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Book Review 50: The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller

26 Dec

I loved this book. Obviously. I read similar mystery-driven coming-of-age stories all the time and I love them all. I can’t decide if I only read the best ones (The Secret History, Calamity Physics ) or if it’s because I’m pre-disposed to liking them. I certainly can’t relate – I had the most generic public high school experience of all time.

Iris DuPont is anything but generic. She transfers to a new school, reeling from the death of her best friend and  conjuring the ghost or specter from famous journalist Edward R. Murrow. She is unwilling to simply assimilate, the way most students do. She manages to latch on to the private school’s mysterious secret society and  tries to infiltrate it, to solve a series of unresolved mysteries at the school.

Aside from being beautifully written, it captures a lot of the intensity of being young. Her overly attached, but not quite inappropriate relationship with her favorite teacher. Pretending to fit in so she can achieve her end goal. She throws herself into the mystery of the albino girl who once lived in her house and dropped of the radar; focusing on untangling the web of connections between the girl who lived in her home, the secret society, and her favorite teacher. But it’s not enough to to fix her grief. Continue reading

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Book Review 49: The Expats by Chris Pavone

26 Dec

I bought this at the airport and was pleasantly surprised. The book was a top seller in Europe for months, and I grabbed the English language translation. I can’t really explain why I enjoyed it so much. It skews a little closer to the psychological thrillers I tend to favor, because it’s ultimately about a husband and wife who don’t know if they can trust each other.  You could anticipate when the plot twists were coming, but the expected twist usually veered off into an unexpected direction.

The basic plot summary is that Kate and her husband spontaneously move to Luxemburg, ostensibly for her husband’s boring tech job at a bank. Once they get there, you slowly start to unravel secrets about Kate, her husband, and their new couple friends. It’s a fun read, partially because you’re never sure if the next plot twist will be personal (a surprise infedility perhaps?) or more professional (a set up of her husband? a government conspiracy?).

Highly recommended for airplane or beach reading!

Book Review 40: The Reckoning by Jane Casey

22 Oct
*I received this book for free as part of a Goodreads giveaway*
I’ve been sitting on this book for over a year. I received it in May 2012 and didn’t get around to reading it until July 2013. The premise is interesting. There’s a serial killer operating in an Irish town, but he’s only killing pedophiles and suspected pedophiles.  Maeve is the detective assigned to the case and she has a fierce sense of justice.
The book is kind of asking the question that Dexter asks.  If a serial killer is killing victims who society abhors, do we care? Is it still a crime? Maeve thinks it is, but her colleagues disagree. I’m in the Maeve camp. Just because someone is targeting “undesirable” victims, doesn’t make it less of a crime.
There are sufficient twists and turns, including a mafia connection. It was mildly entertaining, but there was a distracting plot about Maeve’s personal life that was simply not compelling.  Continue reading

Book Review 29: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

6 May

I’m on a roll with reading fantastic novels after a brief detour into nonfiction and a brief detour into some really boring books. Life After Life has a fascinating premise.  This is the story of Ursula Todd’s life, or, more accurately, her many lives.  Each time Ursula dies, she is reincarnated back into her own body, and generally lives a bit longer each time.  Her powerful sense of de ja vu helps her slowly re-correct the course of her life until she finally completes the act she was destined to do.

What’s intrigued me most about the novel was figuring out which life was best for Ursula.  In some of her lives, the tragedies that befall her or the way she dies is so painful, and she seems so unfulfilled, that you’re anxiously turning the pages until she dies, hoping for some relief from the life that has unfolded.  In some lives, her relationships with her family suffer until she’s barely connected to them. In some, her friendships suffer. In some, she finds love, and romance, while in others she ends up alone.

Whichever life you choose depends on what your values are, I suppose. But in the end – you have to wonder the best life was the one in which she fulfills her destiny, or if she was happier when she was fulfilled in other ways. And most importantly, all of her lives feel real – she makes the choices available to a young woman living through WWI and WWI.

My only caveat? Continue reading

Book Review 27: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

3 May

I read this book after seeing pyrajane’s review which described this book as a book about books for people who love books. And that’s exactly what this book was, and it was delightful.

Mr. Penumbra runs a mysterious bookshelf, and our protagonist Clay takes a job working the night shift at the store.  Mr. Penumbra’s requests seem a little unusual, and Clay starts to pay careful attention to the books in the store, the customers who borrow them without paying, and the peculiar tasks he’s required to do.

Ultimately, this is a mystery. It’s a worldwide network of people racing to crack a code, and to do it under their terms. You feel the tension between the old school and new school attitudes towards technology as the characters race to the finish. And Clay reminded me a tiny bit of Harry Potter. Continue reading

Book Review 19: Let the Right One In by John Lindqvist

7 Mar

This book is dark. I haven’t seen either of the movies, but the central character at this book is a vampire, and the story spirals out to encompass those whose lives the vampire touches. Eli’s…companion, for lack of a better word, who secures food for Eli when Eli cannot. Eli’s lonely, bullied neighbor who is desperate for a connection, for a friend, and latched on to Eli. The friends of Eli’s dead victim. The friends of one of Eli’s victims who survives, transforming into a vampire herself.

What made this book special is that despite the vampires, the mystery at the core, and the violence, it tackled surprisingly human themes. The young, lonely bullied boy. The ramifications of divorce. Young love. The acceptance (or lack thereof) of homosexuals. The dangers of pedophilia.

I don’t have that much to say about the book. It was suspenseful, tense, keeping me on the edge of my seat. It ultimately left me feeling sad, for almost all of the characters in the story. It was a much more interesting take on the vampire genre that I normally read, and as such, it was refreshing.

Book Review 11: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

13 Feb

I finished The Secret History in 24 hours, which happened to be the same 24 hours in which Donna Tartt announced she’ll be releasing a third novel in the upcoming future. The Secret History tells the story of 6 prep school kids studying the classics under an eccentric professor at a small liberal arts school in Vermont, and the secrets, conspiracies and fall out from one fateful night in the woods.

This book is part psychological thriller, part straight suspense novel, and part psychoanalysis of the main characters.  Honestly, I would compare it to Gone Girl in terms of the depth of character analysis, suspense and tone. It’s like a much more literary Gone Girl. I honestly don’t recall ever reading a book in the suspense or thriller genre where I found the prose to be beautiful or worthwhile in it’s own right, but here it was.

The characters in this book are offbeat, but not in an overly quirky, annoying way. There are the too-close twins dressed all at white who overcome their creepy first appearances to make everyone feel warm and welcoming. There’s the reckless Bunny, too smart for his own good and too incapable of reading social situations to save himself. There’s the charismatic, homosexual red head Francis who seems to draw men to him like a magnet.

And then there’s the narrator, Richard, who for me was the most untrustworthy character in the whole lot. Tartt created a weird phenomenon, where at first I identified with Richard, and his longing to belong to someone or something and his desperate fear of missing out. But as the novel progressed, I trusted Richard less and less. I started to feel as if he was hiding something from me, the reader, or that he wasn’t as socially intuitive enough to satisfy me. Continue reading

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