Review: Mother Tongue

Mother Tongue: My Family’s Globe-Trotting Quest to Dream in Mandarin, Laugh in Arabic, and Sing in Spanish, Christine Gilbert

Hardcover, 336 pages

Published May 17th 2016 by Avery

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Imagine negotiating for a replacement carburetor in rural Mexico with words you’re secretly pulling from a pocket dictionary. Imagine your two-year-old asking for more niunai at dinner—a Mandarin word for milk that even you don’t know yet. Imagine finding out that you’re unexpectedly pregnant while living in war-torn Beirut. With vivid and evocative language, Christine Gilbert takes us along with her into foreign lands, showing us what it’s like to make a life in an unfamiliar world—and in an unfamiliar tongue.

Gilbert was a young mother when she boldly uprooted her family to move around the world, studying Mandarin in China, Arabic in Lebanon, and Spanish in Mexico, with her toddler son and all-American husband along for the ride. Their story takes us from Beijing to Beirut, from Cyprus to Chiang Mai—and also explores recent breakthroughs in bilingual brain mapping and the controversial debates happening in linguistics right now.

Gilbert’s adventures abroad prove just how much language influences culture (and vice versa), and lead her to results she never expected. Mother Tongue is a fascinating and uplifting story about taking big risks for bigger rewards and trying to find meaning and happiness through tireless pursuit—no matter what hurdles may arise. It’s a treat for language enthusiasts and armchair travelers alike.

Welcome to a #WeekofReviews hosted by Andi at Estella’s Revenge.  I’m going to do my best to clean out my long list of books to review starting now!  First is a book that made me want to take off and travel the world.

I love the idea of packing up my family and living somewhere else.  I spent a semester in Rome in college and I loved learning Italian, exploring Roman neighborhoods and finding all the gelato and chianti that I could.  I would pick up and move to Europe if our careers could take us there absolutely!  When I heard about Christine Gilbert chronicling her journey to take her family through three completely different countries while trying to gain language fluency in each I had to read it.  While the countries that Gilbert and her husband chose wouldn’t be mine I was still fascinated by their adventure.

I loved how Gilbert wove her personal story with her research into how we learn languages.  (Shocking – there is no one answer)  She shared the many theories she studied without weighing down the flow of their journey.   As much as I liked reading about her efforts with schools, flashcards and tutors (at a minimum) I thought it was even more fascinating how her young son picked up bits and pieces of Mandarin, Arabic and Spanish each as they moved.  I was really impressed at the level of commitment Gilbert gave to this project.  I can’t imagine hours of language lessons on top of audio recordings, homework and research – all while living in a new culture with a young family.  

I appreciated Gilbert’s honesty even when her choices weren’t the best – when she realized Shanghai was not liveable for her family because of pollution or when she realized she had been too strict with her education plan to really forge a life as an expatriate.  This crazy adventure definitely had moments of great beauty and inspiration –  with learning both news languages and cultures.  

For an added reading bonus – I had a flashback to Hausfrau and to Anna’s language lessons. As much as I loved that book I’m glad Christine’s was a very different kind of story!

Avery has kindly offered two copies for me to giveaway!  Here is a link to a Rafflecopter giveaway so go and enter!  Would you pick up and move to another country?  If so where would you go?

Bon Chance!  US Only, giveaway ends 6/20.  No spam giveaway accounts!

Thank you Avery for this copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Review: My Best Friend’s Exorcism

My Best Friend’s Exorcism, Grady Hendrix

Published by Quirk Books, May 17, 2016

Hardcover 336 pages

Source: Review copy from publisher

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Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since fifth grade, when they bonded over a shared love of E.T., roller-skating parties, and scratch-and-sniff stickers. But when they arrive at high school, things change. Gretchen begins to act…different. And as the strange coincidences and bizarre behavior start to pile up, Abby realizes there’s only one possible explanation: Gretchen, her favorite person in the world, has a demon living inside her. And Abby is not about to let anyone or anything come between her and her best friend. With help from some unlikely allies, Abby embarks on a quest to save Gretchen. But is their friendship powerful enough to beat the devil?

Despite the fact that I don’t read horror, I really loved Grady Hendrix’s last book Horrorstor – it was gross and funny and completely clever.  My first thought when I received his new book was “Oh My God this guy has the coolest looking books!”  As Horrorstor looks like an Ikea catalog My Best Friend’s Exorcism opens like a high school yearbook, cheesey notes and photography included.  And set in the 80’s – how could this sound more fun?!

My Best Friend’s Exorcism has some of the same highlights as Horrorstor.  It was just scary enough, it was smart and also gross!  Actually really gross at some points but definitely entertaining.  Gretchen and Abby’s story will take you back to high school – to absent parents and intense friendships and trying to talk on the phone every night without your own parents catching on.  Hopefully none of your high school memories involve demonic possession though!  But Gretchen and Abby also made me remember a time when high school friendships fixed everything.  This story became life or death serious, but Hendrix still keeps a bit of levity with the 80’s references and over the top details.  This was just a fun read even when scary.  When you want a book that takes you back to the Breakfast Club and doesn’t take itself too seriously pick up My Best Friend’s Exorcism.  

Thank you Quirk Books for this copy in exchange for an honest opinion!  

Review: Sweetbitter

Sweetbitter, Stephanie Danler

Publication: May 24th 2016 by Knopf

Hardcover, 368 pages

Source: ARC gifted from a friend

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“Let’s say I was born when I came over the George Washington Bridge…”

This is how we meet unforgettable Tess, the twenty-two-year-old at the heart of this stunning first novel. Shot from a mundane, provincial past, she’s come to New York to look for a life she can’t define, except as a burning drive to become someone, to belong somewhere. After she stumbles into a coveted job at a renowned Union Square restaurant, we spend the year with her as she learns the chaotic, punishing, privileged life of a “backwaiter,” on duty and off. Her appetites—for food, wine, knowledge, and every kind of experience—are awakened. And she’s pulled into the magnetic thrall of two other servers—a handsome bartender she falls hard for, and an older woman she latches onto with an orphan’s ardor.

These two and their enigmatic connection to each other will prove to be Tess’s hardest lesson of all. Sweetbitter is a story of discovery, enchantment, and the power of what remains after disillusionment.

I think this is my favorite read of 2016 so far.  I don’t think I’m ever going to feel the same way dining out at a nice restaurant.  Tess leaves her childhood home and her life as she’s known it behind at 22 and heads to New York to find her adult path.  She almost never looks back.  She lucks into an apartment to share and a job at an unnamed restaurant in Union Square where she’s hired as a backwaiter.  The training, the hazing, the bar towels, the wine, the food, the semi-incestuous staff relationships, the management, the FOOD, the drugs.  So many things are going on in a restaurant and I had no idea!

Tess navigates new friendships and toxic relationships with the bravado and bluster every 22 year-old should have.  She’s brave and she’s thoughtless and I just loved her story.   The writing is intense and enthralling.  I loved the slips into stream of consciousness as Tess lived out her days at the restaurant.    

Once you admit you want things to taste like more or better versions of themselves – once you commit to flavor as your god – the rest follows.  I started adding salt to everything.  My tongue grew calloused, abraded, overworked.  You want the fish to taste like fish, but fish times a thousand.  Times a million.  Fish on crack.  I was lucky I never tried crack.

Read this with a glass of wine – skip the crack.  Then come talk to me about it!  I’m going to be reading this again soon and then hoping to be out at a great restaurant watching the staff.

Review: Britt-Marie Was Here

Britt-Marie Was Here, Fredrick Backman

Publication: May 3rd 2016 by Atria Books

Hardcover, 336 pages

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley

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Britt-Marie can’t stand mess. She eats dinner at precisely the right time and starts her day at six in the morning because only lunatics wake up later than that. And she is not passive-aggressive. Not in the least. It’s just that sometimes people interpret her helpful suggestions as criticisms, which is certainly not her intention.

But at sixty-three, Britt-Marie has had enough. She finally walks out on her loveless forty-year marriage and finds a job in the only place she can: Borg, a small, derelict town devastated by the financial crisis. For the fastidious Britt-Marie, this new world of noisy children, muddy floors, and a roommate who is a rat (literally), is a hard adjustment.

As for the citizens of Borg, with everything that they know crumbling around them, the only thing that they have left to hold onto is something Britt-Marie absolutely loathes: their love of soccer. When the village’s youth team becomes desperate for a coach, they set their sights on her. She’s the least likely candidate, but their need is obvious and there is no one else to do it.

Thus begins a beautiful and unlikely partnership. In her new role as reluctant mentor to these lost young boys and girls, Britt-Marie soon finds herself becoming increasingly vital to the community. And even more surprisingly, she is the object of romantic desire for a friendly and handsome local policeman named Sven. In this world of oddballs and misfits, can Britt-Marie finally find a place where she belongs?

Anyone who talks to me about books will realize I haven’t shut up about Fredrick Backman’s A Man Called Ove.  That book touched my heart and since then Backman is someone I recommend often for an excellent and feel good read.  

I first met Britt-Marie in Backman’s My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You I’m Sorry – and I wasn’t sure I was entirely a fan of her.  She’s a bit of a nag bag, to borrow Backman’s term, and not really a happy person.  But once you start to learn her story you see how Britt-Marie found herself slipping away and why she’s become so persnickety and prickly.  

Britt-Marie leaves her boorish husband Kent behind and takes the only job offered to her, heading the recreation center in the dying town of Borg.  Britt-Marie despises soccer, which of course is the one true love of the residents of Borg and she finds herself coaching the children’s soccer club so that they can play in a local tournament.  You can guess where this goes, but I don’t think you will be entirely correct.  

So was this a bit cheesy  – for sure.  Did I eat it up with a spoon and love it as it went down – completely.  Britt-Marie was not as curmudgeonly as my beloved Ove and perhaps not so complicated, but I still adored her in the end.  I will say Backman left me nervous until the very end about what lessons Britt-Marie had learned and how brave she could be.

So when you want a feel good read – no tears this time – read Britt-Marie Was Here!

Thank you Atria Books and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review!

Review: The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer

Published April 19th 2016 by Simon & Schuster

Hardcover, 288 pages

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss

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To save precious centuries-old Arabic texts from Al Qaeda, a band of librarians in Timbuktu pulls off a brazen heist worthy of Ocean’s Eleven.

In the 1980s, a young adventurer and collector for a government library, Abdel Kader Haidara, journeyed across the Sahara Desert and along the Niger River, tracking down and salvaging tens of thousands of ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts that had fallen into obscurity. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu tells the incredible story of how Haidara, a mild-mannered archivist and historian from the legendary city of Timbuktu, later became one of the world’s greatest and most brazen smugglers.

In 2012, thousands of Al Qaeda militants from northwest Africa seized control of most of Mali, including Timbuktu. They imposed Sharia law, chopped off the hands of accused thieves, stoned to death unmarried couples, and threatened to destroy the great manuscripts. As the militants tightened their control over Timbuktu, Haidara organized a dangerous operation to sneak all 350,000 volumes out of the city to the safety of southern Mali.

Over the past twenty years, journalist Joshua Hammer visited Timbuktu numerous times and is uniquely qualified to tell the story of Haidara’s heroic and ultimately successful effort to outwit Al Qaeda and preserve Mali’s—and the world’s—literary patrimony. Hammer explores the city’s manuscript heritage and offers never-before-reported details about the militants’ march into northwest Africa. But above all, The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu is an inspiring account of the victory of art and literature over extremism.

Clearly with a title like Bad-Ass Librarians I had to request this book right away right?  Bad-Ass is definitely an apt descriptor for Abdel Kader Haidara and his band of merry men in Mali.  I had no idea of the scholarly history of Timbuktu over the ages and it was fascinating.  Hammer describes how manuscripts were once dispersed among families and Haidara crossed Mali back and forth as a young man buying them back to be placed into a library.  That Haidara was able to rescue the manuscripts he found just once was phenomenal.  Parchments thousands of years old originally buried in the sand for protection then saved to be restored and cataloged with international funds…    

And then came the terrorists.  Haidara realized that the manuscripts he had saved once were under a new threat of imminent destruction and they had to be removed from the ostensibly safe libraries they had been placed in.  So he had to arrange for the movement of priceless artifacts under the noses of uneducated and armed militants! Hammer made me feel like I was right there a few times watching boxes of priceless papers going under the nose of the militants by donkey, then car and then boat.  Miraculous really.  

There was more detail than I expected about the terrorists but it was all important and flowed with the story of the manuscripts.  The context was necessary to understand the threat Mali was under and the real victory Haidara and those working with him had in saving thousands of manuscripts.  This ended up being a really interesting read not just for the librarians but the events in Mali and the importance with global terrorism. 

Thank you Simon & Schuster and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Review: Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death

Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, James Runcie (The Grantchester Mysteries #1)

Paperback, 400 pages

Published January 13th 2015 by Bloomsbury USA

Source: Copy from Publisher

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Sidney Chambers, the Vicar of Grantchester, is a thirty-two year old bachelor. Sidney is an unconventional clergyman and can go where the police cannot.

Together with his roguish friend Inspector Geordie Keating, Sidney inquires into the suspect suicide of a Cambridge solicitor, a scandalous jewellery theft at a New Year’s Eve dinner party, the unexplained death of a well-known jazz promoter and a shocking art forgery, the disclosure of which puts a close friend in danger. Sidney discovers that being a detective, like being a clergyman, means that you are never off duty . . .

How did I not know about Grantchester?  A swooningly handsome English vicar with his loyal black lab puppy getting involved in murder mysteries in the 1950’s – yes please.  Meet tv Sidney:

 

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With that image in mind I am happy to sacrifice my imagination to the BBC’s fine work.  I decided to dive into the books before checking out the tv series  and found myself reading a book that almost feels like it was written to become a tv series. The Shadow of Death was not one mystery but a series of somewhat interconnected stories.  As Sidney gets pulled in by the police we meet his friend Inspector Keating, his grumpy housekeeper, his love interests and his family.  I love the setting of England recovering from the war and the internal conflict of Sidney the war hero with the upright vicar.  You feel Sidney’s initial reluctance to become involved in police business then turning to excitement as he gets more involved in each case.  I can’t put my finger on why – but something reminded me of my beloved Flavia de Luce – maybe the slight grumpiness that gets into Sidney at times?

And obviously here’s where I was sunk – when Sidney is gifted a puppy he is told:

“There is nothing like a Lab for company, and the black are better for conversation I find.”

Loki - Always listening for conversation

Loki – Always listening for conversation

I am looking forward to seeing if the stories grow any deeper in the second book in the series, after all now the stage has been set and Sidney’s supporting characters largely revealed.  I’m very curious about where dualing love interests will head

Now the biggest question is – do I binge Season One of Grantchester before or after reading more Sidney?  Are you reading or watching this series?  Let me know!

Thank you Bloomsbury USA for this copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Review: Down With The Shine

Down With The Shine, Kate Karyus Quinn

Hardcover, 355 pages

Publication: April 26th 2016 by HarperTeen

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss

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There’s a reason they say “be careful what you wish for.” Just ask the girl who wished to be thinner and ended up smaller than Thumbelina, or the boy who asked for “balls of steel” and got them-literally. And never wish for your party to go on forever. Not unless you want your guests to be struck down by debilitating pain if they try to leave.

These are things Lennie only learns when it’s too late-after she brings some of her uncles’ moonshine to a party and toasts to dozens of wishes, including a big wish of her own: to bring back her best friend, Dylan, who was abducted and murdered six months ago.

Lennie didn’t mean to cause so much chaos. She always thought her uncles’ moonshine toast was just a tradition. And when they talked about carrying on their “important family legacy,” she thought they meant good old-fashioned bootlegging.

As it turns out, they meant granting wishes. And Lennie has just granted more in one night than her uncles would grant in a year.

Now she has to find a way to undo the damage. But once granted, a wish can’t be unmade…

Magic moonshine?  Who could pass that drink up?  Ok, I might now after reading this strange little book.  But given the chance at a magical drink as a teen?  What a premise this book gives!  I read Down With the Shine in a day – I had to fly through it to see how this mixture of YA, grit lit, and magical realism could turn out.  I have to say that I was surprised and entertained all throughout.  Lennie knows that her uncles brew moonshine.  She knows there is a family ritual that offers a wish to go with drinking the first sip, but she doesn’t know that her uncles are really granting wishes.  So when she takes jars of shine and crashes the party of year and makes a wish for everyone who asks – let’s just say she wakes up to all kinds of messes the next day.  

I liked Lennie.  She started out pretty sad and morose, but she grew quite a spine in the end.  She has a pretty rough awakening to the wish granting business and I liked how she owned up to her mistakes.  I really was amused by her uncles and I wish there had been more time with them.  I would have liked to have learned the secrets to a successful moonshine/wish granting lifestyle!  

The description of the book should make it clear that Down With The Shine isn’t a book to take too seriously – with literal balls of steel and all – but it seemed to take things a little too lightly at times.  This started like it was going to be a very dark  – Lennie is a social pariah after the murder of her best friend.  But then after the party the feeling changed pretty rapidly which took me a minute to get used to.  I think the elements of darkness in Lennie’s life just didn’t balance with the silliness for me.  It was hard to go from feeling sorry for Lennie due to her murderous father, spaced out mother, and overall loneliness  to laughing at those balls of steel or teenage boys with working wings.  I like dark humor – I just needed the darkness and humor to meld more overall.   Had there been more depth all around I think this could have gone from a fun and fast book to a really great book. 

However, I thought the ending was clever and tied things up just right.  Not at all what I expected!  Definitely one to try when you want to laugh and are ok with some gross along with it.  

Thank you HarperTeen and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review!

Review: My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry

My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry, Fredrik Backman

Published June 16th 2015 by Atria Books

Hardcover, 372 pages

Source: Library

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From the author of the internationally bestselling ‘A Man Called Ove’, a novel about a young girl whose grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters, sending her on a journey that brings to life the world of her grandmother’s fairy tales.

Elsa is seven years old and different. Her grandmother is seventy-seven years old and crazy, standing-on-the-balcony-firing-paintball-guns-at-men-who-want-to-talk-about-Jesus-crazy. She is also Elsa’s best, and only, friend. At night Elsa takes refuge in her grandmother’s stories, in the Land of Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas where everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal.

When Elsa’s grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has wronged, Elsa’s greatest adventure begins. Her grandmother’s letters lead her to an apartment building full of drunks, monsters, attack dogs, and totally ordinary old crones, but also to the truth about fairytales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other.

If you haven’t read A Man Called Ove I have to respectfully ask what the hell you’re waiting for?!  Frederik Backman broke my feelings into tiny pieces and he tried to do it again with last year’s My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You I’m Sorry.  I was afraid that Backman wouldn’t work magic twice and so I waited too long to pick this up. I was wrong.   

Elsa’s grandmother is batty – totally batty.  We meet Elsa and her Granny after they’ve broken into the zoo and granny has been arrested.  Not what you expect for a woman with her 7 (almost 8) year-old grandmother.  Elsa basically broke my heart.  She’s smart and precocious and she’s bullied and so lonely.  Granny tells her stories to help her to be brave and to fall asleep at night.  They journey every night to a fairy tale world with warriors and Beasts, dreams and magic.  Every child needs someone like Granny in their lives because she was brilliant and amazing.   

Having a grandmother is like having an army.  This is a grandchild’s ultimate privilege: knowing that someone is on your side, always, whatever the details.

But then Granny dies.  Elsa is left friendless and without her champion.  Her mother is 8 months pregnant with her new half-sibling, affectionately called Halfie, and Elsa is excited but unsure of her place in her family.  Elsa and her Granny were neighbors in an apartment building of odd characters.  There’s Alf, who drives a cab; the boy with the syndrome; and Britt-Marie, who is a nag bag to name a few.  Granny leaves Elsa with a letter for one of these neighbors with an apology and ends up leading Elsa on a quest to find magic and friendship.  Once again Backman made me laugh out loud and cry while reading.  I loved how strong and brave Granny was and what she taught Elsa along the way. 

If I can’t convince you will all of the above let me leave you with this quote:

And there’s a Russian playwright who once said that if there’s a pistol hanging on the wall in the first act, it has to be fired before the last act is over.  

Any book that references Chekov’s gun on the wall has to be a winner!  Read it!  I didn’t make the mistake of waiting to read Backman’s next book.  I’ve already devoured his May 2016 release and will review it soon!  But I will say for now that you don’t want to miss it.  Backman is magic – if magic brings both tears and laughter while reading.

Review: Five Days at Memorial

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, Sheri Fink

Hardcover, 558 pages

Published September 10th 2013 by Crown

Source: Blogging for Books

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In the tradition of the best investigative journalism, physician and reporter Sheri Fink reconstructs 5 days at Memorial Medical Center and draws the reader into the lives of those who struggled mightily to survive and to maintain life amid chaos.

After Katrina struck and the floodwaters rose, the power failed, and the heat climbed, exhausted caregivers chose to designate certain patients last for rescue. Months later, several health professionals faced criminal allegations that they deliberately injected numerous patients with drugs to hasten their deaths.

Five Days at Memorial, the culmination of six years of reporting, unspools the mystery of what happened in those days, bringing the reader into a hospital fighting for its life and into a conversation about the most terrifying form of health care rationing.

In a voice at once involving and fair, masterful and intimate, Fink exposes the hidden dilemmas of end-of-life care and reveals just how ill-prepared we are in America for the impact of large-scale disasters—and how we can do better. A remarkable book, engrossing from start to finish, Five Days at Memorial radically transforms your understanding of human nature in crisis.

I worked myself up to being extremely nervous before beginning Five Days at Memorial – this was a mistake on my part.  I was afraid this book was going to be an extremely emotional account of the days spent at Memorial Hospital following Hurricane Katrina.   What I found was a well balanced recounting of the history of the hospital, the time leading up to the storm, and riveting accounts of the medical staff and families inside Memorial Hospital.  This is not to say the book was without emotion, but Fink moved so quickly from person to person that I never felt too caught up in any one individual’s story or feelings.

I really don’t want to imagine myself in that powerless, stifling, and terrifying building but Fink nearly had me there in the minds of the nurses and physicians.  I cannot imagine the decisions they were forced to make about triage, evacuating patients, and about letting go of patients that were too sick to face the conditions outside Memorial – all while worrying about their own loved ones and homes.  I can’t stop talking about this book with my friends and family.  Fink brings you to see why the doctors and nurses felt they needed to make the decisions they did, but leaves the reader to wrestle with the implications of those decisions.   

Fink tells the stories without judgement and follows with important discussion about what we’ve learned since Katrina.  It was shocking to read that the same kinds of decisions about patient triage were made in New York facing Hurricane Sandy and I don’t know that we’re any more prepared for medical disasters today.  Pretty terrifying really.  What’s also so important is more discussion about end of life care and about what kind of life prolonging treatment we want for ourselves and our families.  We could be doing so much better.  I think my next non-fiction now has to be The Good Death: An Exploration of Dying in America.   It will be interesting to see how these two link up in my thoughts.  

4 stars!

Thank you Blogging for Books for this copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Jane Steele

Jane Steele, Lyndsay Faye

Published March 22nd 2016 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Kindle Edition, 427 pages

Source: Penguin First to Read

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“Reader, I murdered him.”

A sensitive orphan, Jane Steele suffers first at the hands of her spiteful aunt and predatory cousin, then at a grim school where she fights for her very life until escaping to London, leaving the corpses of her tormentors behind her. After years of hiding from the law while penning macabre “last confessions” of the recently hanged, Jane thrills at discovering an advertisement.  Her aunt has died and her childhood home has a new master: Mr. Charles Thornfield, who seeks a governess.

Burning to know whether she is in fact the rightful heir, Jane takes the position incognito, and learns that Highgate House is full of marvelously strange new residents—the fascinating but caustic Mr. Thornfield, an army doctor returned from the Sikh Wars, and the gracious Sikh butler Mr. Sardar Singh, whose history with Mr. Thornfield appears far deeper and darker than they pretend. As Jane catches ominous glimpses of the pair’s violent history and falls in love with the gruffly tragic Mr. Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him—body, soul, and secrets—without revealing her own murderous past?

“Reader, I murdered him.”  

Who doesn’t want to read this book based on that line?  So let me tell you, Reader, it was amazing.  I was a bit unsure at first as I read, wondering just how beloved Jane Eyre could be turned into a murderess.  Then Jane Steele herself holds Eyre up as a model of nearly all goodness and I realized how very different these characters would be.  Jane Steele is orphaned and is sent by her aunt to away to school, these facts and that she later becomes a governess are pretty much where her similarities to Jane Eyre end.  Jane Steele is funny!  She’s smart.  She’s quick on her feet.  Most importantly she realizes violence is necessary to save herself at times.  

As excited as I was to read this book I did not think I would get too attached to our murderess but I really did.  I was expecting a cold-hearted sociopath.  What Faye delivers is a child who is lost without her mother, preyed on by a creepy cousin and then delivered into a school that sounds like hell.  No wonder she turns to murder!  Really when you consider what she’s been through she is very brave!  Jane is also loyal and remarkably honest.  She grows into a remarkably thoughtful young woman, despite her views of herself.  

I’ve seen some complaints in reviews about the second half of the book where Jane returns to Highgate House being slow.  I thought this half was nearly faster than the beginning and the gothic feel much lighter.  I loved the addition of the Sikh party at Highgate House and how comfortably teaching Jane about their religion and history in India flowed with the story.  The romance was sweet and completely appropriate for the book.   I was nervous for Jane while she wrestled with the question of how to meld her past and  her hopes with  Mr. Thornfield (and I loved Thornfield!).  In the end I was just delighted and completely entertained.

Now that I’ve read my second successful Jane Eyre related book (Re Jane was another great book!) I am definitely going to have to go back to the classic.  

4 stars!

Thank you GP Putnam and Penguin First to Read for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!