman” instead of “girl”). However, I will admit that when I discovered that the author was male, I didn’t feel compelled to pick the book up right away. There seems to be a slew of white, male authors writing crime fiction with female narrators and hiding behind gender-neutral pseudonyms and my first reaction was to assume that A.J. Finn/Daniel Mallory fit into this category.

I decided to do some online digging to find out more about the handsome, male author behind a book that had film rights attached to it before the book was even available to the public and I found myself pleasantly surprised and in a position to check my own assumptions and stereotypes. The link is above (click on the link for the author’s name) for those interested to have more background on Finn prior to reading his debut novel.

The Woman in the Window is unputdownable – I found I couldn’t tear myself away and ultimately finished it in about two days (I was lucky it was the weekend and didn’t have to sacrifice too much sleep to do this). Finn’s background as a book editor and his personal experiences clearly made him aware of what readers are looking for in their psychological thrillers and oh man, he seriously delivers.

There were aspects of the plot that I figured out before they were fully revealed, but this in no way took away from my reading enjoyment. This book is so well-paced, well-written, and such fun to read that I could easily overlook this one aspect of the plot development.

I say this without sarcasm – I am truly looking forward to seeing the film adaptation of Finn’s debut novel and only hope it is as much fun to watch as it was to read!

The Chalk Man

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In 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy English village and looking for any taste of excitement they can get. The chalk men are their secret code: little chalk stick figures they leave for one another as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them right to a dismembered body, and nothing is ever the same.

In 2016, Eddie is fully grown and thinks he’s put his past behind him, but then he gets a letter in the mail containing a single chalk stick figure. When it turns out that his friends got the same message, they think it could be a prank–until one of them turns up dead. That’s when Eddie realizes that saving himself means finally figuring out what really happened all those years ago.

The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

Publication Date: January 9, 2018 by Crown Publishing

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My Thoughts:

One of my goals for 2018 is to focus more on reading books by female authors. I find that crime/psychological fiction is often dominated by male authors and since it is the genre I find myself most drawn to, I hope to be more conscientious about the thrillers I choose to read this year. Needless to say, I was ecstatic to get my hands on a copy of C.J. Tudor’s The Chalk Man this month!

This is such a fun read! I essentially read this book in one sitting because I was hooked in immediately. The Chalk Man has all the best elements of a crime fiction novel – an unreliable narrator, well-developed characters, and a murder that intertwines multiple characters and story lines. I particularly loved the format – chapters switch back and forth between the present in 2016 and the summer of the crime in 1986. There was a lot to dig through with the plot and I appreciated the subtle hints and nuances that the author leaves as the novel progresses.

The Chalk Man is also not so straightforward in plot either – I particularly loved the twists that Tudor included at the end of the novel since it made me question everything I had previously learned through the narrator’s point of view. Very similar to Catherine Burns’ The Visitors , Tudor’s novel is a fast-paced, psychological thriller with layers of plot twists and untrustworthy characters.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.