Monday, April 18, 2016

The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman

The Story Sisters is the third book by Alice Hoffman that I have read and I don't know why I bothered. I didn't like the others that I read, but this one just sounded good. Oh, boy am I glad I didn't let the first two books influence me! I'm so happy I read this one.

The Story Sisters follows Elizabeth (Elv), Meg and Claire from the time they are little girls through early adulthood. The three sisters live with their mother in a beautiful home on Long Island, growing tomatoes in their garden and all three sleeping in the large attic bedroom so that they can all be together. Unfortunately, true to her style, Hoffman introduces an element of darkness early in the book and it follows the girls for the rest of the novel. As I reached this point, I seriously considered giving up on this book before it got worse (as I expected it would based on my past experience with her novels), but it was the storytelling that kept me reading. Elv is magnificently imaginative and she creates an entire fairy world, complete with its own language, that she shares with her sisters. I hate it when someone refers to a novel's "prose" because I generally feel like it sounds pretentious, but in this case there is no better description. The language is so lovely and the images conjured are beautiful and gripping and everything a reader could want.

This book is breathtaking and haunting and heartbreaking all at once. It has its moments that are enchanting, but it also has many that are ugly and awful. These sisters struggle and it is painful to watch, but as even the back of the book isn't afraid to let slip, they are redeemed in the end. This is the kind of book you will want to read late into the night and then it still won't be enough. I already feel the need to reread it and I think it would make an excellent book club book, perfect for discussion. Fair warning: arm yourself with tissues and don't read in public if you mind others seeing your ugly cry face. Yep, that happened to me.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Wintergirls by Lauire Halse Anderson is a book I have wanted to read for a long time. When I read Speak, I was moved far more than I expected to be. Wintergirls touches once again on the difficulty of being a teenage girl. In Speak, the topic was rape. In this novel, we are plunged inside the mind of a young woman suffering from an eating disorder. It is brutal. This book rips at the reader and pierces into her very bones. Lia is eighteen-years-old and she already has two stays at an inpatient hospital for eating disorders under her belt. She is weighed at home to monitor her recovery, but she has found ways around that as well. As the book progresses the reader watches Lia's weight continue to fall; it is heartbreaking. Her struggles with food are gut wrenching. How can she survive on so little?

I loved this book, but at the same time I was a bit frightened by it. I worry that a young girl might read this book and see it as a kind of instruction manual. Certainly the horrors of anorexia are described, but I would recommend reading this yourself before giving it to your teen. At the same time, I think this is a book that needs to be read. I am adding it to my list of books that should be required reading. This is a topic that deserves attention and understanding.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

I absolutely love it when I come across a book that I like so much that I can't wait to gift it to several friends. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald is exactly that kind of book. Ms. Bivald is Swedish and The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is her first book. It was published in Sweden in 2013 but is now sold in 25 countries, including the one in which it is set, the US. Lucky us!

The protagonist, Sara, is also Swedish and like her creator a great lover of books. Having recently lost her long-time position as a clerk in a bookshop due to it's closure, Sara travels to tiny (and dying) Broken Wheel, Iowa, to finally meet her pen pal Amy. The plan is for Sara to spend three months living with Amy and continuing their mutual love of books in person; a reading holiday, as Sara calls it. Sadly, these best laid plans fall apart upon Sara's arrival as she discovers Amy has just died! (Don't worry, that's not a spoiler. It happens in the first few pages.) Not wanting to turn around and go home and needing something to do with herself, Sara opens a bookshop on the nearly deserted Main Street with Amy's enormous book collection. It isn't long before Sara falls in love with this small town and it's inhabitants. She begins to grow on them as well.

First, I love that the relationship between Sara and Amy is that of pen pals. This certainly isn't something that we hear about very often anymore. They are true letters-written-on-stationary pen pals. No email. And even better, they send books back and forth to one another.

Sara had never believed that you had to meet someone in person to be friends- many of her most rewarding relationships had been with people who didn't even exist.

Luckily, we don't miss out on Amy all together. Included in the book are letters that Amy has written to Sara over the course of their friendship. We learn so much about her and about the lovely and interesting people of Broken Wheel. 

Of course I tend to love books about book lovers. Those are my people, after all. Sara thinks many of the things that we book lovers have all thought at one time or another. She is able to explain why we love books so much.

With books, she could be whoever she wanted, wherever she wanted. She could be tough, beautiful, charming; she could come up with the perfect line at the perfect moment, and she could...experience things.

Isn't that exactly why we all love to read?

There are so many wonderful bits of this book that I'd love to share with you, but I think you would be far better served by just going out and picking up your own copy. And may I recommend you try a real, paper copy so that you can do as Sara recommends:

"Have you ever smelled a book?... Open it properly.... You need to be able to shove your nose into it.... Can you smell it? The scent of new books. Unread adventures. Friends you haven't met yet, hours of magical escapism awaiting you."

Perfectly stated.

*This book was provided to me in the form of an e-galley in exchange for an honest review.*