Tuesday, October 28, 2014

And an open door was to a girl like the stars are to the sky.

I recently joined the website, Netgalley, which gives you a chance to read advanced copies of books, in return for offering unbiased reviews of those books. I was thrilled when approved to read Alan Bradley's latest Flavia de Luce novel, As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust.

I can't help it. I just find Flavia de Luce absolutely delightful. I want to be her friend, her confidante, her laboratory buddy. I confess that the last Flavia novel, The Dead in their Vaulted Arches, was probably my least favorite of the series (though still a fun read), and I was a bit tentative about this one. And it's true, I missed Buckshaw a lot (though probably not as much as Flavia). This novel finds Flavia in Canada, navigating boarding school after discovery that she's to be inducted in the same secret society as her mother.

Perhaps I envisioned a bit more secret-spy training for Flavia than the book delivered - instead, immediately upon her arrival, a dead body falls out of a chimney, and Flavia sets upon her usual course - proving the adults wrong and finding out whodunnit. It's a formula that still hasn't gotten old, because Bradley simply writes Flavia so well. She is such an amazing character - so likable, so true to herself. I can just picture her in the situations in which she finds herself, and imagine the adults around her and their expressions. Flavia has some good interactions with both her fellow students and teachers at this new academy -- many of whom knew her mother. the late Harriet. She proves herself a worthy detective, again, of course, using her wits and chemistry.

The whole Nide business is still a bit odd and confusing to me. I suppose that's the point, but it's hard not to have some resolution - though I suppose we are supposed to be sharing Flavia's similar frustration at this point.

Nevertheless, I am amazed at Bradley's ability to continue to write books that so embody this character. I often try to envision a Flavia film and then find myself hoping it never happens, as I would hate to have the Flavia in my head ruined by the movies.

Definitely worth a read, as always, and now I'm left bereft that I'll have to wait over a year for the next installment of Flavia's adventures.  (4 out of 5 stars)

Monday, October 06, 2014

The truth's always been found in your life story.

I recently joined the website, Netgalley, which gives you a chance to read advanced copies of books, in return for offering unbiased reviews of those books.

I lucked out and was approved to read novels by two authors that I very much enjoy - Amanda Eyre Ward and Monica McInerney.

McInerney's new novel, Hello from the Gillespies, takes place in Australia, and focuses on Angela Gillespie, a displaced Londoner, living with her husband on a station in the Australian outback. Every year, Angela sends out a sunny Christmas card (now email) with the title "Hello from the Gillespies" chronicling life with her husband Nick, their three daughters, and young son. This year, though, her life has gone a bit awry and the typical happy words don't flow. She ends up writing a bitter (but true) diatribe (think way personal journal entry) and not sending it. When she's called away to tend to her injured son, she doesn't close down the computer. Her husband finds it later that evening--and knowing how much the Christmas letter means to his wife--sends her innermost personal thoughts out to a 100 of their closest family and friends without even reading it.

From there, the story unfolds in somewhat predictable ways - I mean, you sort of know how the tale will end. There's a little bit of an outlandish twist, as well. However, having read previous McInerney books, I think that's a bit of what you come for. Some comforting, family tales that are believable despite their craziness. The novel is completely engrossing. Personally, I was fascinated by the relationship of her older twin daughters (having two year-old twin daughters myself and wondering what they'll be like as adults - hopefully not as confused and wayward as Angela's girls, although they had good hearts!). McInerney is wonderful at creating completely different and believable characters that you can completely picture - each of the daughters and the son, "Ig" were perfectly drawn. Overall, I think McInerney captures the ups and downs of marriage and family life quite accurately and poignantly and reminds us never to take things (or our loved ones) for granted -- even if our day-to-day lives aren't quite as fantastical as the Gillespies. I'd rate this 3.5 stars on 5 star scale.

Amanda Eyre Ward's latest novel, however: is just a beautiful book. Ward's writing is simply lovely and magical. When I finished the book, I was left feeling a bit disappointed - not by the plot or the writing, but that it was over. It's one of those novels that I'll be recommending to everyone.

The Same Sky tells the story of two unique individuals. The first is Alice, a forty-year-old living in Texas, with her husband. Together, they run a successful BBQ restaurant and appear incredibly happy. But they've been through a long and sad string of infertility, and Alice is left empty by the latest episode - a birth-mother taking back a baby promised to her, after Alice spent the night with the baby she thought was going to be hers.

Alice's chapters alternate with those of Carla, a young girl in Honduras. Carla's mother leaves for America early in the story, leaving Carla with her grandmother and one of her younger twin brothers. Carla's voice is just amazing. Ward captures this young teenager perfectly. I'm not sure how you can read this book and not fall completely for Carla. There are times when I didn't completely love Alice, or when I wanted to shake her, but Carla - I just wanted to hug her and take her home.

As you read the novel, Alice and Carla's stories are completely separate, which is fascinating. They provide an intriguing commentary on our society and the American Dream -- Alice seems to have it all in America, but she feels empty due to her childless state. And Carla wants nothing more than to come to America with her mother.

I simply loved the book - I won't give away any more of the plot, but it was well-written and beautiful. This story also hit home to me -- reading about Alice's infertility struggles. And Carla and her little brothers reminded me of so many of the little ones my Mom had taught over the years.
I don't think you could be disappointed in reading The Same Sky - I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.