Thursday, September 30, 2010

SIBA Trade Show Weekend

This past weekend, I attended the 2010 SIBA Trade Show in Daytona Beach, Florida. If you haven't heard of SIBA, well, where have you been? SIBA is the Southern Independent Bookseller's Alliance and is run by the fabulous Wanda Jewel. The weekend was packed with events, author signings and readings, and in between all these things I got the chance to spend some time with a few awesome bloggers (who are quickly turning out to be my favorite kind of people). It's funny and very cool to meet a group of people that seem to bond instantly and have so much to share with each other. I actually spent the weekend attached to the totally awesome and amazing Kathy's (Bermudaonion's Weblog) hip and even had the pleasure of wheedling her into bringing home more books then she could safely carry. I spent some more time and had dinner with the very hip Sandy Nawrot of You've Gotta Read This as well as Kathy, and we all had drinks with Natalie of Coffee and a Book Chick, who is an amazingly funny lady! Having dinner with Sandy and Kathy was just the coolest blogger experience, and I have to tell you, those ladies really know their books! I also met the incredibly sweet Stacy of A Novel Source and got the chance to meet the vivacious Rebecca from The Book Lady's Blog. I actually was in attendance for a panel called Get in Bed With a Book Blogger hosted by Rebecca, and found it to be very informative and interesting. Here's a picture that was taken at the bar of the Plaza Resort & Spa, and another on the convention floor:
Natalie, Sandy, Heather, Kathy
Kathy, Stacy, Heather
I have to say that the entire weekend was amazing. To be completely surrounded by people who share the same passion for books was incredible, and I met people from all walks of life that were enthusiastic and excited about the book trade. Some of the highlights of the weekend were the SIBA Supper, where the great Fanny Flagg regaled the audience with the tale of how she got her big break in writing, and my personal highlight of the night, getting the chance to hear  Emma Donoghue speak about her Booker finalist, Room. I also got the chance to talk to Emma and grab a photo with her (!!!) and I must admit that I came off as a totally gushy fangirl.

Heather with Emma Donoghue
One of the events that I thought was really brilliant was the Movable Feast luncheon. This was a chance to have a nice lunch while a number of authors stopped by the  tables to chat about their new books. During that lunch, I got the chance to talk to the superb Jim Minick, whose new memoir, The Blueberry Years, is at the top of my list of exciting books. I also got the chance to have a stimulating chat with the very funny and witty Lou Dischler, who is the author of My Only Sunshine (published by the incredible Hub City Press, a lot more on them soon). Lou took the opportunity to read a little snippet from his book and I have to admit I'm pretty thrilled that I will be reading it soon. Manette Ansay stopped by as well and told us about the process of writing her new novel Good Things I Wish You, and I think it's a book that lovers of historical fiction and literary fiction will enjoy. Kathy also introduced me to the incomparable Susan Gregg Gilmore, whose new book, The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove, looks so, so wonderful. Also, during one of the breakfast events, I was honored to share a table with author James Swanson (Manhunt, Bloody Crimes) and we had a very interesting chat about the impact and repercussions of e-books and the push for greater adoption of digital media on the book industry as a whole. He was very well informed and erudite on the subject and I was very impressed with his viewpoint and thoughts. Meeting Marybeth Whalen (The Mailbox, She Makes it Look Easy) was also a highlight of the trip. She was a very warm and charming dinner companion and discussed all the details of her upcoming book with me. She also shared some great resources that I know I am going to find helpful.
James Swanson
There were author signings galore and the chance to rub elbows and chat with a lot of incredible authors and publishers and independent bookstore owners, including representatives from Hachette, Harper Collins, Random House, Macmillan, Simon and Schuster, Penguin, and W.W. Norton. Not to mention the fact that the exhibition floor itself was unlike anything I have ever seen. I got the chance to bring back so many incredible books. There's a lot to be excited about in the book world right about now, and it was lovely to get the chance to share in that enthusiasm. The SIBA Trade Show will be held in South Carolina in 2011, and book lovers, I am telling you, it's an event not to be missed! If you want to get in on the road trip with Sandy and me next year, we'd love to have you, just let us know!

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver — 544 pgs

Book CoverThe Lacuna is the story of the life of Harrison Shepard and, perhaps more importantly, the story of the lives that he touches as he winds his way along the dubious path of his life. Harrison was born to a Mexican mother and an American father and spent most of his childhood living in Mexico after his mother relocated to pursue other romantic interests. Growing up in Mexico, Harrison is left mainly to his own devices but he learns at an early age to love the Mexican half of his heritage and the land he calls home. When his mother's circumstances change, Harrison is sent back to America, ostensibly to live with his father, but he is quickly placed in a prestigious boarding school where he finishes the second half of his education. Returning to Mexico, Harrison finds himself working as a plaster mixer, cook and typist for the famous Diego Rivera and his volatile wife, the unflappable Frida Khalo. Frida and Diego are not only caught up in a life of art, they are also inextricably entwined in the communist cause, which Harrison also comes to be unwittingly involved in. When Leon Trotsky, fleeing a death sentence from Stalin, makes an appearance at the Rivera's secluded ranch, Harrison quickly becomes embroiled in a complicated web of the complicities of communism and admiration for the man and his assistants. After a terrible betrayal ends in murder and dissension, Harrison makes his final escape back to the States where he longs for a different kind of life. Reinventing himself as an author of wildly successful Mexican epics, Harrison believes that the drama of his past is behind him. But soon the House Un-American Activities Committee has its sights on him and it's all Harrison can do to bury the details of his past and get on with the business of leading a quiet life in small town America. In this epic journey through Mexico and America and back again, the life of an artist and sometimes conspirator is dissected and divulged, its small pieces becoming a dazzling whole.

I must say I've been excited about this book since first hearing about it and learning about all the accolades heaped upon it. My previous experience with Kingsolver's work was not very broad, being that I've only read one of her books. The book I read was The Poisonwood Bible, but the fact that I read it twice should say something about what I think of her work. When I was asked if I wanted the chance to review this book, I had to to a little dance of excitement because I had long wanted the chance to revel again in the kinds of worlds that Kinglsolver is known to create. And while there are parts of this book that were really beautiful, for the most part I didn't really feel like this book was a good fit for me, or really an accurate reflection of the type of books that I think make Kingsolver such a good author.

First of all, I found it difficult to connect with Harrison as a character. He seemed very insubstantial and almost completely absent emotionally as well as physically from the page. His physical attributes and mental states were never defined, and the longer I read about him, the more I felt I knew nothing about his character. Harrison exists only in the reflections of other people and much of this book is predicated on the fact that these reflections can piece together a portrait of the protagonist, which I feel was not very successful. It's hard to read such a lengthy book when you have no real idea of the motivations and behaviors of its main character. It's even harder, I think, to let the secondary characters in a work this expansive do the job of defining this character's subtle nuances. Though the story around Harrison was fast flowing and compelling, Harrison himself was just sort of a void to me. He never took on the life that the tale needed in order for me to find it successful.

I also felt that Kingsolver had overreached in her storytelling. The issues she tackles were rather serious but I think the book failed in its approach and construction. Maybe it's just that I'm not really interested in art, communism and the ways they intersect, but for me, most of the story moved very slowly and it was an effort not to skim. Kingsolver has a lot to say about communism, un-American activities, blacklisting and a whole host of other issues, but to me the way she said them felt almost as preachy as a five hundred page lecture. I am aware that these were dark times for America and its citizens and that there was a lot of drama made over nothing at all, but I really felt like a lot of this book was excessively pedantic. There were too many messages for me to be able to sit back and enjoy the ride, and though the book was indeed very complex, I felt like the whole house of cards balanced very precariously on Kingsolvers ideals.

I am also wary of books that weave in real historical characters, unless the book centers around these very well-known characters themselves. I think the success of books like this hinge on the fictional portrayal of real-life people, and in this case, I wasn't impressed with what I found. Most of the well-known people in this book felt like caricatures to me and were painted in broad strokes instead of the tiny defining ones that I had been hoping for. They seemed larger than life but did not bear close scrutiny. Another the reason that this bothered me so much is because the very nature of this book was to tell a personal story, but to me, the story felt anything but personal. Populated as it was by real-life figures, it became a sprawling historical novel. And knowing that my knowledge of these particular people and times was lacking, I just couldn't lose the feeling that this book may or may not be pulling the wool over my eyes in terms of its characters motivations and actions. I think this particular problem had more to do with me as a reader and my lack of information, but it was bothersome to me nevertheless.

There were moments in this book when Kingsolver turned a phrase or reflection that was effortlessly beautiful, and I found myself hoarding these moments and marking them in my book. After countless pages of things that were of lesser interest to me, all of a sudden, a passage would shine out like a beacon, drawing my admiration and awe in a way that captivated me. It is for these small reflections and really for the tight construction of the story as a whole that I have to admit that this book was not a total loss for me. I am fully prepared to admit that my intellectual inexperience may be the stumbling block that kept me from fully enjoying this story, but my reactions to it remain the same nonetheless.

I am not sure where next to go with Kingsolver. I think she's a brilliant storyteller but I also think her specialty lies in the smaller and less complex stories she tells. While I had a hard time with this book, I am glad to have experienced it and think that those readers who like highbrow and political fiction would probably have a very different reaction than I had. This is a big book with big ideas, but it was not what I had been expecting.

Author PhotoAbout the Author

Barbara Kingsolver is the author of seven works of fiction, including the novels The Lacuna, The Poisonwood Bible, Animal Dreams and The Bean Trees, as well as books of poetry, essays, and creative nonfiction. Her most recent work of nonfiction is the enormously influential bestseller Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Kingsolver’s work has been translated into more than twenty languages and has earned literary awards and a devoted readership at home and abroad. In 2000, she was awarded the National Humanities Medal, our country’s highest honor for service through the arts. She lives with her family on a farm in southern Appalachia.

Learn more about Barbara Kingsolver at her website.

TLC Book Tours A warm thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing this book for me to read and review. Please continue to follow the tour by visiting these other blogs:

Tuesday, September 7th:Literate Housewife (The Poisonwood Bible)
Wednesday, September 8th: Lit and Life (The Lacuna)
Thursday, September 9th: Bibliofreak (The Bean Trees)
Monday, September 13th: Presenting Lenore (The Lacuna)
Tuesday, September 14th:Fyrefly’s Book Blog (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle)
Wednesday, September 15th:Eleanor’s Trousers (The Bean Trees)
Friday, September 17th: My Two Blessings (The Poisonwood Bible)
Monday, September 20th:Til We Read Again (The Lacuna)
Thursday, September 23rd:Rundpinne (The Bean Trees)
Tuesday, September 28th:Raging Bibliomania (The Lacuna)
Tuesday, September 28th:The Lost Entwife (The Lacuna)
Wednesday, September 29th:Steph and Tony Investigate (The Poisonwood Bible)
Thursday, September 30th:Wordsmithonia (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle)
Friday, October 1st:In the Next Room (The Lacuna)
Monday, October 4th:Caribousmom (Prodigal Summer)
Tuesday, October 5th:Bookworm’s Dinner (The Lacuna)
Thursday, October 7th:she reads and reads (The Lacuna)
Monday, October 11th:Book Chatter (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle)
Wednesday, October 13th:Jenn’s Bookshelves (Prodigal Summer)

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel — 320 pgs

Book CoverAfter traveling from Atlanta to Miami for a friend's wedding, twenty-six year old Frances is introduced to Dennis, a handsome and charming Miami native. Francis and Dennis have a slow and steady courtship, and are married. They spend the next thirty years coming close and drifting apart and sharing their lives with one another within the tropical climate of Miami. The couple welcomes a much-loved daughter into their lives whose heartaches and joys become their own, and Dennis leaves his career after many unhappy years as a lawyer resulting in his family struggling through months of unemployment. Frances, though in love with Dennis, has a few moments of weakness with other men and learns that by giving herself to Dennis, she has shut the door to other possibilities and directions that her life could have taken. As Frances and Dennis develop close relationships with Dennis' family and friends, they discover that these relationships are put to the test when the unthinkable happens and the couple's marriage is tested by ravaging disease and infirmity. In this thirty year chronicle of a marriage, the uplifting joys and devastating sadness of two people are examined through the intense and compassionate lens of Francis' eyes.

I had a really hard time with this book; although I wanted to love it, I found that, at best, my reaction to it was neutral. I think it may have been a case of expecting too much. All I really knew going in was that this book was essentially about a couple who lives out their entire marriage in the South Florida area, and as I lived in Miami for 28 years, I thought that that would be enough for me to really be able to enjoy the book. While I do think that Miami was portrayed beautifully in this novel and I recognized every place that the characters visited, the book left a lot to be desired in its execution of character and narrative.

First of all, I couldn't help but feel that there was a curious emotional disconnect in the characters of this story. Francis, while being very nice and mild-mannered, seemed to have no strong feelings about anything whatsoever. A lot of the time, this made her reactions to things seem oddly stale. I just didn't get the impression that Francis was really emotionally invested in anything and it was hard for me to take her seriously. She seemed to be the type of character who watches quietly as life passes her by and she never seemed to be moved by strong emotions on either end of the spectrum. The way that Francis dealt with the world around her both bothered and puzzled me, and I grew to dislike the flatness of her character. Some of the things that happened to Francis and Dennis were very serious but I felt that the writing didn't give the proper gravity to their situations or reactions. Towards the end of the book, I felt that things were beginning to become a little more balanced but it still felt like the author was holding back a lot. I don't typically enjoy melodrama in my writing but I also don't like it when everything seems devoid of emotion and sensitivity. The narrator just felt too removed for me to be able to invest in her story.

I also felt that the pacing of the novel was a little off; it was hard to know which parts of the book were intended to be focus points. The author had a habit of interspersing trivial stories among the more meaty drama in what I can only describe as a strangely tangled and circular way, and everything lacked the emotional punch that I have come to expect in this kind of book. There seemed to be a lot of inconsequential things happening in the story, and as anecdotes they were not all that successful. It felt like a lot of the book was just an effort to fill pages until the final climax, almost as if the book was written around the ending. The anecdotes that made up most of the plot seemed to have no meaning or agenda, whereas the more drama-laden sections seemed to exist in a vacuum devoid of emotional intensity. I just got the feeling that things were not balanced and that a lot of the action in this book was strung together haphazardly.

Another thing that bothered me was the way Dennis was portrayed. He seemed very generic and one-dimensional. I didn't get the feeling that he was a very complex character at all, and most of his dialogue was made in the form of pithy asides. In portraying a marriage, I think it's really important to have both halves represented fully, which is something I didn't feel this book did well. It was hard to care about Dennis because he seemed like a cardboard cutout and I never really felt like I knew him at all. He had no depth. He wasn't jealous, angry or abrupt when he should have been, and just existed in a sort of sterile bubble that I could never seem to permeate. Dennis was too bland to have any resonance to me, which made me feel heartless towards the end of the book when I couldn't manage to scare up a lot of genuine sympathy for him. He just didn't touch me as I thought he would.

The one area where I think this book excelled was in the portrayal of South Florida, both in its history and its attributes. A lot of the scenes around the towns, marshes and beaches felt very vivid and genuine. You could almost feel the sun soaking in your skin and the salt water on your lips. I've visited a lot of these places and it felt like the author really did her homework in her descriptions of Miami. This gave the book a very tropical feel, and I felt that the author got not only the area right but the people populating it as well. Miami came off as inviting and charming, somewhat insular yet diverse. In reading this book, I felt a lot of nostalgia for the home I left behind, and although I don't visit often, the book made me want to journey back and check out some of my familiar haunts.

Though this book was not as pleasing as I had hoped it would be, there were some things that I really liked about it. At the top of the list was the setting and the way the characters were enveloped by it. I also liked that the book managed to encapsulate a huge space of time very neatly and concisely. Though I didn't feel like the plot and characters were all that well rendered, I feel like others may enjoy the low-key and quiet approach a lot more than I did. Though bits of this book were frustrating to me, there were other parts that felt more authentic and I enjoyed those bits quite a lot. If you are looking for a book that really has the shape, feel and flavor of Miami, then this book would be of interest to you.

About the Author

Susanna Daniel was born and raised in Miami, Florida, where she spent much of her childhood at her family’s stilt house in Biscayne Bay. She is a graduate of Columbia University and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and was a Carl Djerassi Fiction Fellow at the University of Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing.

Susanna lives with her husband and son in Madison, Wisconsin, where during the long winter she dreams of the sun and the sea, and of jumping off the stilt house porch at high tide. She is at work on a second novel.

Connect with Susanna:

TLC Book Tours A warm thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing this book for me to read and review. Please continue to follow the tour by visiting these other blogs:

Monday, September 13th:Joyfully Retired
Wednesday, September 15th:Simply Stacie
Friday, September 17th:Reading at the Beach
Monday, September 20th:Books and Cooks
Wednesday, September 22nd:Raging Bibliomania
Thursday, September 23rd:Bermuda Onion
Monday, September 27th:The Book Faery Reviews
Tuesday, September 28th:Book Club Classics!
Wednesday, September 29th:My Random Acts of Reading
Thursday, September 30th:Devourer of Books
Monday, October 4th:Pudgy Penguin Perusals
Wednesday, October 6th:A Bookish Way of Life
Thursday, October 7th:Luxury Reading
Monday, October 11th:Mockingbird Hill Cottage

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Still Missing by Chevy Stevens — 352 pgs

Book CoverWhen realtor Annie O' Sullivan is abducted by "The Freak," she convinces herself that she will be found within the week. But when no one comes to save her she is left to fight for her life against the sadistic and strange man who is holding her captive. Locked in a small cabin with no escape, her every move is monitored and her every privilege is stripped away. Though "The Freak" oddly implies that he cares for her well-being, this doesn't stop him from repeatedly raping her and physically abusing her. After a year of never-ending and bizarre tortures, Annie finally escapes; but she is not the same, nor is the world she reenters. After engaging the help of a psychiatrist, Annie reveals her year of hellish captivity in the cabin, learning slowly to readjust to her freedom and her surroundings. But even though she has escaped, her odd story is far from over. For one thing, she has a very antagonistic relationship with her alcoholic mother, and for another, she is still desperately struggling to deal with her feelings for her boyfriend Luke. As any whiles away her days, avoiding the media and engaging with her psychiatrist in therapy, she discovers that even after her horrible ordeal, she is not safe. When a strange set of crimes is perpetrated against her, Annie is in fear for her life once again, and when the facts eventually come to light, she is left stunned and confused. Still Missing tells Annie's remarkable and terrifying story with breakneck speed and leaves the reader breathlessly rapt until the last page is turned.

I have been reading so much about this book all over the blogosphere and have been really excited to read it. One thing I have been really concerned about in reading this book is that the story would be very traumatic and unpalatable. I tend to shy away from books that make me too mentally uncomfortable, which is one of the reasons I keep putting off The Blue Notebook. It's a slippery slope though, because it's the very premise of the story that intrigues and interests me, but it's the execution I really felt would be most important. I don't think anyone really wants to read a book about torture without some kind of scale balancing revenge, and though this book really could have fallen into the trap of being too brutal, I surprised by what I found.

The book is written in a very straightforward and no-nonsense style. This is not only true of the plot, but also of the characters' dialogue and internal thought processes. The story begins as Annie recounts her horrible ordeal with her therapist, and at once I was able to see that this was no shrinking flower of a girl. She was tough and rugged, and I thought her inability to process the things she had been through was very realistic and on target. Annie's ordeal wasn't pretty to read about, but it was also not overly detailed and gory. Instead, Stevens keeps it gripping, the suspense of Annie's year in the woods mounting imperceptibly until its horrific conclusion. Stevens also had a really deft touch in creating "The Freak." On the surface he seemed like a normal man, but scratching the surface, he was revealed to be a very disturbed and sadistic person who felt as though Annie was his creation to dominate and control. Some of the things that happened to her in that cabin were not only frightening but bizarre, and when she finally managed to free herself, I cheered for her.

One of the things I liked about this book was that it wasn't a one trick pony. Many authors would have been content to let the kidnapping storyline take over the plot and become the center of the action, but Stevens went one better. As Annie recovers, another sinister plot against her is revealed, and coupled with the kidnapping, I was left wondering just what level of collusion between the storylines was going to be revealed. As I read, I was fully gripped by the past and the present, and I was left mentally checking off suspects and clues as the plot wound its way into ever more complex spirals. When I finally got to the end of this very precarious story, I was at once overwhelmed and chilled. Stevens had a way of completely immersing me and she invests her plot cleverly with red herrings, sympathetic villains and a story that barrels inexorability forward on a path that I never expected.

The reason I think this book was such a success for me was Annie herself. She had a way of being very cynical, yet self-deprecating, and that in a way transformed the narrative surrounding her abduction. If not for Annie's pluck and black humor, I can imagine that this book would have become very dark and probably too maudlin for me to get involved in. Annie is a smart-mouthed survivor, and even when she seems to lose hope, there is something about her that is resilient and cunning. As Annie strove against "The Freak," I truly believed that she would one day get the better of him. Though none of the other characters could hold a candle to Annie, the rest of the cast was also interesting and quirky, and I felt that Stevens did a great job of populating this story with eclectic and believable people.

This was a book that left my pulse pounding and my mind in a whirlwind. I doubt I could have put it down if I had wanted to. There are a lot of suspense/thrillers out there nowadays, but this book is truly unique. It certainly had a plot that is unlike any other and with its sassy protagonist, it's easily the best book in this genre that I have read in a long while. Though the subject matter is indeed horrific at times, it's not overblown or overdone, making this a fast paced and absorbing read. This is a book that really lives up to the hype and I would not hesitate to recommend this to readers who like complex and fascinating stories.

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Red Hook Road by Ayelet Waldman — 352 pgs

Book CoverThe Tetherleys and the Copakens are two families living on the coast of Maine who are about to be joined forever by the marriage of their two oldest children, Becca and John. After a beautiful if tense wedding, a horrible car accident on the way to the reception leaves both Becca and John dead. As the two families struggle with their shared grief, the gulf widens between them. Iris Copaken and Jane Tetherley, both mothers who have lost their children, find themselves in an awkward and uncomfortable dance of a relationship, with Iris dictating the steps to an increasingly wary and hostile Jane. Meanwhile, the two younger siblings of the lost couple begin a relationship that strangely mirrors the one between the deceased couple. As the tale winds itself around four summers, the two families begin to see that the bond that was forged with Becca and John's wedding will not be easily broken. Both tender and at times sorrowful, Red Hook Road gives a peek into the lives of two very different families bound together by tragedy.

This is my first book by Ayelet Waldman, though I've heard good things about her work. I think the thing that struck me the most about this book was the way Waldman encapsulates the tender and ever-changing relationship between a mother and her children. Though there are many other types of relationships portrayed in this book, these mother-to-child relationships seemed to be the glue that held the story together and really placed the framework for the rest of the tale. I was surprised to find such a complete and genuine examination of the subject in the book, mostly, I think, because I had been expecting something a little different.

One of the things I liked about this book was the fact that although the two female protagonists were not all that likable, I was able to feel a lot of sympathy and understanding for them. It's rare to find a character that you don't like but can completely understand. For the most part, I thought Iris was domineering and controlling, and her actions spoke loudly of her need to organize and dominate everyone else's lives. It happened time and time again that Iris would assert herself in ways that totally took the decision-making power our of another person's hands. This was true of all of her relationships and I considered the possibility that Iris was really trying to live through people instead of letting them make their own choices and mistakes. I wasn't really fond of her but I did feel like I could relate to her in some ways and I also felt that not all of her actions were completely selfish. Jane, on the other hand, was more of a cold fish and she wasn't a nice person. Most of the time the reader is in her head, she is complaining and bitter. I got the impression that she felt that her future had been compromised by her past and that she was a little smug and condescending about the people who surrounded her. She was not a person who I liked spending time with but I did feel like she almost had a right to be bitter about her life and situation. She was very human and it felt very real to be in her head. Both of these women just felt right somehow. They felt like real people, with warts and flaws in all the right places.

The relationship between the two families was really more about the relationship between Iris and Jane than anything else. Iris was constantly trying to exert control over Jane, with Jane attempting to back away and over time developing a palpable undercurrent of anger and a strange sort of detachment towards her rival. When the two women come to see that they need each other and that this relationship would persist in spite of all that is expected, they slowly begin to reassess and move towards some closure. It was an interesting relationship between two very different women, one fraught with false politeness and misunderstanding. This relationship gave a really nice texture and gravitas to the story, and felt very organic.

The book shares the narrative between the two women, giving each of them space to relate their frustrations with each other and their families. As is often the case after a tragedy, the close relationships in the women's lives begin to break down and things that they took for granted before are suddenly at risk of falling apart. For Iris, the tragedy unmasked flaws in her marriage and relationship with her remaining child; and for Jane, the problems erupted with her child, and more importantly within herself. I think at the heart of each of these deconstructions was the women's loneliness, their inability to understand the way the tragedy would change and shape their lives, and their frustration at the great loss they both shared. It was odd that instead of bonding in their grief that they became set against each other as players in an elaborate power struggle, but the way Waldman skillfully crafts this relationship, it also seems very realistic. The love they had for their absent children makes them mirrors of one another, but in reality, they couldn't be more different.

I must say that although this book had a bit of a slow start for me, I ended up greatly admiring it. Though the impetus for the story is a terrible tragedy, Waldman does an amazing job of giving her readers a glimpse of the real struggles and joys of family life that occur after the unthinkable happens. It was an emotionally encompassing read and one that felt very genuine. I think those readers who enjoy emotionally complex and thoughtful books would really like this one. I found myself very impressed with Waldman's execution of the story and its emotional range. Though the issues in this book can be heavy, it's not in the least maudlin or oppressive, which I really appreciated. A very sensitive and thought proving read, recommended.

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I'd Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman 384 pgs

Book CoverEliza Benedict is content in her life as a housewife. Mother to the teenage Iso and the younger Albie, Eliza and her family have just made the move back to the States, having spent quite a few years in England. When an unexpected note from someone in her past is delivered in her daily mail, Eliza's carefully ordered world begins to crumble around her. You see, back when Eliza (then Elizabeth) was only fourteen, she was kidnapped and held captive by a serial killer named Walter Bowman. The only one of Bowman's victims to remain alive, Elizabeth eventually escapes Walter and has gone on to lead a quite normal life. But now Walter wants Elizabeth to visit him in the prison where he is awaiting execution, promising her that if she does, he will reveal all the details that have remained hidden about the other girls he has killed. Eliza wants to visit Walter for her own reasons but doesn't realize that he has a plan to free himself, using Eliza's complicity to do it. As Eliza wends her way through increasing difficulties with her teenage daughter and her moral uncertainty about visiting Walter, other people tied to both Walter and her past begin to find their way into Eliza'a quiet life, freshening the old wounds that Eliza thought she had buried forever. Both intricately plotted and suspenseful, I'd Know You Anywhere is a haunting read that leaves its readers questioning until the last page is turned.

Though I am not usually a big fan of mystery/thrillers, a few moths ago I had the pleasure of reading my first book by Laura Lippman, called Life Sentences. I discovered that Lippman was not only adept making the book a thrill ride but also peppering it with the kinds of literary asides I really enjoy. Since reading that book, I have been wanting to sample some of her other offerings, and when TLC Book Tours approached me about reviewing this book, I snapped it up. I was greatly pleased by the story I found within its pages and am now thinking that I am going to have to go back and read Lippman's backlist.

Reading about the life of Eliza Benedict was very interesting. Though it takes a little while for her backstory to fully develop, I could see from the beginning that Eliza has gotten along by flying under the radar. Quiet and unassuming, Eliza makes it a point to always be polite in any situation. As I read on, I discovered that these were precisely the traits that kept her alive during her forty days with Walter. Eliza wants nothing more than to sink into her shy life with her husband and her children and is very pleased that her escapade with Walter has been forgotten by the world at large. Lippman takes pains to portray Eliza as plain and uncomplicated, which is thought-provoking, considering her past and the things that are threatening to bubble up in her future. She deals with the life of a snotty teenage daughter and an egotistical sister but it is Eliza's unremarkableness that truly sets this story on edge. Because Eliza refuses to engage in the drama of everyday life, and the drama of her past, she becomes the blank slate that the story can begin to sprawl upon.

This story is told through an inventive display of flashback, alternating points of view and sections focused on the present. Some of the chapters are told from the viewpoint of Walter, who is not only conniving and crafty but very misguided. At first, one could almost sympathize with him because he feels that he is special and deserving of the type of attention that he never gets. But soon, Walter begins to act like a predator, forcing young women to submit to him and later killing them. He has ways of justifying these behaviors to himself, and later to Eliza, but it was clear to me that Walter was a very sick individual who was trying to achieve something impossible through the murders of the young women. It's fascinating to me that Lippman chose to portray Walter from several different angles. He was a killer, yes, but there were times that he had a human side and times that he experienced unexpectedly complicated feelings over the things he did. Walter and his actions were never only black and white, but as the story progressed, his grays became darker and darker, turning him into the kind of man that he was sure he could never be.

A portion of this story revolves around the death penalty. Though Lippman stays clear of expressing a personal opinion about it one way or the other, her characters run the gamut as opposed, proactive and unsure of this issue. Is it right for the state to basically commit the same crime that the criminal is convicted of? Is anyone ever really deserving of death? In this book, each side is represented and explained but to some degree, the question is never fully answered. How does one quantify the suffering of a murdered child? Clearly, Lippman has given much thought to this subject and manages to present things in a way that fully encompasses all sides at once while never become tiring or preachy. It's obvious that given the crimes he is accused of that Walter is in serious trouble, but does his abstaining to kill Eliza and the murkiness of the fact surrounding the murders necessarily mean that he should be spared death, or do his misdeeds trump all of that? I found that reading about this conundrum from several different angles made me really stop to analyze the appropriateness of the death penalty, and though I didn't walk away with any concrete answers, the book gave me a lot of food for thought.

When forced to examine the situation from Eliza's perspective, I grew more anxious for her. Managing to put things behind her was very heroic in my opinion, but the doubt that she faced about her complicity in the other girls' murders and the strange feelings she had for Walter made an impression on me. Eliza was forced to look at things that she had managed to forget about and took away some very surprising information and conclusions about Walter and herself. That Eliza was not the victim of murder did not mean that she wasn't a victim, and in a strange way, she had reason to be grateful to Walter while also hating and fearing him. But how far does this gratitude really extend? A complex position to be in, I am sure, and one that Lippman excels at creating. And just what are Eliza's real reasons for wanting to visit Walter? Are they really benign or is there something darker lurking in her intentions?

Though I think I liked Life Sentences just a touch more than this novel, overall I was impressed with the breadth and scope of the messages that Lippman manages to portray. I'm coming to discover that there are many nuances to Lippman's writing and the one I think I enjoy most is the very literary feel that she gives to her thrillers. This is not only a book that tells a story, it's a book that asks bigger questions and gives the reader the freedom to reason them out for themselves. In a world where thrillers are a dime-a-dozen, Lippman's books manage to be unforgettable and morally complex, which is just about the highest compliment I can bestow. If you're looking for something that will get your blood racing but that also manages to be smart and provocative, I would highly recommend this book to you. You really can't go wrong with Lippman's approach to the genre, a fact which I am pleased to recognize and which will lead me to sample more of her work. Recommended!

About the Author

Laura Lippman grew up in Baltimore and returned to her hometown in 1989 to work as a journalist. After writing seven books while still a full-time reporter, she left the Baltimore Sun to focus on fiction. The author of two New York Times bestsellers, What the Dead Know and Another Thing to Fall, she has won numerous awards for her work, including the Edgar, Quill, Anthony, Nero Wolfe, Agatha, Gumshoe, Barry, and Macavity.

I'd Know You Anywhere is Laura Lippman's 18th book.

To learn more about Laura's work, visit her website or connect with her on Facebook.

TLC Book Tours A warm thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing this book for me to read and review. Please continue to follow the tour by visiting these other blogs:

Tuesday, August 24th:red headed book child
Wednesday, August 25th: Shhh I'm Reading
Thursday, August 26th:Staircase Wit
Monday, August 30th: A Bookworm's World
Tuesday, August 31st:Thoughts From an Evil Overlord
Thursday, September 2nd:Bibliofreak
Tuesday, September 7th:Proud Book Nerd
Wednesday, September 8th:Books and Movies
Thursday, September 9th:Wordsmithonia
Monday, September 13th:Raging Bibliomania
Tuesday, September 14th:Lesa's Book Critques
Thursday, September 16th:she reads and reads
Monday, September 20th:My Random Acts of Reading
Tuesday, September 21st:Jen's Book Thoughts
Wednesday, September 22nd:nomadreader
Thursday, September 23rd:Book Chatter
Monday, September 27th:In the Next Room
Thursday, September 30th:Café of Dreams

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Proust's Overcoat: The True Story of One Man's Passion for All Things Proust by Lorenza Foschini

Book CoverIn this charming yet brief novella, a man's quest to liberate all of Proust's belongings from their sad fates of destruction becomes an all-encompassing passion that comes to define him. When Jacques Guérin falls ill with appendicitis, he fortuitously becomes the patient of Dr. Robert Proust, brother to the famous author Marcel. Guérin, already a huge supporter of the arts and an extreme bibliophile, finds this coincidence amazing and presses the doctor for information about his recently deceased brother. When Guérin discovers that Robert possesses many original handwritten drafts of Proust's work, he is amazed and excited but the doctor rebuffs him and quickly turns talk to other matters. A few years later, Robert has unfortunately passed away, leaving Proust's furniture and manuscripts in the hands of his widow, who wishes to burn them due to her conflicted feelings for the author. What unfolds from this point is the remarkable story of Guérin's attempts to collect the objects and writing of Marcel Proust, interspersed with the true tale of Proust's life. Marvelously uplifting and engaging, Proust's Overcoat is a loving homage to one of the greatest authors of all time.

I've never read anything by Marcel Proust, but his reputation precedes him and I do know that he is one of the most impressive authors in all of history. I was afraid my total ignorance of Proust and his work would hamper my enjoyment of this book, but I needn't have feared. This story is able to be enjoyed for its simple style and the colorful story it tells, and I imagine that it could be enjoyed by almost anyone regardless of their knowledge of Proust.

The story of Guérin is a very interesting tale. Though he was foremost a collector of books, when the opportunity arose for him to begin collecting the furniture, writing and minutiae of Proust's life, he needed no goading. Guérin believed that by acquiring the author's artifacts he was somehow doing a noble deed, saving them from destruction and liberating them from a nameless and shaming stasis. In his efforts to claim more and more of the belongings, he often did some strange things and made friends with those he would otherwise ignore. Guérin, a famous perfume designer, found that his work, though successful, was not what fulfilled him. In his quest to rescue Proust's objects, he found his life's ambition. At times Guérin is painted as being very obsessed with these belongings, not rude and pushy per se, but definitely dogged and driven to get his hands on whatever he could. I was pleased to find out that most of his collection had eventually been donated to various institutions, so that other Proust lovers could benefit from them as well.

A lot of this book also deals superficially with Proust's life. Though he died a young man, he had many friends and was well regarded by the artistic community. He was also a homosexual, which deeply disappointed his family and led to his own set of moral and personal crisis. He was a man who spent the latter half of his life in bed, tablet stretched with one hand in the air, his other hand writing the stories and poems that are now considered masterpieces. The book takes some pains to discuss the relationship that Proust shared with his brother Robert as well. Though the two had a sibling love, there were some extreme undercurrents of hostility directed at Marcel from Robert, and when Marcel finally passed away, Robert was left to edit and publish some of his last works. It's not surprising that Robert botched this affair and became quite a controlling and domineering person when it cam to finally publishing his brother's final work. The relationship between Marcel and the rest of his family was rather tumultuous really, and this was one of the reasons that his belongings were held in so little regard after his death.

Proust's Overcoat was an enchanting little snack of a read, and for those who don't know much about the author, this book would make an excellent primer. It's written in an engaging and light style and also includes several small passages of the author's work in relation to his life. It's a very interesting look at a collector and the famous man who left behind his collection, and I think Marcel Proust would have been honored to know just how much Guérin admired and esteemed him. Proust lovers will also love this whimsical little tale. A very fun read, recommended!

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Under This Unbroken Sky by Shandi Mitchell — 352 pgs

Book CoverIn the spring of 1938, Teodor Mykolayenko is released after a year in prison for stealing his own grain. Living on the Canadian prairie after fleeing from Ukraine, Teodor must begin to build up his land and fields to qualify for a homestead patent. During his year in prison, Teodor's wife and five children have been living in the storage shed of his sister Anna's homestead, frantically scraping by while waiting for him to return. As Teodore begins to adjust to life outside the prison's stone walls, he starts to transform the shared land by his cultivation of wheat and the building of his own homestead. But when Anna's dangerous drunkard husband Stephan returns after having abandoned his wife and children, he catches Teodore off guard. Stephan is not happy that Teodore's family is sharing the land with his family and wants to claim the hard work that Teodore has done for his own, thereby raising the chances that he can become a wealthy landowner. As Teodore and Stephan fight for what each believes to be their own, an explosive conflict is ignited that will destroy both families with its deadly consequences. Both dark and rich, like the land it describes, Under This Unbroken Sky tells the story of a pitched battle between two families in Depression-era Canada that are inextricably intertwined, and their struggles to disentangle their fates.

I had known a little about the homesteading acts in America, but had no idea that Canada also offered the same program to many immigrants during the Depression. Though it was an ostensibly generous program, some situations arose that could not be expected. What happens to Teodore and his family on those lonely Canadian prairies is one such story. Unable to make his yearly homesteading payment after his crops are destroyed, the Canadian government comes to strip his land. Teodore, feeling the weight of having to begin anew, hides a bushel of grain grown on his own farm for planting in his new location. When the authorities find this grain, Teodore is sent to prison for a year and it is upon his release that the story begins in earnest.

From the outset, it was impossible not to feel the gravity of this story. From Teodor's recollections of pacing a five foot prison cell to the descriptions of the bloated and hungry bellies of his children, there was no mistake that this was going to be a dark and sobering read. The family were pragmatists and never really expected much more from their lives than what they had, but in Teodore was the hope that he just might be able to provide for his wife and children in a more concrete way. Teodore was also caring for Anna and her brood while the evil Stephan was out carousing and drinking, but Anna lived under the shadow of a deep-seated mental illness that kept her debilitated for most of the story, leaving her children to be raised by Teodore and his wife. As Stephan reenters the picture, Anna begins to grow desperate and the problems between the two families take on a frightening pall of uncertainty and fear.

One of the things that stuck me the most was the toll that this type of living took on the children. Where they once lived life in relative obliviousness, as the book progresses you can see them changing into the scared and haunted people they will become. Often they blame themselves for the fate of their father or the tragedies that happen out on the prairie. They are plagued with nightmares, riddled with misplaced guilt, and at times feel like they have to step into adult shoes to quell the problems at hand. They don't understand what is happening to their family, and blame shifts among them like a shadow, creeping to each in turn. These children have adult cares and fears and they wear the weight of their burdens uncomfortably, like a yoke. These effects were highlighted expertly by the author's ability to shift the point of view in the narrative, giving each adult and child their say. The changes in perspective were done seamlessly, and because each character had a distinctive voice, it felt unbelievably smooth.

The sections of the book that dealt with the animals were some of the most moving and artistic sections, in my opinion. Whether they were the husbandry animals, the wild animals on the prairie or just the companion animals, the author uses them to great effect. There is the pack of wolves on the hill that comes to symbolize Anna's madness and despair; the horse that symbolizes Teodore's steadfastness and honor; and the little chick that symbolizes the brokenness and strength of one of the young girls. All these animals and the things they represent took on various forms in the story, and instead of relegating them to the annals of anecdote, the author uses them to affect change and growth among the characters. Most of these animals come to violent ends, which in a way foreshadows the people they are tied to, and the inexpressible beauty of their impacts on the lives around them is something that left me feeling hopeful, even when all hope was lost.

This book dealt with the some of the darker themes of literature, such as jealously, revenge and domination. It wasn't a happy read but it was one that made me consider the fact that there are real people like Stephan and Teodore, locked in an eternal struggle with each other. It was a painful story and one that didn't pull up short with a falsely fabricated ending. These were bitter times and bitter people, and their scruples were not enough to save them from the sad fates that awaited them. There was almost no humor in this book and everything was tinged with a grayness of emotion. In this family's schism, there was no room for forgiveness or healing, and as things ran their course, it became clear to me that the struggle for dominance would be futile, for they would all eventually destroy one another.

Though this was a very dark read, I found it had an undeniable beauty to it. Both in the story it tells and the language that it uses, the book starts off strong and remains piercing to its final pages. It was a more literary read than most of the historical fiction I have read of late, and I think it has a lot to say about isolation and the things that poverty and hopelessness can drive you towards. I would recommend it to those who are looking to go in a direction that is less trodden in historical fiction and would have to say that the character growth alone, particularly amongst the children, is something that makes this a book worth watching out for. If you are easily disturbed, this book might not be for you, but those who can appreciate the nuances of a dark story would probably find it a fulfilling read.

About The Author

Shandi Mitchell is an award-winning Canadian filmmaker and screenwriter. Her short films have screened at numerous international festivals and she is a recipient of a Canada Council for the Arts endowment. Mitchell spent her childhood on a military base on the prairies and now makes her home in Nova Scotia on the east coast of Canada, with her husband, Alan, and their dog, Annie. Under This Unbroken Sky is her first novel.

Visit Shandi at her website,
Author Photo

TLC Book Tours A warm thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing this book for me to read and review. Please continue to follow the tour by visiting these other blogs:

Tuesday, August 24th:Til We Read Again
Monday, August 30th:The Lost Entwife
Tuesday, September 7th:Raging Bibliomania
Thursday, September 9th:Bibliofreak
Friday, September 10th:Reading at the Beach
Thursday, September 16th:Peeking Between the Pages
Monday, September 20th:Rundpinne
Tuesday, September 21st:Lisa’s Yarns
Friday, September 24th:Devourer of Books
Tuesday, September 28th:Fizzy Thoughts

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Finny by Justin Kramon — 384 pgs

Book CoverIrrepressible Finny Short is just fourteen when she meets Earl Henkl in the fields surrounding her home. Finny, a precocious young woman with an oddly endearing family, finds herself liking Earl right from the start. The two soon form a close attachment and Finny, longing to be close to Earl, begins sneaking away from the house to spend time with the boy from the woods. When Finny's eccentric parents discover that she has been misleading them and sneaking off with a boy, they pack her up and ship her away to Thornton, a boarding school far from home. There Finny meets the beautiful and confident Judith, a girl who is adored by all but who also has a compulsive need for danger and excitement. She also meets Poplan, an older woman who will come to be a very important part of her life. As Finny matures, she is hit by several unexpected circumstances,  one of them being the fact that she and Earl have such great distance between them, which continually severs their connection. She is also hit by devastating family issues and unpleasant situations with Judith, as well as the more normal and everyday occurrences that hasten her maturity. As Finny navigates her life amid the heartache of her relationship with Earl and the myriad betrayals of Judith, she learns to stand on her own two feet and creates a life for herself. Finny learns that to navigate the world, sometimes you just have to let go and go with it. Populated with outrageous and wonderful characters, Finny is the tale of a young woman's journey through life and of the love and longing that follows her everywhere.

Lately I've been enjoying coming-of-age stories. I've read quite a few in the last year but most of them have told the stories from the point of view of someone from times past or from foreign shores. I haven't read many that deal with a modern day American protagonist and I am happy to report that Finny fits that bill exactly. I wasn't sure what I would be getting with this book but to my surprise there was a lot that brought on nostalgia for me. Reading the book filled me with mixed emotions because I felt I could really understand Finny and her counterparts and the struggles they went through.

I have to admit that although Finny was the main focus of the story, the real stars of the show were the secondary characters. They were odd, eccentric and laugh out loud funny. Whenever I read about someone new entering the story, I immediately became alert to them, knowing that Kramon was going to do his best to make them stand out. From the couple who runs the funeral home to Earl's father to Poplan herself, these characters had a true breath of life in them and it was so interesting to read about them and all their idiosyncrasies. This supporting cast did not disappoint, and kept me thoroughly entertained throughout the story. These were characters reminiscent of some of Dicken's best and I think that's one of the reasons that I responded so gleefully towards them.

It actually took some time for me to feel an affinity for Finny. At first I found her very precocious. It might be because I have teenagers around the house that are this age, but I felt she had a smart mouth and was disrespectful to her parents. Though I had problems relating to her during these sections, she was remarkably similar to the teenagers that I have known in real life, making her a realistic, if frustrating, character. Later, when Finny began to mature and life began to have its way with her, I felt much closer to her because I thought that her trials humanized and matured her. She went from a bratty kid to a sensitive woman in a believable way. She seemed to start to change after leaving boarding school and became more considerate, less brash and more thoughtful. As she grew older I felt I liked her more, which I think is a great testament to the author's ability to create a multifaceted character who manifests growth and maturity as the story progresses. After a rough start, Finny and I ended up getting along quite nicely.

This is really a beautiful story of a girl growing up and it takes its readers on a journey from her youthful days of silliness to the more gravity filled days of her adulthood. What I found along the way was a moving story about love and compromise, not only in Finny's relationship with Earl, but really, with her relationship with all the people in her life. Whereas the youthful Finny could be pushy and opinionated, the older Finny was able to see the moral inbetweens of the circumstances her friends and family put her in. She became a remarkably forgiving and generous person, capable of true acts of altruism, which surprised me because the Finny of old might have never considered acting this way. She was also mostly an optimist, which was refreshing because in most coming-of-age stories I have read lately, things inevitably begin to take a darker turn during and after adolescence. In Finny was the capacity to be gentle, both with herself and others, and this most surprised me in her gentleness towards those who had done her wrong.

I also wanted to talk a little about Judith. For me, Judith was the character who I had the most complex feelings toward. Aside from the fact that she embellished the circumstances of her life so eagerly, Judith had a way of trampling over everyone and dominating every person in the story. I think Kramon did a great job making her three-dimensional and at times likable, but she just rubbed me the wrong way for most of the novel. I felt that she was beneath Finny and that Finny should have stayed away from her because she had the capacity for making messes in everyone's lives, including her own. I actually had a friend like Judith at one time and I had a hard time separating her from the character. Leaving her behind was very painful, and at times I still regret doing that, but by watching Finny's continual friendship with Judith, I realized some things about myself and how that friendship would have played out in my life.

This was a book that I truly enjoyed for several reasons and once I let myself be immersed in the story, I found I couldn't stop reading. It's a great coming-of-age story that wonderfully melds the themes of love, loss and forgiveness. Kramon has an unusual talent for sprinkling his tale with the kinds of characters that people love to read about. I think this book would be great for those who enjoy the coming-of-age genre and have been looking for something that deals with the believable heartaches and joys of a modern, American girl. I'd love to see what Kramon does in the future and will be keeping an eye out for his name on the spines. Recommended!

About The Author

A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he has published stories in Glimmer Train, Story Quarterly, Boulevard, Fence, TriQuarterly, and others. He has received honors from the Michener-Copernicus Society of America, The Best American Short Stories, the Hawthornden International Writers’ Fellowship, and the Bogliasco Foundation.

He teaches at Gotham Writers’ Workshop in New York City and at the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio.

He lives in Philadelphia.

Find out more about Justin on his website.

TLC Book Tours A warm thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing this book for me to read and review. Please continue to follow the tour by visiting these other blogs:

Monday, August 16th:English Major’s Junk Food
Tuesday, August 17th:The Lost Entwife
Thursday, August 19th:The Bluestocking Society
Tuesday, August 24th:Rundpinne
Wednesday, August 25th:Tales of a Capricious Reader
Monday, August 30th:Dolce Bellezza
Wednesday, September 1st:Jenny Loves to Read
Friday, September 3rd:Raging Bibliomania
Tuesday, September 7th:Lit and Life
Wednesday, September 8th:Reading on a Rainy Day
Thursday, September 9th:Café of Dreams
Monday, September 13th:Age 30+…A Lifetime of Books
Tuesday, September 14th:My Reading Room
Thursday, September 16th:Jo-Jo Loves to Read!
Wednesday, September 22nd:Fizzy Thoughts

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan — 416 pgs

Book CoverAs a young girl, Meridia lives in a strange mansion haunted by sinister colored mists and freezing indoor gusts with her severe father and her absentminded mother. For reasons unknown to Merida, both of her parents are neglectful and cruel to her for different reasons, leaving Meridia to fend for herself. When she ventures into town during the annual Festival of the Spirits, she meets the enchanting and handsome Daniel. Though Meridia and Daniel come from very different backgrounds, they quickly fall in love and make arrangements to be married. When Meridia begins her new life as Daniel's bride living with his parents and sisters, she believes that her life will finally be what she has always hoped it would be. Daniel's mother Eva, though moody, seems to be the perfect mother-in-law and begins to show Meridia the ropes of running the house and taking care of Daniel. But soon Meridia begins to see a more sinister and malicious side of Eva and comes to dread the influence she has over her husband. As Eva works to create a rift between Daniel and Meridia, she unleashes a powerful volley of enchantment and dark magic that will tear the very foundation from under their marriage. Though these assaults, Meridia begins to discover the secrets of her own troubled childhood and the problems between her parents. As Eva's use of dark magic increases, Meridia begins to break down, questioning whether or not her marriage to Daniel is worth the damage it is causing them both. In this modern day fairy tale filled with myth and magic, the rivalry between two women threatens to destroy not only each other, but the family that surrounds them.

I've been debating with myself whether this book lies in the genre of magical realism or the fairy tale. After a lot of consideration, I would have to say that this book is mostly a fairy tale and the use of magic and enchantment serves the purpose more of fleshing out the fairy tale than ascribing the story to magical realism. This tale did have a lot of realistic elements to it but I think the magical elements went beyond your typical magical realism novel and they at times became hinges upon which the rest of the story hung. I suppose that it could go either way, but in my opinion, I would classify this book as more of a modern fairy tale or fable.

From the outset, this book really captured my attention. Meridia was a very winsome character who seemed to be completely in the dark about the mysteries of her family. Though there were plenty of signs of things being amiss, she never understood why her father was so cruel to her nor why her mother and father never came into physical contact in all the time she was around them. Meridia's childhood was indeed strange and lonely, forcing her to become a very introspective and quiet girl. I felt very sorry for her and I felt especially stricken about the hatred that her father had for her. Meridia was ripe for a love affair with someone like Daniel because he was very charming and showed her that she was interesting, intelligent and beautiful. I was glad for her in newfound relationship with Daniel, but that was very short lived because as soon as the couple began their new life together, Eva went into action and stripped away all their happiness.

I absolutely abhorred Eva. As heartless characters go, she was one of the worst. It was clear to me that she was evil from the start but I think Meridia had blinders on at first. Though Eva could be just as charming as Daniel, she had a black streak a mile wide and used her power and authority in the house to drive a wedge between her daughters, alienate her husband and terrify her house staff. She was a horribly venomous woman who would stop at nothing to get what she wanted and thought nothing of lying to cover her tracks. When Eva began to attack the couple's marriage, she used all her magic and enchantments to break Meridia and Daniel apart, becoming stronger every time one of them capitulated. In a clever use of creativity and symbolism by the author, Eva's anger and unhappiness were made manifest in a very physical and damaging way. Much like the mists that plagued Meridia's parents' marriage, Eva sent her little anger minions out towards anyone who displeased her, and while they ate away at the mind and sanity, Eva sat back and waited for results.

A lot of this book was centered on the tug-of-war between Eva and Meridia, with each side trading ground with every skirmish. The rest of the family took a lot of collateral damage, I'm afraid, and though this bothered Meridia immensely, it didn't trouble Eva in the least. Eva and Meridia were perfectly matched for combat and what the story boiled down to was a tale of goodness and light pitted against the penultimate evil. The story was filled with magic and myth as well, with beasts and mists and monsters coexisting with magical houses, ghosts and incredible transformations. It was an interesting blend of reality and fantasy and was constantly surprising. There's a lot more here than my summary encapsulates and each piece takes its place among the whole to create a rich and satisfying tapestry of the fight between light and darkness.

One of the best things about this book was the style and flavor of the writing. Though there were plenty of complex ideas and symbolism in the story, the writing was not convoluted nor over-encumbered in trying to portray these issues. The dialogue also felt very realistic, particularly the haranguing and accusations between Meridia and Eva. The two fought like pros, and though at times it became discouraging, it was also interesting to see just how heated the battles would get. There was a great blend of fantasy here and I think it gave the story a winning edge and lifted it above being simply a tale about the difficulties between a bride and her mother-in law. The book was also augmented with a lot of emotion, but it wasn't heavy-handed. Instead of the story feeling florid and melodramatic, at times the book was tender and hopeful, especially in the latter sections.

I really enjoyed the time I spent with this book and felt the author took a really clever and unique approach to what could have been a cloying and repetitive story. I think this book would appeal to a large cross section of readers, and for the magical and mystical elements alone, the book merits a read. It's not often that I come across a book that so defies convention and classification and I was pleased to have gotten the chance to spend some time between its covers. This would make a great read for those who enjoy domestic dramas as well as those who like unconventional fairy tales. Recommended!

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.
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