Review: The Goldfinch


The Goldfinch
The Goldfinch
By Donna Tartt
(Little, Brown and Company, Hardcover, 9780316055437,  October 2013, 784pp.)

The Short of It:

Memory, in and of itself, has the ability to restore and destroy.

The Rest of It:

While visiting a New York art museum, Theodore Decker, thirteen, is separated from his mother in an explosion that leaves him dazed and confused. In the immediate moments after the blast, Theo sees, and takes, a valuable painting for safekeeping. Not fully understanding what has happened or why, he stumbles out of the rubble but his life is forever frozen in time. When he realizes he has lost his dear mother, he finds himself floating through life, encountering many obstacles along the way and revisiting those final moments in the museum over and over again.

This is one hell of a book.

It’s long and I know some readers who won’t even touch it because of its length but they are really doing themselves a disservice because it is really a fine piece of work. I had planned to read it “someday” but when it was chosen for book club, I was pushed encouraged to read it a little bit sooner than I had planned and then it was awarded the Pulitzer which piqued my interest even more.

The Goldfinch  is an adventure. It meanders, there is action but not that much of it and it’s repetitive when it comes to behaviors like the excessive drinking and drug use that riddle its pages. But even with all of this going on, it’s incredibly heartbreaking and yes, beautiful. At first glance, Theo seems to be handling his loss quite well, but with each page, his pain and devastation become more real, more tangible and he becomes more reliant on the actions of others to save him. Not to mention the painting and the significance behind him taking it in the first place. Its purpose, so it seems, is to remind him of that fateful day but as it certainly does just that, it’s also a constant reminder of what he needs to do to keep it safe.

This is a book with some memorable characters too. Boris, the Ukrainian kid Theo hooks up with, is part hoodlum, part philosopher but more than anything, Theo’s best friend. Think “The Artful Dodger”. Popper, a mutt that Theo takes pity on, ends up being a loyal companion to Theo and one cannot forget Hobie, the lovable furniture maker who takes Theo in when he has nowhere else to go. These unlikely characters come together to essentially save Theo from himself, but it’s not always evident that that is what is happening. There are lots of pitfalls along the way and the journey can be tedious, but in the end, I found myself loving the story, wishing I had taken more time with the last few pages. It’s about love and trust and redemption and what’s not to like with its art world setting?

Talking about it here, I realize just how much I miss the characters. So, even though it’s long and intimidating to some, I urge you to pick it up because it’s really a book to experience first-hand.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: We Are Called To Rise (audio)


We Are Called to Rise
We Are Called To Rise (audio)
By Laura McBride
(Simon & Schuster Audio, ISBN 9781442370791, June 2014.)

The Short of It:

Four, seemingly independent stories collide and the results are devastating for one immigrant family.

The Rest of It:

Vegas is a town that reeks of desperation. Spend a few days there and you’ll know what I mean. In We Are Called to Rise, the Vegas we see is not what you’d expect, but rather bleak and depressing all the same. This is the suburban side, where immigrant families struggle to make ends meet, where people go to basically start a new life. The story is told in four voices:

  • Bashkim – a second grader, living with his Albanian parents and his baby sister. Bashkim’s parents own an ice cream truck and want to live the American dream, but they struggle as there is never enough money to put anything aside, and when Bashkim’s sister falls ill, a trip to the doctor pushes the father over the edge.
  • Avis – a married woman in her 50’s who has just found out about her husband’s infidelity. In addition to her marital problems, she’s struggling to understand her son Nate, a war veteran, who hasn’t been right since returning from his third tour of duty.
  • Specialist Luis Rodriguez-Reyes – he wakes up in a hospital after losing his best friend in Afghanistan. He begins a pen pal relationship with Bashkim as a class project, not realizing how entwined their lives will become.
  • Roberta –  a social worker who becomes involved with Bashkim’s family.

As you can probably guess, something terrible happens to Bashkim and his family. This is a very sad story but it’s also one of hope and renewal. The audio production was very powerful to listen to. There were times where I just had to pause and think about what just happened. The title makes you think this is a book about religion, and maybe there is a little bit of that in there, but it’s not really centered around religion at all.

Overall, it’s a book about second chances. How one small act of kindness can mean so much to an individual and how it’s possible to pick up the pieces when all is lost. I enjoyed listening to it very much and had no problem following the different story lines.

As for discussion, this would make a great book club book. There’s so much to think about and yet it’s a very accessible read. I highly recommend it.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall


The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
By Anne Bronte
(Oxford University Press, USA, Paperback, 9780199207558, May 2008, 441pp.)

The Short of It:

A scandalous novel for its time.

The Rest of It:

Published in 1848, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall tells the story of Helen Graham, a woman whose unfortunate marriage forces her to make some difficult decisions for herself and her son.

This book has a little bit of everything to make a reader happy. There’s the scandalous story of Helen and her husband Author Huntingdon. Probably one of the most self-indulgent men you could ever meet. His love of drink and fine things leads them to financial ruin and Helen has no choice but to  leave him, which of course is frowned upon greatly by society at large. She ends up at Wildfell Hall and introduces herself as a widow.  She quickly becomes the infatuation of Gilbert, who lives across the way. A new, interesting woman that he can talk to. So unlike the frivolous girls he comes across daily. But when another man enters the picture, Gilbert questions her and in return, is handed her diary which tells her sordid tale.

Most of the story is told through diary entries. At first, I didn’t mind this but it went on for quite a long time and I began to lose interest in the story itself, but the real discussion is the history of the book itself. My book club picked this book for June and there was plenty to say about it. For one, Anne Bronte based many of the characters on people she knew, she wrote it under a pen name and it was originally published in three volumes, and when she passed away, her sister Charlotte refused its republication.  It wasn’t until Charlotte’s death that it was published in one volume. Charlotte felt the book was “course” and not fit for publication.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is an important book for many reasons. It deals with some very heavy themes for the time, gender relations, motherhood, alcoholism and  abuse in marriage. Even though it was written in 1848, it has a very contemporary feel to it, probably because many of the issues Bronte includes are issues that we still deal with today.

The one criticism we all shared, was that the ending seemed rushed. Perhaps Bronte’s illness forced her to finish the book quickly or perhaps the book in its republication was cut down when made into one volume? What fascinated me the most was the Bronte family. Such talent and yet, so much tragedy. The three sisters all died from consumption and the brother became an alcoholic.

Overall, I am beginning to believe that I am more of a Bronte gal, than an Austen gal. Last year, I began Jane Eyre and have been reading it slowly (and loving it) and I must say The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was a refreshing surprise.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: And the Mountains Echoed


And the Mountains Echoed
And the Mountains Echoed
By Khaled Hosseini
(Riverhead Hardcover, Hardcover, 9781594631764, May 2013, 416pp.)

The Short of It:

A multi-generational saga that begins with a difficult decision, a decision that manages to echo repeatedly throughout the lives of this family.

The Rest of It:

I can’t say that I’ve read Hosseini before this book. I was supposed to. The Kite Runner was a book club pick many years ago but I could not get into the writing so I gave up on it. However, this was not the case with And the Mountains Echoed. In fact, I was immediately pulled into the story and kept with it no matter how many families appeared or what happened to them, but I must be honest, I lost interest during the second half of the novel. For me, there seemed to be too much going on and too many characters to keep track of.

But, that is why it’s good to read these types of books with a book club. You get to discuss the hell out of it and then after all of the discussion, you typically have a new-found appreciation for the writing and that is very much the case here.

The story begins in an Afghan village. Abdullah is ten-years-old and his baby sister Pari,  is only three. They live with their father and step-mother but have struggled with money all of their lives. After losing a baby to the cold the previous winter, Abdullah’s father, Saboor, takes Pari to a wealthy family, where she will live out her remaining years. Abdullah is devastated by this decision. The two of them were very close and losing his sister causes him great pain. Saboor, also greatly affected, has to believe that he’s made the right decision. With so little food and the harsh winter ahead of her, he doesn’t see how keeping her would be in her best interest.

The story then bounces back and forth between Afghanistan and the West as we follow the families involved. All in all, I lost interest in the other generations. Their stories didn’t resonate with me as much as Pari’s or Abdullah’s for that matter, but I can’t deny the fact that Hosseini knows how to tell a story. He does.

As a book club pick, there was actually plenty to discuss. I worried that the conversation would fall flat but everyone had lots to say and most enjoyed reading it. What weighed heavily on me was Saboor’s decision to sell his daughter to the wealthy family. As harsh as the decision was, was it the best thing for her at the time? Most agreed that yes, it was. I wasn’t so sure. Surely, money and position do play a role in a girl’s survival, but was it a better life? I am still pondering the alternative and I finished the book a few weeks ago so that just goes to show you how the book manages to stay with you.

Have you read it? I can’t say it was a favorite but it made for some excellent discussion.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Cold Song

The Cold Song
The Cold Song
By Linn Ullmann
(Other Press, Paperback, 9781590516676, April 8, 2014, 352pp.)

The Short of It:

Elegant and sophisticated with flawed, well-constructed characters.

The Rest of It:

Jon & Siri and their two young daughters return each summer to Siri’s childhood home, just south of Oslo. Mailund, the big white house, has been in the family for years and although not in perfect shape, gives them a break from their everyday existence. This time around, Jon has come to finish his novel. A task that seems impossible due to many things, but mainly the writer’s block that he regularly complains of. But there is a lot more going on. Jon’s affair with a woman down the street is what takes him out of the house on a regular basis, and even though he often tells his wife that he’s “walking the dog”, Siri is aware of his philandering ways and yet, doesn’t say anything to him, hoping that he’ll come to his senses.

That alone is enough material for a novel but The Cold Song does not stop there. Milla, a young girl hired to care for the children, becomes Jon’s obsession. Although their interactions are innocent enough, the tension is palpable whenever these two are in the room with one another. Milla, is also the focus of Alma, Jon and Siri’s twelve-year-old daughter. Alma seems to note the connection between Milla and her father right away, but Alma is not all there and has issues of her own to contend with. When Milla goes missing, the town is turned upside down trying to solve the mystery and Milla’s mother, Amanda, is convinced that Jon and Siri have something to do with her disappearance.

This is not a flashy, in your face, detective story or a story about a broken marriage. It’s a beautifully constructed story centered around flawed (VERY) flawed characters trying to find their place as the situations around them escalate out of control. These are not the types of friends that I’d like to have, ever, but man, did they make for some good reading. I wouldn’t say that anyone in this house is normal, except maybe the dog but their interactions with each other are awkward and sometimes disturbing and somehow it all works.

What I liked most about this novel is that it’s not any one thing. It’s not a mystery, or a romance or any of the genres that you typically think of when classifying a novel.

Have you read it? Have you read any books by Other Press before? I’ve read at least four and all of them surprised me in a good way.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Mr. Lynch’s Holiday

Mr. Lynch's Holiday

Mr. Lynch’s Holiday
By Catherine O’Flynn
(Henry Holt and Co., Hardcover, 9780805091816, October 2013, 272pp.)

The Short of It:

Things don’t always happen as planned. Sometimes, you need to be rescued.

The Rest of It:

After his wife’s death, Dermot Lynch leaves his home in England to visit his estranged son, Eamonn, who’s made a new life for himself in Spain. When Dermot arrives unannounced, what he finds is that Lomaverde is not the ideal neighborhood that Eamonn had described. Its dilapidated appearance, its empty pools and the feral cats are just a few of the tip-offs that things are not going well for Eamonn.

Also hard to ignore, is the fact that Eamonn’s wife Laura,  is nowhere to be found. Shortly before Dermot’s arrival, Laura left him and returned to England. This is not something he wants to discuss with his father, or anyone really, so he tells Dermot that she’s taken a trip. With his father standing before him, Eamonn is forced to play host, when all he wants to do is crawl into bed and sleep the day away.

This is one of those great, sleeper reads that you come across every now and then. The book came and went without any fanfare and that’s a shame, because it’s really very good. There is a closeness between Eamonn and his father, but it’s not one that is easily seen on the surface. Dermot, is basically a happy guy. He’s at peace with who he is and what he’s done whereas Eamonn is not satisfied with life. His decision to leave a good life, for a better life, blew up in his face and he’s not able to admit it. With the economy the way it is, he can’t sell, so he’s reminded daily of what a failure he is.

What Dermot does, is what any caring father would do. He picks Eamonn up, brushes him off and gets him on his feet, even if that means going to the crazy neighbor’s house for dinner or walking around the compound that has become his prison. It’s all too exhausting for Eamonn but at the same time, he seems to realize that something has to give and that he can’t go on living this way forever. Through these daily interactions, Eamonn begins to realize that perhaps, all is not lost.

Mr. Lynch’s Holiday is a quiet, feel-good book. It’s about appreciating what you have, when you have it and finding happiness in the simple things. It’s a lovely story that is both well-written and entertaining. I really enjoyed it and can’t wait to read her other books.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Library Thing.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Last Days of California

The Last Days of California
The Last Days of California
By Mary Miller
(Liveright Publishing Corporation, Hardcover, 9780871405883, January 2014, 256pp.)

The Short of It:

Probably one of the best coming-of-age novels I’ve read in a long while.

The Rest of It:

Fourteen-year-old Jess and her family, including her older, pregnant sister Elise, set out from Alabama to California right before the Rapture. Their mission? To save as many souls along the way as possible. As they travel from town to town, handing out their pamphlets to anyone who will take them, it becomes obvious to the girls that their father has lost his job (again) and that there really isn’t money for a trip across the country. Plus, the parents are clueless about their own daughter’s pregnancy and Jess finds herself in a position to protect her sister’s secret for as long as possible.

I loved this family. For all of their faults, they are a family in the biggest sense of the word. As they head out on this road trip, it’s clear that things are at stake. Life, as they know it could be changed forever after the Rapture but Jess and Elise are not convinced of that. They want to believe, but at the same time, they have their doubts.

Because of these doubts, they test the waters a bit. Hanging out with boys, drinking and smoking and basically experimenting as kids are known to do. But what makes it different for them is that they don’t know if the world will exist by the time they get to California. Will they be one of the saved ones? As they stop along the way, they meet people and have experiences that change who they are and in the process, they come to terms with their beliefs.

Books can be such a personal thing but I LOVED this book. I loved the family, the girls (with all of their faults) and the road trip, yes… I love road trips and reading this book was like jumping in the car and taking off for an adventure. I could easily have been their long-lost cousin hiding in the trunk. I FELT as if I was with them every time they stopped for gas and horribly processed snack foods. And every time they jumped into a motel pool, I could literally smell the chlorine.

This was such a great read. It gave me a lot to think about and it took me out of my world and right into theirs. I read it in just a couple of sittings and if you are worried about the religious parts, don’t. It’s not heavy-handed in any way. As Jess contemplates life, you can’t help but fall in love with her as a person.

To truly appreciate it, you must read it for yourself. I’m sure it will be on my list of favorites for 2014.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

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