Sunday, May 15, 2016

Spring 4.0

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
Do you remember trying to slog through Jane Eyre?  Yes, I was one of those people who just couldn't get past the depressing life of the orphan girl and her hateful relatives...and I tried three times.  This new 'take' on the old story, however, turns Jane into a witty, smart, self-reliant, young woman who just happens to also be a serial killer.  Oh yes, this is one dark story that I thoroughly loved.  If you listen to books, I highly recommend this one; it is read in a deliciously crisp British accent that fits the Victorian language to perfection.  Faye writes this book as if it does take place back in the 19th century and narrates the story from Jane's point of view.  We see Jane's childhood and her insufferable, creepy cousin who of course gets his due.  As she makes her way through a deadly boarding school where the girls are starved as punishment, we see Jane's lies and manipulations come to full fruition.  As dead bodies start to pile up in Jane's past, she finally meets her 'Rochester' in the form of a mysterious man who lives as a Sikh in her old childhood manor.  Mystery abounds, as does some highly compelling characters and brilliant writing.  This was a truly fantastic read.

The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
On the bestseller list for many weeks, I had been eyeing this book for awhile.  This debut novel by Cynthia Sweeney was outstanding, rife with excellent writing and some complex characters.  Four siblings live in New York City, all with varying degrees of disaster lurking in their lives.  Leo, the oldest, is an overblown narcissist who, after a successful career, finds himself in hot water after an incident with drugs, a car, and a willing waitress.  His remaining siblings discover that mom (who is a piece of work) has bailed Leo out of his trouble by decimating the 'nest' egg that dad left the four of them, due to be disbursed upon the youngest's birthday.  Jack needs to money to hide the second mortgage from his partner, who never trusted the 'nest' in the first place, Melody also overspends on her children in anticipation of the coming inheritance, and youngest sibling Bea lives in a world of perpetual failure after shining bright as a twenty-year old hot new writer.  Sweeney does a masterful job of moving back and forth amongst these dynamic characters, showing us sides we dislike, pieces we pity, and yes, even parts of them we admire.  I had a hard time convincing myself each night to turn off the bedside lamp; this is a compelling story of a dysfunctional family, broken dreams, and ties that perhaps go deeper than first imagined.

City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin
For all you fans of the Passage trilogy, Cronin has FINALLY completed the story.  It only took six years and yes, I almost squealed with delight when I saw the advanced-reader copy sitting in the bookstore lunchroom.  For all you neophytes who never read The Passage, or its sequel The Twelve, you have missed out.  His books have been runaway hits since 2010, and they are obsessively good reads.  Here's the premise in a nutshell: scientists discover 'fountain of youth' creatures in Brazilian rainforest, government steals blood to create super-human killing machine known as virals (think bad-ass vampires), virals of course escape and decimate the world.  However, one small girl, Amy, who was an lab experiment herself, is tasked with the saving of the world.  I know - it reads like a bad disaster film, but Cronin can write, he builds this post-disaster world with great finesse, and his heroes are admirable while his enemies are vicious, as well as complex. The finale of the series shows a world reborn post-virals, but also goes back in time to Zero, the first test subject.  We see his past life and how the scientists found themselves in Brazil in the first place, as Zero plots his revenge against the people who destroyed his twelve compadres.  It's another long one (600 pages) but so worth the days of not cooking dinner, walking the dog, cleaning the house, etc. as I obsessively read every word to find out if Amy could save the world.  The finale is satisfying and oh so worth it.

Don't You Cry by Mary Kubica (May 2016)
Mary Kubica (The Good Girl, Pretty Baby) has become a go-to author for me when I just need a good old-fashioned thriller.  I loved her first two books and found myself up late at night, turning page after page, constantly promising myself 'just one more chapter.'  Her latest will keep you up late as well.  Two parallel stories go on here.  First is Quinn's story; her roommate, Esther, has disappeared from their Chicago apartment, leaving Quinn mystified, scared, and seeking help from the law student she's had a crush on for years.  As Quinn (who's a bit of a disaster herself) delves into Esther's life, she discovers that there's not much to discover - Esther has left no footprint of who she is, except when Quinn finds a storage unit that begins to give her some clues.  The second narrator is young Alex, who works in a small town, taking care of his alcoholic mother as well as the town agoraphobic, who needs Alex to bring her food, books, and company.  The way in which Kubica draws these two perspectives together, tying each string with care, is actually quite fabulous.  If you're looking for a great vacation read that will keep you turning pages, look no further.

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo (May 2016)
After reading the non-fiction book Becoming Nicole:  The Transformation of an American Family, this is a perfect companion book for a young adult, particularly one who wants to learn about gender identity and/or is dealing with their own feelings of confusion.  Author Meredith Russo herself is transgender, finally able to live her true identity as an adult, so she definitely imbues her fiction story with truth and honesty.  The main character is Amanda, a high school senior who had been bullied, harassed, and beaten for years at her old school. Taking the previous year off to complete her therapy and surgery, Amanda has now come to live with her father and complete high school as a young woman.  We see her struggles to make friends, navigate high school romance and flirtation, and rebuild a relationship with a father that she thought had been irrevocably damaged.  There were times when I might think the author was being a bit more positive than perhaps real life might be down South, yet I also believe that teens struggling with both sexuality and gender issues need hope, and Russo definitely gives them hope that yes, life will get better.  This would be a fabulous book to give any high schooler, boy or girl, to help them see life through another viewpoint.

The Muse by Jessie Burton (May 2016)
Last year, Burton's debut novel The Miniaturist was an international best-seller. (Loved it - great story about 17th century Amsterdam).  Her latest effort does not disappoint and once again turns to a unique time period, this time about the ex-pats caught in the beginning of the Spanish Civil war of the 1930's.  The first narrator is Olive, a nineteen year old girl living with her parents near Malaga, Spain.  Father is an Austrian art dealer who travels the continent buying and selling art for rich patrons.  Mom is a beautiful, self-absorbed woman with some mental issues.  Enter two young Spanish rebels and the story takes off with love, betrayal, and violence.  The second narrator is Odell, a Caribbean transplant to London, employed by a mysterious art institute that has ties to the past.  As Burton ties the stories together of these two time periods, characters, and their many secrets, we are pulled into a long-held secret of the art world.  It is a worthy second novel that I thoroughly enjoyed.

The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell (May 2016)
Perennial best-selling author, Lisa Jewell (The House We Grew Up In) has written another tense psychological thriller.  The main setting involves a private park in London, where an entire neighborhood lives its private lives, and hides its ugly secrets.  Claire is the newest resident, fleeing a husband who, in a psychotic break, burned their family home to the ground.  Their pre-teen girls, Pip and Grace, are then pulled into the small clique of neighbors that dominate the park:  Tyler, child of the neighborhood alcoholic; Adele and Leo, the 'perfect' hippie couple and their three home-schooled, quirky girls; Dylan, the mixed-race boy with a wealthy background; and Gordon, the creepy grandfather who always seems to be lurking nearby.  A mysterious death from thirty years ago comes back to haunt the park when another girl is found unconscious.  Jewell is the master at throwing out clues, hints, and numerous red herrings as you try to figure out 'who-dunnit.'  This is a tautly written thriller that will keep you turning pages.

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