ARC August Wrap-Up

ARC-August-2015

I decided to participate in ARC August hosted by Octavia at Read, Sleep, Repeat  to get through the many, many books on my kindle.  I posted at the end of July with my list of 8 ARC goals including:

These specific books:

Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay DONE! Trying to find words for the review-great book!  

Lucky Us, Amy Bloom DONE!

House of the Four Winds, Mercedes Lackey, James Mallory  DONE!

Elizabeth is Missing, Emma Healy  DONE!

The Arsonist, Sue Miller  Oops, not done.

And 3 others that I’d pick as I went, which were:

The Quick

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands

Henna House

One of Us (review to come!)

Added into that list also was some angsty teenage vampire reading with Silver Shadows and an attempt to read a Arthurian retelling that I just could not get into.  All in all I’d say August was pretty good to me reading wise!  

So September reading will be The Arsonist!  I admit, I hated the ending of Sue Miller’s previous book The Senator’s Wife. However, I thought it was extremely well written so I really do want to read this new book.  I just apparently need to be in the mood to start it.

How did you do with ARC August if you were part of the challenge?

Book Pairings 2: The Spousal Edition

A while back I posted the first edition of book pairings – books that you really should read together. After I stumbled upon another great pairing, I realized it was time to revisit this topic – this, time with a theme.

  1. March + Little Women

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March is the story of Mister March, the father of Louisa May Alcott’s four Little Women, during the year he serves as a chaplain in the Union army. This is pretty clear in the description on the back of the book, only I didn’t pay attention so I didn’t catch this until I started reading. After I finished March (loved it!), I had to revisit Little Women, which I vaguely remember reading at some point. I’m at the halfway point, and, while I understand its long-lived sentimental appeal, I very much appreciate being able to fill in the boring bits with some of the backstory from March. There is more than meets the eye to the March family, according to Geraldine Brooks!

  1. Mrs. Poe + The Raven and Other Poems

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Okay, there are a number of Poe works that I could have added to this pair, but, since I’d like this list to include books I might actually get to in the semi-near future, I chose this short, 80-page scholastic collection of Poe poems over an 800-page Poe anthology. You guys, I live down the street from Poe’s honeymoon retreat with his 13-year old cousin. Mrs. Poe is not about THAT Mrs. Poe, but I’m still pretty intrigued by this historical fiction. And, if I’m going to read it, I really ought to pair it with some authentic Poe, right?

  1. The Paris Wife + The Sun Also Rises

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I definitely stole this one from a comment on my first Book Pairings post (thanks Katie!). I know I read some Hemingway in high school, though I’m pretty sure it was A Farewell to Arms. I’m also fairly certain that I did not enjoy it, but I’m willing to give it another go. After all, I had some questionable taste in high school. So, maybe I’ll start with The Paris Wife and then give ol’ Ernest another shot. Maybe.

Any other pairs about spouses to add to the list?

Review: Lucky Us

Lucky Us, Amy Bloom

Amanda

Published July 29th 2014 by Random House

Hardcover, 256 pages

Source: Edelweiss

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Summary:

When Eva’s mother abandons her on her half-sister Iris’s front porch, the girls don’t seem to have much in common—except, they soon discover, a father. Thrown together with no mothers to care for them and a father who could not be considered a parent, Eva and Iris become one another’s family. Iris wants to be a movie star; Eva is her sidekick. From scandal in Hollywood to the carriage house of a wealthy Long Island family, the sisters look out for each other through good and bad, until unexpected events send Iris to London, leaving Eva with a responsibility she could never have imagined.

Full of colorful characters and irresistible settings—a lavish, sensual Hollywood party; an unforgettable cross-country road trip; a Brooklyn beauty parlor where Eva reads Tarot cards; high and low life in Great Neck, Long Island—Lucky Us is a stunningly imagined novel about the longing to connect with others over self, the quest for a mother, and the meaning of family, in 1930s-50s America.

This book begins:

“My father’s wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us.”

This certainly sets you up for book about a different kind of family.  Eva’s father is in her life only on weekends until his wife passes away.  Eva’s mother abandons her on her father’s porch after his wife’s death– just as Eva meets her older half sister Iris for the first time.  Iris and Eva eventually sneak off to Hollywood while Eva should be in high school; and soon end up driving back across the country building their own family of misfits.  This seemed like the kind of book I should have loved, but something never just clicked quite right for me.  I did not feel any connections with the characters, perhaps because to me most the relationships between them felt hollow.  I liked some of the characters individually, but as a whole I just didn’t love the flow in Lucky Us.  Nothing felt really genuine to me, maybe because these were a group of con-artists basically and it felt like it was all a con? 

Something about the love affair in the end just was just wrong to me -was it just me that found this just a bit icky?  

SPOILER-

I don’t mind a May-December romance, but Gus pining after Eva when she was a young teen when he had last seen her just didn’t work for me.  Also-that was the fastest romance ever.  No thank you.  This was a shame for me because Gus was nearly my favorite character.  What a story he had!

I have enjoyed Amy Bloom’s other books and I will definitely try her work again, this just wasn’t the book for me.

2 stars.

Thank you Random House and edelweiss for this copy in exchange for an honest review.

All quotes were taken from an uncorrected galley proof subject to change in the final edition

Review: Henna House

Henna House, Nomi Eve

Reviewd by Amanda

Published August 12th 2014 by Scribner

320 pages

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From Goodreads…

Nomi Eve’s vivid saga begins in Yemen in 1920, when Adela Damari’s parents desperately seek a future husband for their young daughter. After passage of the Orphan’s Decree, any unbetrothed Jewish child left orphaned will be instantly adopted by the local Muslim community. With her parents’ health failing, and no spousal prospects in sight, Adela’s situation looks dire until her uncle arrives from a faraway city, bringing with him a cousin and aunt who introduce Adela to the powerful rituals of henna tattooing. Suddenly, Adela’s eyes are opened to the world, and she begins to understand what it means to love another and one’s heritage. She is imperiled, however, when her parents die and a prolonged drought threatens their long-established way of life. She and her extended family flee to the city of Aden where Adela encounters old loves, discovers her true calling, and is ultimately betrayed by the people and customs she once held dear.

Henna House is an intimate family portrait and a panorama of history. From the traditions of the Yemenite Jews, to the far-ranging devastation of the Holocaust, to the birth of the State of Israel, Eve offers an unforgettable coming-of-age story and a textured chronicle of a fascinating period in the twentieth century.

 I am still reeling from this book.  First of all, how gorgeous is that cover?  I find the practice of henna to be beautiful and fascinating and I had no idea that it was widespread beyond India.  I’ll say I was wholly unaware of the story of Yemenite Jews as well so I feel like I learned a lot from this book.

Adela’s childhood in Yemen was far from idyllic.  Her mother is disconnected from her, her brothers seem like terrible people and she knows her father is dying.  The law of the Imam at the time is that any Jewish child orphaned by their father will be adopted by a Muslim family to be converted.  Adela is watched closely by the family that wants to take her away so basically the poor child lives in terror.  The exception to this rule is for a child who is to be married, so Adela’s parents should have had her engaged from the time of her toddlerhood.  Key being should have. We see how this failure to plan haunts Adela as she grows up and especially in the wake of her parents deaths.

As a young girl growing up in the Middle East in the 1920’s and ‘30s Adela has very little control over her own life.  Despite the lack of power Adela really impressed me.  When her cousins move in next door and introduce her to their henna nights Adela learns about the power she can have as a woman. She learns to draw with henna and begins to learn the alphabet and dreams of more in her life.  Her life at the end of the book was not at all what I would have predicted when we met her.  All of Adela’s life is wrapped up in these henna patterns that you can nearly see through Eve’s words.  The writing is as beautiful as the henna itself.  I both loved and hated parts of the ending I have to say-some of it was just too much for me.

Comparisons to The Red Tent are inevitable and I think this is a worthy successor!

4 stars!

Thank you Scribner and NetGalley for this copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Review – We Are Water

Title: We are Water

Author: Wally Lamb

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Published 2013 by Harper

561 pages

Reviewed by Holly

I am not sure how to put into words my adoration for Wally Lamb, especially since, if I think about it, I would not recommend everything he’s ever written. I will say that everything of his that I have read has stuck with me in some ways, like it or not. We Are Water is definitely on the like-it side.

We Are Water is about a family in transition. Artist and mother Annie Oh is preparing to wed her female partner, while her ex-husband Orion and their adult children get together to reflect on this change, and on their lives as the children were growing up. The story jumps around multiple generations, including stories of Annie and Orion’s childhoods, and stories of a black artist who died in questionable circumstances in the 50s – in what later becomes the Oh family’s backyard. There is a lot going on in this book, and there is a lot of pain and suffering. Like, a lot.

What I loved though, is how all these stories weave together as the characters intersect. And I loved the details about each character that are revealed when the points of view change. (Fair warning that one of those characters is a sexual predator, and those chapters are definitely disturbing.)

What annoyed me is the dialogue in this book, which often turns into inner-monologuing. Every time the perspective changes, you are right there inside a character’s head, and he/she must reveal every thought he/she has ever thunk on a particular subject, which comes across like this:

[Mid-conversation between two characters]

- P.O.V. Character: “that reminded me of that other time that this happened and this is how it made me feel and [insert all of the trauma] and…”

[After several pages of deep thoughts, P.O.V. character must be brought back into the present conversation]

- Other character: “hey, yo, where did you just go to there? Earth-to-______.”

It’s like every conversation descends into a rabbit hole of thoughts, and every person in the story is constantly taken 100% out of the present. In real life, don’t people manage to simultaneously talk and think at the same time – without having to have someone snap their fingers to bring them back? The overuse of drifting-off-into-thought just doesn’t sit very well.

I also did not buy some of the actual dialogue between characters, particularly between Orion and his two daughters. There was a serious lack of boundaries on what was shared between father and daughters.

I swear though, dialogue problems aside, I really enjoyed this book and I’m glad I read it.

But, if you just read one Wally Lamb book, read I Know this Much is True.

As for his others, I found The Hour I First Believed profoundly depressing and I can’t bring myself to say I enjoyed it (and I realize that someone else might very well say the same thing about We Are Water). People rave about She’s Come Undone, but there is a scene with a poem and a glove and a funeral that creeps me out, so I don’t want to read that one again either.

Wally Lamb has also taught writing in a women’s prison and edited a couple volumes of the prisoners’ work, which is something I might add to my reading list since I am currently caught up in finishing Season 2 of Orange is the New Black.

Review: Elizabeth is Missing

Elizabeth is Missing, Emma Healey

Amanda

Published June 10th 2014 by Harper

Hardcover, 320 pages

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From Goodreads…

Maud, an aging grandmother, is slowly losing her memory—and her grip on everyday life. Yet she refuses to forget her best friend Elizabeth, whom she is convinced is missing and in terrible danger.

But no one will listen to Maud—not her frustrated daughter, Helen, not her caretakers, not the police, and especially not Elizabeth’s mercurial son, Peter. Armed with handwritten notes she leaves for herself and an overwhelming feeling that Elizabeth needs her help, Maud resolves to discover the truth and save her beloved friend.

This singular obsession forms a cornerstone of Maud’s rapidly dissolving present. But the clues she discovers seem only to lead her deeper into her past, to another unsolved disappearance: her sister, Sukey, who vanished shortly after World War II.

As vivid memories of a tragedy that occurred more fifty years ago come flooding back, Maud discovers new momentum in her search for her friend. Could the mystery of Sukey’s disappearance hold the key to finding Elizabeth?

This book was really stressful to read! Poor Maud is living alone with dementia.  She has a loving daughter and a pretty good support system to help her, but it’s not a perfect situation. She cooks when she should not and she keeps leaving her home unaccompanied.  Maud knows her friend Elizabeth is missing and she is the only one concerned about this.  She is trying her best to keep track of her thoughts well enough to try to find Elizabeth or to find someone who will listen to her.   I thought this was an excellent look into the mind of someone with dementia.  Maud knows that her mind is not reliable. She knows to look for her notes when trying to remember something, but her notes can only help her so far.

As Maud ponders how to help Elizabeth she also finds herself lost in the memories of her childhood at the end of WWII.  Maud relives experiences leading up to the disappearance of her sister Sukey and the aftermath.  I loved going back and forth between these two stories.  Though Maud’s mind is no longer functioning in what might be a logical way to you or to me, we can see how she jumps from past to present based on what’s happening around her.  I became more and more concerned for Maud as I read.  Would she stay safe?  Would she have closure before she slipped completely into her dementia?  Most importantly, would I get closure on what happened to these missing women?

Read it and find out!  I think I’ve personally read too many books in the last few years with unreliable memory as a narrative device to have this be a 5 star read.  Maybe I just need a break from this type of story for a bit?  I think Healey really did an excellent job making Maud relatable and engaging, despite her illness and this book will keep you invested until the end.

4 stars!

Thank you Harper Collins and edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books My Sister Says I MUST Read

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Today we’re hooking up with the Broke and the Bookish for their Top Ten Tuesday

Holly:

Amanda sent me the title for this Top Ten Tuesday. I decided to go ahead and make my list Top Ten Books My Sister Has Been Telling Me That I MUST Read (because she is demanding like that, but she’s also almost always right)

  1. Anything by Mira Grant, namely Feed (she actually sent me $2 when this was a Kindle Daily Deal to ensure that I would buy it. I did, but I haven’t started yet)  [Amanda adds-DO IT NOW]
  2. The Queen of the Tearling
  3. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (I am sure I will love this, but I just haven’t gotten to it yet)
  4. The Golem and the Jinni
  5. The Magicians (I have been nervous about these books since I read a negative review of the magicians here, by Amanda loves it, and I’ve otherwise heard nothing but good things. I will jump on this bandwagon soon, I swear)

Amanda

Holly isn’t quite as demanding (in book pushing anyway) but I thought I should respond with the books she’s been telling me to read.  With one exception I’ll try to get on these:

  1. Tiny Beautiful Things Though she tells me “it might make you cry cry cry!”  Bust. I do that enough on my own. I will tough it out since I’ve been kind of bossy with my list.
  2.  The Signature of All Things.  Definitely on my list!
  3.  Lipstick Jihad.  I’ve actually put this on hold at the library more than once since Holly’s told me to read it. I need to just sit down and try it because this sounds so good!
  4. + Many: Game of fucking Thrones 2 through 12 or whatever they’re on.  I just don’t know if I can do it. Not even for my sister. But I feel like such a quitter. Maybe I should try.  Maybe someday? Maybe not!