Saturday, June 25, 2016

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

So many years ago, I picked up this book, A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, at a library book sale. It sounded wonderful; the back of the book described it as "a vividly drawn portrait of the Victorian age, when girls were groomed for lives as rich men's wives...and the story of a girl who saw another way." It told of a young girl named Gemma with recent tragedy in her life and who had begun experiencing strange visions of other worlds. The problem is that you can't judge a book by its cover. And I mean that literally as the cover was my favorite part of this book.

I hate to sound mean about a book, but this one was just not very good at all. It was a great and terrible bore. So why did I read it? That's an excellent question. I have had no trouble whatsoever discontinuing a read I'm not enjoying. I've even been especially brutal during this last few months as I've made my way up Mount TBR, but for some reason, I kept at this one. I think it might be because it wasn't awful, it just wasn't good. If it had been awful I would have thrown it out right away, but I just kept hoping it was going to get better. It never did. Finally, I just skimmed the last one hundred pages, hoping for something to catch my attention or to just read enough of the resolution to feel satisfied that I had tried. The story had such potential, but the execution was sorely lacking.

This book is the first in a trilogy and sadly I can't recommend it. If I've gotten this wrong, I'm happy to hear why you think so. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell

Years ago I heard about The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell while listening to NPR. I added it to my "want to read" list and I snatched it up a year or two later when I discovered it at a library book sale for only $3. Three or four years after finding such a great bargain, I finally read it this week. Oh, my. I really shouldn't have waited so long! Esme Lennox is a sixteen-year-old young woman who has just moved with her family to Edinburgh from India where she grew up in a British Colonist community. Always a bit different from girls her age, this is exponentially more obvious (and troublesome) once she begins attending school in Scotland. Having a daughter who doesn't fit it with her peers, like the same things they like, and want nothing more than to be married makes Esme's parents very unhappy. In a time where a woman could be committed to a mental hospital on only the recommendation of her father and her doctor, Esme is banished to just such a place with no one to speak up for her. Sixty-one years later (!!) the hospital is closing and the administration contacts Esme's next of kin, Iris, her great-niece. Iris has never heard of Esme and has always believed that her grandmother was an only child; believed it because it is exactly what her grandmother always told her.

Oh, my! What a book! Esme has the misfortune of independent thought at at time when women were just not allowed such things. Her character is wonderfully written, as is her sister, Kitty. We see only fractured bits of Kitty as she is an old woman suffering from Alzheimer's. Iris is slightly less interesting, but only when compared with how much Esme captured my attention.

I sped through this book and it was so difficult to put down. It was slightly dark, mysterious and full of drama. There are so many things that aren't explained and that are left to the reader's imagination. I think there is far more to Esme than the author reveals, but I can't be sure what exactly that might be. This is a book that will stay with me for a long time. I do hope you'll read it.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Johsilyn Jackson is the perfect way to begin the summer. It's a fun mystery set in the deep south bordering the panhandle of Florida. Laurel lives in a picture perfect neighborhood surrounded by gates that keep out the ghosts she's seen all her life. That is until one ghost awakens her to lead her to the body floating in her backyard pool. How did this young girl end up in Laurel's pool and why did her ghost appear in Laurel's bedroom? Was it an accident or has something more sinister found its way into Laurel's carefully built life of safety? The only person Laurel trusts to help her put things back the way she likes them is her unpredictable sister Thalia.

Oh, this book was fun to read. Mysteries aren't usually my thing, but there was something about this one that wouldn't let me put it down. Perhaps it was the family drama that can't be kept at bay. Or maybe it was the sheltered, suburban life turned upside down that hits a bit home for me. Either way, it was an irresistibly entertaining novel that I can't wait for someone else to read. And as much as I thought it was just a fun read, I was surprised by the well-written discussion questions at the back of the book. I could totally see a book club discussion surrounding this book. It was fun and there would be plenty to discuss. That sounds like the perfect summer book club pick to me!