Tuesday, October 17, 2017

"And Every Morning the Road Home Gets Longer and Longer" by Frederick Backman

FTC Disclosure: I received an eARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. I checked out the audiobook from my library through Overdrive.

A few months ago, it had been weeks since I've finished a book. It was probably the longest I've ever gone without finishing a book; it's certainly the longest I remember. Yet on my most recent work trip, I found myself with an hour left of my flight and no more work to do. Luckily, I had downloaded "And Every Morning the Road Home Gets Longer" by Frederick Backman on audio from my library before my trip.

Knowing that I'm a fan of Backman, his publisher had originally sent me an e-ARC of this novella prior to its publication. Unfortunately, I wasn't up for a contemplative work at the time, and failed to make time for it in time for a publication day review. But it turned out to be the perfect reading experience for my unexpected hour of free time.

This is a novella "about missing someone who is still here," to quote Backman himself. It's about the relationships between grandfathers and grandsons, and fathers and sons, and how these relationships are remembered at the end of a life. Backman opens with an introduction explaining that this is a personal piece of writing through which he worked out his own feelings as he wrote. Yet this portrayal of Alzheimer's will ring true to those who have been through this experience with a loved one.

This charming novella feels different from Backman's other works. It lacks the quirky humor of his novels but retains the ability to pull on your heart strings. I found myself crying as the plane entered its initial descent to our final destination. It's charming and heartfelt, and a worthwhile read.

Verdict: Affirmed, whether you're a fan of Backman or not, this is an endearing departure from his novels.

"And Every Morning the Road Home Gets Longer and Longer" by Fredrik Backman, published November 1, 2016 by Atria Books. Audio narration by David Morse, published November 1, 2016 by Simon & Schuster Audio.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

"The Address" by Fiona Davis

FTC Disclosure: I received an eARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. I checked out the audiobook from my library through Overdrive.

Fellow readers, I am sorry that "next week" turned into many, many weeks. I did read "The Address," but was traveling and then moving and then starting a new job, and blogging clearly fell to the wayside. But things have settled down and I can collect my thoughts.

Last time I blogged, I wrote about how much I enjoyed Fiona Davis's "The Dollhouse." While "The Address" doesn't quite live up to the promise of "The Dollhouse," I still found it an enjoyable read while traveling. In the 1980's, Bailey just got out of rehab and is hoping to relaunch her interior design career by redecorating her cousin's apartment in The Dakota. In the 1880's, Sara has moved from Britain to New York City to work in the newly built Dakota, where she has to navigate her relationship with her boss and the building's wealthy, demanding residents. Their stories intertwine across history, mysteries ensue.

As I noted on Goodreads, some of the side characters lacked depth and felt like plot devices. The story also took a few weird turns. I didn't think there was enough groundwork laid for some of the twists. Nevertheless, I found both Bailey and Sara to be intriguing protagonists, even if the ultimate answer to the mystery was fairly apparent from the start.

Verdict: Jury's Out. If you like historical fiction, specifically mysteries bouncing between time periods, this novel will scratch that itch. If you need some more depth to your characters and plot, though, look elsewhere.

"The Address" by Fiona Davis, published August 1, 2017 by Dutton Books.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

"The Dollhouse" by Fiona Davis

The DollhouseThis novel was exactly my type of summer read - compelling with a solid plot,  but not dense. I could get lost in the intriguing characters, but still read it quickly.

The Dollhouse is the Barbizon Hotel for Women, an old New York City apartment building whose oldest residents remember the scandals from when it was an all-women residence. Perhaps most famous as Sylvia Plath's residence in "The Bell Jar," this novel centers on a fictitious scandal from the 1950s.  Rose is living there in the present day, looking for a story to jump start her journalism career. As she hears rumors about Darby, one of the remaining residents from when the building housed only women, and and some sort of deahtly squabble with a maid, Rose decides this may be the story she should tell.

The novel alternates between Darby's and Rose's timelines, and Darby's is particularly fleshed out with great side characters and a jazz club. The present-day side is interesting for its unraveling of the mystery, more than for Rose's actual life. Nevertheless, the mystery is well-plotted, so I'm wary of saying anything that could accidentally give something away. This book sold me on Fiona Davis and I am excited to see what she does next. Luckily, I already received and eARC through NetGalley of her next novel, "The Address," which will be released next week!

Verdict: Affirmed. A well-plotted mystery that would be a good change of pace for someone who sticks with chick lit or literary fiction, or for a thriller reader who needs something lighter for the summer.

"The Dollhouse" by Fiona Davis, published August 25, 2016 by Dutton Books.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

"All the Lives I Want" by Alana Massey

FTC Disclosure: I received an e-ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

I requested this book based on its subtitle - "Essays about My Best Friends Who Happen to be Famous Strangers." Essay collections are great to begin with -- add some pop culture commentary about people that are in my fairly limited scope of reference, and I am in!

Massey unpacks the way society views female celebrities like Britney Spears, Amber Rose, and Anjelica Huston. Writing about Lil' Kim and Nicki Minaj, she looks at the feud between the two and explores how the two were pushed into a beef they may not have necessarily wanted, forced to confront an artificial notion that there could only be one widely-recognizable female rapper. She looks at the ways Sylvia Plath has been idolized by young women and the precedent set for today's social media, explaining "Sylvia was an early literary manifestation of a young woman who takes endless selfies and posts them with vicious captions calling herself fat and ugly...The ongoing act of self-documentation in a world that punishes female experience (that doesn't aspire to maleness) is a radical declaration that women are within our rights to contribute to the story of what it means to be human."

Massey's book stands out most because she pairs these views with insights and experiences from her own life. She explores what Amber Rose means to her as a former stripper, and how she relates to Britney Spears' having to deal with incessant media coverage owing to her own struggle with an eating disorder. In each essay, Massey looks at how society is reacting to and consuming female celebrities and characters, how culture re-writes their stories and proscribes new personalities and meaning to them. She ultimately begins to look at how women can re-claim their icons and recognize these women for their varied strengths and dignities. She starts with what they mean to her.

Verdict: Affirmed. Whether you're a fan of pop culture looking for a deep but fresh take, or looking for new, honest writing about one woman's experiences, this essay collection is a great read.

"All the Lives I Want" by Alana Massey, published February 7, 2017 by Grand Central Publishing.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

"The Hammer of Thor" by Rick Riordan

This series is on fire. I don't even think I can write a proper review, I just need to gush.

Plot is normal Riordan -- Thor lost his hammer, Magnus and crew have to go find it. I mentioned in my post on "The Sword of Summer" (Book 1 in this series) that his books are a bit formulaic, but the diversity shines. And then this book just stepped up the game even more.

In this book we see two fantastic developments. First, Alex. Alex is a gender-fluid character and child of Loki. She is fiery and intense and a possible love interest for Magnus. Moreover, the book naturally handles explanations of gender fluidity in age-appropriate terms without feeling like a random info-dump or a lecture. It's just a discussion of who she is, like any discussion of Blitzen as a dwarf or Samirah as a Valkyrie.

And speaking of Samirah, we see a lot more about how she balances her duties as a Valkyrie with her values and beliefs as a Muslim. We get the technical discussion of how she reconciles her faith with her existence in a world of Norse deities, and a deeper exploration of her culture and family life. Add this to meeting Hearth's horrible family and learning more about his upbringing, and this book really opens up the characters in this series.

Plus, it looks like we're heading toward crossover territory by the end, so I am absolutely counting down until book three is released this October!

Verdict: Affirmed. This installment really elevated the Magnus Chase series by fleshing out the side characters, and I can't wait to read more.

"The Hammer of Thor" by Rick Riordan, published October 4, 2016 by Disney-Hyperion. Audio narration by Christopher Guetig, published October 6, 2016 by Listening Libray.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

"The Fall of Lisa Bellow" by Susan Perabo

FTC Disclosure: I received a copy from the publisher for review consideration. Below is my honest review.

When I received this book from the publisher, I didn't know much about it but was very intrigued by the premise. The popular girl at school gets kidnapped, and a nerdy girl is left behind? Sounds fascinating. And Perabo added depth and nuance to this premise to create a fascinating book.

Meredith is picking up a soda after school when the deli is robbed. The clerk is knocked out and Lisa Bellow, the most popular girl in Meredith's eighth grade class, is kidnapped. Meredith is left lying on the floor, wondering why she was left. Now she and her family have to figure out how they move forward after this traumatizing event.

Meredith's family is no stranger to trauma. Her older brother, Even had his eye shattered by a rogue baseball, ending his promising baseball career before it got started. The novel alternates perspectives between Meredith and her mother, Claire, to show how Meredith's experience and process of coping affects the entire family. My minor quibble with the book is that Evan's story often seems like a distraction from Meredith's. However, the relationship between Evan and Meredith is worthwhile, especially seeing how their dynamic shifts as they each try to move on from their own trauma.

The most outstanding feature of the book is how it examines the same incidents from both Meredith and Claire's perspectives. Early in the book, Meredith and her friends discuss Lisa and the popular clique, and some major slut-shaming occurs. I was skeptical, and wondering how this could be so casually inserted without comment. I was too hasty. Cut to Claire's perspective, and we see a mother questioning how she raised a daughter to think so poorly of others without recognizing the harm in her own behavior. Such incidents from both sides add nuance and depth to the novel.

Verdict: Affirmed. What could have been a gossipy novel or average thriller is elevated to a compelling portrait of a family in a time of crisis.

"The Fall of Lisa Bellow" by Susan Perabo, published March 14, 2017 by Simon & Schuster.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

"Fever Dream" by Samantha Schweblin

I requested this from the library after Liberty Hardy recommended it fervently on the All the Books podcast. It was a great recommendation, and probably not something I would've picked up otherwise.

An unrelated mother and son are in a hospital, striving to pinpoint a specific moment by recounting the events that led to their current situation. Amanda is the mother, vacationing with her daughter Nina while her husband works & plans to join them for the weekend.  David is the son, a neighbor of Amanda's vacation rental with his mother Carla. Carla has insisted to Amanda that David is not right, and Amanda fears for her daughter.

Told in an alternating dialogue between David and Amanda, this short book spins its tale in quick, furtive bursts that are rife with detail and mystery. I was afraid along the way that the answer would be too complicated for me to comprehend when I reached the end, leaving me unsatisfied and out of my depth. Luckily, that was not at all the case. I was surprised and pleasantly puzzled, and, just like Liberty, flipped back to the beginning to puzzle over this strange story.

From her bio on the book flap, Samantha Schweblin has been recognized by Granta as a top writer in Spanish under 35 and received several literary awards. Though this is her first novel, she has published three short story collections. I will be hunting down any of her work that has been translated to English & hope to see much, much more from her.

Verdict: Affirmed. This was a weird little book that I found utterly compelling. I'd love for someone  to read it so we can discuss and puzzle it out together.

"Fever Dream" by Samantha Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell, published January 10, 2017 by Riverhead Books.