Monday, June 27, 2016

The Tea Planter's Wife by Dinah Jefferies


Nineteen-year-old Gwendolyn Hooper is newly married to a rich and charming widower, eager to join him on his tea plantation, determined to be the perfect wife and mother. But life in Ceylon is not what Gwen expected. The plantation workers are resentful, the neighbors treacherous. And there are clues to the past - a dusty trunk of dresses, an overgrown gravestone in the grounds - that her husband refuses to discuss. Just as Gwen finds her feet, disaster strikes. She faces a terrible choice, hiding the truth from almost everyone, but a secret this big can't stay buried forever.

My take: 4 looks

I was riveted by this story. I read several books at a time, and I found myself thinking about this book as I was reading another. I can think of no higher compliment to this author.

Gwen is a lovely protagonist. We are cheering for her, shouting advice, and mourning when she is bereft. I love how she develops and grows in the story, and the perfect combination of backbone and forgiveness she extends. Her husband, Laurence, is an affable character, and deals well with her as a new, young bride compared with also being his second wife. Periphery characters add additional spice to the story, and are completely believable and enjoyable.

The tumult of Ceylon under British rule plays out on the outskirts, but touches the family throughout the story. A bit of an epic, we see the Stock Market crash in New York, prohibition, changes in fashion, and mixed-race marriages. There are so many wonderful nuances to the story, and it is wholly satisfying in the end.

I recommend this and look forward to reading more by Jefferies.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler


Kate Battista feels stuck. How did she end up running house and home for her eccentric scientist father and uppity, pretty younger sister Bunny? Plus, she’s always in trouble at work – her pre-school charges adore her, but their parents don’t always appreciate her unusual opinions and forthright manner. 

Dr. Battista has other problems. After years out in the academic wilderness, he is on the verge of a breakthrough. His research could help millions. There’s only one problem: his brilliant young lab assistant, Pyotr, is about to be deported. And without Pyotr, all would be lost.

When Dr. Battista cooks up an outrageous plan that will enable Pyotr to stay in the country, he’s relying – as usual – on Kate to help him. Kate is furious: this time he’s really asking too much. But will she be able to resist the two men’s touchingly ludicrous campaign to bring her around?

My take: 3 looks

Vinegar girl is entertaining and very easy to read. A re-do of William Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew", it is relatively faithful to the spinster-finds-marriage plot, but that's about it. It is not as experimental as Tyler's other books "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant", "Breathing Lessons", or the beloved "Accidental Tourist".

The Hogarth Shakespeare series now has four titles, and this is the first I have read. Again, it is easy to read and entertaining, but also just as easily forgettable. Kate, Pyotor, Dr. Battista, and Bunny are all just characters in a story already told several times.

At less than 250 pages, it's not a commitment, and you will have another Anne Tyler title under your belt. Recommended summer supplement book.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda


Like nothing you’ve ever read before, All the Missing Girls delivers in all the right ways. With twists and turns that lead down dark alleys and dead ends, you may think you’re walking a familiar path, but then Megan Miranda turns it all upside down and inside out and leaves us wondering just how far we would be willing to go to protect those we love.

My take: 4 looks
When I found out that this story was told backwards, I was immediately interested! There have been books with flashbacks, books with the end told at the beginning, and so on, but this book is literally told backwards. I LOVED that about the storytelling!

Miranda's writing is good, as well. Characters were believable and well-fleshed out. The protagonist's relationship with her father and her brother felt extremely real, and her other various relationships were well-suited to the story.

The action built a sense of dread, as well as enticed me to read faster and faster to find out what had happened "the day before", as the chapters are titled. As promised in another review, I wanted to reread the book from the beginning as soon as it was finished. You know, knowing what I know now...

The only thing I would change here is the title of the book. While I am loathe to voice a problem without a possible suggestion to change, I cannot think of another title that would reflect the jewel that this book is. "All the Missing Girls" is milquetoast compared to the pages between the covers. Something that would grab your eyes from the bookstore shelf. Something that would make your breath stop until you picked it up to read the back summary. I have thought and thought, with nothing coming to mind.

Regardless, pick this one up, suggest it for your book club, and pass it to your friends. It is worth every minute.

Thank you to NetGalley for a prerelease of this book in exchange of my honest review.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Sonata for Miriam by Linda Olsson


Linda Olsson's first novel, Astrid & Veronika, introduced readers to her gorgeous prose, and her extraordinary understanding of human relationships. With her second novel, she once again charts that terrain in a novel that also explores the significant impact of history on individual lives. In Sonata for Miriam, two events occur that will change composer Adam Anker's life forever. Embarking on a journey that ranges from New Zealand to Poland, and then Sweden, Anker not only uncovers his parents' true fate during World War II, but he also finally faces the consequences of an impossible choice he was forced to make twenty years before-a choice that changed the trajectory of his life.

My take: 2 looks

A disappointment from one of my favorite authors. While the writing and structure are absolutely beautiful, the story and characters left me with no sympathy and no desire to get to know them better, as well as very little understanding of what the purpose of the story was.

Adam is grieving the death of his daughter, which happens very early in the story. He is grieving, but we seem to get in on the end of it because there is no sense of heart-wrenching, brokenness, or despair. Instead, I was left with the feeling that since a main aspect of Adam's life was now gone, he simply needed to replace it with something or someone else. And the story centers around this search.

Toward the end of the book, we switch to Cecilia's voice. The woman who gave up her child with no valid explanation. And we never understand why. We never understand what this grief is that Adam claims she has. She comes across as very self-serving, self-absorbed, and everyone panders to her.

All in all, this book is a collection of beautifully crafted sentences and paragraphs, which have nothing at all to say. Not recommended.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Writing techniques

A book is coming across my desk soon for review which uses an interesting writing technique. The story is told backwards. That was enough to make me agree to read and review it.

And it got me thinking about other interesting writing techniques. Here are two of my favorites:

Epistolary - written in letters, notes, emails, journal entries, etc.
84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff is one of my faves
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Griffin and Sabine by artist Nick Bantock

Perspective - written from a number of different people's experiences
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

There are so many others: time travel, reincarnation, alternate history (one of my faves), and magical realism. As a matter of fact, there are so many devices available to writers that these genres, subgenres, narrative methods, and perspectives blur when categorizing.

I am looking forward to receiving this book-written-backwards, and will let you know what I think. Meanwhile, what are your storytelling methods?