Book Review

Book Review: The Storyteller

Every so often, I read a book that pulls me in so much that I obsess over it until I’m finished and then I still think about it for a long time and annoy all my friends by persistently recommending they read it until someone does. I have just had another experience like that with a book I read for a book club next month: The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult.

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Now, I think I’ve been pretty outspoken about how tired I am of historical fiction that deals with World War II. There’s just so much of it on the market. But this narrative was so emotional and personal that I was drawn in and blown away. Picoult introduces a pretty large cast of characters that have their own narration time, but it really works here. We have the main character Sage who is dealing with her own grief and insecurities in the modern day when she meets Josef, a gentle and kind old man who tells her that he was actually a Nazi fifty years ago. She then teams up with Leo, a Department of Justice Agent, to try to verify his story. We also get a lot of narration from Sage’s grandmother, a holocaust survivor.

I don’t want to go into much detail about the plot because I don’t want to give anything away (there’s a signature Picoult plot twist, of course, to look forward to!) but the structure of the narration was intricate and balanced so that I felt the pace never dragged. I felt a connection with the main character Sage, and I appreciated that Picoult allowed her to, at times, be very flawed. She seemed like a realistic human being that I could understand and relate to.

The information about the holocaust was devastating and emotionally powerful. A lot of books manufacture emotion by mentioning innately sad things (I’m looking at you, Nicholas Sparks), but this book really earned my emotion. It wasn’t trying to just make me sad because the holocaust was a topic – it really made me feel attached to the specific characters so that I cared what they were going through.

Overall, I think that everyone should read this book. I think it will definitely appeal to people who like World War II history or general historical fiction, but it will also appeal to people who like domestic fiction that analyzes characters’ relationships.

 

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Book Review

Book Review: Where They Found Her 

It’s rare that I come across a mystery novel where I feel more engrossed by the lives of the living characters than I do the circumstances surrounding the dead characters. Usually, I’m flipping pages as quickly as I can read them to race to the end to find out if I’m right about who did it and why. Recently, I read a different kind of mystery, one that I read so slowly in order to fully absorb the complicated lives of all the many characters: Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight.

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Now, there definitely is some tough subject matter in this book. The overall premise is that the dead body of a baby is found in a small college town, and as the facts about what happened come to light, a whole lot of other secrets come to the surface. This book is told from several different perspectives, which I think has become quite the trend in fiction. It really worked in this novel, and the multiple narrators helped me to really get to know and understand where the characters who coming from.

If I had to pick a main character, I would probably pick Molly – a young mom and journalist who recently suffered a miscarriage. Throughout this book, Molly’s sections explore motherhood and the many ways that guilt can arise for mothers. I found her to be flawed in a great, believable way. She seemed like a real person suffering from grief and loss and trying to figure out how to survive and move on. She doesn’t always make the right choices, but she is very endearing and she learns a lot about the world and herself throughout the novel.

One of my other favorite perspectives was Barbara. I felt like I learned so much about her as the book progressed. She might have been one of the least likable characters, especially at first, but I felt like I really understood her by the end. That’s not to say that she transformed into a more likable character. Rather, I understood why she did the things that made her seemed unlikable, and that enabled me to have more compassion for her and real people that I know who are kind of like her. It’s easy to judge people who come across as very intense and controlling, but this behavior often stems from deep insecurities or learned patterns of behavior from parents or other figures present in childhood.

I know I say this in almost every book review, but I don’t want to give too much away about the plot. While I was surprised by the revelations at the end, and I felt like they didn’t all quite seem believable, I found the ending to provide a very satisfying conclusion. I was actually quite sad when the book was over because I was so enjoying the reading experience. I guess this means that I should definitely pick up another book by this author (and I plan too!)

Book Review

Cozy Corner: White House Chef Mysteries 

While I review all genres of books on this blog, one type that is near and dear to my heart is the cozy mystery genre. These mysteries are characterized by amateur sleuths (often librarians, bakers, retired women, etc) and they have little to no violence, sexual content, or profanity. The murders always take place off scene, and the setting is often idyllic (despite the fact that a murder has occurred). I think that one of the reasons I’m so drawn to these books is because I know they’ll have a happy ending. Life is hard and sometimes I just need a guaranteed happy ending in my life. I’ve mentioned some cozies here among my other reviews, but I thought I’d start having a regular, expected “Cozy Corner” segment. The first series I want to review is the White House Chef Series by Julie Hyzy.

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The first book in this series is State of the Onion. I love the pun-ny titles! (I think my favorite title is either Buffalo West Wing or Eggsecutive Orders). The series follows Olivia Paras, a chef in the White House who has an uncanny knack for stumbling upon murders. One highlight of the series is that it’s a bit more action-packed than other cozies. I liked the fast-pace and the fact that there were some moments where I genuinely worried about the character even though I was certain that everything would work out in the end – it is a cozy after all.

Olivia is a great protagonist. She is career- minded and has to have some introspection as to whether or not she has time for romance in her life. She is a hard worker and is very competitive in the cooking arena, but she still has a soft side and cares deeply for her friends. This is not only a protagonist that you can root for, but she is also someone with a lot of potential for growth over the course of the series. While some characters in cozies (ahem – Stephanie Plum) never seem to grow as people, Olivia is one who seems to learn something about herself in every book.

I think that cozy lovers will naturally love this series, but this one could also appeal to people who like action/adventure with their mysteries. The White House is also a really cool setting, and I feel like I learned some interesting details about how it is structured and some details about the traditional role of the First Lady. Overall, I’m happy to recommend this to anyone looking for a quick escape from reality!

Book Review, Update

Book Review: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

One of my latest book club reads turned out to be really enchanting: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald.

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This was just a really cute, light read. It starts out with a young Swedish woman Sara who arrives in Broken Wheel, Iowa to meet her elderly pen pal only to discover that she’s just died. The people in the small town take her in and, in return, she touches and challenges each of them. There are a ton of literary references that I also enjoyed in this book – I can see a lot of myself in the bookish, reclusive Sara. This was a fast read, and I hope my book club ladies enjoy it (we won’t be discussing it until April).

There was quite a bit of romance in this novel, and it did seem incredibly contrived, but sometimes I’m in the mood for that. Still, I felt like it was worth mentioning. If you want realistic, organic character development and you want to feel like love stories are earned through genuine depictions of life and psychology, then this might not be for you. However, if you just want a happily-ever-after and aren’t terribly worried about the details getting you to that point, the romance might not bother you much.

Overall, I was really charmed by this book, and I’m glad I had occasion to read it. I’d definitely try another by this author.

 

Book Review

Book Review: The Golden Compass

I came to Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” series as an adult when I was required to read the first book for a university class, but I absolutely loved it. Since Pullman has just announced that he is writing a companion series, I thought that this would be a great opportunity to review the first book in the original series: The Golden Compass.

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This is such an interesting fantasy series. It’s ultimately a coming-of-age story for the precocious protagonist Lyra. Watching her grow is a delight, and the interesting characters are mixed with an exciting plot. This is a great start of a great series.

While Lyra’s growth is integral to the series, the character in this book that intrigued me the most was the larger-than-life Mrs. Coulter. I don’t want to give away any of her secrets in case I spoil something for new readers, but she was written in such a way where I could absolutely feel the same level of intrigue that Lyra felt when she looked at this complicated woman.

The fantasy elements in this book are very clear, and they have a great balance between traditional and new when it comes to the structure of the world-building. There is a traditional quest and hero and sidekick and wise elder. However, the freshest thing about this book is the addition of personal daemons – individualized creatures that are connected to each person. Each one takes the shape of a specific animal and have a very close bond with their human. This is such an interesting take on a spirit animal since they are tangible and seen by everyone.

Overall, I think this is an amazing, fast-faced book that people of all ages will enjoy. I can’t wait to read the new trilogy that Pullman has in store for us!

Book Review

Book Review: My Name is Lucy Barton

I recently encountered a great character study, My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout.

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This was a beautiful book, and I loved the character of Lucy Barton. When we meet her, she is recovering from complications from a recent surgery on her appendix. (Fun fact about me: one of my greatest fears is appendicitis!) While she’s recovering, her estranged mother comes to her side. Throughout this short novel, we learn a lot about the past and how discovering the past can change the future. The family secrets and the odd mother/daughter relationship made this one very intriguing, compelling literary novel. While it is certainly character-driven, it was also remarkably fast-faced. My only criticism is that I wanted more when I reached the end.

Book Review

Book Review: Wordcatcher

I am such a nerd when it comes to books about words or the origin of words. I just love the English language. So, I loved Phil Cousineau’s book Wordcatcher.

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This book was a fascinating exploration of the origin of many common words. To be honest, a lot of books like this are kind of dry and have to be read slowly, but Cousineau does a great job at adding levity to this subject. His entries for each word are relatively short but contain a lot of fascinating information. Personally, I loved reading about the word origins for “fornicate” because I even learned some additional history from this entry.

I think that all word nerds will love this delightful book. It’s almost like candy – small bon bons of word knowledge instead of a really dense dessert that takes a month to get through. This book can be digested easily and quickly.