Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Wild Fell

The scariest thing about "Wild Fell" might be that the author, Michael Rowe, seems to have gotten in my head and taken notes on everything I'm looking for in a book. When I read the description in Net Galley, I thought it sounded like it was right up my alley, and boy, was I right. "Wild Fell" snagged me from the first word and kept me hooked all the way through. I don't normally breeze through books like I did "Wild Fell," but I started it one afternoon and finished it the next night. I simply could not put it down!

"Wild Fell"starts out with the story of a teenage couple who take a boat to Blackmore Island, where the crumbling "Wild Fell" sits. What happens to them becomes the stuff of small-town legend, the type of lore that you'll find in any small town.

The teen lovers' story sets the stage for the rest of the book. Wild Fell makes its return, but not until we meet Jameson Browning. The story follows Jameson (Jamie) through his childhood, with a loving father and distant mother. He introduces us to his best friend, Lucinda Jane, who is better known as "Hank," and his imaginary and incredibly creepy friend, Amanda, who lives in the mirror in his bedroom. We watch him grow up to become a teacher, and get married. Finally, as he's caring for his aged father, stricken with Alzheimer's, and is the victim of an accident. All this leads him to Blackmore Island, and Wild Fell.

I absolutely loved 99% of this book, but, for me, the ending fell a little flat, much in the way many horror movies do. The more I've thought about the ending, the more I've come to accept it, and the more it makes me want to go back and read the whole book from the start. Still, I'm not quite over that, "Aw, come ON!" moment I had when it was over.

Aside from that, there was a lot to like about this book. The story was interesting, fast-paced, and creepy. The language was wonderful. I think I will definitely be checking out more from Michael Rowe.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Invention of Wings

I was really excited when I got approved for Sue Monk Kidd's new book, "The Invention of Wings," on Net Galley. I re-read her "Secret Life of Bees" last year for my book club and was once again impressed by the way she really draws you into the story through her rich descriptions.
"The Invention of Wings" tells a fictionalized account based on the life of Sarah Grimke, a famous abolitionist. The book starts out with Sarah receiving a slave girl named Handful as a birthday gift, and throughout the book their stories are interwoven. Sarah isn't always a particularly likeable character, but I think that's a good thing. She's not portrayed as a martyr, rather as someone who struggles within herself as she grapples with the right thing to do vs. what is easy and the way it has always been. When she receives Handful, she knows it isn't right, and she is determined to do something about it, but quickly learns that it isn't possible. Sarah has a lot going against her in her quest. First, she's a woman. She longs to become a lawyer and has the intelligence to do it, but her ambitions are shot down because she is a woman. Later, women's rights become another battle she must fight. Second, she struggles with public speaking.
Handful's story is heart-wrenching. Reading it really sends home the horrific conditions under which slaves lived and died.
I thought Monk Kidd did a wonderful job of blending fiction and reality. She picked these characters out of history and breathed life into them. I think it will be considered one of the best books of 2014.

In my last post, I said I was planning to check out "The Christmas Train" from the library. As it turned out, it was in transit to another library, as were all the other copies in the system! I suspect it must have been some book club's choice this month. I'll keep it on my list for next year. I started "Holidays on Ice" by David Sedaris but stopped reading after the second story. The first story wasn't particularly well-written and was mildly funny, but the second one really disgusted me, and I consider myself a pretty cynical person. Life's too short to read books you don't like, so this one went in the "couldn't finish" pile. I'm not sure I'll try Sedaris again any time soon.

I found myself craving something classic, and decided to pick up "The Three Musketeers." I read "The Count of Monte Cristo" about four years ago at this time, and have many fond memories of it. I know it isn't a book I'll get through quickly, but I am sure it will be worth the effort. I'm finding it highly entertaining so far. I'm also doing my annual reading of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." After that I'm going to sink my teeth into "Andrew's Brain," by E.L. Doctorow, which I received an advance copy of through Goodreads. Then I'm planning on participating in my library's winter reading program. I already have my book list made and I'm ready to tackle it!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Comfort & Joy and A Darcy Christmas

"Comfort & Joy" is my first Kristin Hannah book. I picked it up at a garage sale this summer and saved it for December.
"Comfort & Joy" follows Joy Candellaro, who is facing her first Christmas as a divorced woman. Even worse, the other woman in her husband's life is her own sister. When Joy's sister turns up on her driveway to give her a wedding invitation, she panics and takes off to the airport, where she buys a ticket to a place called "Hope." The plane doesn't quite make it, and she ends up at a place called the Comfort Lodge with a man named Daniel and his son, Bobby.
I knew pretty early on that not everything was as it seemed. The scenes at the Comfort Lodge seemed very dream-like and, given the "twist," I think Hannah did a very good job there. "Comfort & Joy" didn't blow me away. It's a nice story, set at Christmas, and it has a happy ending. That's pretty much all there is to say for it. I'm not sure if I'll read more from Kristin Hannah, but I'm not sorry I read "Comfort & Joy."

Before I picked up "Comfort & Joy," I tried to read "A Darcy Christmas." It was free for Nook a couple of weeks ago on Free Friday, and I was very excited to not only get a Jane Austen-inspired but a Christmas book! And the the cover was so lovely. It's actually three novellas written by three different authors, and as it turned out, I could only get through one of the stories. The first, "Mr. Darcy's Christmas Carol," was basically just a retelling of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," with Mr. Darcy replacing Ebenezer Scrooge. Boring! I plan to do my annual reading of "A Christmas Carol" yet this month, and would much prefer to read the original. The second story, "Christmas Present," was much better. It is a sweet little story, written by Amanda Grange. I thought Grange did a good job of capturing Jane Austen's voice, and I enjoyed the story. The third novella is "A Darcy Christmas." After reading "Christmas Present," this felt like it really missed the mark. It didn't feel Austenesque at all. The prose was far too modern. Needless to say, I did not finish it.

I'm also reading "The Invention of Wings" by Sue Monk Kidd (I got an advance copy from Net Galley), and I plan to stop at the library today to pick up "The Christmas Train" by David Baldacci. I'm not usually so obsessed with Christmas books this time of year, but this year I am! I got approved for "The Christmas Train" on Net Galley, but when I tried to download it, it said that it had already been archived and I can't. Boo. All is not lost, however, since I discovered it's not a new book and in fact my library has it!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Winter Solstice & Winning NaNoWriMo

Another National Novel Writing Month has come to an end. Like last year, I managed to "win," by writing 50,000 words during the month. I finished Thanksgiving afternoon and, sad to say, have not written a word since. It's been crazy since then and I haven't had much chance to write — that, and I've been dying to do some serious reading.
One of the books I'd been looking forward to was "Winter Solstice" by Rosamunde Pilcher. This book was recommended to me by a friend, who reads it every December. She called it "comforting," and I can definitely see why. Rosamunde Pilcher creates a world that is very easy to immerse yourself into. There's something very cozy about it all, and I found myself looking forward to reading it every day. It was almost enough to stop a few little things from bothering me — almost.
The first strike this book had going against it was that the chapters focusing on Sam were dreadfully boring. I found myself skimming over paragraph after paragraph about him and the mill he was to save. This is my first Pilcher book, so I don't know if all her work is this way, but it was made infinitely worse by the fact that she tells the story from several different points of view and repeats the same information over and over. So, for example, you've just finished reading a chapter all about Sam, describing how he's been asked to save the mill that used to produce very high-end fabric but when the owner died his children didn't want anything to do with it, so the workers took over but there was a flood and it went bankrupt. Then, in the next chapter, Carrie meets Sam, who she learns has been asked to save the mill that used to produce very high-end fabric but when the owner died his children didn't want anything to do with it, so the workers took over but there was a flood and it went bankrupt.
I hate to sound like the morality police, but there were a few little things that annoyed me in that department, too. It bothered me quite a bit that two of the characters got together so quickly. There were some other little relationship bits that grated at me, too. All in all, it wasn't enough to completely ruin the book for me, but it did bother me a little.
All this aside, at the heart of "Winter Solstice" is a really lovely story about a group of people who are thrown together unexpectedly for Christmas. Each person has his or her own issues to get past, but with the help of the others, all of them are able to heal.
I don't know if "Winter Solstice" will become a yearly tradition for me, but I could definitely see myself revisiting it sometime in the future.