LaRose

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Louise Erdrich is a gifted writer who brings life to stories, particularly stories about Native Americans. Her novel, The Round House, was one of the best recent novels I read, so I was excited when LaRose was available through my local library.

The writing was exceptional as always, but the story moved slowly for me. I have also been struggling to find time to read, so that was probably a factor as well.

LaRose is the youngest child of Landreaux and Emmaline Iron. After Landreaux accidentally kills a neighbor’s son LaRose becomes the who becomes the peace offering. Peter and Nola Ravich are devastated by the death of their son, Dusty, and out of desperation accept LaRose. LaRose then becomes the healer, which he has actually been destined to do as one of a long line of LaRoses endowed with power and spiritual qualities. LaRose becomes the protector of Nola who is suicidal after her son’s death, he becomes the bridge between his new “sister” Maggie and her parents and he remains the little brother in his own biological family, splitting time between the Iron and Ravich homes.

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There are many other characters who you learn about throughout the novel, but it is the generations of LaRoses that are the most interesting and compelling.

In some of the other reviews, it was noted that the novel is set in 1999. I didn’t really notice when it was set. I knew it was in “modern times,” but the story isn’t tied to a year or a time period.

If you like Louise Erdich, I think you will like LaRose, however if you are new to her, I would recommend Round House.

Note: I finished this book on March 20th. I was just a little slow in finishing and posting my review.

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Invisible Girl

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If you have read any of my previous blog posts, you know that I have a soft spot for mysteries – especially British mysteries. I have also been a fan of Lisa Jewell’s for many years, so jumped at the chance to read an advanced copy of her latest book, Invisible Girl.

Invisible Girl has all the things that make for a good mystery, while also being well written and full of interesting characters. In her usual style, Jewell has several characters narrate alternating characters.

Saffyre Maddox is a teenager who has had a rough run in her young life – a history of loss and abuse and struggling to reveal the truth even to her therapist, Roan Four. When Roan decides to terminate her sessions, saying that she has made enough progress, she slowly begins to unravel and eventually ends up missing.

Book cover

As we alternate between narrators, we soon learn that Roan is not as wholesome and perfect as he tries to appear. His wife, Cate, suspects he had an affair, which he denies and his two teenage children seem to suffer from the typical self-absorption of privileged teens.

Across the street from the apartment the Fours family is temporarily renting, Owen Pick lives in his Aunt’s apartment in an unkempt building. Pick is an odd, socially, awkward loner who is accused of involvement in Saffyre’s disappearance.

The one thing about Jewell’s novels, is that things always end up working out in the end. Rarely is anyone mortally wounded and maybe that is part of what I enjoy about these books – that the characters are flawed humans, but are rarely evil.

Writers & Lovers

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When you realize an author whose work you love has just published a new book as your state and then country goes into a pandemic quarantine, you snag that book as quickly as you can and start it immediately.

Writers & Lovers by Lily King is about just that – writers and lovers, particularly a young writer, Casey, living in Boston in the late 1990s. By rule, I don’t read books about writers. I find them too clichéd and too much like being excluded from the cool kids in middle school. But given the aforementioned circumstances (beloved author and pandemic), I read this one anyway.

Writers & Lovers cover

The truth is that this is a story about way more than writers and lovers. It is about loving and losing and childhood hurts affecting adult relationships. King details Casey’s life in such a way that you feel as if you are working those shifts as a waitress at an upscale restaurant with her and riding home on her bike to a potting shed late at night with dreams and fear about publishing a novel filling her head. However, as much as King details those parts of Casey’s life, she uses a broad brush at other details that are seemingly more important – her mother’s death, her relationship that lead her to Spain – but from those broad strokes you get enough of an understanding of Casey and why those details are harder to face than the more banal day-to-day ones.

I looked back at my review of Euphoria as I started to write this review and interestingly, I had a similar feeling that the ending wrapped up a little too quickly. And like I did with that review, my immediate response is to give King the benefit of the doubt that it was intentional, which reaffirms my belief that she is a skilled writer and now I will eagerly await her next book.

The Dutch House

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Ann Patchett has been a favorite author ever since I read Bel Canto almost 20 years ago. Her books have always been enjoyable, but nothing ever felt as poignant as Bel Canto. However, with her latest offering, The Dutch House, she seems to have created another memorable novel.

The Dutch House is in fact about a house, one in Elkins Park, PA an area not far from where I live, but it is about so much more. It is about the relationships between people, both the external interactions as well as the internal responses and assumptions that are made between people.

The dutch house does not refer to the style of the home as you might assume, but rather the original owners, the VanHoebeeks, whose life size portraits adorned the living room of the ostentatious house.

The narrator is Danny Conroy, who lives in the dutch house, along with his older sister, Maeve, and their father, Cyril. Danny’s mother left years ago reportedly to travel to India and care for the poor, but it was also said that she hated living in the dutch house.

Patchett deftly moves between decades and we see Danny and Maeve grow up, become adults and eventually middle-aged. They do this in the shadow of the dutch house – originally a symbol of the financial success their father achieved, but eventually becoming an object of obsession when Danny and Maeve are kicked out by their stepmother after their father dies. Danny and Maeve imagine what might have been for years, which impairs their ability to move forward. Danny asks “do you think it’s possible to ever see the past as it actually was,” and the answer is no, because we are unreliable narrators of our own lives.

The novel felt easy to read, but at the same time kept my attention. It felt a bit like floating down a river, but with enough beauty and interest surrounding you that you never get bored. I was a bit disappointed in the ending as it was a little too “fairy-tale come true” for my tastes, but it doesn’t detract from the beautiful voyage The Dutch House takes you on.

Memoirs

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Over the past few months I have found myself reading a number of recent memoirs, so I am combining them in one post with a quick review of each.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb. Gottlieb is a therapist and writes about some of her “clients” and her own journey in therapy. She gives some simple explanations of theories and approaches of therapy which I imagine being helpful for the average reader. I found her a little smug at times, but overall I enjoyed the book.

I started following Jennifer Pastiloff on social media a few years ago – I think after the election – and I am so glad I found her. She released a memoir, On Being Human, and it gives a glimpse into the retreats (which sound AMAZING) she leads around the world. She also shares the loss of her father, struggling with an eating disorder and decades of self-doubt. Pastiloff is truly unapologetically human in her writing. There were times that the writing felt clunky, but overall I enjoyed the book – mostly because I enjoy her.

How to Fall in Love with Anyone by Mandy Len Catron was my least favorite of all of the memoirs I read. The book is actually a series of essays written about relationships including her highly successful essay of the same title. The author tried to connect her personal stories with research about relationships. The personal stories weren’t terribly interesting and the research portions were too lengthy. There were some select essays which were interesting, but overall it felt the author was trying too hard to take what was one successful essay and make it something bigger.

The most recent memoir on my list is Educated by Tara Westover and it was by far my favorite. This book was so well-written that it was hard to put down. Westover grew up in Idaho one of seven children in a Mormon family. Her father was a survivalist and she grew up on a remote mountain, never attending school and having limited social interactions. There was neglect and abuse and at times it was harrowing to “watch” her face these obstacles, even knowing that she not only survives, but thrives.

Lady in the Lake

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I have been a fan of Laura Lippman’s mysteries for many years and have always enjoyed her style, characters and frequent setting of Baltimore.

When I saw her latest book come out, I thought it would be of similar caliber. But there was just something about Lady in the Lake that never clicked for me.

I would not consider it a mystery and the characters were pale comparisons to the Tess Monaghan character and countless others in the books that came before this one.

I had no feeling for the main character, Maddie Schwartz, other than mild annoyance, which lead to a disinterest in what she did and thought. And the book was basically a litany of the inane thoughts of this Jewish housewife turned divorcée and journalist.

Book coverI thought about not finishing the book, but I kept hoping that somehow the story would turn around and be more of what I expect when I read a book by Laura Lippman. But alas, like the Lady in the Lake (really a dead body in a fountain), there was nothing to revive this novel.

Next Year in Havana

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This work of historical fiction was a fun and interesting read. The author’s descriptions of Cuba’s scenic beauty are amazing and made me want to head there immediately.

The novel alternates between Elisa, a 19 year old in the late 1950s, and her granddaughter, Marisol, who returns to the island in 2017 at her grandmother’s request to spread her ashes.

Elisa is one of four daughter’s of an elite Cuban family whose connections have given them access to a lifestyle of luxury, which is challenged by the revolution going on in the country around them, but also finding its way into their home and hearts. We follow Elisa as she navigates the political unrest, carries on a secret love affair with a revolutionary and joins her family in their eventual exodus to Florida.

When Marisol arrives in Cuba she is greeted by the country she grew up hearing so much about, but which she has never known. She is searching for the perfect place to spread her grandmother’s ashes and in the process uncovers both her grandmother’s love story and one of her own.

Cleeton did an excellent job of explaining the political climate in Cuba in both the 1950s and present day while keeping the story moving, which I imagine wasn’t a small feat. She gives voice to the challenges of being Cuban, of those who left (and their children and grandchildren) and felt cut off from a part of who they were and those who stayed and felt beaten down and betrayed by the country they love.

Before you start this novel though, be prepared that part way through the novel, you will be googling flights to Havana and checking on the current travel restrictions.

The Family Upstairs

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Let me start this review by saying, I’ve been a fan of Lisa Jewell’s books since I was in my 20s when she was writing “chick lit” like Ralph’s Party. I found her writing to be easy to read, but of a higher caliber than others in the genre.

For the last several years, she’s switched over to mysteries and while I’ve enjoyed them all, I think her latest offering, The Family Upstairs, may be the best one so far.

Libby Jones is living a quiet life outside London when she turns 25 and learns she has inherited a home in the posh Chelsea neighborhood from her biological parents who died when she was 6 months old. She grew up believing that her parents had died in a car accident, but the inheritance of a home that has been abandoned for 25 years leads her to trace down the truth about her parents – and her siblings.

The chapters flip between Libby, her older brother and her sister. Her brother tells the backstory of the house and how Libby ended up abandoned in a fancy crib with three adults dead in the kitchen. Her sister is homeless and struggling in the South of France with her two children and dog. And they return to the house on Cheyene Walk to greet the baby they had to leave behind decades ago when they were young teenagers trying to survive.

There are cults, poisonings and murders. And because it’s Lisa Jewell there is a little love story thrown in. I read this book in about 2 days, so it was a quick, easy and enjoyable read.

I received an Advanced Reader Copy through Net Galley.

An American Marriage

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An American Marriage is a contemporary tale of a relationship, of family and what happens to those relationships when something life-changingly tragic happens.

As the chapters flipped from Roy to Celestial to Andre and back again, we learn how the lives of these three people were changed the night Roy was falsely accused of a crime. In reading this novel, I thought of Brené Brown and how she says that our brains are wired for story-telling. We need to make sense of what is happening to us and create a narrative to gain order in the chaos. Jones seemed to expertly create that sense of story-telling as each character struggled to make sense of the chaos happening in their world.

The book seemed to flow easily and quickly for the first half, but I struggled a bit with the second half. It seemed to slow down too much and focused on just a few days over multiple chapters.

Overall, it was still a well-written and compelling story.

Where the Crawdads Sing

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This novel by Delia Owens is everything I love about good fiction. Set in the marshy shores of North Carolina, Where the Crawdads Sing is the story of abandonment, trauma and loneliness.

Kya is the youngest of the Carter children living a difficult life in the 1950s in a shack outside of the town of Barkley Cove. Her father is an alcoholic and abusive. Over time, all of her siblings leave and her mother abandons her too. She is left alone, never attends school, but is curious and loves everything that grows in the marshlands surrounding the shack.

Over the years, Kya develops a reputation and rarely ventures in to town due to the stares and comments that come when the “Marsh Girl” walks by. She grows older and more isolated, desperate for connection and friends.

At the same time, we know that one of town’s golden young men, Chase, has been found dead at the bottom of the old fire tower under suspicious circumstances. Suddenly people begin to suspect that the Marsh Girl is responsible.

Owens effortlessly weaves together the story of Kya’s youth with the investigation of Chase’s death beautifully dotted with descriptions of the flora and fauna that fills Kya’s days.

This novel was easy to read and kept me up late wanting to find out what happens with Kya and hoping that she is able to stay down where the crawdads sing.

Do yourself a favor, put Where the Crawdads Sing on your TBR list right now.

I’ll be Gone in the Dark

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It looks like I started, but never finished my review for I’ll be Gone in the Dark. It turned out to be one of my favorite books of 2018, so I figured it needed to get it’s due!

I’ll be Gone in the Dark is the compelling non-fiction, true crime account of a man who terrorized Northern California through the 70s and 80s raping and murdering in a rambling pattern across the region. It is also the story of a woman so focused on getting to the truth that she puts her own self-care on the back-burner and dies from an accidental overdose of sleeping pills.

What struck me as I read I’ll be Gone in the Dark was what a great writer Michelle McNamara was and what a loss her death really was. I was hopeful that she would know that the man she called the Golden State Killer was eventually caught and that she would see her passion and determination pay off.

Sadly, that wasn’t the outcome, but the book was so well structured and informative, that in the end the ending of the novel was less important than the process of tracking down this serial rapist and murderer.

If you like true crime or mystery, especially a well-written account this would be a great book for you!