Category Archives: review
The Garden of Blue Roses
by Michael Barsa
A car lies at the bottom of an icy ravine. Slumped over the steering wheel, dead, is the most critically acclaimed horror writer of his time. Was it an accident? His son Milo doesn’t care. For the first time in his life, he’s free. No more nightmarish readings, spooky animal rites, or moonlit visions of his father in the woods with a notebook and vampire make-up.
Or so he thinks.
Milo settles into a quiet routine—constructing model Greek warships and at last building a relationship with his sister Klara, who’s home after a failed marriage and brief career as an English teacher. Then Klara hires a gardener to breathe new life into their overgrown estate. There’s something odd about him—something eerily reminiscent of their father’s most violent villain. Or is Milo imagining things? He’s not sure. That all changes the day the gardener discovers something startling in the woods. Suddenly Milo is fighting for his life, forced to confront the power of fictional identity as he uncovers the shocking truth about his own dysfunctional family—and the supposed accident that claimed his parents’ lives.
3.5 out of 5 FLEURS DE LIS
It’s been a long time since I read any gothic novels (high school probably), but I can see why The Garden of Blue Roses has been compared to some. A highly questionable narrator, a family full of secrets, a large house with lush grounds as the setting–it’s got all that. But this novel shines in its’ characterization, and yes Milo Crane is not someone I will forget soon.
Milo is the son and second child of world famous horror writer John Crane. Milo is an introvert to say the least, and he’s forced to live alone with his older sister Klara in their childhood home after the death of their parents in a winter car accident.
It’s not long before Klara takes the opportunity to make changes to the estate, starting with constructing an elaborate garden, and she receives the help of an enigmatic Frenchman named Henri Blanc. Milo has an immediate distrust in him that becomes an obsession when he discovers there are more than a few parallels between Henri and the main character/serial killer in one of his father’s books.
What conspires between these three characters is a dark, twisty psychological roller coaster ride that leads to the discovery of so many hidden truths and most definitely cannot end happily.
From the beginning of the book, when Milo describes his past encounters with people outside his own family, I knew there had to be something off about him…but is he autistic? Anti-social? A psychopath? You never truly learn and you also never truly believe anything Milo says or thinks. Not knowing whether he’s really hearing and seeing the things he reports is one of the most unnerving things about this book.
I might have thought I knew where this book was going, but I have to say that the ending was well paced and left me pleasantly surprised. Although Milo is definitely nothing close to endearing, he does draw you in, and you’re not necessarily rooting for him, but you do want him to have some sense of simple contentment in his life.
The horrors described in this book, in my opinion, are mostly the ones uncovered by learning about the family’s disturbing past as the end of the novel approaches. You can see how Klara and Milo ended up in the current life positions they are in, and you can understand some of their motivations.
If you want a slow burn novel with plenty of suspense and one that will leave you guessing until the end, give this one a try.
About the Author
Michael Barsa grew up in a German-speaking household in New Jersey and spoke no English until he went to school. So began an epic struggle to master the American “R” and a lifelong fascination with language. He’s lived on three continents and spent many summers in southern Germany and southern Vermont.
He’s worked as an award-winning grant writer, an English teacher, and an environmental lawyer. He now teaches environmental and natural resources law. His scholarly articles have appeared in several major law reviews, and his writing on environmental policy has appeared in The Chicago Tribune and The Chicago Sun-Times. His short fiction has appeared in Sequoia.
The Garden of Blue Roses is his first novel.
One commenter will win a copy of the book! Ends 6/15. Tell me what your favorite ROSE is 🙂
by Alafair Burke
His scandal. Her secret.
When Angela met Jason Powell while catering a dinner party in East Hampton, she assumed their romance would be a short-lived fling, like so many relationships between locals and summer visitors. To her surprise, Jason, a brilliant economics professor at NYU, had other plans, and they married the following summer. For Angela, the marriage turned out to be a chance to reboot her life. She and her son were finally able to move out of her mother’s home to Manhattan, where no one knew about her tragic past.
Six years later, thanks to a bestselling book and a growing media career, Jason has become a cultural lightning rod, placing Angela near the spotlight she worked so carefully to avoid. When a college intern makes an accusation against Jason, and another woman, Kerry Lynch, comes forward with an even more troubling allegation, their perfect life begins to unravel. Jason insists he is innocent, and Angela believes him. But when Kerry disappears, Angela is forced to take a closer look at the man she married. And when she is asked to defend Jason in court, she realizes that her loyalty to her husband could unearth old secrets.
3.5 out of 5 FLEURS DE LIS
I know everyone is raving about the ending of this book, and yes, it did reveal some big juicy secrets. But the problem is, it took so long to get there. Only the first half of the book held my singular interest, but then it waned as the plot started to slow.
The main character of this novel is Angela Powell, mother of one and wife to Jason Powell, a media darling and university professor. When a student, and then another woman, come forward to press sexual harassment charges on Jason, Angela’s life is rocked. She begins to wonder if her husband is the person she and everyone else who knows him believes he is.
I have read plenty of thrillers/marriage issues type books (you know the kind), so I know that the fact of the matter is, every person in the story is always hiding something. This book flips back and forth between Angela’s point of view and what the investigation into Jason is uncovering, so we get to learn details often before Angela does, and as such can see the lies begin to unravel.
It’s not that did not like Angela Powell…but she was just OK. Even when she described her tragic backstory, she did it with a kind of (understandable, I suppose) disassociation that makes it hard for the reader to feel much for her. She also seems to take a long time to make decisions, and can be annoyingly hardheaded when it comes to seeing the truth about her husband’s misdeeds. I never felt too sorry for her and by the end I didn’t truly care about what happened to her.
I wish the book had laid out its twists more evenly throughout then just piling them all on in the last couple of chapters. I had a feeling something interesting was coming at the end, and really that’s the only thing that kept me reading. I forced myself to finish this book and I’m glad I did, but in my opinion all the hype is a little overwrought.
About the Author
Alafair Burke is the New York Times bestselling author of “two power house series” (Sun-Sentinel) that have earned her a reputation for creating strong, believable, and eminently likable female characters, such as NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher and Portland Deputy District Attorney Samantha Kincaid. Alafair’s novels grow out of her experience as a prosecutor in America’s police precincts and criminal courtrooms, and have been featured by The Today Show, People Magazine, The New York Times, MSNBC, The Washington Post, USA Today, and The Chicago Sun-Times. According to Entertainment Weekly, Alafair “is a terrific web spinner” who “knows when and how to drop clues to keep readers at her mercy.”
A graduate of Stanford Law School and a former Deputy District Attorney in Portland, Oregon, Alafair is now a Professor of Law at Hofstra Law School, where she teaches criminal law and procedure. Her books have been translated into 12 languages.
Alafair’s work has been praised by some of the world’s most respected crime writers, including Gillian Flynn, Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, Karin Slaughter, Harlan Coben, Lisa Scottoline, Lisa Unger, and Nelson DeMille.
Learn more about Alafair at www.alafairburke.com
by Geoff Herbach
From Geoff Herbach, the critically acclaimed author of the Stupid Fast series, comes a compelling new YA novel about basketball, prejudice, privilege, and family, perfect for fans of Jordan Sonnenblick, Andrew Smith, and Matt de la Peña.
For Adam Reed, basketball is a passport. Adam’s basketball skills have taken him from an orphanage in Poland to a loving adoptive mother in Minnesota. When he’s tapped to play on a select AAU team along with some of the best players in the state, it just confirms that basketball is his ticket to the good life: to new friendships, to the girl of his dreams, to a better future.
But life is more complicated off the court. When an incident with the police threatens to break apart the bonds Adam’s finally formed after a lifetime of struggle, he must make an impossible choice between his new family and the sport that’s given him everything.
3.5 out of 5 FLEURS DE LIS
From the moment I started this book, I knew that I was going to like the main character. Adam Reed (aka Sobieski) is a sophomore in high school and is a basketball phenom. His height may have been God given, but for every other part of the game, he has worked relentlessly to better himself. Adam has a passion for the sport that you can really feel coming off the pages of this novel.
Adam might be great at basketball, but the other parts of his life, he’s more uncertain about. He only has one friend, he is adopted and has only been living in the US after coming from Poland a few years ago. He also struggles with anger problems and the fact that no one at school seems to care about him except when he’s scoring on the court.
Being a high schooler is tough enough, but when you add these problems on, you can see why Adam often feels so overwhelmed and complicated.
This was a very fast read for me. I can tell that not only does the main character love basketball, but so does the author; I had to skim my eyes over passages detailing plays and such, because I simply don’t know that much about the game. Those in love with the sport will appreciate the attention to these details, though.
You really can’t help but feel for Adam. Born in Poland, he ended up in an orphanage after the death of his mother and being abandoned by his father. Even though this sad part of his life has been over for years and he is now being lovingly cared for by the woman who adopted him, Adam still has violent, irrational dreams and flashbacks, and they lead to him cutting himself off from people.
I wish the book would have explored a bit more into getting Adam some help for the issues he’s still wrestling with from his childhood. When he finally does open up to someone, he feels simultaneously worse and better. He’s clearly dealing with emotional issues and anxiety, and I think young readers will recognize these signs in themselves; that’s why I wish it would have been addressed more.
The romantic angle was kind of flighty to me, but maybe I don’t know much about teenage love anymore since I am now in my 30’s. The girl seemed to run hot and cold, and in my opinion Adam goes too easy on her, but OK. Like I said, maybe I just don’t know how relationships between teens are these days.
I think many teens will relate to this book because it deals with problems like having to choose between two vastly different friend groups, how much time you should devote to the things you love, and keeping your priorities straight when you have a lot on your plate. Young basketball fans will devour this book for the game passages, and others still will like the humor. Hooper has a lot of sides to offer.
About the Author
Geoff Herbach is the author of the award winning Stupid Fast YA series as well as Fat Boy vs the Cheerleaders. His books have been given the 2011 Cybils Award for best YA novel, the Minnesota Book Award, selected for the Junior Library Guild, listed among the year’s best by the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Association and many state library associations. In the past, he wrote the literary novel, The Miracle Letters of T. Rimberg, produced radio comedy shows and toured rock clubs telling weird stories. Geoff teaches creative writing at Minnesota State, Mankato. He lives in a log cabin with a tall wife.
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ONE lucky winner will receive a signed copy of Hooper by Geoff Herbach.
INTL, 13+, ends May 14th, 2018.
Our Kind of Cruelty
by Araminta Hall
This is a love story. Mike’s love story.
Mike Hayes fought his way out of a brutal childhood and into a quiet, if lonely life, before he met Verity Metcalf. V taught him about love, and in return, Mike has dedicated his life to making her happy. He’s found the perfect home, the perfect job, he’s sculpted himself into the physical ideal V has always wanted. He knows they’ll be blissfully happy together.
It doesn’t matter that she hasn’t been returning his emails or phone calls.
It doesn’t matter that she says she’s marrying Angus.
It’s all just part of the secret game they used to play. If Mike watches V closely, he’ll see the signs. If he keeps track of her every move he’ll know just when to come to her rescue…
A spellbinding, darkly twisted novel about desire and obsession, and the complicated lines between truth and perception, Our Kind of Cruelty introduces Araminta Hall, a chilling new voice in psychological suspense.
3 out of 5 FLEURS DE LIS
Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall
Since everyone else’s review is saying it, I’ll mention it too–this book holds some similarities to YOU by Caroline Kepnes. YOU is one of the best books I have read in recent memory, so once I made the comparisons, it was hard to stop comparing the two novels. But, Our Kind of Cruelty has a psychopathic main character with issues all his own.
The story is told from the viewpoint of Mike, whose girlfriend Verity (V for short) has broken up with him after he cheated on her while away at a job in New York City. Since Mike and V were obsessed with each other and were together for seven years doing things like sex games involving strangers, Mike takes this loss extremely hard. He eventually gains some perspective and he just knows that even though V is marrying someone else, she’ll come back around to needing him and he’ll be there waiting when she does.
Mike’s creepiness jumps off the page at you. He’s not even a somewhat likable psycho like Joe from YOU. The only person in the world he cares about is Verity, and he can barely spare a nice word to anyone else in his path. His coworkers and neighbors have noticed something off about him, but he seems to think of himself as normal and therein lies some of his psychosis.
To say Mike is obsessed with V is an understatement. He goes above and beyond the “normal stalker” actions like watching her inside her house, to some truly disturbing behaviors that again, he does not see any problem with. In his mind, he’s just doing whatever it takes to allow his love to come back to him.
There are two parts to this book, really, and for my part I found the tension and tone leading up to the climax more exciting than the aftermath. For me the final few chapters were a bit boring, and I read them kind of hurriedly so I could go ahead and finish the book. Unlike some others, I didn’t find the plot to have a big twist, and although I wouldn’t quite call it predictable, I knew some of the things were bound to happen.
Our Kind of Cruelty presents an interesting and timely juxtaposition between the truths and perceptions of male and female sexuality, and the constant fight between the person we are now and the one we used to be. I know this novel will have thriller fans talking this summer.
About the Author
Araminta Hall began her career in journalism as a staff writer on teen magazine Bliss, becoming Health and Beauty editor of New Woman. On her way, she wrote regular features for the Mirror’s Saturday supplement and ghost-wrote the super-model Caprice’s column.
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Thanks to the publisher, I have several copies of Our Kind of Cruelty to give away! Please leave a comment and I will choose winners on 4/30. US ONLY PLEASE.
The Underground Railroad
by Colson Whitehead
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all the slaves but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood – where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned and, though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.
In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor – engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven – but the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. Even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.
As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.
4 out of 5 FLEURS DE LIS
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Historical fiction as a whole doesn’t really appeal to me, but I had to read this book after seeing recommendations for it everywhere. As a Southerner, I’m glad I did, but it didn’t quite blow me away as I expected.
The story begins with the recounting of how an African woman named Ajarry was ripped from her home and brought to the US to become a slave. This origin is important because it shows how it all began, but the main character of this novel is Ajarry’s granddaughter, Cora.
Cora is working on a cotton plantation in Georgia, and has been on her own since the age of ten when her mother ran away in the night without her. Ever since then, she’s been an outcast. So when a fellow slave called Caesar asks her to run with him, she considers it, then agrees. Their journey will bring them to many places, but it will never really stop–because as long as there is a runaway slave, there is someone waiting to catch them and return them to their former life.
As a main character, I’m not sure if I would describe Cora as compelling, but she has a quiet strength that is unlike any other I’ve encountered. She’s never one to complain, but as she learns more she begins to question the world and that gives her the courage and intelligence to see that she deserves a far better life than the one she was born into.
There are a couple of action scenes that put you on the edge of your seat, but for the most part the story moves along languidly. Cora passes months here or weeks there without anything happening, then time will skip forward until the action begins again. I was torn between wanting more to happen, and enjoying the fact that the sometimes slow pace allows the reader to truly see how much Cora is growing through her encounters with the wider world.
As a citizen of the South, I can’t say I read about anything I didn’t necessarily know pertaining to slavery, but a lot of its’ horrors are described in detail in this book, and for that reason it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s one thing to know about what the history books say, and another to hear about accounts of torture that happened to real, named people.
The Underground Railroad was a more introspective book than I anticipated, but I still devoured it pretty quickly. The ending is fast paced and leaves you with some glimmer of hope. Cora’s story is important in the realm of American history, and this novel has the perfect voice to tell it.
About the Author
Colson Whitehead was born in 1969, and was raised in Manhattan.
The Underground Railroad, a novel, was published in the summer of 2016. It won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Carnegie Medal for Fiction, and was a #1 New York Times Bestseller.
He has received a MacArthur Fellowship, A Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Writers Award, the Dos Passos Prize, and a fellowship at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers.
He has taught at the University of Houston, Columbia University, Brooklyn College, Hunter College, New York University, Princeton University, Wesleyan University, and been a Writer-in-Residence at Vassar College, the University of Richmond, and the University of Wyoming.
He lives in New York City.
The Baby Plan
by Kate Rorick
Women’s Fiction/Chick Lit
In The Lizzie Bennet Diaries creator Kate Rorick’s first adult fiction novel, we enter the wild, bewildering world of modern pregnancies. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll shake your head as you wonder where everyone’s sanity went…
Meet the mothers…
Nathalie Kneller: Nathalie’s plan: to announce her pregnancy now that she’s finally made it past twelve weeks! But just as she’s about to deliver (so to speak) the big news to her family, her scene-stealing sister barfs all over the Thanksgiving centerpiece. Yup, Lyndi’s pregnant too, swiping the spotlight once more…
Lyndi Kneller: Lyndi’s plan: finally get her life together! She’s got a new apartment, new promotion, new boyfriend. What she didn’t count on—a new baby! She can barely afford her rent, much less a state-of-the-art stroller…
Sophia Nunez: Sophia’s plan: Once she gets her daughter Maisey off to college, she’ll finally be able to enjoy life as make-up artist to one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, and girlfriend to one of rock’s hottest musicians. But after 18 years she discovers the stork is once again on its way…
Now these women are about to jump headlong into the world of modern day pregnancy. It’s a world of over the top gender reveal parties (with tacky cakes and fireworks); where every morsel you eat is scrutinized and discussed; where baby names are crowd-sourced and sonograms are Facebook-shared. And where nothing goes as planned…
2 out of 5 FLEURS DE LIS
Chick lit is a genre I don’t mind dipping into when I feel the need for some light and humorous escapism. This book though, made me frustrated and annoyed for most of the time.
The story centers around 3 connected women who all happen to be pregnant at the same time: Nathalie (I don’t care how you say it’s pronounced, it’s IMPOSSIBLE for be to read it without a TH sound), a 33 year old teacher, her sister Lyndi, and Sophia, a makeup artist in her late thirties who has another daughter getting ready to graduate from high school. Although the three women are pregnant, they are all at different places in their lives and dealing with the expectancies others push onto them.
I can’t say I liked any of the characters in this book. They all were rude or careless or just plain naive. And it’s an easy plot device that all three have baby daddies that start acting like jackasses. Nothing anyone did in this entire novel made much sense at all.
I have had 2 children, so I guess I am supposed to relate to what each character is experiencing, but I didn’t really. Though I had a lot of the physical symptoms mentioned, I don’t think I lost my sense of logic as these women do, and I believe that it’s really an overused trope to say that pregnant women are highly emotional and “crazy.”
Finally, and most annoyingly, there were several plot lines that just didn’t bother to get wrapped up at all. I can’t mention them specifically for spoiler reasons, but issues between Nathalie and her husband don’t get a sense of closure or a reason at all. The end felt rather sloppy.
If you like to read chick lit with humor, there are better options out there. Sadly, The Baby Plan stuck to cliches and predictable plot elements to tell its story.
About the Author
Kate Rorick is an Emmy Award–winning writer who has worked on a number of television shows, most recently The Librarians on TNT. She was also a writer for the hit web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and authored the two series tie-in novels, The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet and The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet. In her other life, she writes bestselling historical romance novels under the name Kate Noble. Kate lives in Los Angeles with her family.
The Wild Inside
by Jamey Bradbury
A promising talent makes her electrifying debut with this unforgettable novel, set in the Alaskan wilderness, that is a fusion of psychological thriller and coming-of-age tale in the vein of Jennifer McMahon, Chris Bohjalian, and Mary Kubica.
A natural born trapper and hunter raised in the Alaskan wilderness, Tracy Petrikoff spends her days tracking animals and running with her dogs in the remote forests surrounding her family’s home. Though she feels safe in this untamed land, Tracy still follows her late mother’s rules: Never Lose Sight of the House. Never Come Home with Dirty Hands. And, above all else, Never Make a Person Bleed.
But these precautions aren’t enough to protect Tracy when a stranger attacks her in the woods and knocks her unconscious. The next day, she glimpses an eerily familiar man emerge from the tree line, gravely injured from a vicious knife wound—a wound from a hunting knife similar to the one she carries in her pocket. Was this the man who attacked her and did she almost kill him? With her memories of the events jumbled, Tracy can’t be sure.
Helping her father cope with her mother’s death and prepare for the approaching Iditarod, she doesn’t have time to think about what she may have done. Then a mysterious wanderer appears, looking for a job. Tracy senses that Jesse Goodwin is hiding something, but she can’t warn her father without explaining about the attack—or why she’s kept it to herself.
It soon becomes clear that something dangerous is going on . . . the way Jesse has wormed his way into the family . . . the threatening face of the stranger in a crowd . . . the boot-prints she finds at the forest’s edge.
Her family is in trouble. Will uncovering the truth protect them—or is the threat closer than Tracy suspects?
2 out of 5 FLEURS DE LIS
The first half of this book was great to me, which is why it’s such a shame that the second half veered off so weirdly that I ended up having to give a less than stellar review.
Tracy Petrikoff lives in rural Alaska with her father and brother after the death of her mother a few years prior. The family raises sled dogs, and in past years Tracy’s father Bill has run the Iditarod and done pretty well at it. So, dogs and racing are in 17 year old Tracy’s blood…but so is something else.
Ever since birth, Tracy has known she’s different. She’d rather be in the woods than the house any day, and feels she has more in common with the squirrels and rabbits she comes across than other kids her age. As she grows older, the wild streak inside Tracy becomes harder to tame, and she sometimes finds it hard to have the self control not to harm other people. But, she is still a teenage girl, and butting heads with her father happens. He just doesn’t know why it’s so dangerous when she gets grounded to their house, but he’ll learn.
If I had been told that there was going to be a supernatural element to this novel, I probably would have picked it up a lot sooner than I did. The mystery lies around what exactly Tracy is and why she does what her instincts tell her, and it’s intriguing to see how she has to strike that balance between her humanity and her “wild inside.”
There are actually several secrets and mysteries throughout the book. At the beginning, Tracy attacks a man who tries to grab her in the forest. He then comes to her house and her father saves his life. An enigmatic teenage drifter named Jesse comes around looking for a place to stay, and Tracy is immediately suspicious and it turns out she has good reason to be.
The best parts of the book, in my opinion, are flashback that show conversations between Tracy and her mother. You can tell that the two were close, and it turns out it was because the two of them were the same in so many ways. Tracy’s mother understood her and tried her best to make sure she felt comfortable in her own skin and in her family. The loss of her mother was profound and Tracy finally sees how hard it impacted every single member of their household.
If you have a weak stomach, this book is not for you. There are many bloody scenes, some involving animals and some involving humans, and they’re described rather bluntly. There are a couple of other parts I can’t mention for spoiler reasons, but if you are easily disturbed I would again advise you to stay away.
In the end, I was too infuriated with Tracy and her bad decision making to be happy with how things turned out. I know she was probably never meant to be a main character a reader can root for, but there are things I cannot believe she intentionally did and seemed senseless. I get what Tracy did for her family and for herself, but I still can’t agree with it fully.
About the Author
Born in Illinois, Jamey Bradbury has lived in Alaska for fifteen years, leaving only briefly to earn her MFA from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Winner of an Estelle Campbell Memorial Award from the National Society of Arts and Letters, she has published fiction in Black Warrior Review, Sou’wester, and Zone 3, and she has written for the Anchorage Daily News, TheBillfold.com, and storySouth. Jamey lives in Anchorage, Alaska.
The Italian Party
by Christina Lynch
A delicious and sharply funny page-turner about “innocent” Americans abroad in 1950s Siena, Italy. Newly married, Scottie and Michael are seduced by Tuscany’s famous beauty. But the secrets they are keeping from each other force them beneath the splendid surface to a more complex view of ltaly, America and each other.
When Scottie’s Italian teacher–a teenager with secrets of his own–disappears, her search for him leads her to discover other, darker truths about herself, her husband and her country. Michael’s dedication to saving the world from communism crumbles as he begins to see that he is a pawn in a much different game. Driven apart by lies, Michael and Scottie must find their way through a maze of history, memory, hate and love to a new kind of complicated truth.
Half glamorous fun, half an examination of America’s role in the world, and filled with sun-dappled pasta lunches, prosecco, charming spies and horse racing, The Italian Party is a smart pleasure.
2.5 out of 5 FLEURS DE LIS
Ehh, this one was kind of a mess for me, and not what I was expecting. The book’s description bills it as “fun” and “funny” but it was really neither of those things for me. I didn’t catch the spy angle that much either. Yes, one of the main characters is a spy…but he seems like Spy Lite compared to others like James Bond or Michael Westen.
It’s the mid 1950’s, and Scottie and Michael are a recently married American couple who have moved to Siena, Italy to sell Ford tractors to technologically impaired Italian farmers–or at least that is the husband’s cover story. In reality, Michael works for the CIA, and he’s on a mission to make sure Siena isn’t taken over by communist factions in the delicate wake of WW2. Scottie, for her part, is intent on being the perfect housewife, because she is concealing a secret of her own. Until the day her teenage Italian tutor goes missing, and she feels compelled to spring into action.
The part of this novel that was kind of funny to me is also the part that’s true–the fact that Michael is trying so hard to live his American life in another country. You can’t just move to Italy and expect that you’ll be able to have instant dinners and fast food and other American conveniences. But America was so afraid of anyone other than themselves after WW2, this was the attitude a lot of people had. Michael’s higher ups send him copies of American magazines like Life and Time and encourage him to leave them around for Italians to find. Scottie is requested to make dinner one night and she has to scrounge around the city to find American ingredients, because Michael is afraid of becoming “too Italian.” It’s all a ridiculous notion but rooted in fact.
The characterization in this book is good for some, and basic for others. It’s true that almost no one you meet in this novel can be trusted at face value, and some that you might have preconceived notions about are actually hiding much deeper issues than you would have thought.
There’s not very much action, to be told, and the biggest mystery of the plot gets solved rather accidentally. The end is also kind of bittersweet. Although Michael and Scottie are not the best people, you end up kind of rooting for them and wish them the best.
About the Author
Christina Lynch is a professor of English at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, California. A former Milan correspondent for W and Women’s Wear Daily, she has written on staff for television shows such as The Dead Zone, Encore! Encore!, Unhappily Ever After and Wildfire. The Italian Party is her first novel.
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by Emma Donoghue
In the latest masterpiece by Emma Donoghue, bestselling author of Room, an English nurse brought to a small Irish village to observe what appears to be a miracle-a girl said to have survived without food for months-soon finds herself fighting to save the child’s life.
Tourists flock to the cabin of eleven-year-old Anna O’Donnell, who believes herself to be living off manna from heaven, and a journalist is sent to cover the sensation. Lib Wright, a veteran of Florence Nightingale’s Crimean campaign, is hired to keep watch over the girl.
Written with all the propulsive tension that made Room a huge bestseller, THE WONDER works beautifully on many levels–a tale of two strangers who transform each other’s lives, a powerful psychological thriller, and a story of love pitted against evil.
The latest masterpiece by Emma Donoghue, bestselling author of Room.
3 out of 5 FLEURS DE LIS
A little word of warning: if you are planning on listening to this story in audiobook format, as I did, then you should know that the narrator puts on a thick Irish brogue for some characters that can be hard to understand. For this reason, I kind of wish I had just read the book instead.
The story is set in August 1859, and is told from the point of view of Mrs. Lib Wright, who after becoming widowed set off to serve as a nurse under the training of none other than Florence Nightingale herself. Lib is sent to a private household in Ireland to maintain a two week watch on a little girl named Anna O’Donnell. Anna claims to not have taken food for the past 4 months, and Lib is being sent to confirm whether that is true.
Many of the people of the town and beyond its’ borders have come to view pious Anna as a sort of miracle child. Lib starts her job with a biased, skeptical mind but soon comes to know the child better and just how much her religious beliefs mean to her. When the truth behind Anna’s motivations for her fast are revealed, Lib is rocked and sets out to do what she can to help Anna realize the consequences of what she is doing.
I chose this book because of the mystery aspect of it–a child hasn’t eaten for four months? How is she alive? But soon, I was taken in by Anna and her congruous nature, both painfully innocent and wise beyond her years. The entire first half of the novel is basically laying the foundation for the reader to get to know Lib and the O’Donnells, and to see a sort of friendship grow between the nurse and the girl.
It’s frustrating, as a mother, to have a child that turns down food, so the idea of having to watch as your does this for four consecutive months is terrifying. It’s also terrifying that Anna’s parents believed so much in their daughter’s obsession with her religion that they allowed this to go on. But it was a different time, and a different country, so I had to kind of just go along with the fact that they did let it happen. So many people were complicit in Anna’s fasting and it was very disheartening to see that this child was continuously allowed to make her own decisions.
As far as the main plot, it started off really slowly but I was glad for the slow burn because when all was revealed towards the end, I was truly shocked at what had transpired. There’s a subplot with a romance angle, which was kind of OK but I did see it coming from miles away.
This is a difficult book to review without giving away the heart of the story, but I’ll say I think it will appeal to a large audience of readers. Whether you’re a believer or not, The Wonder will make you think about your own relationship with your higher power and how it has a hold on your life and the lives of those you love most.
About the Author
Emma is the youngest of eight children of Frances and Denis Donoghue. She attended Catholic convent schools in Dublin, apart from one year in New York at the age of ten. In 1990 she earned a first-class honours BA in English and French from University College Dublin, and in 1997 a PhD (on the concept of friendship between men and women in eighteenth-century English fiction) from the University of Cambridge. Since the age of 23, Donoghue has earned her living as a full-time writer. After years of commuting between England, Ireland, and Canada, in 1998 she settled in London, Ontario, where she lives with her partner and their son and daughter.
PURCHASE THE BOOK
If I Die Tonight
by Alison Gaylin
Late one night in the quiet Hudson Valley town of Havenkill, a distraught woman stumbles into the police station—and lives are changed forever.
Aimee En, once a darling of the ’80s pop music scene, claims that a teenage boy stole her car, then ran over another young man who’d rushed to help.
As Liam Miller’s life hangs in the balance, the events of that fateful night begin to come into focus. But is everything as it seems?
The case quickly consumes social media, transforming Liam, a local high school football star, into a folk hero, and the suspect, a high school outcast named Wade Reed, into a depraved would-be killer. But is Wade really guilty? And if he isn’t, why won’t he talk?
2.5 out of 5 FLEURS DE LIS
Jackie is a single mom of two teenage sons: Connor, the youngest, is mostly obedient and helpful to his mom, but Wade, who used to be his mom’s sidekick, has been secretive and seems to have a dark cloud hanging over him for the past several months. When a classmate dies, Wade is implicated in the accident and soon the little town turns on him and his family. But if he didn’t do it, and he won’t reveal the truth to his own mother, how can he clear his name and stop his life from being ruined?
From the beginning, I wasn’t as into this mystery as I could have been. Teenage boys hiding something is nothing new, and some of the plot points seemed very obvious to me. I also thought the progress was very slow, and this wasn’t helped by the author throwing in all kinds of relatively useless information about the characters.
So we have a washed up rocker named Aimee, who claims that she was robbed after a show one night by a teenage boy in a black hood. When Liam, the victim of the story, tries to stop the robbery, he is hit by Aimee’s car and dies. There are multiple suspects including Aimee herself, and it’s like extracting teeth to get any of the players involved to tell the truth about the night of the accident.
I didn’t like how the mother, Jackie, basically ALLOWED her son to be so shady and hide things from her. Yes, I know, teens will do that, but when someone has died, the kid doesn’t GET to have secrets anymore. I also wouldn’t have sent him to school in such a situation, but Jackie did. There were some bad parenting decisions made for the majority of the book. I also felt that Wade was highly overdramatic, and when the truth finally came out about what he’d been keeping from his mother, it wasn’t as serious as the life or death situation he was trying to take the blame for instead. I couldn’t believe the kid would rather go to prison than tell his mom the truth.
The author does a fine job of making you suspect that maybe Wade really did kill Liam, but there are so many other characters involved in the incident of that night that your attention is thrown in a lot of different directions. In the end, there is a deus ex machina that really just brought the story to a rather bland ending.
I know this is a thriller, but I didn’t feel any thrills at all. I would recommend avoiding this one as it’s quite forgettable.
About the Author