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

Book Review: In a Dark, Dark Wood

I haven’t been blogging as much because I went through a period of illness mixed with a busy school schedule, but I’m excited to be back online. While I was recovering, I read a really fantastic book: In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware.

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This was a really exciting read, and I felt like I just didn’t want to put this one down. I needed to know what was going to happen next. This book is largely divided into two parts: for the first half, you’re trying to figure out who was murdered and for the second half, you’re trying to figure out who committed the murder. This one is filled with twists and turns and unreliable characters.

I had a few problems with the main character of Nora, but unfortunately I don’t think I can write about most of them without giving too much away. Overall, she did feel a little too contrived. She seems as if she was written to be too deliberately unreliable, and I think that this did take away from the story just a bit too much. Still, while I wasn’t thrilled by the lack of character depth, I was entranced by the plot and I would recommend this to anyone looking for a plot-driven mystery.

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.

Industry News

Big Little Lies on HBO

It’s no secret that Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty is one of my very favorite novels! I’m so excited that HBO is turning this into a mini-series. I’ve been counting down the months until it arrives, and it is finally arriving tonight!

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I hope that HBO can do this amazing book justice. It is one of the best books that balances character and plot so well. I think it’s probably the book that has impacted me most as a writer, and I would love to meet Liane Moriarty in person some day. Feel free to check out my review of the novel for more about that gem.

Book Review

Book Review: State of the Onion

Well, the inauguration has happened, and that made me think about a White House-themed cozy mystery series which starts with the book State of the Onion by Julie Hyzy.

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This series follows White House chef Olivia Paras who stumbles across a murder and a threat to national security. She spends the novel trying to figure out what is really going on while avoiding sharing too much with her secret service boyfriend. And, to make the stakes even higher, she’s in the running to become the next head chef, so she’s trying to make a good impression with the First Lady in order to finally snag the job.

This was a really fun read, and I’m delighted that the next few books which I’ve also read were just as fun. I’m really enjoying this series. In this first book especially, there is even more action and adventure than in the typical cozy mystery. It was a fun romp that is sure to charm mystery lovers. You don’t have to love politics or cooking to enjoy this one!