Showing posts from March, 2013

book review: Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear

The backstory: Leaving Everything Most Loved is the tenth Maisie Dobbs mystery novel. Here are links to my reviews of the first nine books: Maisie DobbsBirds of a FeatherPardonable LiesMessenger of TruthAn Incomplete Revenge,Among the Mad,The Mapping of Love and Death,A Lesson in Secrets, and An Elegy for Eddie(There may be some minor spoilers from earlier novels in this review.)

The basics: When Usha Pramal is found dead in London, the police soon run out of clues. When Usha's brother arrives in London two months later, he is dismayed at the lack of progress in the case and enlists the help of Maisie to help solve his sister's murder.

My thoughts: Reading a Maisie Dobbs novel feels like spending time with an old friend. I'm particularly fond of Maisie as a character, and I appreciate how much changes in her life over the course of her books. Leaving Everything Most Loved raises the stakes and follows through on numerous storylines in the lives of Maisie and her as…

The 2013 Women's Prize for Fiction longlist: A U.S. Reader's Guide

The Orange Prize Women's Prize for Fiction longlist is here! I'm not quite as obsessed as I have been in last years, but I still awaited the longlist with excited anticipation. I won't attempt to read the longlist before the winner is announced this year, but as most of the titles were already on my TBR, I will begin working through them, and I think I will attempt the shortlist once it's announced next month.

The Ones I've Already Read:
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Kindle edition) 4.5 out of 5The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan (Kindle edition) 4 out of 5Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple (Kindle edition) 4.5 out of 5 The Ones Available in the U.S. Now:
Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson (Kindle edition)Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (Kindle edition)Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (Kindle edition)Honor by Elif Shafak (no Kindle edition)
How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti (Kindle edition)Ignorance by Michele Roberts (Kindle edition)Lamb by…

book review: A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee

The backstory: After loving Jonathan Dee's last novel, Pulitzer Prize finalist The Privileges (my review) so much it made my Best of 2011 list, I was ecstatic to hear he has a new novel out.

The basics: A Thousand Pardons is the story of Helen and Ben Armstead. The Armsteads live in Rensselaer Valley, an upstate suburb of New York City, with their adopted daughter Sara. When Ben's actions bring scandal to the family, their marriage ends, and Helen must find a job.

My thoughts: A Thousand Pardons is a slim novel composed of seven lengthy chapters. The novel's first chapter pulled me into this family and the narrative and left me stunned. It's a fascinating and bold set-up for the novel, but it also lulled me into thinking this was a different sort of novel than it turned out to be. The second chapter slowed the narrative's pace, and while I settled into the rest of the novel, I wondered if Dee would return to the pace of the novel's first chapter.

What propels the …

book review: The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver

The basics: Spanning three generations of the Porter family and fifty years of their relationships with their hired help, The End of the Point focuses on the family at four different times in history, beginning in the 1940's. Much of the novel takes place at their summer home in Ashaunt, Massachusetts.

My thoughts: Reading The End of the Point made me realize how much I love present-future narrators. As the story of the Porter family unfolds, the reader gets hints of how things are now, even though the story is told in the moment:
"If things had turned out differently, she would have begun the story here--or no, Smitty would have told it; unlike Bea, he loved an audience, he'd have made it funny, drawn it out." These moments aren't frequent, but as I encountered each one, it felt as though I was unwrapping a present. We don't have the certainty of the future in our own lives, but literature can provide us with one for these characters. It's a testament to …

book review: The Death of Bees by Lisa O'Donnell

My thoughts: I'm not one to be easily shocked or made to blush (at least in the privacy of my own home. I fully confess to many blushing incidents on public transportation while reading), yet The Death of Bees had my jaw dropping, cheeks blushing, and my interior monologue saying "she's how old?" All of this is to say, The Death of Bees is not for the faint of heart, but it is a beautiful, haunting, coming of age tale that far more sad than salacious. While it may shock many readers, it's end point isn't the shock value; there's a deep, affecting story at the heart of The Death of Bees.

The Death of Bees is a difficult novel to classify. There are elements of mystery from the novel's first lines:
Eugene Doyle. Born 19 June 1972. Died 17 December 2010, aged thirty-eight. Isabel Anne Macdonald. Born 24 May 1974. Died 18 December 2010, aged thirty-six.Today is Christmas Eve. Today is my birthday. Today I am fifteen. Today I buried my parents in the backyar…

young adult book review: Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans

edit: Level 2 is now titled The Memory of After

The basics: Level 2 is the story of Felicia who died when she was seventeen and is stuck in Level 2, which is a sort of limbo between life and afterlife. In Level 2, drones can access their memories, but they also serve as a type of currency: if others watch your memories, it generates credits for you to watch more memories. When Felicia recognizes Julian, someone she knew in her life, and he tries to break her free from Level 2, she begins to learn more about what exactly Level 2 is.

My thoughts: From the first pages, I was fascinated by the world of Level 2 and by Felicia's story. She's a young woman who lived in and traveled to many cities and countries. She's articulate and loyal. Appelhans smartly tells Felicia's story in concurrent narratives: the reader is plunged into the world of Level 2, which Appelhans adds detailed observation into as the novel continues. The emphasis is on plot and character building rather tha…

book review: Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

The backstory: Although I didn't love Maria Semple's first novel, This One Is Mine, I did love parts of it (my review.) I liked Semple's humor and writing enough to eagerly read her latest novel, Where'd You Go, Berndadette? Update: it was also shortlisted for the 2013 Women's Prize for Fiction.

The basics: Bernadette Fox is a legend, in good ways and bad, depending on the group. She's an enigmatic world-renowned architect who hasn't worked in years. She's a  object or ire and ridicule to her fellow private school mothers in Seattle. She's something of a curiosity to her fifteen-year-old daughter, Bee, and her husband, who works at Microsoft. Bernadette has become agoraphobic and employs a virtual personal assistant from India rather than perform simple tasks herself. When Bee achieves a perfect report card, she asks for her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. When Bernadette disappears, Bee tries to solve the mystery by putting together em…

book reviews: Upstairs & Downstairs and Below Stairs

The backstory: My obsession with love of Downton Abbey has inspired me to learn more about the period and customs of British country homes at that time.

The basics: Upstairs & Downstairs: An Illustrated Guide to the Real World of Downton Abbey is part nonfiction, part coffee table book about typical life in an Edwardian country home.

My thoughts: Most of what I know about this time, I've learned from Downton Abbey. I was curious to learn more about the time, in part to better assess how true Downton is to history. Upstairs & Downstairs was an informative, engaging look into life at the time. Divided into sections based on a typical day. This structure allowed author Sarah Warwick to examine the roles of those upstairs and downstairs simultaneously.

There was much that was familiar from Downton, but I also learned many things that added more nuance to my understanding of the servant's roles on the show. What I enjoyed most about this book, however, were the pictures and …