The Girl on the Train

girlontrain

Today, during National Readathon Day, everyone was encouraged to read from 12-4 in the afternoon. While I probably only read for a half hour during that stint (lunch, family, kids…) I did manage to finish The Girl on the Train, so it was time well spent! When it was over, I put it down, passed it to my mom and said “It’s going to be the next Gone Girl. They’re going to make a movie out of it – the whole deal.” Like Gone Girl, I was completely sucked in, so only pick it up when you have some time to dedicate to it!

On the surface, this book is a whodunit – a woman goes missing and is found dead and (of course) the husband is  suspected. But at its heart it’s a deeply-nuanced look at people’s inner lives, a psychological case study about what it means to be recovering and lonely and sure that you can trust anyone more than you can trust yourself (when, in fact, you can’t). Hawkins is a master of the inner monologue and of characterization in general. We get to know the women of this book completely because, for much of it, we are inside their minds.

Though this book is told in three voices – Megan, in the days leading up to her disappearance; Rachel, who gets involved in the police investigation and Anna, Rachel’s ex-husband’s new wife – this is really Rachel’s story. Her narration is unique because she is a drunkard, perpetually struggling to piece together memory from illusion. For Rachel, reality is hazy and recollection blurred by drink. We’re meant to think her an unreliable narrator because of it, but in actuality it’s those around her who are untrustworthy. She lets others fill in the blanks for her because she can’t do it herself and it’s this – faith in people – that is her downfall.  Ultimately, though Megan’s the one who dies, it’s Rachel who’s the most sympathetic character.

The Girl on the Train is sinister and taut and frightening. It’s also humane because it originates with something we all do: people-watching. Imagining the unseen from the seen, to quote Henry James. Rachel can’t help but peer at a single picturesque couple from the seat of a train – an act of voyeurism that unravels the many lies swirling around in her own life.

This book is ingeniously plotted and it will keep you  hypnotically turning the pages to get to the end. Read it on your next vacation or when you just simply want to get taken in by the act of reading.

No publisher to thank this time. This book is my own copy and is currently in circulation!

The Rosie Effect

rosieeffect

I picked up this sequel to The Rosie Project just before winter vacation, wanting something light with which to detox from the semester that had just ended. I remembered Don Tillman being laugh-out-loud funny, quirky in a quintessentially perfect way.

That he is. But how could I have forgotten that his character is the furthest thing from light? Don Tillman, an obvious Asperger’s candidate,  is intense and technical and long-winded. He overthinks things in a way that can make your head hurt and he gets himself into the knottiest of entanglements. Once I got reacquainted with him, I expected that and was ready to make allowances for it. But in this book, I’ve come to feel, the author takes his personality and people’s reactions to it a bit too far.

This book was messy on a plot level – too many kooky scenarios for my brain to handle, too many unwarranted accusations – to the extent that it turned into high comedy rather than an affecting drama. Rosie is expecting and Don is thought unfit to be a father – psychologists, a social worker, an anger management group, the police and even a lesbian research team are after him. As the story progresses, he is named a suspected pedophile and a terrorist and must come out from under these allegations while attempting to save his marriage. Rosie is annoyed at how overattentive Don’s being to the informational details of pregnancy and thinks that’s enough to divorce him, move back home to Australia and raise the baby as a single mother. Would you believe that as a reader? As part of a married couple, if you are one? I didn’t.

This book felt like a wild goose chase, a he-said/she said game where the reader waits inevitably for someone to get caught in a lie, all while feeling the falsehoods are unnecessary and the conflict unearned. The resolution didn’t feel satisfactory either.

I do recommend The Rosie Project, though. If you do read it and enjoy it, I’ll fill you in on the essential details of the sequel. You’ll be curious to know whether Rosie and Don have a boy or a girl and whether they name him or her something undeniably scientific.

Many thanks to Simon and Schuster for my advanced review copy.

It’s Monday….

Hello, everyone!

I thought I’d breathe some life back into this blog by sharing what I’m reading this week. I may have finally gotten into the reading groove, having finished a book last week, wrote a blog post and started another one soon after. The book was Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique and a review will be up on its publication day, July 10th. Now I’m reading Lydia Netzer’s How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky

toledo

and it’s so much fun! I think I’m enjoying it a little too much. But it’s just what I needed to restore my faith in reading and thaw out my mental state.

On that front, I got a job at my old high school! It doesn’t feel real yet, because I haven’t signed a contract, but I’ll be teaching two semesters of creative writing (one to juniors and one to seniors) working hours in their writing center and also supervising the literary magazine. I’ve been given complete flexibility with the creative writing class – I can shape the curriculum however i want – which is really exciting. I’ve never taught at the high school level or made so many lesson plans before but I think I’ll really enjoy the process. I’m trying to breathe through it all and tell myself I’ll still be able to read books for pleasure.

I hope to finish Toledo today (it’s  completely addicting) and have a review up on pub day tomorrow – so keep a look out!

It’s Monday….What Are You Reading?

So, as you’ve probably noticed, the blog’s gone a major hiatus lately. It feels major, though my last post is only  a week old. I haven’t been able to think about blogging, let alone reading, for reasons I hope I’ll be able to share in the next few days. Until this pans out, my reading has gone into freeze mode. But  for the past 10 days, I’ve been aimlessly reading:

 

As Shannon from River City Reading warned, it’s very battle-heavy and it isn’t keeping my attention. I’m debating over whether to keep at it or abandon it in favor of a fantasy novel (choices: Alias Hook, Queen of the Tearling, Book 1 of The Magicians series) which seems to be what I need right now. Though I did hope to review it this month, as it’s just been released in paperback.

I apologize, really, for not visiting any of your blogs in the past week. Let me just get my life in order, and I’ll be back soon :)

We Are Called To Rise

we are called to rise

We Are Called To Rise is that rare thing – a novel with lofty aspirations that actually lives up to them. Laura McBride aims to make us just a little more compassionate, a little more cognizant of this world and our role in it. The small acts, the big ones – the way both sets are equally important but unequally acknowledged. In We Are Called To Rise,  she calls us to attention, asks us to bear witness – and it is profoundly moving reading experience.

I’m in awe of McBride and what she has done here – the level of sophistication, of forethought and existentialism that she has brought to this novel. There is a deftness of execution, an understanding of the human condition, that few novelists achieve in their best attempts. This is her first attempt and she has nailed it.

You’ve heard the expression “this novel will leave you changed.” Perhaps you’re tired of it. Perhaps you don’t believe it. Well, believe it now, because this one will. It will make you conscious of the effect you can have as an individual – and it will make you want to do big, grand things in consequence.

McBride explores these conditions: The immigrant experience, the child’s perspective, a former solider’s struggle, the disintegration of a long-time marriage. Those are its pieces. But more generally this novel is about war and the way its effects can ricochet, violently disturbing everyone in its orbit. It is about the way four embattled people can come together, hurt one another and then make each other whole again.

The writing in this book is phenomenal. It is the kind of writing that makes you sit up straighter, read faster but also with more care because you know something special is happening in the sentences. Each narration is stretched taut with meaning – with the pain and contradiction of human experience. McBride does such a good job of this – of creating characters who are real and raw and whose hopes and regrets are palpable.

We Are Called to Rise is a must-read. If only because it will enlarge your heart, open your eyes, ensure that you don’t shy away from the next horrific news segment. It’s in facing the unbearable that we become bigger, better people. Laura McBride wants that for each of her readers. She’s penned her story with these lofty expectations. Now she hopes we’ll go out into the world and surpass them.

Many thanks to Simon and Schuster for my advance reader’s copy!

Mrs. Hemingway

28book "Mrs. Hemingway" by Naomi Wood.

If you’re like me, you think you know everything there is to know about Hemingway’s romantic exploits. You’ve read The Paris Wife  about Ernest’s marriage to first wife Hadley and you’ve read Hemingway’s Girl about his marriage to Fife. Lo and behold there’s another two wives to add to the mix – a quartet of women who got tangled up in matrimony with this serial cheater.

What’s so wonderful about Mrs. Hemingway are the perspectives of Martha and Mary, only briefly mentioned in the other two books that I read and given about 80 page each, here. Reading about these two women – about all of them, really – was akin to reading a gossip magazine or eating the sweetest candy. Just pure, guilt-less enjoyment – and maybe a bit voyeuristic. The genius of Wood’s technique is that she doesn’t keep these women separate. She lets their sections bleed into one another, so that they make cameo appearances in each other’s stories and, more often than not, become friends commiserating over their loaf of a husband.

Wood begins each women’s point of view with the end of her marriage to Hemingway – the point at which it is beginning to disintegrate in favor of the next woman waiting. Because we get the end before we get beginning, the chronology was a bit disorienting to me. Wood may start out in August of a certain year, go back to April and then flash forward again to September so that the reader never knows what slice of the romance they’re going to get next or which way the story is going to be colored. I would’ve liked Wood to go in order month-wise in each of her sections, but that’s really the only gripe I have with this novel.

Wood has done her research, without getting bogged down in it. Hers is more of a human interest story, where I’m sure creative liberties were taken. She looks deeply into each Mrs. Hemingway painting them as strong, personable women – rather than people who would let themselves get taken. Her sympathy clearly lies with them, even as some trickles down for the depressed and sorry Hemingway.

Readers have been given a treat with this novel – a complete picture of the Hemingway marriages and an indirect portrait of the man himself.

Many thanks to Penguin Books for my advanced reader’s copy!

The Unfinished Child

unfinished child

More than a novel with Down Syndrome at its center, The Unfinished Child is a story about friendship. Friendship, infertility, impending motherhood and the often impossible choices that women are forced to make in their lives.  Told in alternating narratives, decades apart, the two story lines eventually converge in a gripping  and exciting way.

Initially, I felt more drawn to one narrative than the other; I found the Marie/Elizabeth sections to be steeped in repetition and predictability (Bitterness, self-pity. Bitterness, self-pity.) (Then again, I’ve never known what it’s like to be unable to conceive – or to conceive by surprise. How can I judge these characters’ emotions?)  In contrast, the Margaret/Dr. Maclean sections to be written with a heightened sensitivity – as if the stakes were raised. In a way they were. With them, Shea was trying to make an important point about the way Down Syndrome was initially perceived and treated – heinously. Ultimately, though,  her book is about so much more than a medical condition and its evolution over time. As the story progresses, an added layer of complexity settles itself like a shroud and all of its threads become increasingly tangled up in each other. It’s just wonderful how Shea brings it all together – these two seemingly unconnected, time-lapsed narratives relating in the most important way.

There is a crucial decision made in the novel. One that will change the course of three lives and a friendship. I didn’t feel like Shea explained fully the rationale for why that decision was made (which is ironic, really, because the book is all about decision- making). I think I understand the oversight, though. Shea was trying to go for the grand effect – for a dialed-up level of suspense and drama. As such, she was in a rush – telling the ending just as quickly as her reader was turning the pages. She succeeded in her momentum-building, but failed to give her story the closure it needed. If I were her editor I would’ve asked to unpack that final decision a little more fully – or at least more clearly.

Still, The Unfinished Child is a powerful, sensitively-told tale. Join in with Margaret, Elizabeth and Marie as they struggle to make the toughest life choices. And ask yourself, would you have done differently?

Many thanks to TLC Book Tours for my review copy and for having me as a host!

The Vacationers

vacationers

We’ve all read these sorts of novels: “Angst-ridden family clusters together in a single location. A myriad of emotions surface.” And yet, there is nothing stale about this book. The Vacationers manages to be a feel-good, lighthearted story, despite the fact that many of its characters are healing from betrayal. Though the premise may be typical, the execution is not. Be prepared to smile, nod in recognition, laugh in wry amusement, roll your eyes and get that warm blush during the tender moments. Emma Straub’s characters are a winsome combination.

The Vacationers may not be as ambitious as Straub’s previous work, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, but it must have required a deft and careful touch. Straub’s narration, as she places these characters with their scandalous backstories in such close proximity, is wise and reflective, warm and knowing. It makes you wish she’d look in on your life and give you advice.

On to the Post clan, inhabiting a beach house in Mallorca, Spain for a two-week vacation. There’s the 60-year-old father who cheated on his wife with an intern after 35 years of marriage, the gay husbands, one of whom is the mother’s best friend, the daughter, trying her best to forget an alcohol-laden party and also to lose her virginity and the infantile son, buried in debt, who has brought along his much-older girlfriend. With so many of the characters skirting around one another, it’s no surprise Straub uses an omniscient narrator who knows these people better than they know themselves. Until, of course, they begin to know themselves and change.

I would’ve liked more “bruised-character-to-bruised-character” interaction, instead of so many third parties delicately broaching the difficult subjects. But then again the few moments where these characters do interact are poignant and frankly just right. So I will give no more constructive criticism to Straub, who has created such real and human characters that they carry her story for her. We will root for them and engage with them  no matter the setting – be it a common-enough hometown or Mallorca, Spain. I for one am still thinking about Jim, Franny, Sylvia and Bobby, characters so vividly drawn they may as well be real friends.

Many thanks to Riverhead Books for my advanced reader’s copy!

The Quick

quick

The Quick sports a blurb from Kate Atkinson and Hilary Mantel and its release was very much anticipated by bloggers I trust. When it was offered up by TLC, many of us jumped on the tour immediately – me particularly because it was set in Victorian London, my favorite of literary settings. And indeed it does begin that way – in a sprawling, luxurious, almost languid style. Though not much happens for the first 100 pages, it’s pleasant to follow James along, as he makes his way as a poet and comes to terms with his sexuality. Shannon from River City Reading compared the initial tone of the book to The Signature of all Things and I agree with that comparison. I think if the book had continued in that  vein of carefully considered musing, of introspection and personal struggle, I would’ve enjoyed this book immensely. As it was, I could not finish it. This is because of the turn the book takes at the advent of Part II – unexpected, unwarranted and completely unsustainable.

To  be fair to Lauren Owen, I was warned of this twist via some bloggers who’d read the book before I did. I tried to shrug the knowledge off, resolved to go into the book with an open mind. I wanted to give the author as charitable as a chance as any, since so many bloggers appeared to be displeased by it. But the shift this novel takes – macabre, gothic, vampiric  – it’s too sudden, maybe – or just doesn’t fit with what came before it. Perhaps if there was more of an infusion of that sort of thing in the novel’s opening segment, readers would be more prepared, or could determine sooner if this was the sort of plot and aesthetic they’d be willing to read .

Owen means to surprise, obviously, but it comes off as a crude surprise, manipulative and entirely creepy. I couldn’t shake off this feeling of creepiness, or my continual disbelief. I think to sustain this sort of premise – a club where men go through an “Exchange,” become the un-dead and prey on humans so as to suck  their blood, it has to be plausible from the outset. A world has to be built from the book’s opening pages – if only because the world we live in so obviously doesn’t contain these elements. As it was, immersion was entirely impossible – the first half being so relatable and pedestrian and the second being supernatural. Perhaps if Owen had more seamlessly blended the two, I would’ve been able to go along for the book’s journey. I feel bad that I couldn’t, but I think I have some good reasons as to why.

Many thanks to TLC Book Tours for my advanced review copy!

I Am Pilgrim (Guest Post)

I-Am-Pilgrim

Remember when your mother made you a sandwich for school lunch? Sure, it looked good when she put it in your lunchbox, and that first bite was great, but when you got to the middle, it was soggy. That is the best way I can describe I Am Pilgrim – tasty at the edges, but with a sagging middle.

The book focuses on a man in a secret government divison, whose name changes with each mission – he is tasked with the ultimate threat to humanity: a weaponized version of smallpox that will wipe out millions of lives in the blink of an eye. As the reader advances through the main story, and just as it’s getting good, you’re sidetracked to a trip down memory lane – a completely different story that diverts your focus and interest from the main plot. This happens several times throughout the novel, like an elderly person trying to get an important point across who suddenly says “that reminds me of the time…” and winds up losing their train of thought. Hayes tries to weave these previous events into the central story towards the end, but they don’t contribute much, and are ultimately a distraction.

Then there’s the use of the word gloom – it’s everywhere! Darkness, murk, shadows – any of these words would have achieved the same effect in setting the scene, but gloom was the word used whenever possible. This is more of  nitpick, but still something that bothered me while I was reading.

But it’s not all doom and gloom (now it’s stuck in my head!) – the edges of this sandwich are great, as I mentioned. The novel has a very Jason Bourne feel to it throughout. I believe it’s worth powering through the distractions to see how the main plot progresses and ultimately ends. ~Morris Massry

Many thanks to Simon and Schuster for my advance review copy!