Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Review: The Dollhouse

In 1952, the Barbizon Hotel was home to the most beautiful and talented models, secretaries, and editors. Darby McLaughlin is determined to find her place in New York City, but she is mocked by the models and finds secretarial school boring. Instead of practicing typing, she finds herself spending evenings with a Barbizon maid and aspiring singer named Esme. Her new friend helps her find her voice as a singer and introduces her to a handsome young chef, but the jazz clubs of New York City have a darker side that threatens to ruin everything for Darby and Esme. Decades later, journalist Rose Lewin lives above Darby and other elderly women at the Barbizon. When she discovers that Darby was involved in a skirmish that left a young woman dead, she is determined to find out what really happened to Darby, Esme, and the women of the Barbizon.

It's impossible to read a story like this one set in the past and the present without thinking about how much has changed for women and how much has stayed the same. In the 1950s, propriety reigned and the women of the Barbizon lived under the rule of a housemother who ensured that they were properly dressed, properly employed, and interacted properly with the opposite sex. Rose's storyline is set in 2016 and she still deals with being seen as a pretty face instead of a serious journalist and her life being ordained by her boyfriend and her male boss.

The Dollhouse is one of those books you speed through, eager to discover the secrets that have been hidden for sixty years. Fiona Davis wonderfully captures the 1950s and the hope of young women eager to strike out on new paths and their heartbreak when doors are closed to them. While the characters never seem quite developed enough, this is a fun mystery to breeze through in a weekend.

The Dollhouse
By Fiona Davis
Dutton August 2016
304 pages
From the library

Sunday, September 25, 2016

It's Monday and I actually have a post!

Guys, I'm back!!!

I missed last week's post due to getting home very late from a Sunday wedding and then going to work on Monday morning. It was a fun weekend though - the wedding was great and I had a relaxing Saturday filled with a day at the hair salon and a trip to Barnes and Noble sans kids. This week, we had Back to School night at D's school, our church picnic, and dinner with my in-laws.

On to the reading! In the past two weeks, I read A House Without Windowsa novel about a woman in Afghanistan who is waiting to be tried for her husband's murder. I followed it up with the new Flavia de Luce book Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd. After that, I read The Dollhouse and finally finished my Jonathan Edwards biography after six weeks of reading.

          A House Without Windows      Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd (Flavia de Luce, #8)

            The Dollhouse    Jonathan Edwards

I'm making good progress with Joe Hill's giant book The Fireman and then I'm going to pick up Wearing God by Lauren Winner.

             The Fireman    Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God

What are you reading this week?


Friday, September 23, 2016

Review: Homegoing

Effia and Esi are half sisters who are born in different villages in Ghana. Effia marries a powerful Englishman and lives in luxury at Cape Coast Castle. Her sister is imprisoned beneath the castle and shipped off to America as a slave. The sisters never meet, but both women are the matriarchs of generations who achieve things their ancestors could never have imagined. Effia's children and grandchildren deal with the devastating consequences of the slave trade and the conflicts between the Fante and Asante people. Esi's descendants are forced into lives of slavery before escaping and facing the danger of coal mining in Alabama and discrimination in 20th century New York City.

Homegoing is Yaa Gyasi's debut novel and it is a powerful, unforgettable story. The book is told in alternating chapters, as we travel 250 years with Effia's family and Esi's descendants. Each story is brutal, but there is also an inescapable feeling of weight as generation after generation is the victim of hatred and abuse. Slavery has consequences for generations for both the enslaved and the countries and families they are ripped away from. Each chapter is rich with research, without that unfortunate feeling of info dumping that can happen in historical fiction.

The heart of Homegoing, of course, resides with the relationships. We see parents sacrifice for their children, a man searching for his pregnant wife, a son reuniting with his mother, and a young woman who feels torn between her grandmother and history in Ghana and her life in America. While it can occasionally be frustrating to leave behind characters you've come to care for, it's a testament to Gyasi's writing that you want to stay with them for a longer time. Each moment in time is carefully constructed and, taken altogether, this novel is a heartbreaking and beautiful testament to the legacy of both pain and love.

By Yaa Gyasi
Knopf June 2016
305 pages
From the library

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Mini-reviews: Amy Snow and Smoke

Amy Snow is abandoned as an infant on the Hatville estate and eight-year-old Aurelia takes her in, despite her parent's objections. Amy grows up in between two lives, as a charity case/servant of the house and the companion of a wealthy and privileged young lady. When Aurelia dies in her twenties, Amy is unceremoniously kicked out of the house. But her best friend has not abandoned her, even in death. Amy is given a letter that leads to one last treasure hunt that will change her life forever.

Amy Snow is a lovely read. As Amy reads each letter and discovers the next step she must take, we learn more about Amy, Aurelia, and their friendship. There are also some really great secondary characters, including (of course) two love interests. The end game of Aurelia's last treasure hunt was quickly obvious to me, so this may not be the book for you if you like to be surprised. But, if you like Victorian-era historical fiction or stories about                                                                                                                       friendship, Amy Snow would be a great choice.

Amy Snow
By Tracy Rees
Simon and Schuster June 2016
575 pages
Read via Netgalley

Thomas and Charlie are classmates at an elite boarding school. They live in an alternate Victorian England where smoke is emitted from your body if you commit a sin. Smoke tends to be a problem for the poor, while the rich and influential are trained from childhood to not smoke. When the boys go to visit Thomas' relatives, they soon find out that everything they were taught about the smoke was a lie.

I appreciate authors who imagine new worlds for us to immerse ourselves in, but I sometimes find that writers give us both too much information and not enough. I found places where Vyleta explained things I already knew, but I was still left with a lot of questions at the end. It seems like he drops us into interesting locales or situations, only to whisk us away to a new thing. There are so many interesting ideas in this novel, but the story never really came together for me.

By Dan Vyleta
Doubleday May 2016
448 pages
Read via Netgalley 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Readalong: The Fox Edition

Readalongs is a new feature here at Literary Lindsey. As you probably know, I have two littles (8 and 3, respectively). It's fun to read beloved childhood classics with the kids in your life. But it can be even more fun is to pair books for kids and adults that have the same kind of stories. So, welcome to volume 2 of Readalongs!

This is Sadie is written by Sara O'Leary and illustrated by Julie Morstad. This picture book follows a small girl through her day as she imagines herself on all sorts of adventures. She knows that the best way to spend a day is inside a story, whether she is reading one or using her imagination to make one from scratch.

Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi is also a book about imagination. Our protagonist is St. John Fox, a novelist with a propensity for killing off his female protagonists before the final page. He has (of course) named his artistic muse Mary Foxe and she inspires him to put pen to the page...until she comes to life and forces him to reevaluate his writing and his relationships.

Both books use imagery of foxes throughout. Sadie loves foxes and careful readers will see that her stuffed fox and fox mask make several appearances throughout the book. In Mr. Fox, the names of the characters are obviously references. But foxes will make a few more appearances in the stories that St. John and Mary create.

The second similarity is that both books are about the nature and magic of story. Sadie boasts that she is never bored, because there is so much to do. She loses herself in the stories of Mowgli, Alice, and other beloved fairy tales. She has wings (of course) and proclaims that she loves to spend her days with her friends, both real and fictional. St. John is a writer, a creator of stories. Oyeyemi's novel looks at the responsibilities of a writer for his characters and tales and the ways that authors are irrevocably connected to their stories.

            This Is Sadie   

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Grownup Friends and Reading MWF Seeking BFF

Rachel Bertsche is newly married and living in Chicago with her husband. She is far from all of her friends and realizes that she misses having people in her life to make impromptu plans, and who she can count on when times get tough. She decides to go on 52 friend dates (one for each week of the year) and investigate every possible way to find a new friend. Bertsche gets recommendations from mutual friends in other cities, meets up with people who read articles about her experiment, enrolls in different classes, and even rents a friend.

I picked up this book because I'm feeling that I could use a few more friends in my life. My best friend since high school is across the country these days, none of my three sisters live especially close by, and I don't work in a large company where I could go out with co-workers. My husband is the pastor of our church so while I am close with many people there, thing tend to be a bit more complicated. Our neighborhood has a lot of older teachers with grown children and I have an eight year old and a two year old. I'm also an introvert, so the idea of chatting up total strangers tends to give me a bit of anxiety.

Reading MWF Seeking BFF was reassuring for me as Bertsche confirmed that I am not the only one who gets a little jealous when I read about people calling friends over for a spur of the moment visit. Making friends as an adult is much harder than it was when I was in kindergarten and asked the girl at the next cubby if she wanted to be my friend.

It also confirmed something I dread as an introvert. To make new friends, you really have to put yourself out there again and again. Some people will not want your friendship and some people won't click with you. But on occasion, the woman you chat with at the indoor playground will offer to exchange numbers (true story; this happened the other week). So I'm going to do my introvert best. I'm going to try to talk to more people. I'm going to see if taking a class or pursuing a new interest will lead to some new friends in my life.

Bertsche has a very easy conversational writing style and I think she hits a great balance between her own experiences and sharing some research about the benefits of friendship. However, there is a point about halfway through the book when she has met a lot of new people and is finding that her schedule is almost insanely full. For the second half, it feels much more like a stunt memoir where the author has to go on a certain number of outings with potential new friends, even though she has no more time or attention to give them.

Making friends as an adult is difficult. Free time is precious and it's hard to know who is interested in starting up a new relationship. Reading a book like MWF Seeking BFF can certainly give us all some ideas for making new friends and encourage us that we are not alone in needing a friend or two.

MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search For A New Best Friend
By Rachel Bertsche
Ballantine Books December 2011
349 pages
From the library

Sunday, September 11, 2016

It's Monday and we're back to school!

It's been an exciting week around the literary house. D started third grade on Tuesday. So far, he likes his teacher and is happy that several of his friends are in his class. Of course, they didn't really do any work last week so we will see how he feels when he actually has homework!

The little girl and I are trying to settle into some semblance of a routine, but a normal schedule is a bit of a misnomer around here. September and October promise to be plenty busy, with a few weddings, trips, and a vacation thrown in the mix.

This week, I read Madeleine L'Engle's Certain Women. It's not my favorite of hers, but I am happily making my way through her entire collection of work. Then I read Smoke, which is a kind of alternate Victorian tale where two boys try to discover what makes poor people emit smoke when they sin and keeps the rich and powerful clean.

             Certain Women   Smoke

Now I'm reading Nadia Hashimi's newest novel A House Without Windows (it's really good) and then I'm going to read The Sun and Other Stars, since I really liked Pasulka's earlier book.

               A House Without Windows    The Sun and Other Stars

What are you reading this week?