Welcome back to Part Two of my Winter 2017 Book Reviews! Thanks for checking in, and I hope my reviews will add something to your list of books to be read.
The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss. Can we first just talk about the art work on the cover? That is a painting. Not a photo of an old fashioned looking girl. It is a painting.
I mean. Seriously. This cover art is a painting called "Eliza" by Michael Gaskell. It was done with acrylic paint on board. The style of art is photo realism, and is simply amazing. On to the subject of the book. A 15 year old girl collapses on the athletic field of her school, not breathing. She is revived by a passer-by and is hospitalized. This incident and her subsequent diagnosis change her family's life forever. The topic hit a bit close to home. A few years back, my beloved seventeen year old niece was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Her illness and eventual death devastated her family. My ability to articulate what they experienced and what other families with a seriously ill child go through is limited. I cannot do justice to the scope of emotion and toll such an event takes on a family. The book was very well written, and has had much high praise from reviewers. I recommend it, but don't have it in me to describe it very well.
Now this was an interesting book. Leiyin, a young Chinese woman, dies. She is at her own funeral at the start of the book, watching the proceedings from above. Next to her,looking down, are her three souls. This plot reminded me somewhat of Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol" with the ghosts of Christmas Past, Future and Present. Leiyin is being denied entrance into the afterlife until she works through her behavior on earth with her three souls. The book is told in flash backs, and is a journey of self realization for this now dead young woman. Revenge, betrayal, freedom--this book has it all. I enjoyed it.
This book was stupid. It was a psychological thriller that was moderately interesting and suspenseful. Until the ending, which was contrived and silly and just plain dumb. A woman named Louise meets a handsome man in a bar. They have a one night stand, but agree not to see each other again because he admits he is married. She goes to work the next day and discovers this guy is her new boss. Somehow she becomes friends with his wife as well as him, and the perspective of the book bounces between Louise, the boss and his wife. You know someone is going to die, and I have to admit, the book was suspenseful. But man, the ending sucked. The reader is very shamelessly manipulated. I hate that.
I mentioned this book a month or so ago, saying despite the beauty of the cover, I was kind of slogging through it. I had a change of heart near the end of the book however, and decided I really did like it. The writing is simply exquisite, and I am sure this book is going to win all sorts of literary awards. You will be swept into the world of Cora, a recently widowed woman who is now experiencing the heady intoxication of being freed from her abusive husband. Set in 1893 England, when fossil hunting and natural studies (think Darwin) was all the rage, Cora travels with her son and female companion to Essex to search for the rumored "sea serpent" (kind of like the Loch Ness monster). The little town they travel to is very superstitious and has been completely overtaken by the thought that all the town's misfortunes have to do with this mythical beast. Cora meets up with the town vicar, with whom she has a very strong emotional and intellectual connection. The relationship the two of them develop is very compelling. The writing is descriptive and lyrical and will pull you in to the Victorian atmosphere in such a way that you will feel as if you were living it. This book was very complex, and definitely worth the read.
Southern Ruby is a generational saga set in New Orleans. The plot shifts back and forth between the Civil Rights movement of the 60's to the time of Hurricane Katrina. The author is Australian and is known for her family saga books set in interesting places and periods of time throughout history. I listened to this book as an audio book, and there were some definite issues with the narration. The narrator was Australian, and had absolutely no clue how to do an American Southern or "negro" accent. It was painful at times to listen to her butcher the language. Distracting at best. That being said, the plot of the book was quite engrossing. An aristocratic Creole girl named Ruby becomes the sole supporter of her mother and faithful servant after the death of her father, who squandered the family fortune. She becomes an extremely successful burlesque dancer who falls in love with a black musician--neither of those activities endorsed by polite society in New Orleans in the early 60s. The story flips back and forth between Ruby, and her grand daughter who was raised in Australia, but comes to New Orleans to meet her grandmother and discover her past. It was a very engrossing story, and I will read more from this author. Don't listen to the audio version, read the book.
Look, a classic! I've read Daphne duMaurier's Rebecca of course, and seen a couple of movie versions. I had never even heard of this little book and ordered it for my Kindle. Set in Cornwall, the plot concerns Philip Ashwell, who inherits an estate when his uncle dies abroad under mysterious circumstances. A life long bachelor, the uncle had apparently suddenly and very unexpectedly married a mysterious woman while traveling abroad. Philip has received some posthumous letters from his uncle, who seems to have become physically ill and mentally paranoid shortly after his marriage. Philip begins to doubt that his uncle's death was an accident. Rachel, the mysterious widow turns up at the estate in Cornwall and all kinds of chaos result. There is nothing so atmospheric and suspenseful as a Daphne duMaurier book. This was terrific. It was made into a movie staring Olivia deHavilland and Richard Burton in 1952, but a new version starring Rachel Weitz and Sam Clafin is to be released this summer. Put it on your "must see" list!
More ugly than wonderful, I am sorry to say. All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is one of those books that is going to be controversial. It concerns the love between two people who grasp for a connection to one another whilst living in the gritty world of a ranch that is also a meth lab. It is true that love can take all forms and its bonds can be unconventional. But this went a bit too far for me. It was masterfully written in that I wasn't sure how I actually felt about the subject matter by the end of the book, but in retrospect I decided that all in all what happened in the story was just not ok. I can't do justice to reviewing the book, so if you want more detail on the storyline, here's the link to Amazon.com.
I chose this book because of my desire to have more diversity in my reading material. Set in London in the 1970s. Leon is a little nine year old boy living with his very troubled mother and his new baby brother. Leon is bi-racial (his dad was Jamaican) and his baby brother is white. The mother spirals into mental illness and the children go into foster care. The white baby brother gets adopted, but older mixed race Leon does not. Leon is determined to get his family back together and the story is about his rather heart breaking attempts to do so, while coming to grips with a world he cannot control. Full of wonderful characters, this book is ultimately hopeful and certainly proves the point that there is more than one kind of "normal" family. I recommend it.
Saving the best for last! I adored this book completely. Every word, every page. Set in Kent, England, in 1940. All the men have gone to war, and the Chilbury village vicar has decried that there will be no more church choir "since all the men are away". Harumph, say the women in Chilbury. They band together to form the Chilbury Ladies' Choir, because after all if there is a war on, singing and music are needed more than ever. Full of eccentric and wonderful characters, you will wish you lived in the village and knew each and every one of them personally. Told through letters and journal entries, you will get to know five main characters: a lonely widow whose son has gone to war, a seedy midwife intent to make some money no matter how immoral the method, the two daughters of a tyrannical brigadier, a Jewish refugee from Czechoslovokia with a secret, as well as cast of village characters that come to life on the page. The book expertly weaves between the more trivial concerns of village life and true matters of import. If you liked The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I think you might like this book even better. The audio version was excellent, with a cast of narrators who all did a super job.
So that's a wrap! Hope you enjoyed the reviews and if you read any of the books I would love to know your thoughts on them.