Thursday, June 21, 2018

Review: Mother of Invention

Tessa Callahan is brilliant, but she hasn't been able to conceive one thing she wants: a child. She decides to use her abilities and resources to work on a new technology known as Seahorse. Tessa will personally assist the first three women who will be pregnant for just nine weeks before giving birth. She truly believes that this technology has the potential to help women spend less time feeling sick and more time pursuing their career and mothering their children. After the trial is underway, Tessa learns the dark origins of the technology and the secrets that allow them to continue. She will have to decide whether to see these mothers through to birth or drag the truth out into the light at the expense of her dreams and the mothers she has promised to protect.

This story asks some compelling questions. Would speeding up pregnancy actually help us? Do we need those nine months to bond with our child and prepare for a new part of our lives? If this kind of technology did exist, how would we decide who received it and who had to wait out a full pregnancy? Would having this distinction become just another round of the vaginal birth vs. cesarean, breastfeeding vs. bottle, working mother vs. stay-at-home mother wars?

Tessa seems to really want to help other women, but the reader can see where her own blind spots might hurt them even if she can't. There is a lot going on in this book, but Caeli Wolfson Widger writes compassionately and compellingly. While some of the characters in this story read like thinly veiled versions of people you might read about in the news, the questions about parenthood and the ethics of technology set in the midst of edge-of-your-seat thriller make a powerful and fascinating story.

Mother of Invention
By Caeli Wolfson Widger
Little A May 2018
364 pages
Read via Netgalley

Friday, June 15, 2018

Exit, Pursued by a Bear: Can We Have Nice Things In YA?

A note before we get started: This post will have spoilers for Exit, Pursued by a Bear and discussion of rape and rape culture.


In Exit, Pursued by a Bear, protagonist Hermione Winters is drugged and raped at cheerleading camp. She doesn't remember anything, so she doesn't know who the rapist is. It's even possible he is one of the boys on her squad, someone who she sees every day and considers a friend. Throughout the story, readers witness Hermione cautiously move back into her life--she goes back to school, starts seeing a therapist, and returns to the cheerleading team.

I thought this book was great. E.K. Johnston is a really excellent writer and it is clear that she cares about her characters. Hermione gets the help that she needs as she recovers from trauma, her family and friends are supportive and caring, and by the end of the book, she can see how to keep moving forward despite the terrible thing that has happened to her.

Then I did something silly and I read some reviews of this book. I found several people who thought this book was unrealistic. They wanted to know where the public shame was and why her friends took care of her instead of abandoning her. The only person who is awful after the assault is Hermione's boyfriend, but even he eventually supports her after their cheerleading teammates confront him. To some readers, it seemed unimaginable that a girl who has been raped would have a fun night with her friends or laugh with her therapist.

I guess it all comes down to the reason that we read stories. Do we read to be reminded of how terrible the world is or do we read to imagine that we can do better? When teens read this book, I think they should believe that people will be there for them if they ever find themselves in a situation like Hermione's. I know YA is not always realistic, but I don't think there is a problem with it reflecting the best of us--the parents who support us, the friends who won't abandon us, and the community that supports us even (and maybe especially) when everything is falling apart.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Review: Inspired

Rachel Held Evans grew up loving the stories of bravery and faith in the Bible. But as she grew up, she had some questions. How could a good God wipe out a generation of Egyptian children to lead the Israelites out of Egypt or reward Abraham for almost killing his own son? Why did her church believe some parts of the Epistles were still relevant and some were not? Her pastors and professors seemed more eager to get her to be quiet than to really answer her questions, so she started doing her own research and discovered different kinds of theology. In her uncertainty, she found a way to love the complicated and unexpected stories of the Bible all over again.

In Inspired, Evans looks at the different kinds of texts that we find in the Bible. There are tales that tell us the origin of the world, war stories, stories of resistance and deliverance, and letters and recollections from the early days of the Christian church. She gives each section new life by reimagining it--Hagar tells her own story and proudly declares that she was the only person to give God a new name, Job becomes a modern professor who has an unexpected encounter with some colleagues and a cafeteria worker, and Peter stepping out of the boat to Jesus becomes a choose-your-own-adventure during a trip to Israel.

These retellings are interesting and many of them made me think of well-known stories in new ways. But Evans challenges us even further. Many people experience Christianity as a long list of things you must check off, that you must act a certain way, and believe these specific things. But it can quickly become complicated when we admit that Scripture sometimes contradicts itself and doesn't answer the questions we think it should. Instead, she turns to Jewish midrash and invites us to see the Bible as the start of conversations instead of a door-slamming, absolutist end to them.

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again will be a book I turn to again and again. Evans writes with passion and reverence for the Scripture and shows us how to hold the tension of a holy, timeless book written in a specific place and time by specific people. We are a part of an ongoing story of faith--the first few chapters are captured within the pages of the Bible to teach us, to comfort us, and to help us to ask good questions.

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water
and Loving the Bible Again
By Rachel Held Evans
Thomas Nelson June 2018
240 pages
Reviewed as part of the book launch team 

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Review: The Very Worst Missionary

Jamie Wright rather unexpectedly found herself a missionary in Costa Rica with her husband and three sons. She quickly discovered that they didn't have the right training to do this job and that they had been sent to an area with many people who were doing the same work. She had been writing about their experiences to family and supporters back home. But as she became more lonely, disheartened, and worried that they might be doing more harm than good, she started writing the truth. When she was dubbed "The Very Worst Missionary" by a supporter withdrawing their contribution, she agreed and wondered if the worst missionary is the one presenting a perfect picture while falling apart on the inside or the one who admits that they are a mess and need grace just like everyone else.

Wright starts off her book with an apology, recognizing that her story and the ways she tells it are probably not what you expect. Snark and swearing are not always welcome in books about faith, but she wields both throughout The Very Worst Missionary. She begins by explaining their family's journey to faith and how they felt like they had found a home in their local church. But it wasn't long before Jamie noticed a disparity between what Jesus said and what the people in her congregation did. In spite of her questions, she and her husband Steve took their youth group on a short missions trip to Costa Rica and felt like it might be the perfect life for an adventurous family who loved Jesus.

Jamie's life and work in Costa Rica are nothing like she expected and she realized that her family might be hurting the very people they wanted to help. This is not a book that wraps up nicely in a bow. Wright says early on that she still struggles in her forties with many of the things that she struggled with as a teenager who wandered a college campus in a biker jacket at fifteen. In part, this may be what was frustrating to me. She does an excellent job of articulating the things that are wrong with the way that the American Christian church sends missionaries out into the world. But after pointing out the problems, she doesn't offer a solution. Maybe I am putting too much on one person but I want to know what we should be doing, not just the things we as the church do terribly wrong. However, if you see some problems with the concept of modern missions, Jamie Wright is right there with you. Even if she doesn't have the answers, she has some really funny stories to keep you company along the way.

The Very Worst Missionary
A Memoir or Whatever
By Jamie Wright
Convergent Books April 2018
230 pages
Read via Netgalley

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Review: The Map of Salt and Stars

The summer of 2011 is one of great change for Nour. Her father has died from cancer, and her mother decides to move the family back home to Syria. Nour's older sisters quickly fall back into the rhythm of life in Homs, but Nour has never lived in Syria and finds it hard to adjust. Their neighborhood turns into a warzone before their eyes and when a shell destroys their house, they are forced to flee across borders. As Nour and her family travel, she remembers a tale that her father told her again and again: the story of Rawiya, the girl who dreamed of seeing the world and left everything she knew to go on incredible adventures. The two girls take the same journey, hundreds of years apart, fighting for their families and a place to call home.

The Map of Salt and Stars is a book that effortlessly spans age ranges--I thought it was compelling and beautiful, but can just as easily see giving it to a teen or mature middle-grade student to read. The writing in this novel is utterly unique because Nour has synaesthesia and experiences the world a bit differently than most. Joukhadar subtly reminds readers of the beauty of story and art and nature through our heroine's experiences.

The two narratives work wonderfully here--an entire novel could have been written about Rawiya or Nour but they add new layers to each other's stories. There is a beautiful juxtaposition between the magic of Rawiya's tale as she disguises herself as a boy and fights human and magical enemies and  the devastating reality that Nour's family might not all make it to safety.

The Map of Salt and Stars is a truly beautiful debut novel that I will be talking about for a long time.

The Map of Salt and Stars
By Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar
Touchstone May 2018
368 pages
Read via Netgalley

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Review: The Displaced

If you watch the news for longer than five minutes, you will likely hear someone yell about refugees and what we should (or shouldn't) be doing about the thousands of people who are displaced from their homes. It's easy to lump everyone who flees dangerous circumstances together, but their stories are as different as the refugees themselves. In The Displaced, Viet Thanh Nguyen has collected the experiences of twenty people.

In "Last, First, Middle," Joseph Azam struggles with his choice to leave behind the name his grandfather gave him. Fatima Bhutto recounts her experience with a simulation of crossing the Mexican border in "Flesh and Sand," and Reyna Grande reveals that the trauma of a separated family never goes away in "The Parent Who Stays." Marina Lewycka, who has spent most of her life in England, finds that she is no longer at home in a country where people are harassed in the streets just for looking foreign in "Refugees and Exiles."

The stories in this collection are excellent and there are such different experiences and writing styles between the covers of this book. I do believe that reading about the experiences of people from all countries and situations is crucial, but I wonder if the people who feel empathy for refugees and want to do something to help are already the ones who would read this collection. If words do have the power to change minds and hearts and convince us to see others as people, The Displaced is an excellent place to start.

Note: This advanced copy only included ten of the twenty pieces. All royalties from the sale of this book will go to the International Rescue Committee.


The Displaced:
Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives
Edited by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Abrams Press April 2018
192 pages
Read via Netgalley

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Review: Only Human (Themis Files #3)

When Rose Franklin was a child, she fell into the hand of an iron giant. Years later, she has been on unbelievable adventures and discovered that aliens exist. Rose and her friends have spent a decade on an alien planet, but that won't be the most difficult thing. When they return to Earth, they find that new divisions have formed and the planet is on the brink of war. The existence of aliens might not matter after all; humanity is about to destroy itself.

This series succeeds at doing what the best sci-fi stories can--making us think about humanity because of a story about aliens. When Rose, Vincent, and Eva return to Earth, they expect to find a planet that has changed because we know we are not alone in the universe. But instead of uniting people, it has turned them against each other. They use the alien robots to take land and resources and fight other nations. Internment camps have sprung up across the world as everyone turns on their neighbor with the suspicion that they might have alien DNA. Our heroes have to decide which side they are on and what they are willing to fight for.

Sylvain Neuvel has written a great trilogy where each book takes the story in new directions. Each one is told through interviews and recording, but the characters are still very vivid. In fact, I found myself missing a few of them who aren't in this final book. The Themis Files books make the existence of alien races and giant metal robots seem entirely possible and is a wonderful addition to the canon of science fiction.

Only Human
Themis Files #3
By Sylvain Neuvel
Del Rey May 2018
336 pages
Read via Netgalley

Saturday, April 28, 2018

24 Hour Readathon (Spring 2018)

Hour Twenty-Four (and change) Update
There has been much reading and snacking and chatting through our computers. As usual, I got many more books that I could possible read, but I still feel pretty good about reading five books and almost 1,500 pages. For a grand total of books/pages read, you can visit the 24 Hour Readathon page here

1. Which hour was most daunting for you? Well, I have never read for a full 24 hours. People tend to like their worship leader conscious during services on Sunday morning and I also have to get my children there. I happily crawled into bed before 2 a.m., which was hour 15 or so. 

2. Tell us ALLLLL the books you read! In order: The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer (454 pages), Awayland by Ramona Ausubel (240), Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston (248), Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Bosch (369), and Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff (176). 

3. Which books would you recommend to other Read-a-thoners? Short stories are always great for Readathon, so Awayland would be great. Ditto for comics--I can see myself picking up the other Delilah Dirk comics for the next Readathon. Exit, Pursued by a Bear was a great story (which should surprise no one, E.K. Johnston is excellent), and it's Readathon friendly because it is under 300 pages!

4. What’s a really rad thing we could do during the next Read-a-thon that would make you smile? That's a great question, but I'm not sure. I think doing new things is fun at this point for those of us who have done many Readathons, but I also know that it is an incredible amount of work to make it happen for so many thousands of readers. 

5. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? Would you be interested in volunteering to help organize and prep? I will always be reading if I can and I am happy to volunteer in any way that the benevolent and wonderful organizers need. 




Hour Twelve Update
And we're back! Here in New Jersey, it's almost 9 p.m. We enjoyed butter chicken for dinner, the kids are in bed, and it's time to get back to reading!

Here is my reading so far.

The Female Persuasion
Finished - 454 pages

Awayland
Finished - 224 pages

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened
98 pages read

Exit, Pursued by a Bear
Just started!


Reading is even better with carrot cake...


Hour Six Update
Hello everyone! How is your Readathon going?

I've made it halfway through Meg Wolitzer's The Female Persuasion (about 250 pages) and read several short stories in Ramona Ausubel's Awayland. I've also had some toast, a lot of water, one cup of coffee, some crackers and brie, and a few bites of carrot cake.

I'm about to break up my day and head to my local library for their book sale. I promise to show off my new books when I get back!


It's here! It's Readathon time! Here's the opening meme. 

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? My house in New Jersey. It's a little foggy now, but the sun is supposed to show up later. I'm looking forward to some outside reading!

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? I'm starting with The Female Persuasion, which I'm thrilled to be reading and I'm also looking forward to finally reading Hyperbole and a Half.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? I never did manage to go on a snack run yesterday, so we will see what happens!

4) Tell us a little something about yourself! Well, I just turned 31 (on Thursday). I have two kids, one husband, no pets, one keyboard, and many, many books.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to? I think I'm a Readathon pro by this point. I'm ready to read as much as possible without stressing about it! 

Friday, April 27, 2018

Tomorrow is Readathon!

It's time! It's time! Tomorrow is the 24 Hour Readathon, the glorious event where we try to read as much as possible within a 24 hour period. If this is your first time hearing about it, hop over to the website and sign up! You do not have to read for 24 hours--it's a day to read a few good books, meet some other bookish people, and bask in the joy that is reading. There are also games and prizes!

This time around, I plan to make a delicious brioche french toast concoction for breakfast and put butter chicken in the crockpot for dinner. I still need to pick up some snacks to enjoy, but my day is somewhat planned out. I am ready to read as much as possible with two children in the house and take a small break to go to our local library book sale (yes, I need more books).


My decidedly overambitious pile includes YA (Girls Made of Snow and Glass; Exit, Pursued by Bear), short stories (Awayland; The Refrigerator Monologues; What Happens When A Man Falls From The Sky), comics (Hyperbole and a Half; Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant), literary fiction (The Female Persuasion), and nonfiction (Year of Yes). I also have my audiobook of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand ready to go for those moments when I have to do something other than hold a book in my hands.  

What are your Readathon plans? What book are you starting with? What will you be snacking on?

P.S. I wrote a warm-up post about ways to have your best Readathon as an introvert or an extrovert. You can check it out here.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Review: Girl, Wash Your Face

Rachel Hollis is a popular lifestyle blogger who was stymied by the emails she received. Women wrote to her, wondering how she managed to maintain such a perfect life when they felt like they were failing all over the place. In her book Girl, Wash Your Face, Hollis writes about the lies she had to overcome to reach the place she is today. In each chapter, she confronts lies like starting tomorrow, not being good enough, or being a bad mother. Amidst personal stories, she encourages readers to get moving and make the life they want to live.

For me, the core of Hollis' message is nothing new. She tackles issues that a lot of women face, but I didn't really read anything  revolutionary. However, there are a few things that do set this book apart from the rest: the steps she gives you and her radical honesty. At the end of each chapter, Hollis gives readers several things that helped her achieve specific goals. She writes candidly about her traumatic childhood and the suicide of her brother, her relationship with a man who cheated on her and later became her husband, their family's devastating experience with foster care, and the time she peed her pants while jumping on the trampoline with her kids.

There are chapters when Hollis seems to believe that things are as easy as following a few simple steps. I think for many of us, the solutions to these problems take a long time to reach and they are very difficult to achieve. But I can also see how Rachel Hollis could be the extra kick in the pants if you know what you should do, but keep putting it off or making excuses. She is tougher than many lifestyle writers because she knows from personal experience that you have to put the work in to reach the goals you set for yourself.

Girl, Wash Your Face:
Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are
So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be
By Rachel Hollis
Thomas Nelson February 2018
240 pages
Read via Netgalley

Friday, April 20, 2018

In Defense of Difficult Reading: Marilynne Robinson's What Are We Doing Here

Reading something fun and light can bring us joy as readers. There are some days when we just need to sink into another world and read something that my father would refer to as "fluffy." Sometimes the security of knowing that the chef will solve the mystery will making a perfect souffle is enough to make us feel a little better about life.

But I think there's another side, too. Reading can and should be fun and entertaining but it also has the capability to make us think. It can teach us about the science and history of the world we live in. Books can compel us to ask hard questions about ourselves and the choices we make individually and collectively.

I like to read for fun, but I also enjoy being challenged. I recently read What Are We Doing Here?, which is Marilynne Robinson's newest collection. The book mostly contains speeches that she has given over the past few years. They are not easy reading--the speeches consider our history as Americans, what it means to be a person of faith in the 21st century, and the place of both humanities and science. I so appreciated that both Robinson and her publisher saw the opportunity for readers to do some hard reading and think about big questions, even if they only knew her as the author of novels.

After graduating from high school or college, there is not a requirement for most of us to continue learning. We don't have to learn a new language, or learn how to write code for our website, or read hard books. But what are we missing if we don't?

Reading doesn't have to always be complicated or always be carefree. How wonderful it is to live in a world where we can read a cozy romance with the knowledge that they will get their happy ending and then turn to a book that explains the complexities of space or physics. Readers have the unique joy and privilege of experiencing all worlds, both real and imagined, and I intend to try to read about all of them.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Review: My Dear Hamilton

Like many of us, Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie adored a certain popular musical about the life of one of our nation's founders. But they found that they couldn't stop thinking about Hamilton's wife Eliza. She was the one who ensured that Alexander Hamilton was remembered and the two authors decided to find out who she was and make sure that she was remembered as well.

My Dear Hamilton strikes the perfect balance of being familiar to readers who know a little about Alexander Hamilton while giving added depth to Eliza. They bookend the story with President James Monroe appearing to an elderly Eliza, hoping that the two can reconcile. From this point, Eliza thinks back through her life and readers witness a young woman in war time, a mother trying to provide for everyone in her family, and a wife wounded by her husband's betrayal.

Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie have done a wonderful job in making Eliza a fully realized character, in spite of her leaving so few of her own letters and documents behind. I love that Eliza begins her story by telling readers "I was someone before I met Alexander Hamilton. Not someone famous or important or with a learned philosophical understanding of all that was at stake in our revolution. Not a warrior or a philosopher or statesman. But I was a patriot. I was no unformed skein of wool for Hamilton to weave together into any tapestry he wished. That's important for me to remember now, when every thread of my life has become tangled with everything he was...I was, long before he came into my life, a young woman struggling to understand her place in a changing world."

The book is a long one, but it's intriguing to see Eliza grow and change over several decades. It's clear from the note in the beginning to the last page of this story that Dray and Kamoie are rightly fascinated by this turbulent time in American history and the brave women and men who defined it. If you are a reader who loves historical fiction or a a person who weeps every time you hear them sing "Who tells your story? Eliza" in the Hamilton finale, you need to read this book.

My Dear Hamilton
A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton
By Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
William Morrow Paperbacks April 2018
672 pages
Received from the publisher for TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Mini-Reviews: The Shadow of the Crescent Moon and The Living Infinite

Three brothers eat breakfast together in a small town in Pakistan. Instead of observing Eid together, they carefully decide which mosque each brother will attend. Then they leave to go about their days--Aman Erum takes a taxi to a meeting, Sikander goes to pick up his wife Mina before work at the hospital, and Hayat rides his  motorbike to an abandoned university to meet other young people who are dedicated to freeing their home. By the end of the morning, their carefully constructed existences will be changed forever.

The Shadow of the Crescent Moon is one of those books where very little happens. The book only covers three hours in the lives of one family, but each of them think back through their history so the reader comes to understand who these people are and the events that have made them this way. This story is framed through the eyes of the three brothers, but the characters who really shine are Samarra, a radical young woman with ties to both Aman and Hayat, and Mina, Sikander's wife who is grieving war and loss in a very peculiar way. Author Fatima Bhutto makes it seem like there are good people and bad people but, as pieces are slowly revealed, we learn that these are just people trying to save themselves and the ones they hold dear. By the end of the book, you may want to turn back to the beginning and read it all again to see which seemingly mundane moments were actually the ones to change everything.

The Shadow of the Crescent Moon
By Fatima Bhutto
Penguin Press March 2015
240 pages
From the library


In 1893, a Spanish princess stunned the rebellious citizens of Cuba before becoming a sensation at the Chicago World's Fair. The Infant Eulalia impressed people with her style, her confidence, and her willingness to speak the truth about the limitations of royalty. Accompanying her is Tomas Aragon, her secretary and the son of her wet nurse. What do they owe to each other? How will their adult lives intersect? Is it possible to move beyond the choices of their parents?

Every time that Chantel Acevedo changed perspective, I grieved for a few pages to lose the motherly insight of Amalia or the childhood memories of a princess. But she has created such unforgettable characters in a princess, a wet nurse, and her son that I would happily read hundreds more pages about any of them. Eulalia really was a Spanish princess who visited Cuba and the World's Fair in 1839. She did have a wet nurse from a poor village, but the life and character of Tomas are invented by the author. If, like me, you don't know much about this time period in Spain, The Living Infinite will give you an excellent primer on the late 1800s. But more than that, Chantel Acevedo has written a truly beautiful story about creating your own life, even under the shadow of bad choices or a royal title.

The Living Infinite
By Chantel Acevedo
Europa Editions September 2017
305 pages
From the library

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Review: Eternal Life

Rachel is a typical modern woman in many ways: her children sometimes drive her crazy, she dotes on her grandchildren, and she has some big decisions to make about the family business. But there is one thing that makes Rachel very unique--she can't die. Two thousand years ago, she made an incredible bargain to save the life of her son. He would live and become a crucial figure in Jewish history, but she would be unable to die. All these years later, she has lived many lives all over the world. She has fallen in love, she has had children and careers, and then she leaves them all behind before her descendants can see that she outlives them. Her granddaughter Hannah is a scientist with a grant to try to prevent death and Rachel worries that she will figure out the truth about her grandmother. Is it finally time for Rachel to die? Is it even possible?

The story itself is a really engaging one. We see Rachel in the present as she tries to make good decisions, realizing that the decisions that make her a good mother are not always the ones that will keep her safe and happy. Horn also takes us into Rachel's past at several different points, but we spend the most time at the beginning with the son whose life she saved. We also meet Elazar, the boy's father, who made a similar sacrifice and follows Rachel through time. They spend some lives together, taking solace in the face that one other person knows what it is like to be immortal. In others, Rachel runs as far away as possible from the man who knows too much about her and has hurt her too many times. It is the highest of compliments that I would have followed Rachel through all of her lives, because Horn gives her characters so much of the nuance and contradiction that makes them seem to come alive right on the page.

Dara Horn writes fascinating novels that grapple with complex questions of faith and morality. In Eternal Life, the question at hand is what it means for us to be human. Would immortality render us more human as we live through life after life of mistakes and joys or would the ability to have another chance make us something other than human? If there is no end, do the moments that make life meaningful become more precious or do they mean nothing at all?

Also by Dara Horn: A Guide for the Perplexed

Eternal Life
By Dara Horn
W.W. Norton Company January 2018
256 pages
From the library

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Review: Bury What We Cannot Take

San San and her brother Ah Liam return home from school one day, expecting a normal afternoon with a snack and time with their grandmother. Instead, they find that their grandmother has smashed a portrait of Chairman Mao with a hammer. Ah-Liam is conflicted, but ultimately decides to confess his grandmother's crime to the Communist Party. Soon the family has no choice but to try to flee the country to Hong Kong, lying that their father is ill. But the government will only grant three visas--one to mother Seok Koon, one to grandmother Bee Kim, and one for just one of the children. Seok's impossible choice will lead each of them to situations they never imagined.

Bury What We Cannot Take maintains a level of tension rarely seen in books other than thrillers. From the first pages when the children make their discovery, there is a very real possibility that someone will be imprisoned, killed, or lost to their family forever. This powerful book looks at the process of making difficult decisions and the repercussions that we never imagined. Everyone in this tale makes choices--Bee Kim made the choice to destroy the picture, Seok Koon decided which child to take to Hong Kong, Ah Zhai left his family to pursue another life in Hong Kong, and Ah Liam chose to put party ahead of his family. The only one who doesn't make a definitive choice is San San, but she is the one who must deal with the consequences.

Kirstin Chen is a writer who is careful and precise with her words. Beautiful writing and a tense and powerful story of the uncertainty of living in Communist China make Bury What We Cannot Take a book you don't want to miss.

Bury What We Cannot Take
By Kirstin Chen
Little A March 2018
275 pages
Read via Netgalley

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Review: 1001 Ways to Be Creative

We all know creativity is a good thing. We believe in arts education in our children's schools, listen to new music, and attend local theatre productions. Some of us spend too much time gazing via social media at the beautiful pie or cozy sweaters created by our friends. In spite of this, it's hard to know where to begin. If you don't consider yourself an artist or a musician or a chef (or even if you do), how do you include creativity in your daily life? Barbara Ann Kipfer has a solution for you with her book 1,001 Ways To Be Creative. 

This tiny book contains a very large list with two kinds of entries. There are suggestions on ways to start a creative life, like taking a pottery class, designing a roller coaster, or inventing a new cocktail. Some of the points are thoughts about what it means to live a creative life. Kipfer encourages readers to remember that there is no such thing as the "right" starting place, that you will need breaks and rest, and that your creativity will grow as you continue to work on it. There are also quotes from famous creative people throughout and pages of inspiration, where the author challenges her readers to ask "what if?" or go on a creativity field trip.

This is a charming book. I think the best place for it is close to your piano or sewing corner or on the kitchen counter, nestled in with your favorite cookbooks. I'm planning to leave it on my son's bookshelf for the next time he's tempted to tell me that he's bored. While I wouldn't recommend reading straight through, I can certainly see myself flipping through its pages when I need to try something new or find a bit of inspiration.

1,001 Ways to Be Creative
By Barbara Ann Kipfer
National Geographic March 2018
320 pages
Received from the publisher for TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Review: I Was Anastasia

In 1920, a woman is pulled out of a German canal. Her body is covered in scars and she won't say how she ended up in the water. When she finally breaks her silence, she claims to be the Russian princess Anastasia. The Russians insist that she and her entire family were executed by a firing squad, and many people believe that she is only looking for money and fame. She is dubbed Anna Anderson and a long investigation begins, as everyone tries to uncover the truth: is she the Princess Anastasia?

The story of Anastasia is one that has persisted in our consciousness for many years. There have been movies, books, and even a Broadway musical because we can't resist wondering if one of the Romanovs could have escaped their terrible fate. If you think there's nothing left to this story, think again. Ariel Lawhon throws you right into the action with Anna who confronts the reader, insisting that you have to come to your own conclusion after you hear her story. The action moves in two storylines, as we see Anna in the present navigate the believers who shower her with attention and the detractors who call her a liar. Years earlier, the Princess Anastasia tries to keep up her spirits under house arrest and increasingly dangerous circumstances.

I Was Anastasia is historical fiction at its best, which is exactly what readers have come to expect from Ariel Lawhon. If you know your history, you already know the answer to the question of Anna's identity. But as Anna points out, it almost doesn't matter. We want her to be Anastasia, because we want some hope to have come out of a dark, terrible story. We want Anna to be Anastasia because Ariel Lawhon makes both stories so compelling that we can't help wanting to believe.

I Was Anastasia
By Ariel Lawhon
Doubleday March 2018
240 pages
Read via Netgalley

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Review: Becoming Madeleine

A Wrinkle In Time is a beloved story for many children. It's a jumping off point for young readers to love books about daring girls, impossible worlds, and traveling through space and time. For me, it was a doorway to the writing of Madeleine L'Engle and I happily tore through the remaining books in the Time Quintet, traveled through the streets of New York with Katherine Forrester, and read her reflections on life and love in The Crosswicks Journals. L'Engle passed away in 2007 and her granddaughters Charlotte and Lena wanted to give her readers a glimpse into the life of their beloved grandmother. They spent years going through her childhood letters and journals to write Becoming Madeleine.

This book is a treasure trove for the L'Engle fan who wants to learn more about their favorite writer. Voiklis and Roy started with their grandmother's earliest memories and wrote about her difficult relationship with her parents and her troubles and triumphs at school. They included photographs, journal entries, and letters from Madeleine. It's fascinating to read words she wrote as a child and young woman and compare them to her voice as an adult writer of fiction and nonfiction.

But I wished there was more of a personal touch to this book. Voiklis and Roy stop the book when A Wrinkle in Time is accepted for publication, which means we don't get to witness L'Engle as a grandmother to the authors. I can certainly understand wanting to keep your memories for yourself, but it feels as if anyone could have compiled her early letters to write this book.


Becoming Madeleine is intended for young readers, so the writing style is clear and simple. While I would have loved a more personal book, this book is a crucial addition to your bookshelves if you love Madeleine L'Engle and want to know about her younger years.

Becoming Madeleine
A Biography of the Author of A Wrinkle In Time
By Her Granddaughters
By Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Lena Roy
Farrar Straus Giroux February 2018
176 pages
From my shelves

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on My Spring TBR

Here in New Jersey, it seems we will be dealing with snow for the rest of our lives. But I hear that it is actually the first week of spring so all the spring book releases are right around the corner!

I'm linking up at the That Artsy Reader Girl for Top Ten Tuesday to discuss all of the books we can't wait to read this spring.

1) A few years ago, a debut novel about the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus was a huge hit. We've all been anxiously awaiting another book from Madeline Miller and her book Circe will finally be here in April!

2) Zombies are rising up from the battlefields of the Civil War. Are you ready for any awesome biracial warrior girl to save the day in Dread Nation by Justina Ireland? I am so ready.

3) New Meg Wolitzer! New Meg Wolitzer! The Female Persuasion is out in April.

 

4) Jonathan Miles is an author who rarely seems to be discussed in literary circles. His newest novel, Anatomy of a Miracle is about a paraplegic who can suddenly walk--is this a miracle or something else?

5) Ramona Ausubel's debut novel No One Is Here Except All of Us completely ruined me. Then she followed it up with an incredible short story collection and a novel that made me care about rich people (I never care about rich people problems!). Now she has a new short story collection called Awayland and I'm ready for her to take all of my money!

6) Full disclosure: I'm reading the ARC of Only Human (Themis Files #3) right now and it's really good. If you haven't read any of the books in this series about giant robots and aliens by Sylvain Nuevel yet, get started now so you can read the last one when it comes out in May.

 


7) And Now We Have Everything by Meaghan O'Connell is the author's look at becoming a mother very early in her life before she really felt like an adult.

8) I found Ruth Hogan's novel The Keeper of Lost Things lovely and charming, so I'm excited to read her next book The Particular Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes.

9) Tom Rachman writes fantastic books (The Imperfectionists, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers) and I will follow him anywhere. In his latest book, The Italian Teacher, it's Rome in the 1950s and the triumphs and passions of artists and their families.

10) It's a great year for new books from authors I love. Jason Mott's The Crossing tells the story of twins who have to survive a world falling apart around them.


What books are you looking forward to reading this spring?

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Review: Promise

On Palm Sunday in 1936, a tornado touched down in the town of Tupelo, Mississippi. Hundreds are killed, homes and businesses are destroyed, and the town that people have lived in for their entire lives is gone forever. Dovey is outside, wondering when her granddaughter Dreama and great-grandson Promise would return. She is thrown through the air and lands wounded and dazed with no idea if her family is still alive. Across town, 16-year-old Jo McNabb comes to with a piece of glass embedded in her forehead. Her mother is injured, her baby brother is missing, and her father is nowhere to be found. The two families have a bitter and difficult history, but their actions on that devastating day will cross lines and build new relationships.

Minrose Gwin based her novel on a real event. Her grandmother lived through this tornado. It would be impossible for Gwin to show the range of injury and grief inflicted that struck the town, so she focuses on two women who are opposites in every way. One is a poor, black grandmother and the other is a a rich white girl. Dovey is all too familiar with the ways people can inflict pain on each other, while naive Jo is just starting to learn. But both of them are determined to survive, to do what needs to be done, and to fight for their families.

This story deals with some very dark things--rape, racism, natural disasters, and poverty, to name a few. But everything cleans up a bit too neatly--justice will be served to abusive boys and absent parents and closure will be found for our heroines, even among the ruins of their homes. While the photos included within this book show the devastation of this tornado, Promise leaves no doubt that Jo and Dovey will be able to rise from the wreckage and maybe even have a happy ending one day.

Promise
By Minroe Gwin
William Morrow February 2018
400 pages
Received from the publisher for TLC Book Tours

Friday, March 9, 2018

Spunky Historical Heroines: A Murder in Time, A Spy in the House, and The Widows of Malabar Hill

If you are a reader, you probably enjoy reading historical fiction. We can't seem to resist visiting an Elizabethan castle or imagining ourselves as the brave woman who evacuates her neighbors during a bombing in World War II era London. But reading this kind of book can be frustrating because being a woman in the past was an incredibly different experience than the one we are having in 2018. It's not quite as exciting to read about a woman who dutifully follows the direction of her parents, marries young, and has several children. We like our heroines to have some spunk and pluck, to defy expectations, and take control of their own lives.

But how far is too far in historical fiction? Do we ignore the very real consequences that women faced for defying their fathers or husbands? Do authors purposefully ignore the restrictions that women had on their everyday lives? How much leeway do we give our female protagonists when they act in ways they never could in reality?

In A Murder in Time, FBI Agent Kendra Donovan is suddenly transported back to 1815. She quickly realizes that there is a murderer at work, but has a difficult time explaining how she knows that since forensic investigation isn't used yet. Kendra appears out of nowhere and is accepted in a wealthy household as a lady's maid. She's used to being in charge, so she should get into a fair amount of trouble both as a woman and as someone who is supposed to defer to her wealthier employees. I understand that it rather breaks the narrative if she gets fired from her job for being rude or gets sent to an asylum for knowing things she shouldn't, but it does seem somewhat ridiculous for the men of the house to unanimously decide it is charming for this crazy woman to act the way she does.

        A Murder in Time (Kendra Donovan, #1)     The Widows of Malabar Hill (Perveen Mistry, #1)

Similarly, in the first book of The Agency Series by Y.S. Lee, Mary Quinn goes undercover as a lady companion in London in the 1950s. While she is a woman of the Victorian era, she also happens to be a spy collecting evidence about the family she works for and their comapny. She is rude to her employees, she sneaks out when she should be working, and she often acts like a fairly modern woman without thinking about the consequences. Mary does have two safety nets with James, who is also investigating the company, and the knowledge that the all-female agency can pull her out if things get too complicated (after all, they saved her from the gallows once). But she still ignores many of the conventions of her day and we readers don't worry too much about it because she doesn't seem to believe there is any real danger.

The Widows of Malabar Hill, a recent first book in a mystery series, seemed a bit more realistic to me. Perveen Mistry is our protagonist and she is the first female lawyer in India in 1921. Author Sujata Massey was inspired by the real-life women who practiced law around that time period. Perveen is able to solve the mystery, but this case is perhaps specially tailored to her; as a woman, she is able to gain access to the titular widows who are observing a strict period of mourning where they cannot speak to men. But we also see the ways it is difficult for her to navigate the world--she may be a lawyer, but she deals with mostly office work and research while her father argues in court. Perveen is also in situations where she has to decide if it is appropriate for her to go somewhere alone, which would never stop her fellow lawyers from talking to a client or finding answers to their cases.

So where is the line? Can our heroines act courageously with some actual consequences? Who are your favorite spunky historical heroines?

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Review: Attend--Forty Soul Stretches Toward God

There are so many devotional books that you can pick off a bookstore shelf. They tend to highlight a specific passage of Scripture and then give you some questions or a page of reflection on the text. But many of them are heavy and require a lot of thought and a lot of time. For those of us who have busy jobs or a loud house full of playing kids, it can be difficult to find time or energy to tackle those kinds of devotions. Laura Davis Werezak proposes an alternative: what if we could connect with God by doing something as simple as opening a window or sending a note to a friend? In Attend, she takes us through forty "soul stretches" to help the busy and the distracted find unexpected ways to encounter God.

Werezak frames her book around Isaiah 30:15 and the concepts of returning. rest, quietness, and trust. She talks about a time in her twenties when she found it hard to connect with God. She prayed, she read the Bible, and she went to church, but she felt like nothing was working. So she focused on the idea of attending, or stretching towards God, and noticing the little things about life and the relationship with the one who created it all.

Attend provides the reader with ideas that are seemingly simple, but there are great rewards from doing each one. Each devotion is a few short pages and it would be a perfect pick for the season of Lent, since it has 40 entries. Werezak writes with gentleness, recognizing that you may be tired and burnt out, and that life can just be downright difficult. She includes stories from her own life and reflections from scientists and theologians to encourage you to keep going, to keep reading, and to keep stretching towards God.

Attend
Forty Soul Stretches Toward God
By Laura Davis Werezak
Faithwords February 2017
223 pages
Read via Netgalley

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Nonfiction Mini-Reviews: A Baker's Year and Becoming Brilliant

Tara Jensen is a baking star on Instagram, where she shows her day-to-day life as the owner of Smoke Signals Bakery in Vermont. A Baker's Year is her first book and it is a hybrid of sorts; we get some basics about baking, some recipes from bread to pies, personal insights, and a look at what life is like at the peak of summer and on the coldest winter days at one of the most beloved bakeries in the Northeast.

I had trouble sticking with A Baker's Year for several reasons. The first has nothing to do with the book itself, but it's difficult to follow a story when portions seem to be missing from an advanced copy or pictures are on random pages without any context. But more than that, I didn't feel like this hybrid approach worked well. The book is very short, so we miss context for a lot of things. Jensen talks about her personal life, but only in the briefest of snippets--it's hard to feel grief over the end of her relationship when we've only read a few pages about them being together. The way she writes about baking is not very accessible for most of us who will never have a wood-fired oven and somehow she manages to run a very popular bakery without ever revealing what it is like to work there every day and interact with other people. Maybe this book works best for fans of Jensen who already know a bit about her and her bakery.

A Baker's Year
Twelve Months of Baking and Living the Simple Life at the Smoke Signals Bakery
By Tara Jensen
St. Martin's Griffin February 2018
208 pages
Read via Netgalley

Have you talked to an elementary school student about their classes lately? I do it every day and it seems like the joy of learning has been left behind, perhaps with three hours of math each day. Roberta Michnick Golinkoff and Kathy Hirsch-Pasek are education researchers and they know what the problem is--our schools are exclusively teaching content without teaching our children how to work together or discern which information is actually important. Becoming Brilliant demonstrates to parents and teachers that our education system is not working and proposes ways that we can help our kids succeed today and in their future careers.

I appreciated a lot of what Golinkoff and Hirsch-Pasek had to say in this book. I certainly agree that things like critical thinking, creativity, and communication are crucial for our children in school and in their adult lives as people with careers. The authors do a great job of giving specific examples of ways that parents can focus on each skill set, but I wish they had taken a little less time to get there. It doesn't take much to convince parents that their children need to know how to collaborate; greater emphasis on how to build these traits at home and convince school systems to incorporate them would have been great.

Becoming Brilliant
What Science Tells Us About Raising Successful Children
By Roberta Michnick Golinkoff and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek
APA Life Tools May 2016
344 pages
Read via Netgalley

Friday, March 2, 2018

Best Books of 2017

I know, I know. It's already the beginning of March. But I'm never going to be one of those people who publishes their "Best Of the Year" lists when there are still three weeks to go in a year. I get a lot of good reading in between Christmas and New Year's, so I'm not going to risk leaving off a great book just because I read it at the end.

As for the gap between the beginning of the year and now? Well...life happens, my friends. So let's settle in and talk about the best books we read last year!

Books Read in 2017: 134
Books Reviewed: 78
First Book of the Year: This Is Where You Belong by Melody Warnick
Last Book of the Year: Before The Fall by Noah Hawley
Pages Read: 38, 922
Fiction/nonfiction: 101/33
Number of audiobooks: 7
Female authors/male authors: 104/30
Favorite Non-review Posts: Reading and UnderstandingGetting Into An Audiobook, Phryne Fisher on the Page and on the Screen, Thoughts on All Grown Up and Single Protagonists, Graduating to Chapter Books

Favorite Fiction Books

I had read a lot of rave reviews of Amor Towles and his novels Rules of Civility and A Gentlemen in Moscow. I picked up his earlier novel on a whim, and found myself immediately pulled into Katey's world. If you've been around for a while, you know I love F. Scott Fitzgerald's books and this took me right back to the glamour and pain of the Jazz Age. This is not a thriller, but it's hard to put down and Towles makes it all seem effortless.







 There are books that do well because they are published at a fortuitous time and Mohsin Hamid's story of two young refugees looking for safety may be that. But I think Exit West would have succeeded even if the issue of refugee resettlement wasn't so current; Hamid writes beautifully and thoughtfully and I found his characters on my mind long after I had finished reading the book.









My husband likes to tease me about the sheer volume of books I read that are set around WWII. But The Alice Network really stuck with me, in part because it showed just how little time passed between the two World Wars. People had scarcely put their lives back together from the first when the second sent their countries and lives into chaos again. I loved the way that Kate Quinn juxtaposes a naïve, rich girl with a hardened, bitter spy while giving the both of them such depth and humanity. (honorable mention to We Were the Lucky Ones






Oh boy. I'm happy I finished this book in the safety of my own home, where no one saw me weep through the last few chapters. The Names They Gave Us is about a teen girl who is having a crisis of faith and ends up working at a summer camp. I loved the way that Emery Lord wrote teens so well and portrayed the heartbreak and hope of figuring out what you believe and who you can count on in times of crisis.






The Mothers was on so many lists of great books of 2017, and it was entirely deserved. Nadia is trying to find peace after her mother's death, and the idea of motherhood looms large in this story through Nadia's own choices and through the Greek chorus of church mothers and grandmothers who have their own chapters to ruminate on the things they know that the younger generations do not. I'm excited to see what comes next from this debut author.







Do Not Say We Have Nothing is the kind of book where you have to settle in for the ride--things are revealed to you bit by bit and when everything comes together, it is stunning. Told in multiple narratives, this is the story of a young girl grappling with her father's death while she learns about his past during China's Cultural Revolution.







I'm going to take this opportunity to share my love for both The Bear and the Nightingale and its sequel The Girl in the Tower (hey, I read them both in 2017!). The Winternight books follow Vasya, a young girl living in the countryside. She soon learns that there are both benevolent and malevolent spirits as far away as Moscow and as close as her kitchen hearth, and she has the ability to fight against or alongside them. These books are perfect for winter--if you haven't picked them up yet, do it before spring arrives!






Favorite Nonfiction Books

This book is about the realities of living among the people you want to serve. D.L. Mayfield was ready to be a missionary, until she realized the inherent flaws of a traditional missions assignment. Instead, she started working with refugees who had resettled in her city and Assimilate or Go Home details the things she learns about others and herself as she becomes a part of this community. This book has the potential to completely change the way you think about other people and yourself.





Kory Stamper is hilarious, people. If you are a person who loves words and have always wondered what it would be like to work at a dictionary, this book is for you.  Reading Word by Word will remind you of the joys and troubles of the English language and make you laugh so uproariously that people sitting next to you might be slightly concerned. 







This is a book that is very difficult to describe. At its core, it is Hope Jahren's memoir about being a female scientist and the difficulties she has faced. But more than that, it's about being a person who is observing their own life, who knows how amazing it is that trees can grow so tall and why they do and marvels at the development of a friendship and the unexpected joys of motherhood. I highly recommend listening to this one as an audiobook. My husband thought Jahren's reading was a bit soporific, but I found her voice soothing (at least when I wasn't crying into the dishes I was washing). 




Now it's your turn!  Did you read any of these books? What were your favorite books in 2017?

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Wednesdays with David: Fish In A Tree

Fish In A Tree
By Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Puffin Books March 2017
320 pages
From the library 


The Story: Ally gets in trouble a lot. Sometimes it's accidental, like the time she gives a very inappropriate card to her teacher going on maternity leave. Other times, it's on purpose as she tries to hide the fact that she can't read well. Ally has resigned herself to another year of doing poorly in school and not having friends. But then her class gets a new teacher. Mr. Daniels sees her aptitude for drawing and math and knows how to help her with her dyslexia. Most of all, he knows that she isn't stupid and brings the class together in ways they never imagined.

Mama opines: David and I are embarking on a mother/son book club. One month, he gives me a book to read and the next month, I give him one. Fish In A Tree was a book he chose for me. This book is a rather well-known story, where a fantastic teacher is able to help each of his students excel. I can understand the readers who are incredulous that this girl has made it to sixth grade without anyone realizing that she has dyslexia. But I also think this kind of book is wonderful for kids and their parents to read. Don't we all wish for this kind of teacher for our children? We all hope that our children will go to a place where they have good friends and a teacher who is truly invested in helping them to find the best ways to learn and grow.

Thoughts from David: Fish in a Tree is a great book. It's about a character named Ally, who can't read very well. The words just kind of float around. She gets a new teacher and meets new friends. But it's really deep too. I mean, ever read Percy Jackson? They share some similarities.

Personally, I think that kids in the fourth and fifth grade will feel especially for this book. I think middle schoolers will also like it too. The reason is, have you ever felt like there is something you couldn't do? Well, Ally expresses that in a sketchbook called 'The Journal of Impossible Things'. I find that a good way to get feelings like it is impossible out of your system. Another reason is that Fish in a Tree  has a ton of heart. In summary, I LOVE Fish in a Tree and think that you should read it too.

And for old times sake, a joke: How do you make an octopus laugh? With ten tickles!!

Monday, February 26, 2018

Review: The Atomic City Girls

June Walker is 18 years old and looking for an adventure. She gets a job in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, working on a massive machine. But she can't tell anyone about her work because the city of Oak Ridge and the projects happening there are top secret. When June falls for Sam Cantor, a grumpy scientist working on a top-secret project, secrets are revealed and June and her friends must decide if they are willing to continue working towards such a terrible goal.

In The Atomic City Girls, we get a glimpse of day-to-day life for the women and men of Oak Ridge. We follow June and her roommate Cici, as well as Sam and Joe, an African-American construction worker. So many of the workers were cogs in the machine and did their jobs with no understanding of their ultimate goal--building the weapon that would end World War II. In spite of  not knowing, they are under strict orders to not reveal a single thing about their work or the town where they live; because of this, Oak Ridge becomes its own enclosed world.

Atomic City is a fascinating time and place, but the characters in this story are really flat. June is our primary protagonist, but it's difficult to put a finger on anything that makes her stand out as a character. Cici is a woman whose only goal is finding a rich husband by any means necessary and Sam is constantly cranky and mean seemingly without reason. Joe had the most interesting storyline for me, and it was heartbreaking to read that African-American workers were not allowed to bring their families with them like white workers were and discover the lack of basic amenities while their counterparts had their own dances, movie theaters, and bowling alleys.

I'm still curious about the work and the people of Oak Ridge, but I would recommend other historical fiction and nonfiction books to fill that spot in your reading list.

The Atomic City Girls
By Janet Beard
William Morrow Paperbacks February 2018
384 pages
Received from the publisher for TLC Book Tours

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Review: The Grave's A Fine and Private Place

Flavia is taking a short trip down the river with her sisters Ophelia and Daphne and their faithful servant/devoted friend Dogger. But this is Flavia de Luce, and they have hardly started down the river when they discover a dead body. After they fish the body out and have a terse encounter with local law enforcement, Flavia quickly realizes that they are in the same town where several people were poisoned. Are the deaths connected? Of course they are, dear reader, and we are off on another delightful adventure with Flavia and the family.

The first five books in this series are formulaic (in a good way). Flavia finds a mystery in her tiny English town and then she solves it, with the help of various family members and neighbors. In more recent books, Alan Bradley has introduced some truly world-shaking events into the de Luce family. I have never written a long series like this, but I have to imagine that Mr. Bradley knows exactly where he is taking our beloved Flavia.

This is where some of my frustration comes into play though--each book seems to change the family, but we don't really get a chance to see what it looks like before the next crisis occurs. Books seven and eight seemed to hint that the books would go in an entirely new direction and finally give us some answers about the lives and work of Flavia's parents and aunt. But we still haven't received any of those answers and this book felt to me a bit like the middle book in a trilogy--we needed some more information before we could get back to the real action.

The mystery itself in The Grave's A Fine and Private Place is a good one and it's interesting to see the lives of people who don't live in Bishop's Lacey. I also loved seeing Flavia grow up a bit; she even takes a young boy under her wing as a sort of mentor. Most of all, I'm excited to see what happens to Flavia and the family in book ten (which will purportedly be the last one). This story ends with the suggestion of a big change, so I hope we actually get to see what that looks like in book ten and see how all of these threads will come together for Flavia.

The Grave's A Fine and Private Place
Flavia de Luce #9
By Alan Bradley
Bantam January 2018
384 pages
Read via Netgalley