Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Falconer by Dana Czapnik

Lucy Adler, better known by her friends as Loose, is a seventeen-year-old student who lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in 1993. Lucy's love in life is two things, basketball, and Percy, her best friend since childhood. They now attend different private schools but spend most of their free time together, shooting hoops or playing in pick up games in Riverside Park.

Lucy is a wild child. She questions everything in life and chases after the exciting stuff of being young in a New York, starting with basketball. Luce doesn't care about femininity in the traditional high school sense of hair and makeup. She wears baggy jeans, no makeup, has curly, untamed hair and lives a carefree life. Lucy loves and respects her parents and has a full on crush on Percy.

I loved this novel as it mentioned every place I know about New York at a time when we introduced our young daughter to the New York we lived in in the seventies and eighties. As she walks up Broadway from H&H bagels, past Zabars and Harry's shoes (I used to buy shoes there), I remembered what I loved about the city that used to be dirty, dangerous, and amazing. I miss it still.

I love that Lucy not only was obsessed with basketball but had an intellectual curiosity that knew no bounds. Dana Czapnik has written a skillful and heartfelt coming of age novel that deserves the attention of today's youth. I routed for Lucy all the way. She had to win all she wanted out of life. She earned it.

I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Age of LIght by Whitney Scharer

This debut novel details the coming of age story of Lee Miller, a former Vogue model who moves to Paris. Lee wants to get away from modeling and into a profession behind the camera. Her goal is to meet and learn from the famous surrealist Man Ray.

Lee eventually attains her goal of working for Man Ray and evolves into a photojournalist who finally photographed WWII. In the process of her creative growth, she experienced an intense love affair with Ray. This novel illustrates the bohemian life of the Paris in the twenties and thirties, the sexual promiscuity in the community. And how men, supposedly brilliant men, exploited talented women to further their careers.

This novel serves to illustrate that even a strong feminist such as Lee Miller could not escape the claustrophobia of men admiring her beauty, not her talent.

I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley.

What We Did: A Novel by Christobel Kent

Christobel Kent's new novel is a compelling read. Kent's protagonist is a British woman, Bridget, who owns an upscale dress shop in a town near Rose Hill University where her husband, Matt, works. She lives a quiet, peaceful life with her husband and son, Finn. Matt is a caring, loving man, head of the IT department. Their lives are stable, and they seem content.

For Bridget everything changes in a moment when a man and a young girl enter the shop. The girl is looking for a dress for a piano recital. Bridget's mind explodes at the sight of the man, Anthony Carmichael, her old piano teacher. She hates this man and never thought she would have to see him again.

The book immediately takes a turn and becomes a suspenseful thriller. I wanted Bridget to get her normal life back, but it didn't seem possible given her actions. The characters surrounding her could help if she shared her secret, but that was the worst torment of all. She thought her husband would have nothing to do with her if he knew her secrets.

I enjoyed this novel and hope it does well when it is published in the USA in February.

I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley.

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib

Eating disorders come in all languages and cultures. Anna Roux is a ballet dancer from Paris who now lives in the USA with her husband, Matthias. Matthias is a physicist who accepted an excellent position in St. Louis. Anna, of course, followed him to America.

The couple is devoted to each other and enjoyed a lovely life in Paris and traveling to romantic places. But now things are not good; Anna is suffering from Anorexia Nervosa. We all have read about this and seen women in films portray the life of a person with this potentially fatal disease.

Anna agrees to enter a treatment center, 17 Swann Street. Deciding to join a treatment center is the first step, a tiny one. The requirements, rules, agreements, restrictions, and lifestyle are challenging to say the least.

Anna's story comes together with stories of other women at 17 Swann Street. The novel shares the experiences of these young adult women in a gentle and caring narrative. All the tragedy presents itself, but I did not feel like a voyeur while reading their stories. The book helped me understand what it might feel like, in real life, to face a disease that you didn't expect to have and seem unable to conquer.

I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Into the Fire by Sonia Orchard

In Australia, Sonia Orchard creates the life of two young women, Lara and Alice, and shows what their transition from university to adult life might look like today. Both women spent many hours in gender studies and considered themselves indomitable feminists.

Alice is a commanding personality who Lara depends on as a friend, family, and partner in exploring twenty-something life. Unfortunately, Alice dies in a house fire. A year later, in one weekend that Lara spends with Alice's husband, Crow, she begins to recall conversations, feelings, and facts about their lives in the heady days of youth and coming of age.

Lara looks at the life Alice chose versus the one she fell into early on. The question of feminism and choosing a career, husband, and children plagues Lara. She tries to work out what could have gone wrong for Alice. We always ask that question of our young selves and friends' lives, but rarely find any answers. Orchard does an excellent job of laying out a believable story of women that is universal.

I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley.

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Friend by Sigrid Nunez

Nunez has written a brilliant book about the heartbreaking things we face in life like losing people we love. The novel speaks to a dear friend who has died. The narrator and her friend are both writers and teachers in New York. They are part of the literati, have lived the writing life, so many young people aspire to with little success.

The dog on the cover of the book is a 180 pound Dane named Apollo. Apollo and the narrator come together when her friend dies. She tells his third wife that she cannot possibly take the animal, rules prohibit it in her rent-stabilized apartment. She doesn't have affection for the dog or any dog for that matter. She thinks she wants the total freedom she has always enjoyed and to continue to write and teach, without interruption or responsibility for another living creature.

The goods we get about writers, literature and a relationship between a dog and a person make this book a rightful recipient of the National Book Award.

I must read more of Sigrid Nunez. The Friend was pure delight

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Something Worth Saving by Sandi Ward

Sandi Ward made an amusing decision when she chose a cat named Lily, to narrate her new book.When Lily was a newborn, a horrible human kicked her out of his way. Lily survived but walks with a limp. Charlies picked Lily out of all the cats at the shelter, and they became best friends over the years.

Charlie has two siblings, Victoria and Kevin, and parents who are separated. Charlie's mom is a pre-school teacher, and his father a cop. The parents no longer live together because of dad's drinking problems.

Lily is a great narrator because, mostly, that is all she can do. She can't influence the plot, but she does have a particular way of communicating with the humans. Lily's love for Charlie has no boundaries. She would do anything for anyone in the family, but especially Charlie. Lily even accepts a new human into the pack who comes to help with home renovations.

The story is one we all know; parents split up, someone is bullied, and the welfare of the entire family hangs by a thread. The story is short, bittersweet, and worth a read!

I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Current by Tim Johnston

Two college friends set off to visit Audrey's dad who is ill with Stage 4 lung cancer. Caroline offers to drive, so Audrey doesn't have to come up with the bus fare. They go to school in Minnesota. Caroline is from down south and not used to driving in heavy snow. Something tragic happens, and the narrative takes us through the stories of all the lives affected by what happened that snowy night.

Audrey's father is a retired sheriff, who lost his wife when Audrey was very young. Father and daughter are close and care for each other more than anything else. Audrey begged her dad to let her take a semester off, but he insisted that she keep moving forward in her young life. Now, she had to see him. He was getting weaker by the day.

Audrey's decision to go home, through no fault of her own, creates collateral damage that ripples through families and won't quickly be forgotten or repaired. TJ's novel moves at a good pace, and the clues of this mystery sent me in many different directions. There is a lot of empathy needed for the characters of this story. Living in a rural area isn't easy, and when people have a fixed opinion of you and your children, life can be a continuing nightmare.

I enjoyed the story, the characterizations, and the bravery of the women demonstrated through TJ's writing skill. I recommend this book if you can take in the predatory character of a man who people have always trusted.

I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley.

Monday, December 10, 2018

I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella

Sophie Kinsella's newest novel is a British rom-com of a book. The protagonist, Fixie Farr, is part of a family who owns a shop in London. Farr's sells household goods and is a stable, unfussy, type of shop that boasts loyal customers. The family now consists of Mum Farr, Fixie, Jake, and Nicole. Mum is the rock of the business since her husband died. She has always put her entire life into the store and into taking care of her children.

After a medical issue comes up, Mum goes off to spend some recovery time with her sister in Spain. The business remains in the hands of the kids which means Fixie gets pulled into every scheme her siblings have up their sleeves.

Jake and Nicole push all the work onto Fixie as they create pipe dreams about how to get rich quick or in Nicole's case, how to fatten up her Instagram page.The novel is a good piece of hoping the underdog will win out over the selfish characters in the story (there are several).

I enjoyed this fast read, good for a long plane ride.

I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Watching You by Lisa Jewel

As a young girl, I always aspired to live in a large city so that I could be anonymous, no small town where everyone would know my business. I achieved that for most of my life, living in some of the largest metropolises in the world. Lisa Jewell's new novel, Watching You, demonstrates my nightmare. A wealthy enclave in Bristol, England, is a place where the moneyed people live, but the houses are close enough so that you can see what your neighbor is doing just by glancing out the window. If you have binoculars, as Freddie Fitzwilliam, a fifteen-year-old student does, you can become the town spy.

Jewel's gift is to take all the tiny pieces of peoples lives, every bit of detail and put it into a jigsaw puzzle that, in the end, came together and made me think, Ah yes, so that is how it happened. The protagonists Tom Fitzwilliam, a 'super head' of the local school and a young woman named Joey Mullen, set off the sparks that made this a fascinating read, done at breakneck speed. I had to get to the end!

I love Lisa Jewell's writing and recommend this book and all of her other many twisty stories.

I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne

Guy Gunaratne's novel, In Our Mad and Furious City, takes place during 48 hours after a real-life incident where a former British soldier's life ends in violence. The three young men in the novel have connections to the subsequent bloodshed in a London housing estate and surrounding mosques.

The story comes in the third person. Three boys, Selvon, Ardan, and Yusuf, have grown up in the estate. Their parents come from Belfast, Pakistan, and the Caribbean. The book covers the thoughts and actions of each character. Much of the language is reminiscent of Martin Amis's novel, Lionel Asbo: State of England. The characters are similar, and I learned how to understand some of the local vernacular, even though it changes rapidly in contemporary society.

The times are vicious, on both sides, and the story reflects what is happening today in most western societies that struggle with the 'other' who have come to our shores. They have every right to be there/here. Their struggle is universal and sad. If only we could know that somehow this will evolve into some peace in the future.

GG's book is tough to read and brilliant in its understanding of the world today. It certainly deserved to be listed for the Booker and the Goldsmith Prizes.

I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Lowdown by Anthony Schneider

I, like many moviegoers, have seen all the films about mob figures. I'm sure I've seen The Godfather more than twice. I even grew up in an area of New Jersey where those guys, in real life, aspired to be cool 'made' men like Jimmy Paccini. I remember the slicked down hair and the black leather jackets. I only knew them from afar as I came from the other side of town, the side that was not on the border with Newark.

Many years later, my husband and I lived on the Upper East side of Manhattan. The man who ran the parking garage in our building told us we were safe (this was during the dangerous era of the eighties) because the small businesses in the area paid for protection. He pointed out that once a week a guy in a black Cadillac idled on the street while another guy visited all the bars and pizzerias in a two-block area. It made me feel both safe and afraid. The eighties in New York were so different than the city of today.

I enjoyed Anthony Schneider's take on the mob lifestyle. He added Milena Cossutta to the narrative. Milena was beautiful and smart. The novel was suspenseful, but with the extra twist of a love story that lasted many years and added a heart-wrenching element to the violent lifestyles of criminals.

As I have never been to Sicily, I enjoyed the scenic descriptions and a taste of the lifestyle. Milena is a feminist character in an overwhelmingly male-dominated world. She deserved much more than what she got from her husband, Vinnie DeNunzio, and as I read what happened after the many years that separated Milena and Jimmy, I was satisfied in the end. Lowdown is a unique novel in the genre, and I highly recommend it to all readers.

I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Little Girl Gone by Stephen Edger

This a thriller novel with the heart-stopping moments of a wild roller coaster ride. Two-year-old Carol-Anne vanishes from her car seat in the minute it takes her mother, Alex Granger, to buy a ticket from the parking lot machine. From the very beginning, the story races through a short time frame where the police, with Alex's husband on the force, chase down all possible leads.

As is often the case, we find out that the beautiful family isn't that perfect once we look inside and see the stresses and strains the marriage has suffered. Somehow these secrets set a tone that this will be the final tragedy that ends Alex and Ray's relationship. Neither of them seemed happy at the start. Now, life as they knew it is slipping away.

You will enjoy this thriller if this is your genre, and even if it isn't, it is worth the read!

I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose

Marina Abramovic's The Artist is Present performance at MOMA in 2010 is the backdrop for this incredible novel of love, loss, and understanding people's lives to the core of their being. The author, Heather Rose, interviewed Abramovic while writing the book and had her permission and approval for the work. Details of MA's life offer a unique insight into an artist that I have always found mysterious. I'm not sure I appreciated her work. The MOMA piece was captivating, but again, I don't think I understood it at the time it was happening. This book helped me understand the art a little better, appreciate it more, and respect the artist and her work.

The fictitious aspect of the book investigates the life of another artist, Arky Levin. Arky is a composer and has had highly successful experiences creating film scores for movies. In his fifties, the creative juices are slowing down, and he is dealing with a life crisis that seems unsolvable. While trying to incubate a new film score with a Japanese filmmaker, he wanders into MOMA one day. The experience captures him, and he becomes obsessed with MA and her audience.

Arky makes a daily pilgrimage from his Washington Square apartment to MOMA to observe MA and the people in the audience. He meets a woman from the south named Jane who has recently lost her husband and decided that her period of mourning was becoming oppressive and she needed a trip. Jane was thinking of a long journey but believed that New York was a good test run and as an art teacher decided that MA's performance was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Jane makes the acquaintance of Arky and together for two weeks they sat and observed the performance. They get along well, and it is a good experience for the two lonely people, on that is platonic and nonintrusive. Both Arky and Jane learn some things about the pain in their hearts and souls and part as friends who will stay in touch.

Heather Rose has written an excellent book about love, both romantic and familial. The writing is superb, and the story is mesmerizing. I give this novel the highest marks and recommend it to people who love art and good literary fiction.

I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley.

Friday, November 2, 2018

The Kinship of Secrets by Eugenia Kim

Shortly before the Korean conflict turned into a fully militarized war, Calvin Cho took his wife, Najin, and one of his daughters, Miran to the USA to raise money for a church. They decided to leave their other daughter, Inja, in the care of Najin's brother.

Calvin worked as a translator and announcer for the US military radio. They did not foresee that it would be many years before the Korean War ended and their family situation would change. They desperately wanted Inja to join them or for them all to return to Korea. The plot circles the facts of that time in history. The narrative is a POV perspective given to us by each girl's inner monologue as they grow up, trying to cope with the lifestyles they cannot change.

Miran loses her ability and desire to speak Korean. She becomes a typical American teenager, resenting her family for the sparse lifestyle of her family as they send every penny they make back to her family in Korea.

Inja is a good student but lives a difficult life in poverty, taking care of her grandmother. Her love for her uncle is the shining light in her heart. She dreads the possibility of being forced to go to the USA. Her family is in Korea, her friends, her school. Inja's greatest fear is that her family will not return to Korea but demand that she goes to the USA.

This novel mines the hearts and souls of victims of war, poverty, religious prejudice, and separation. We read about victims of war and dictatorships all over the world every day. Ms. Kim has given us a real story based on facts of an actual family's grief many years ago.

This novel is a gift at a time when we need to read the inspiration that survival gives us at a time when so many suffering people are trying to flee similar situations.

I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley.