Favorite Quotes Friday: Tell the Wolves I'm Home

Friday, January 30, 2015

Tell the Wolves I'm Home was my pick for National Readathon Day

It was my mother who stood first.  She walked across the room, knelt on the floor next to Toby, and laid her open palm on his head.  I watched as she ran her hand over his soft feathery hair, and even thought her back was to me, I think I heard her say, "Sorry."  I want to believe that's what I heard.  I needed to know that my mother understood that her hand was in this too.  That all the jealousy and envy and shame we carried was our own kind of sickness.  As much a disease as Toby and Finn's AIDS. 

- Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

This was such a simple and powerful passage to me, where so much of what this book had been working toward and developing finally came together in one beautiful and sorrowful moment.  The idea of comparing emotional pain and hurt to a disease like AIDS is so incredibly profound.  I feel like, so often, we are quick to discount emotional issues, particularly when they stem from relationships.  This is especially true of familial relationships, and euphemisms like "my crazy family" can hide years of emotional distress and very real problems.  

Narrator June spends so much of this book dealing with the emotional pain that stems from her family.  The jealousy, secrets and lies, shame, hurt, the silences - these are her family's currency, motivating everything that they do, how they treat one another, how they view themselves and the world, and everything that they say or cannot say.  

It is painful and difficult to see June contending with these deep emotional wounds throughout Tell the Wolves I'm Home, and it is even more painful when she comes to realize her own part in perpetuating these hurts.  But claiming these wounds as a disease is such a powerful action.  It shows June's depth and maturity, her desire to contend with these issues head on so that they do not continue to erode herself and her family.  And I think that is profound.  By minimizing these issues, it's difficult to see the deep and very real pain that they cause or to try to break the unhealthy patterns that have come to define how her family relates to each other and the world around them.  But if they are like a disease, than they must be fought like a disease: out in the open and with deliberate and aggressive treatment.  It will not be easy, and it will probably hurt, but there is a sense that in this moment, true healing can finally begin.   

What I'm Reading: The Paris Winter

Thursday, January 29, 2015

I was hoping that The Paris Winter by Imogen Robertson would be the kind of rich historical novel that is right up my alley.  The book tells the story of Maud Heighton, a young English woman who comes to Paris to study art at the height of the Belle Epoque.  Finding herself without sufficient funds to support herself and the threat of another cold Paris winter, Maud takes a job as a companion for a young French woman, Sylvie Morel, who she soon learns is addicted to opium.  Sylvie's brother Christian is not without his secrets either, and Maud quickly gets caught up in their web of deception and crime.  

While the plot sounds intriguing and richly complex, I thought its execution was much less so.  I think much of the book's failing lies with its characters, who I found to be underdeveloped, uninteresting, and poorly flushed out.  There are a lot of characters in this book, from Maud and her close friends Tanya and Yvette, to the villainous Morels, but Robertson doesn't develop any of them very well.  Even once I'd finished The Paris Winter, I didn't have a good sense of any of the characters, their back stories, or what motivated them to do what they did.  We do get quite a bit of background on some of the key characters, but a lot of it doesn't really advance the story or inform our understanding of these characters.  

Maud in particular felt very weak, and her shift in personality midway through the book felt unexplained.  It seems like Robertson relies on the circumstances of the plot to explain why Maud changes so much, but this isn't really sufficient and doesn't tell us anything about her character.  People don't usually change drastically in only a matter of days simply because of their circumstances, and I would have liked Robertson to explore Maud's shift in character in greater detail.  In addition, I thought all of the storylines revolving around Tanya and her various suitors felt pretty superfluous and could have lifted right out of the novel. 

Overall, I didn't think the writing was particularly strong.  It felt pretty flat and disengaging to me, and there seemed an odd tension in tone.  Throughout a lot of the first half of the novel, Robertson seems to be drying to capture older writing styles that better reflect turn of the century Paris.  But midway through, the writing seems to become more modern, which was a bit jarring for me.  Part of this can be explained away by the plot - Maud begins spending more time with "seedier" types who swear and engage in less savory activities - but still.  The narrative tone feels distinctly different, and the book doesn't feel very cohesive.  

I did like Robertson's inclusion of art in throughout The Paris Winter, particularly how she described different pieces that correspond to certain aspects of the story.  She made these pieces sound like a real art collection, and I enjoyed her critical artistic analysis of them.  I thought she tied up this aspect of the plot really well at the end; it felt like all of those descriptions came together in a very satisfying way. 

Two and a half out of five stars.  

Waiting on Wednesday: Lair of Dreams

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Today I'm participating in a meme hosted by Breaking the Spine.  Here's a look at an upcoming release that I'm excited to read.

Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray
Expected publication date: July 7, 2015

Here's the description from Goodreads:

After a supernatural showdown with a serial killer, Evie O'Neill has outed herself as a Diviner. Now that the world knows of her ability to "read" objects, and therefore, read the past, she has become a media darling, earning the title, "America's Sweetheart Seer." But not everyone is so accepting of the Diviners' abilities...

Meanwhile, mysterious deaths have been turning up in the city, victims of an unknown sleeping sickness. Can the Diviners descend into the dreamworld and catch a killer?

I read The Diviners in January 2013, a few months after it came out and before I knew it was going to become a series.  I knew nothing about the book or Libba Bray when I bought it.  I just thought it looked interesting, and I devoured it while on vacation.  It's a delightful mix of historical fiction, YA, supernatural and the occult, mystery, and murder.  The characters are lively and engaging, with complex stories and secrets.  I particularly loved the protagonist Evie O'Neill.  She jumps off the page, and it's hard not to root for her, even when she keeps getting herself into complicated situations.  The 1920s New York City setting brings it all together, giving The Diviners a rich and diverse backdrop, as well as some great historical flare ("It's all jake!").    

I heard that Bray would be turning this book into a series and was already working on the next installment a few months after I finished The Diviners, and I was pretty excited.  I think The Diviners works great as a standalone book, without a lot of obvious setup for sequels at the end.  But there's so much left for Bray to explore, and I can't wait to see where she takes the story and her characters.  Lair of Dreams was originally slated for a 2014 release, first the summer and then the fall.  But now it's scheduled to be published in July 2015, and I really hope they stick to this release date because I'm so anxious for this book to finally come out! 

Bray wrote a really beautiful and deeply personal entry on her blog in March 2014, which may help explain some of the publication delays (though I'm not sure, so please don't take my word on this).  It's also one of the most moving personal accounts of depression that I've ever read, and I so appreciate her candidness about her experience.   

Is anyone else excited to read Lair of Dreams when it comes out?  What books are you most looking forward to?   

What I'm Reading: The Good Girl

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica came so close to being a really great read for me.  It's frequently been compared to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, but I don't think the comparison is very apt.  The Good Girl feels a lot slower, less mysterious, and it doesn't have much of the same heart-pumping elements that make Gone Girl such an intense and hard-to-put-down thrill ride.  That's not necessarily a bad thing.  I just think that fans of Gone Girl who are expecting much of the same from Kubica will be disappointed.

Here's the synopsis of The Good Girl from Goodreads:

Born to a prominent Chicago judge and his stifled socialite wife, Mia Dennett moves against the grain as a young inner-city art teacher. One night, Mia enters a bar to meet her on-again, off-again boyfriend. But when he doesn't show, she unwisely leaves with an enigmatic stranger. With his smooth moves and modest wit, at first Colin Thatcher seems like a safe one-night stand. But following Colin home will turn out to be the worst mistake of Mia's life.

Colin's job was to abduct Mia as part of a wild extortion plot and deliver her to his employers. But the plan takes an unexpected turn when Colin suddenly decides to hide Mia in a secluded cabin in rural Minnesota, evading the police and his deadly superiors. Mia's mother, Eve, and detective Gabe Hoffman will stop at nothing to find them, but no one could have predicted the emotional entanglements that eventually cause this family's world to shatter.

An addictively suspenseful and tautly written thriller,
The Good Girl is a compulsive debut that reveals how even in the perfect family, nothing is as it seems….

To me, The Good Girl is less of a mystery and thriller than a slow boil exploration of a kidnapping gone wrong.  Through three different narrators - Mia's mother Eve, the detective investigating her disappearance, and her kidnapper Colin - Kubica is able to examine different facets of this situation.  She looks at the sorrow and guilt that Eve feels, as well as how Mia's disappearance affects and strains the relationship between her parents.  I think Eve's narrations are some of the most beautiful and sorrowful parts of the novel, artfully revealing the pain of being a mother whose child has disappeared and not knowing where they are or if they are even alive.  

I also thought Colin's sections were really interesting, offering an intense and intimate portrayal of the complicated relationship that develops between him and Mia.  And this is where I think The Good Girl really succeeds and what it's really about.  It's less interested in uncovering the mystery behind Mia's kidnapping than exploring the nuances of the captor and captive relationship.  Kubica moves far beyond the simplistic good guy/bad guy dichotomy, and in doing so, she is able to delve into the complex relationships and interactions between humans in horrific situations.  Colin is always Mia's kidnapper, but they live together for weeks, completely isolated in rural Minnesota, and it's almost impossible that some sort of relationship wouldn't develop out of that situation.  Kubica explores this with care and finesse, and I think that this is her book's most interesting offering. 

I had some issues with character development and tone throughout The Good Girl, particularly in regard to Detective Gabe Hoffman.  He comes off as such a misogynist, arrogant jerk at first, a man who is always looking to make a petty dig at anyone who seems to undercut his authority in any way.  He felt like such a simplistic character, and I didn't get much from his sections early on.  But then, he suddenly changes and stops being such a jerk, and he and Eve develop an intimate relationship as they work together to find Mia.  This felt so unexpected and undeveloped, and I couldn't believe that Detective Hoffman would change so much without any real explanation.  It made him feel like such a weak character, and it was difficult for me to get much out of his sections in the book. 

Finally, The Good Girl offers a very last minute twist ending, which I felt was wholly unsatisfying.  Since this book had been compared to Gone Girl and is categorized as a mystery/thriller, I was looking for twists and mysteries throughout, trying to figure out what really happened.  I had all but given this up until the very end when we get a sort of after-thought explanation that doesn't really make sense and seems to run counter to what the book originally sets out to do.  A good mystery should give readers all of the pieces so that they can put them together on their own.  It shouldn't be straightforward or easy, but the answer shouldn't feel out-of-the-blue, reliant on information that readers only get when the mystery is finally solved.  But this is what The Good Girl does, and the answer really doesn't make sense.  The pieces don't fit into place, and it makes the whole kidnapping plot feel completely superfluous.   

The Good Girl is a solid effort with some flaws.  Three and a half out of five stars.            

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Today I'm participating in a meme hosted by Book Journey.  Here's a look at what I've been reading lately and what's coming up for me. 

Finished Last Week:

The Paris Winter was just OK.  Not great or even really good, but not bad.  The conceit is interesting, but I felt that the execution left a lot to be desired.  I'll be posting my review later this week.   

Tell the Wolves I'm Home was simply stunning.  I can't believe it's a debut novel - it's so good with some of the best writing that I've seen in a while.  I almost feel like I can't even talk about this book, at least not yet.  It left me speechless.

Currently Reading:

When I went to Europe this fall, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam was one of my favorite stops, and I loved their collection of 17th century doll houses.  The Miniaturist focuses on one of these doll houses, telling the story of the young wife who received the house from her husband and her efforts to furnish it.  I'll be interested to see everything that this fictional account explores.

Coming Up:

The Fortune Hunter is another one I picked up because of my trip to Europe.  Vienna was one of my favorite cities, one I hope to visit again because there is so much that I didn't get to see or explore.  I loved learning about Empress Elisabeth of Austria (called "Sisi" for short), especially her obsession with beauty, youth, and fine clothing.  Apparently there's an entire museum in Vienna dedicated to her clothing!  The Fortune Hunter focuses on Sisi's relationship with a cavalry captain, and I can't wait to read it and learn more about her.  I think she's going to be a very rich and interesting character. 

Like Room, I started The Night Circus a while ago and never finished (oh life).  I enjoyed it a lot - it's such a descriptive book, and Morgenstern is wonderful at creating a magical tone and atmosphere throughout.  I'm excited to go back and finally finish this one.  

What have you been reading lately?  
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