Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Cutting Season

The Cutting Season
by Attica Locke

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Author Attica Locke is a former screenplay writer handpicked by Dennis Lehane for his new publishing imprint for her first novel, Black Water Rising

Review: The Cutting Season is set near a sugar cane plantation in Louisiana. Caren and her daughter Morgan live above the library while she manages the historical reenactments and events at the plantation. 

Are the ghosts of the past finally catching up to the plantation? When a dead body turns up by the old slave cabins, Caren struggles to clear the name of one of her staff and things get complicated when Morgan's father reappears to help. Caren wonders if the murder of her ancestor, Jason, hundreds of years ago could be related to the recent mystery. 

 A suspenseful, eerie, well-paced novel.

The Apartment

The Apartment
by Greg Baxter

Genre: Literary Fiction

Review: This is the literary novel at its best and at its worst. It is ruminative (which I like), but it takes itself too seriously at times. 

 A man is looking for an apartment in an unnamed European city. Saskia, a local, shows him around the city. He enjoys the Christmas markets, the snow, and the sense of hope involved in starting life again and looking for an apartment. There are flashbacks to his past life in the Army and as a civilian contractor in Iraq. There are long tangents about art, which I found annoying, even though I love art. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Hypnotist's Love Story

The Hypnotist's Love Story
by Liane Moriarty

Genre: Women's Fiction

Review: Moriarty's sense of humor shines through her novels, making her books quirky and immensely readable. Her newest novel, The Husband’sSecret, is more suspenseful and serious, but I enjoyed this delightful, funny novel!

The Hypnotist’s Love Story affords a rare look into the life of a hypnotherapist. We follow Ellen through her daily life in Sydney and her blossoming love story with Patrick, who comes with unfortunate relationship baggage (an ex-girlfriend-turned stalked named Saskia). Through Ellen’s and Saskia’s perspectives, readers sympathize with both sides of the story.

Although lighthearted on the surface, Moriarty shares powerful insights on life and love. 

I really enjoyed reading her blog/website. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Morning Glory

Morning Glory
by Sarah Jio

Genre: Women's Fiction

Review: Sarah Jio's latest novel is my favorite of all five. A woman moves to a houseboat community on a lake in Seattle, called Boat Street, to grieve the loss of her husband and daughter. Once there, she stumbles upon the mystery of Penny Wentworth, former boat inhabitant, wife of a moody painter. 

The setting in Seattle is a character in itself, and the flashbacks to Ada's life with James and Ella aren't sentimental, but revealing.  Both Penny and Ada are well-drawn characters. 

Finding out what happened to Penny proves a worthy distraction, as does her neighbor Alex.

Read my reviews of Jio's other books: The Last CamelliaBlackberry Winter, and The Bungalow.

The Girl You Left Behind

The Girl You Left Behind
by Jojo Moyes

Genre: Historical Fiction/Popular Fiction

Should You Read It?
Yes! Like Moyes' Me Before You, with the sad story comes emotional honesty, well-drawn characters, and a very engaging tale. 

Review: In WWII-Occupied France, Sophie runs a small hotel with her family. A German Commandant takes an interest in the Sophie's portrait, painted by her husband, Edouard Lefevre. Will Sophie risk everything if it means saving her husband?  She wonders if she will ever be like the girl in the painting again. 

Meanwhile,  in modern-day London, another girl is left behind--Liv, a young widow and the new owner of the painting. When the provenance of the painting comes into question, Liv chooses to fights for possession of Sophie's portrait and in the process, learns about Sophie's life.

Read my review of Me Before You

**This interview with the author describes researching her novel at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris and her writing process.

 Quote from the interview: "love stories where the answers are not black or white, stories that make you think: what would I do in that position?" 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Dark and Stormy Night Mystery

The Fate of Mercy Alban
by Wendy Webb

Genre: Mystery

 If you want a book full of secret passages, mysterious pasts, and dark and stormy nights, pick up this little gem, by the author of The Tale of Halcyon Crane.

Review: Read this little novel if you are in the mood for some chills-down-your-spine Gothic suspense. The novel is set on Lake Superior in America, but the atmosphere feels decidedly like a British manor mystery. 

Grace Alban arrives home after 20 years away for her mother's funeral. After she arrives, things don't go smoothly, and not just because of her teenage daughter Amity's hot-then-cold attitude. Old relatives are popping out of the woodwork and crazy things are happening. Mix in a little small-town romance and you're ready for an evening reading by the fireplace.

Looking forward to her next book, The Vanishing, which comes out this month!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Best. Thriller. Ever

The Likeness
by Tana French

Genre: Mystery/Psychological Thriller

Sorry, but I cannot do 100 words for this one and do it justice!

Review: This is the second time I have read this book, and it allowed me to see how much of an absolute master of the writing craft Tana French is. Often the thriller or mystery genre is not considered quite as literary as "the literary novel," but everyone who wants to be a writer should read this book.

 The premise of the book itself is amazing--Lexie, a post-grad in English literature, is murdered and found in a famine cottage, not far from her home at Whitethorn Manor. An undercover detective (Cassie Maddox) happens to be her double. Cassie must become Lexie, essentially, and infiltrate her life to find the murderer. The pacing and suspense will leave you breathless. What could be better than that? Maybe the writing itself.

At the sentence level, her writing is astonishing, poetic. You want to read as fast as possible, you HAVE to know what happens, but wait. Stop, pause and re-read a breath-taking description. Upon the second reading (years after the first reading), I noticed the symbolism of the mirror woven throughout--nothing in-your-face, just suggestive and powerful. The second reading also allowed me to notice the social commentary on Dublin and Ireland, the impact of history on the present, including thoughts on the economy and identity. 

Whether French is dissecting the minds of the characters or analyzing the thin lines between morality and immorality or reality and imagination, she delves deeply into what it means to live your life, to choose another life, and how precarious the threads we use to hang on to the people around us really are. Through her writing, French creates unreliable, not completely likable characters and narrators, but you still want to sit with them fireside or in a pub and talk to them forever. 

Movie News: Both In the Woods and The Likeness were acquired. The Likeness is still in development, according to IMDB.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Devotion: A Memoir

by Dani Shapiro

Genre: Memoir

ReviewOn paper, Dani Shapiro has all you could ask for: a healthy son, Jacob, a husband, a writing career, a house in the countryside. Yet she wakes up in the night in a cold panic. Her past, her fears and anxieties, her impossible mother, Jacob's brush with death, haunt her. She cannot find peace in her life. 

Meanwhile, Jacob is asking questions about God. Raised an Orthodox Jew, she approaches and retreats  from the Jewish religion. In Devotion, she vows to approach her core, to meditate, do yoga, explore Judaism and Buddhism.

***If you liked Eat, Pray, Love but longed for more depth and intellect, you will love Devotion.***

Meaningful quote:

"Each of us human, full of longing, reaching out with our whole selves for something impossible to touch. Still, we are reaching, reaching." p.243