Book–This skewering of the adventure genre follows Constance Verity, an adventurer since childhood who was blessed (or cursed, if you ask Constance) by a fairy godmother at birth to live an exciting life full of adventure and die a glorious death. Similar to how Poirot stumbles on murder mysteries even while on vacation, Constance’s life is never far from adventure. Her job interviewer turns out to be a member of a strange cult, her biology teacher is part of a vast conspiracy, and since adventure is par for the course of her life, Constance is perpetually exhausted, trusts no one, and suspects everyone of hidden motives. When your whole life is adrenaline and excitement, monotony and ordinariness become sacred. In a quest for an ordinary life, Constance and her best friend Tia set off, ironically, on an adventure, with the goal of murdering her fairy godmother and thus hopefully shedding her blessing/curse.
Part of the fun of this book is all of the crazy adventures that Tia and Constance refer to in their dialog and the loving way that Martinez sends up the classics of adventure. This book is the start of a series, so it’s probably actually NOT the “last adventure” of Constance Verity.
Book – The opening of the book sets the tone of A Reliable Wife. Widower Ralph Truitt waits on a train platform in bitter cold blizzardy conditions in rural Wisconsin. It is 1907 and the wealthy business man awaits his future bride, Catherine from Chicago, whom he chose from numerous responses to his newspaper ad seeking a “reliable wife”. He is shocked to find that the photograph that she had sent him represented her as a plain looking woman versus the stunning beauty before him and it makes him wonder what other secrets she may be keeping from him. Despite his suspicions, he marries her anyway due to his loneliness and his own ulterior motives. Catherine, haunted by a tragic past is motivated by greed and plans to eventually leave Wisconsin as a wealthy widow.
After the wedding Catherine and Ralph treat each other amicably. Catherine tries to be cheerful, though she feels trapped, because of the cold and snow. She also misses her fast-paced life in the city. Sensing her restlessness Ralph reveals to her a splendid house on the property filled with treasures. He had built it for his wife, Emilia and had not gone in it since her death. Ralph also wants to find his estranged son to atone for the abuse that he had stowed upon him. So when some detectives have a lead that he is in St. Louis, Catherine jumps at the chance to go kick up her heels in the city under the pretext that she would try to coax Andy to come home to his father.
Things become more twisted when Andy becomes part of the plot. The gothic tone of this suspenseful story will keep the reader engrossed and the pages turning. If Hitchcock would have been alive, I’m sure he would have made a movie out of this. This book reminded me of Steinbeck’s East of Eden and Du Maurier’s Rebecca.
Book – Lauren has hyperempathy, a disorder born from a drug her mother took while she was pregnant; it means that Lauren feels other people’s pain like it’s her own. When she was a kid, her brothers would cut themselves to watch her bleed. It’s a tough disorder to live with in a world like hers, where everyone lives close to the edge all the time. Her dad tells stories about the good old days, when his professor’s salary was enough to live well, when people didn’t live in walled neighborhoods just to keep the looters out, when you could buy your food at the grocery store instead of growing and trading for what you need to survive – but Lauren knows better than to listen too close to those stories, because she’s pretty sure it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Which means that when, one day, it does, she’s one of the only people from her old neighborhood who’s prepared for what comes next.
This is one of those books that people have been telling me to read for years, and I only just got around to it. It’s a classic of science fiction, and for good reason: Lauren is one of the most real characters I’ve ever seen. She’s afraid, she’s hurt, she’s brave, she’s stubborn, she’s uncertain, she’s a leader not because she knows better than anyone else but because she’s thoughtful, and has thought about things that most people are too afraid to consider. This is a quieter dystopia than most of the current run of dystopian fiction. There’s no Hunger Games here, just people fighting for their own survival. But it’s even more inspiring because of that, because while we can’t all be Katniss, it’s much easier to imagine ourselves being Lauren — someone who, when faced with the loss of everything she’s ever known and loved, does her best to help others build a future.
Book – I read The Princess Diarist on Christmas Day, just after the news of Carrie Fisher’s heart attack. Like so many Princess Leia fans around the world, I was heartbroken by Fisher’s death two days later. In addition to her acting career, she was an outspoken advocate for mental health awareness (she suffered from bipolar disorder) and a writer of novels, memoirs and screenplays. If you know her only through her performances, you’re missing out on the larger-than-life personality she revealed, with sometimes brutal candor, on the pages of her books.
The Princess Diarist is Fisher’s third (and presumably final, bar any posthumous manuscripts) memoir, following Wishful Drinking and Shockaholic. While I personally believe that Wishful Drinking was better-written and more consistent as a book, The Princess Diarist will probably be more intriguing to most Fisher fans because it focuses mainly on the period during which the first Star Wars film was shot. The headline revelation that Fisher and co-star Harrison Ford had an affair during the filming is by far the book’s juiciest bombshell, but also its biggest weakness–Fisher includes a sheaf of her diary entries from the period which read as the overwrought melodramatic sighs of a teenager in love (often in verse, no less) because that’s exactly what they are. In the rest of the book, however, adult-Fisher’s needle-sharp black humor and unmistakable voice shine, more than justifying the price of admission for fans of her work in any medium. Skip the titular diary, set aside an afternoon to spend with the rest of The Princess Diarist, and you’ll have yourself a fitting tribute to a cultural icon lost to us before her time.
Book – From the author of Flowers in the Attic, comes a new disturbing tale of twins, appropriately titled The Mirror Sisters by V.C. Andrews.
I should have known what to expect from this creepy, chilling novel centered on identical twins, Haylee Blossom Fitzgerald and Kaylee Blossom Fitzgerald. With a manic and controlling mother, the sisters received a truly identical upbringing, and were taught to view themselves as a single perfect being.
As children, their mother ensured that each twin received exactly the same treatment and experiences. If one twin received a new dress, the other must also have an exact duplicate. Likewise, if one child happened to cut her finger on a broken shard of glass, the other must be pricked in the exact same spot of the exact same finger. Differences in behavior and thought were frowned upon and punishable. Though centered on the relationship between the two girls, I enjoyed that this story also had a strong focus on all relationships within the Fitzgerald family. The obsessed mother. A troubled father. It was cool to see those unique family dynamics.
The story as a whole left me frustrated, and stayed with me long after reading. I applaud V.C. Andrews for composing a complexly disturbed narrative I simply couldn’t put down. Definitely not a feel good story in any respect, but well worth the read.
Book – Allan Karlsson is turning 100 and minutes before his birthday party at the nursing home, he makes a last-minute getaway through his bedroom window. He wanders to the nearby train station and purchases a train ticket to take him to a destination as far away as possible. While waiting for the train, an uncouth young man asks him to watch his suitcase while he “takes a dump.” Allan agrees and then is forced to make a quick decision when the train arrives before the young man returns. As Allan is discovered missing, it seems like everyone is looking for him while he meanders his way through villages, adventures and mishaps. Along the way, he meets other characters, including a lifetime scholar turned hot-dog vendor, a self-declared thief, a beauty with a colorful vocabulary, a gangster boss and a lonely policeman. During his journey, Allan reflects on his past, which in Forrest Gump fashion, led him to encounters with famous people including Mao Tse-Tung, President Truman and Stalin. This lively accounting of Allan’s life made me reflect on historical events. While Allan was entertaining, he was not a particularly appealing character to me. He was resourceful, but somehow left a lot of dead people behind, which didn’t seem to trouble him at all. The DVD (same title) is also available for check-out at the Library.
Book— CEO Raskoff and Chief Analytics Officer Humphries have combined statistics gleaned from their popular real estate site Zillow with an eye for storytelling to create Zillow Talk, an entertaining, anecdote-filled journey through the land of house-buying and selling. With fewer people choosing to buy over rent after the housing crisis, the real estate market looks very different: as the authors put it, homeownership has been “decoupled” from the American dream. However, there are still many great reasons to buy a home, and the authors give us some tips for home buying and listing. For instance, like in department stores where prices always end in “.99,” calling a house price, say $199,900 instead of $200,000 has the same psychological effect of leading you to believe the price is significantly cheaper. Using the vast quantity of data that Zillow has generated, the authors have noticed such patterns among such minor factors as street names, walkability, and listing time significantly affecting the price a home eventually sells for.
Zillow Talk is a fun read even if you never plan to buy a house. It will appeal to fans of the Freakonomics books, which also tease out interesting facts from raw statistics and economics to tell a story.
Book – Redwood is a girl with music in her bones and magic in her fingers, a born performer with a gift for hoodoo and witchcraft. She was never going to be the kind of girl who stayed home on the farm, but rural Georgia in the early 20th century is a dangerous place for a black girl in love with an Irish-Seminole man. So she and her lover Aidan strike out for the big city to get into the movies — Chicago, the birthplace of American filmmaking.
This is a poetic kind of book, full of enchanting twists and turns, beautiful vignettes of what life was and could have been like for people usually ignored by history, although it’s not strong on plot; if you want a strong story to carry you through, you might want to skip this one. But like a mosaic, the scenes in Redwood & Wildfire add up to more than the sum of their parts. If you love magic, romance, Blues music, movies, Chicago, and glimpses of joy that emerge from the struggle for survival, give this book a try, I think you’ll like it. (And if you do, don’t miss its science-fiction sequel, Will Do Magic for Small Change.)
Book – Che has a short list of things he wants. He wants to stop following his parents around the world and go back home to Sydney. He wants to spar, the step his trainers say he needs to take his boxing to the next level, which he promised his parents he wouldn’t do. He wants a girlfriend. But first, most of all, he wants to keep his ten-year-old sister Rosa under control. Rosa isn’t a normal kid; she’s a psychopath, and Che’s parents refuse to believe it. But he’s seen her kill pets, and he’s sure she’s going to do it again, and worse, if he doesn’t keep both eyes on her at all times. And even that might not be enough.
This might technically be a YA book, but if you love psychological thrillers like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, you do not want to miss this. This book is full of terrific characters and relationships, but the relationship between Che and Rosa, where he sets boundaries and she pushes them, he tries to teach her how to have empathy and she tries to see how well she can fake it, is heartwrenchingly real. The last pages broke my heart and left me reeling. This modern-day variation on The Bad Seed is one of the best books I read in 2016.
Book – My Brilliant Friend is a complicated, but insightful coming of age story of two girls that are best friends. Elena narrates the story which begins in the 1950’s in a working class neighborhood in Naples. Being somewhat shy and timid Elena is fascinated by her classmate Lila who is very clever and daring. They have dreams of writing a book together some day and both compete at excelling in school. Their friendship is put to the test when they get to the step of continuing on to middle school. One of the girl’s family lets her continue while the other is held back to help in the family business. However, living in a small village their paths still cross and they still rival each other in popularity, good looks, boyfriends, achievements, etc. The girls, now becoming young women also learn some surprising revelations about one another.
This is the first book of the Neopolitan series and it is beautifully translated from its original in Italian. I am excited to read the other three books that follow, since the first one ended when Elena and Lila are just sixteen. I had the pleasure of listening to this from a Hoopla download. All the Italian pronunciations by the reader enforced the novel’s strong sense of place. I highly recommend this especially if you enjoy leisurely paced, lyrical, and character driven novels. The next book in the series is The Story of a New Name.