Thursday, December 17, 2009

19th Century Values Shape the Lives of Two Remarkable Women

How about some interesting historical fiction to start off the new year? Well, best selling author Tracy Chevalier is back with a novel set in 19th century England, full of fossils and friendship.

Tracy Chevalier's "Remarkable Creatures" focuses on two historical women--Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot, and tries to flesh out the historical accounts of the lives of these women that exists in the scientific record. The book begins when Philpot has just moved to the town of Lyme Regis, and first meets Anning. Philpot, in her late 20s, is already a spinster, and moving to Lyme from London gives her the freedom to pursue her unladylike passion for fossils. Anning has a natural gift for fossil hunting, and Philpot is quickly drawn to her. Over the next two decades these women will develop a close bond and make many fossil discoveries together. But will a force bigger than themselves--love or fame--eventually draw them apart?

In "Remarkable Creatures" Chevalier has done a good job of taking real historical figures and crafting an interesting story around them. I had never heard of either Anning or Philpot, but I actually had seen some of the collections of fossils they contributed to at the British Museum. The novel quickly introduces you to these two women and their world, and does a good job of helping you to see the world through their eyes. I thought the most interesting dynamic of the story was how the men treated Philpot and Anning, especially how they were considered just "hunters" not real scientists because they were women. Some of the novel, particularly the love stories and jealousy did seem a bit forced, but not so much so that they ruined the rest of the story.

I would recommend this book to readers interested in women's lives during the early 19th century and to general fans of historical fiction. It was well done and an interesting quick read.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Too Much Sorrow Drags Down a Potentially Interesting Story

Have you ever read a book that was just so buzzed about you couldn't wait to read it, only to find it a big let down in the end. Well, that was pretty much my experience with "A Gate At the Stairs". Maybe it was just that the ending of the book left such a cold taste in my mouth, but this will definitely NOT be on my top ten list!

Lorrie Moore's "A Gate at the Stairs" follows a year in the life of Tassie, a 20 year old college student. Tassie is from a small town in rural Wisconsin, and her world is expanded exponentially over the course of the novel, first by her experience in the college town of Troy, then by her employment as the nanny for a young adopted mixed race girl, and finally by her brother's experience in the military. Through all of these experiences Tassie is forced to reexamine the perspective that has shaped her life and decide who she is and what she believes.

When I started reading this book I was excited--it had received all around rave reviews and I enjoyed Moore's previous work. It soon became clear however that Moore's strength lies in short stories, not in novel length works. I felt like the different sections of this novel--the book doesn't really have chapters, but rather longish sections--weren't really connected to each other, and although the characters were the same there was no continuous narrative thread to hold all of the pieces together. Not that I didn't love some of the sections--particularly the part about Emmie, the little girl Tassie nannies--put the disconnect between them was too much for me. I also finished this novel deeply depressed, which I think skews my opinion of the work as a whole. Since the fictional Tassie and I are roughly the same age, it was extremely discouraging to see one of my peers (even if she is fictional) so negative and bleak at such a young age. I know the novel is set in a dark time and there are tragic events, but the end of this novel is discouraging and so depressing, it overweighs the rest of the story.

I would have a hard time recommending this book to others because it is so dark. Yes, there are some beautiful and uplifting parts, but the end of the book left me cold and depressed. Reader beware.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Nail Bitting Novel with a Big Mystery--"The Weight of Silence"

Do you ever read a book that just totally sucks you in and twists your emotions? Well this was one of those books for me, which is surprising, because a lot of times I feel like first time authors just don't have that kind of power. But this was definitely a good one, which I would recommend to fans of Jodi Picoult or Anita Shreve.

"The Weight of Silence" Heather Gudenkauf's debut novel, is a real nail bitter, full of drama and suspense. In a small Iowa town, a young girl Callie has not spoken in 4 years. Callie awakes one morning and surprises her drunk father, who drags her into the woods. Callie's best friend also disappears the same morning, setting off a day of frantic searching and high emotions from the parents of both girls. When the girls are finally found, both have injuries and questions swirl as to what happened to them. Only Callie can provide the answers, but will she talk?

I was impressed with this debut effort from Gudenkauf. The novel is fast paced and full of emotion, but does not feel overwrought like some other similar novels that I have read. I thought it was interesting how Gudenkauf switched between the perspectives of the different characters, because it allowed the reader to see the action from different perspectives without revealing the twist at the end of the novel. It also allowed her to explore how different members of the families reacted to the events, which really gave the characters and the novel as a whole a satisfying depth.

If you enjoy books by Anita Shreve and Jodi Picolt, I would recommend that you try Gudenkauf. I'm interested to see what this promising author produces next.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Welcoming December with a Flashback to Summer--Elin Hilderbrand's "A Summer Affair"

Happy December! The holidays are upon us, and life is even crazier than usual. But make sure you take time out to read a good book! I find that for me, books are my most relaxing form of relaxation--something that is sorely needed in the craziness of the holiday season.

Let's start December off with a flashback to lighter summer days, with Elin Hilderbrand's "A Summer Affair." Although this book sounds super light and fluffy, I actually found it a little bit heavier than I thought and an enjoyable read.

"A Summer Affair", Elin Hilderbrand's seventh novel, follows Claire, a mother of four and artist in her late 30s who is struggling to deal with the realities of her life. After an accident in her studio, Claire delivers her fourth son prematurely, and her husband forces her to give up her art, which leaves Claire feeling adrift. When Claire accepts a position as a co-chair of a local charity gala, she hopes that it will give her some direction in her life. Little does she know it will lead to her beginning a relationship with Lock Dixon, the Executive Director of the charity. As the gala draws closer, will Claire be able to keep herself and her family together, or will she chose to flee her former life.

When I started this book, I thought it was going to be an airy light and candy coated fiction, where a woman has a carefree summer affair. I was surprised to find out that this book was much more complex, and really explored why Claire was involved in the affair, her guilt, and her emotional struggles with her life. The way Hilderbrand got into the head of her main characters was really interesting, and she did a great job building to the tension of the actual event and running multiple story lines at once.

This was the first Elin Hilderbrand novel I had ever read (I had always been turned off by the fluffy covers) but I think now I'm interested to read more. This was definitely better than I expected!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Wonderful Prequel to Little Women--Geraldine Brooks' "March"

A few weeks ago I was reading an article somewhere (it seems I read so many online publications these days it's hard to keep them all straight) and the article referenced a Pulitzer Prize winning prequel to Little Women, my all time favorite book.* How had I MISSED a prequel to Little Women? Especially a Pulitzer winning one? I jumped onto Amazon and ordered this book up for my Kindle immediately. Luckily I had a day of jury duty right around the corner in which to read this wonderful story.

Geraldine Brook's "March" envisions the world before the classic novel "Little Women". She explores how Mr. and Mrs. March met, and why they are the people we know in "Little Women." The book also explores Mr. March's service during the Civil War, including the incidents leading to his injury and recovery.

Geraldine Brooks does an excellent job rounding out classic characters in "March" and making them into much more than what the reader of "Little Women" knows about them. She explores Mr. March's character as a young man, and creates for the reader the events that made him into an abolitionist, and eventually led him to invest his life earnings in the schemes of John Brown. She shows us Marmee, as a fiery woman with a fierce temper who is passionately committed to the Underground Railroad and the independence of women. Brooks' narrative is beautiful, and I felt transported to her locations throughout the first half of the 19th century. She also has a wonderful way of getting inside the heads of these characters that I thought I knew to give me a whole new perspective.

If you are a "Little Women" fan, I highly recommend that you read this book. I think it will reintroduce you to the world of "Little Women" a create a new perspective for you on why the novel is how it is.

*When you're named after a character in a book like Little Women, it basically HAS to be your all time favorite!

Monday, November 23, 2009

An Unnamed Thing Cannot Conquer Love--Joshua Ferris' "The Unnamed"

Sometimes you read something so far outside of your normal reading habits, that its almost like a breath of fresh air. I read a lot of books by women and about women, often in the historical fiction category. Rarely do I find myself picking books by men, often because I feel like they lack the emotional element I really love in my books.

In October, I decided to pick up The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris from the Amazon Vine program. I remembered that I had wanted to read Ferris' first book Then We Came to the End but I had never gotten around to it. So I decided to take a leap and try this book. I was so glad that I did, because this book was really different than everything else I've been reading this fall, and may be one of the more interesting books I've read this year.

"The Unnamed" follows Tim, a high powered New York lawyer who has an unnamed disease. Tim's disease causes him to drop everything at a moment's notice and take off on long, meandering walks. Tim's wife, Jane, stays at his side as he has bouts of the disease, even though they last up to a year. Tim has seen every doctor that money can buy, but none of them can offer an explanation for the disease that plagues him. Will Tim and Jane's love be able to overcome the disease, or will it, and the miles it causes Tim to put between them, ultimately lead to their undoing.

"The Unnamed" is a puzzle of a novel that sucks its reader in from the very first page. Tim and Jane appear to be a fairly normal suburban couple, until Tim's disease reveals a whole subtext to their relationship that is complex and unexpected. Ferris uses the disease to explore his character's inner thoughts and emotions, and the disease operates as a stand in for the realities of modern life--long separations and distractions due to work, children, and other relationships--that can tear apart a marriage. I liked how Ferris made the point that Tim's money can't save him, anymore than it can save his relationships. Although Tim, Jane, and their daughter Becka change significantly over the course of the novel, Ferris always brings them back together in a way that makes them human and accessible to the reader.

This novel really made me think, and it is really much more complex than it seems on the surface. I think ultimately this novel could stand as a metaphor for our times. And although overall it is bleak, Ferris leaves his reader with some hope at the end that like Tim, maybe we could find a way to overcome our unnamed.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Vivid Journey Through the Turbulent Mexico and America of the 30s and 40s--Barbara Kingsolver's "The Lacuna"

I love Barbara Kingsolver, and just about everything she's ever written. So when I heard she had a new novel coming out this fall, I was a bit anxious. I've had a bad run of favorite authors turning out disappointing novels recently, so I didn't want my expectations to get too high, only to be dashed by a poor showing.

Oh Barbara, why did I ever doubt you! This novel is fantastic. It has all of the rich language you've come to expect from Kingsolver, with a riveting story to match.

Barbara Kingsolver's latest novel "The Lacuna" is the story of Harrison Shepherd, a young man with a split identity--he's half Mexican and half American and feels like he doesn't truly fit in either country. After being born in America, Shepherd's mother takes him to Mexico, where he spends much of his childhood, before going back to America to finish school, then shortly going back to Mexico, where he starts working for Diego Rivera and his wife, Frida Kahlo. Meeting the Rivera's sets Shepherd's life on a course from which he will be unable to escape, despite his eventual fame and fortune.

"The Lacuna" is a novel so sweeping, it's difficult to describe. Kingsolver has structured the novel as a series of journals written by Shepherd over the course of his life and edited by his secretary Violet Brown. Although this seems like a difficult structure to work with, Kingsolver uses it to really get inside of Shepherd's head and to use him as a unique type of first person narrator. His perspective on Mexico in the 1930s and America in the 1940s and 50s is unique, and unlike anything I've read before. The story is thoroughly engaging and Kingsolver's beautiful language takes this novel to a whole other level.

I really enjoyed this novel. If you are a fan of Kingsolver's previous novels, I would recommend you pick up this one, because it is not one to be missed!

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Program for providing me with a review copy of this book.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Journey to France with Julia--Julia Child's "My Life in France"

After reading and really enjoying "Julie and Julia" I felt like I HAD TO READ Julia Child's "My Life In France." I felt like not reading it was like reading a sequel without reading the original. So after several foiled attempts (why does a book suddenly become unavailable in Kindle edition? I mean it's not like they run out of copies or something), I managed to download this book. It was WONDERFUL. Like being transported to Paris with Julia Child. If you're a fan of Julia or you simply love Paris, French Food, or just plain food--you MUST read this book!

"My Life in France" is a wonderful autobiography. Julia Child recounts the joys of her life in France, and it's easy to see why her experiences led her to love both the food and the country. She also discuses how she came to become the famous figure we all know and love--from her modest expectations for her first cookbook to her first TV show. Throughout the narrative it is clear that this was a life well lived by someone who truly loved her life.

While I really enjoyed this book--what fan of Julia Child wouldn't love it--it's not the best written autobiography and at times I felt like I was reading a technical cookbook rather than an autobiography. I supposed Julia was simply writing in a style that she was comfortable with, but these more technical passages lessened some of the joy in the rest of the narrative.

This book is a must read for Julia Child fans. If you're interested in reading this because you enjoyed the film "Julie and Julia" I don't think you'll be disappointed with the original!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Keep Halloween Going a Little Longer with a Spooky Read--Sarah Waters' "The Little Stranger"

Happy November! This month officially kicks off my favorite time of the year--the holiday season. The only bad thing about the holidays--it cuts into my reading time!

In case you're in the mood to keep the fall and Halloween creepiness going a bit longer, today's review is from a gothic novel from Sarah Waters.

Sarah Waters' "The Little Stranger" is set in rural England in the years immediately following the Second World War. A country doctor, Faraday, is called to the isolated country house of the Ayres family to treat their maid. This simple and routine house call pulls Faraday into the peculiar world of the Ayres family. The Ayres' fortunes are not what they once were, and their great country estate, Hundreds, is falling down around them. Slowly, each member of the Ayres family becomes ill--either by a family mental illness or under the influence of an evil presence that is haunting the house. Faraday tries to save the family before the illness effects the Ayres' daughter Caroline, who he has become engaged to. Will Faraday be able to save the family and Hundreds before it's too late?

In the tradition of great Gothic novels, Waters paints a thoroughly creepy mystery in "The Little Stranger." Her portrayal of the Ayres family is excellent, as is the mental picture she gives her reader of Hundreds, the manor house past it's prime. My problem with this novel was the timing. Waters would build a sufficient amount of suspense and energy in her story, and then instead of sustaining it to build a truly great Gothic story, she would let the suspense fade and the pace of the novel would slow WAY DOWN. This unevenness made it really hard for me to remain engaged in this nearly 500 page book. I also found the ending and the characters other than Faraday disappointing.

If you're a big fan of Gothic novels I would recommend this book, but if you are only a casual fan, I recommend that you read something else.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Long And Twisted Trip Beyond Twisted River

So I was really, really excited when I got an advance copy of the new John Irving book through the Amazon Vine program. Too bad the book turned out to be a total dud. I think true Irving fans should give it a read just to see how Irving's work has changed, but I would not recommend this to the casual reader.

John Irving's "Last Night in Twisted River" begins in the mid 1950s in the isolated logging town of Twisted River. A cook and his son are about to be drawn into a series of events that will change their lives forever. After the events, the cook decides to take his son on the run, and the next 50 years of their lives are shrouded in tragedies related to the events of that one fateful night.

I felt like "Twisted River" was an apt title for this book--since as a reader I felt like I was being twisted and turned on a wild goose chase that lasted for 500 plus pages. The book was long, it was meandering, and it simply is not Irving at his best. The core of the story is simple--the cook makes a decision after a misunderstanding to save his son, and the two of them spend the remainder of the book running as a result. However, the book lingers on this point for too long, and I felt like the characters never grew beyond their actions. Also, the book is broken into segments set in each decade following the 1950s, but instead of focusing on the events happening in that decade, it typically jumps back to events that happened previously. This made it hard for me as a reader to follow the book, since I never knew exactly where in time I was. When coupled with the slow moving plot, this made the book almost unreadable in sections.

If you are an Irving fan, I would recommend that you read this book to see how his approach to writing has changed. If you are considering this as your first experience with Irving, I would suggest that you start instead with one of his classics, such as "A Prayer for Owen Meaney" or "The Cider House Rules".

Monday, October 12, 2009

Happy Birthday Ratskellar Reads!

So turns out today is a big day! Not just because I'm off work to celebrate Mr. Columbus, but because when I opened my calendar this morning I discovered that this little blog is officially 1 year old today!

When I started a year ago, I was turning to blogging more as a way to keep track of what I read for me than for anything else. Now, a year later, I think that blogging has turned into a great way for me to share my thoughts on books with my friends and family. I know many of you have asked me about books that I've reviewed, and a few of you have even read some of them! It's always nice to think that people are reading my reviews!

So to commemorate this day, a review of one of my favorite recent reads. I'm hoping that this anniversary will encourage me to post a bit more regularly (I'm still reading, I just am having a hard time updating!).

"Julie and Julia" is Julie Powell's memoir about the year she tried to cook all of Julia Child's recipes in "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" (MAoFC). Much like the movie with the same name, the book is as much about Julie's life--her marriage, her friendships, her thankless job--as it is about cooking. Unlike the movie, this book is really just about Julie, there is very little "real" Julia Child in this book. The only Julia in this book is the one in Julie's head, who almost like an imaginary friend, cheers Julie on as she make her way through MAoFC and helps her to discover an inner passion for cooking and how it brings people together.

I really enjoyed this book. I thought Julie was honest and funny about the challenges of being young and direction-less in modern urban America. I found it interesting to see how Julie used the project to discover a real passion in herself and to provide herself a purpose that ultimately led her to fulfilment (and an extra 15 pounds of butter weight!). That being said, I don't agree with everything that Julie said or did, and yes she could be a little self centered at times. But this is her memoir, so she has a right to share the world from her perspective.

If you are drawn to this book because you loved the movie--be warned, this Julie is a much more colorful (in both language and personality), well drawn character than the Julie in the movie, who in my opinion was sanitized into a typical romantic comedy heroine. Yes there are a lot of incidents that were in the movie that are also in the book. But the book is really about Julie and her life, not Julia Child. That being said, I loved both the book and the movie, but recognize them as two distinct works.

If you're interested in reading about how one woman found herself through the completion of an unreasonable project that most people would never even think of undertaking, this book is for you. It shows Julie's project as it was--with all of the messes, curses and challenges that it contained. If you go into the book knowing that, I don't think you'll be dissapointed.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Classic Love Story Set Against the Niagra--Cathy Marie Buchanan's "The Day The Falls Stood Still"

So I seriously have not had much time for reading recently. Fall, that season I thought was going to be slower, seems to be flying by just as fast as summer did. And my evenings for the last week or so have been totally devoured by my other blog project, which just relaunched on But hopefully now that it's done I'll have more time for reading! I have a couple of books I'm really excited about waiting for me--so that should be a good incentive.

This book had been on my TBR pile for a while, and I finally made time for it about two weeks ago. It was a pretty engaging read, even if it did feel a little too light on the history to be categorized as historical romance.

"The Day The Falls Stood Still" follows the life of Bess, a 17 year old rich girl who lives in Niagara Falls, Canada in 1915. After a chance meeting on a trolley car, Bess falls hard for Tom, the local riverman. They court in secret and ultimately Bess defies her family to marry Tom. Tom then ships off to World War I, and when he returns, nothing in Niagara Falls is the same as he left it. Will Bess and Tom be swept up in the change that surrounds them, or will they resist in an attempt to save themselves and the river they love.

"The Day The Falls Stood Still" is a classic love story--rich girl meets and falls in love with poor boy--mixed with the history of the eras around World War I and industrial change. Although much of the plot was predictable--if you've read one of these stories before, you can pretty much figure out what is going to happen--the historical element really provided an interesting twist, and I found myself completely sucked in to this story. I do feel like it was uneven at times, with some passages being completely riveting page turners, but others slower and more mellow. I really liked how the river itself was integrated into the story, becoming almost another character and companion for the protagonists.

If you enjoy historical romance this would be a good read for you. I am interested to see what else Cathy Buchanan writes, since this was a pretty strong first effort.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

And the Greatest Hit of the Fall Continue On--Anita Shreve's "A Change In Altitude"

Our fall of bestsellers to be continues on with Anita Shreve (who I love) and "A Change in Altitude". I was quite disappointed by the last Shreve book, but this one did not let me down!

"A Change in Altitude" Anita Shreve's new novel, follows a young wife, Margaret, to Kenya in the mid-1970s. A few months after arriving in Kenya, Margaret and her husband agree to join two other couples on a mountain climbing expedition. While on the mountain a disaster strikes, and its repercussions threaten to tear Margaret's marriage apart. The rest of the novel follows the next year in her life, but will she and her marriage survive life in Kenya?

I really enjoyed this book from Anita Shreve. I've been a fan since at least "Fortune's Rocks" and I think I've read just about all of Shreve's novels. I was very disappointed by her last work "Testimony" and I found "A Change in Altitude" to be a return to the Shreve I know and love. Like many of her previous novels, "Change" gets inside its protagonist's head and stays there for the duration of the novel, exploring her thoughts and emotions and she tries to overcome the challenges of young married life in a strange and distant country. I thought Shreve did a good job of capturing the unique experiences of a young marriage, particularly how individuals can still be learning about each other early in their union. She also paints a vivid picture of Kenya in the 1970s--from the soaring vistas to the political turmoil rocking the country.

If you're an Anita Shreve fan you should definitely pick up this book. And if not, I think this might be a good one to try her out on. Although not as strong as "The Pilot's Wife" or "The Last Time They Met" this is one of her better recent offerings.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

My Most Anticipated Book of the Fall! Audrey Niffenegger's "Her Fearful Symmetry"

So I'll be the first to admit that I was very late coming to the Audrey Niffenegger fandom. I was probably the last woman in America to read "The Time Traveler's Wife" (I only read it this summer after I stole a copy off of a friend's bookshelf!) but I still LOVED it. So how excited was I when the buzz started circulating about Niffenegger's new book. And how ecstatic was I when a review copy showed up on my doorstep. I think there was much squealing and jumping around here at the Ratskellar.

So did it live up to my expectations, and will it survive all of the hype. I think yes and yes. This is an excellent sophomore effort and I just can't wait to see what Ms. Niffenegger gives us next!

Audrey Niffengger's second novel "Her Fearful Symmetry" focuses on the Noblin family and it's two sets of twins--a mother and aunt to two teenage sisters--and the terrible secret that ties them all together. When the two teenagers are left an apartment in London by an aunt they've never met, the girls believe the apartment is their chance to escape their mundane life in the suburbs of Chicago. But soon after moving to London, the girls realize there is something not right with their apartment. With the help of their reclusive neighbors, the girls discover the building's secret and ultimately must make decisions about their own lives based on what they discover.

I loved this second effort from Niffengger, author of the bestselling "Time Traveler's Wife". The book is genuinely creepy as a ghost story, and Niffengger does a great job of weaving the different elements of the novel together to create a creepiness throughout the narrative. There are enough twists in the plot to keep you guessing, and Niffengger's obvious talent as a novelist is once again on display. Niffengger spends a great deal of time sketching each of her characters for the reader, so this book really has the feel of an ensemble piece rather than a novel with just a few central characters.

Some of the elements that worked so well in "Time Traveler's Wife" are back again, including Niffengger's use of fantastic/scifi elements to add a unique dimension to her work. Niffengger's strong narrative voice is also back, and it does a good job of pulling the reader right into this story.

I think if you enjoyed "Time Traveler's Wife" you will also enjoy this novel. Be warned that it's very different from "Time Traveler" but in a good way--you don't really want to read the same story twice!

Monday, September 7, 2009

A View of the Dystopic Future--Margaret Atwood's "The Year of the Flood"

So I was listening to the radio in the car yesterday, and there was a piece on about how this fall is the season where publishers are pulling out all the stops. There was speculation that its because the new Dan Brown book is expected to pull readers into bookstores, so publishers are rushing books by other big authors to market so they will also be bestsellers.

It was like it all clicked in place for me. I guess I have read books by a lot of big authors so far this fall. And overall, it's been a mixed bag. Some are good, some not so much. It will be interesting to see how they all do in stores.

But enough editorializing and on to today's book. This is one from one of those "big authors" mentioned in the story--Margaret Atwood--and she takes us to one of her familiar future dystopias for her new novel "The Year of the Flood."

Margaret Atwood's new novel "The Year of the Flood" returns her readers to the future dystopian world she created in 2003's "Oryx and Crake". A super virus created by human scientists as a pleasure drug has quickly killed almost all of the human race. A few survivors remain, but they must fight against each other and the animal super splices created by humans before the virus, to survive. This book focuses on two women--Toby and Ren--both former members of the God's Gardners cult who each believe they are the only person left on the planet. As Toby and Ren fully discover the horrors of their new world they realize what a struggle it will take to survive.

This novel is a classic Atwood dystopian nightmare, where some of the scariest aspects of modern society of gotten loose to disasterous effect. Similar to in Oryx and Crake, what is loose here is genetic engineering and corporate greed, which together have left human society vulenrable to a super virus. If you have liked Atwoods previous works along this line (Oryx and Crake, the Handmaid's Tale) then you will enjoy this novel. If not, then this is probably something you should skip.

Personally I find Atwood's novels to be a terrifying vision of what a future American society could be, and a wake up call regarding current societal excess. I only wish that this novel had a more concrete ending, it felt like it should have had a to be continued page. But overall, this was well worth the read.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

So have you ever read a book where, overall, you really like the book but there was just something that bugged you about it? Like you would have really loved it if only something had been right instead of the way that it actually was in the book?

Well this was one of those books for me. And there were two things that bugged me. First off the cover. Don't but a redhead on the cover when the protagonist is supposed to have dark curly hair!! We dark curly haired girls need all the love we can get! Second, this novel reached a point where there were just too many bad things happening to the main character. No one has a day that bad, and it just got to be a bit too much.

But after I was able to set aside those two things, I really enjoyed this book. It's a good mother-daughter, coming of age story.

Laura Moriarty's "While I'm Falling" follows Veronica, a junior in college at the University of Kansas as her life slowly unravels in the late fall. Veronica is trying to do it all--succeed as a pre-med major, work as an RA, keep a healthy relationship with her boyfriend Tim, and stay on the sidelines of her parent's messy divorce. But when Veronica agrees to drive a coworker and his girlfriend to the airport one icy morning, an innocent car crash sets of a series of events that will cause Veronica's neat life to unravel. But ultimately her troubles will be superseded by her mother Natalie's problems. The experience draws the two women closer together, but how much will they have to give up to survive?

I really, really enjoyed this book. It was my first encounter with Moriarty, who is obviously a gifted storyteller with a talent for telling the emotional side of everyday American lives. I felt like my heart was twisting with every turn of Vernoica and Natalie's lives, and I was really cheering for them to make it out okay in the end. The emotionally relationships between the different characters in the novel was really rich, and I enjoyed how Moriarty fit the family together as a whole over the course of her novel.

If you enjoy stories about everyday women in difficult times with a focus on their emotional struggles, this is a book for you.

Monday, August 24, 2009

An Honest Account of One Man's Struggle with Food Frank Bruni's "Born Round"

I seem to be having pretty good luck with the review copy gods right now. They are putting some really good/exciting titles in my way and I simply have no choice but to snatch them right up!

This was one ARC that I was super, super excited to get my hands on. I've always enjoyed Bruni's columns in the New York Times, and glad to see that he was offering this book up as a consolation prize since he's leaving the food critic's job. The book was full of Bruni-esq wit while being brutally honest. It's good to know that some famous-ish people have problems just like the rest of us. And now for a review...

Frank Bruni's new memoir Born Round chronicles the longtime New York Times columnist's lifelong struggle with food. Born into a large Italian family where cooking is a contact sport, Bruni begins to struggle with his weight as a child, and continues to struggle with it into adulthood and beyond. He tries all manner of fad diets and even eating disorders and drugs before discovering his holy grail for consumption in his mid-30s--eat food in small portions and exercise constantly. He finally has his weight and his life under control when he embarks on a great food journey--becoming the food reviewer for the Times.

I loved this memoir, and I'm not usually a huge memoir fan. Bruni gives overeating and excess weight a very human face that anyone who has ever struggled to balance a love of food and weight can appreciate. The same wit that made his columns must reads in the weekly Times food section (and I don't even live in NYC!) make this a wonderful read. The book is at times laugh out loud funny, and at other times deeply emotional. It helps that Bruni has led a very interesting life and his tidbits about life as a reporter--particularly while on the campaign trail with President George W. Bush in 1999 and 2000--just lend more color to this already very colorful book.

If you're looking for an enjoyable and fast read, I would recommend this book. However I will warn that the book contains material about eating disorders, so if you are sensitive about this subject, or fad dieting, you might want to avoid. Bruni does not advocate these things, but he is honest about his experiences.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Landing in the Middle of August with a Dud--Hester Browne's "The Finishing Touches"

So after starting August with a bang, I slowed down a bit because I had a bit of a dud. No need to go into how it was a dud here--I'll let the review speak for itself.

Hester Brown's "The Finishing Touches" is set at an English finishing school in London that has seen better days. The school's spiritual leader Franny has just died, and the school's old fashioned ways has left it with just four hopeless and spoiled students. When the owner of the school asks his adopted daughter, Betsy, to try to figure out how to bring back the school's old glory, she decides a rapid modernization campaign is necessary to bring the school back to life. But will Betsy save the school before it's too late?

"The Finishing Touches" was a cute concept, but I feel like it needed more substance. The main characters--Betsy, her friend Liv, and the girls at the school--all seemed interesting enough, but I kept wishing that they would actually DO something. The novel felt like exposition, exposition, and more exposition, with very little action until the very end. When the action started it was very good and I enjoyed reading it, I just wish it had started on page 50, instead of on page 350. Ms. Brown is obviously a talented writer, and she did a great job developing the relationship between Betsy and Liv and Betsy and her adopted mother Franny. I just wish she had put some of that talent into developing an interesting and cohesive narrative throughout this novel.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Old Favorites with New Novels--Jennifer Weiner's "Best Friends Forever"

I've been a longtime fan of Jennifer Weiner's, so I was super excited when I heard she had a new book coming out this summer. I think Weiner is as good as chick lit gets, and who doesn't enjoy some frothy reading along with all those other joys of summer.

I wasn't dissapointed by this book at all--in fact, I was glad that Weiner decided to branch out some and try something a little bit new. Her Jewish girl in Philly thing was getting a bit old, so it was good to see a different setting, different pace, different approach to the central story.

Jennifer Weiner's 7th novel "Best Friends Forever" is set in a suburban town outside of Chicago. Addie Downs has been an outsider her whole life, and now in her early 30s she is single and friendless. That is until Addie's old best friend Val shows up one night on Addie's steps. Val quickly pulls Addie into her world, which forces Addie to reflect on why their friendship had dissolved 15 years earlier. As the two women come back together Addie is forced to examine her own life and wonders if her best friend might just help her find what she's been searching for.

I'm a big Jennifer Weiner fan, and I was worried that Ms. Weiner might have lost some of her trademark wit and human touch after her last novel, Certain Girls. Well, I'm happy to report that Ms. Weiner is back in full force with Best Friends Forever! The novel's central heroine is a classic Weiner girl, but she's far enough away from her previous characters that you don't feel like you're reading the same story you've already read. There are parts of the novel that are among the most touching things I've read in Chick Lit--Addie caring for her dying mom, and her handicapped brother, to name a few.

This is a super quick read with it's pseudo crime and chase plot, but it's a fun summer read. If you're looking for a carbon copy of Ms. Weiner's previous books, this isn't it. But if you're looking for something a little bit different that still has Ms. Weiner's signature flair, I would recommend this book.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Starting August Off With Right--With Reading!

So, in an attempt to make August a bit more of a successfull reading month than July, I'm taking advantage of this quiet weekend to get some reading in. Yay! Which means I managed to power through the last 200-odd pages of Pat Conroy's new novel "South of Broad" in the past 24 hours. And watch Marley and Me and the new Harry Potter (finally!). It's amazing how much you can get done with insomnia!

Anyways, on to "South of Broad". As I say in the review below, this was a really mixed read for me. I wouldn't say I didn't like it, because there were parts of the novel that I love. But then there were other things that made me say "no way, this is ridiculous!". So read my recap below and make a decision for yourself--this is expected to be one of the biggest books of the fall and it will be released on September 15.

Pat Conroy's "South of Broad" focuses on the life of Leo King, a newspaper columnist in Charleston, SC, and his close knit group of friends. The book focuses on two periods in Leo's life, his senior year in high school 1969-1970 and a tumultuous year 20 years later in 1989-1990. Although Leo is blessed with a large and generous circle of friends and deep religious faith, his life is filled with a series of trials and heartbreaks that are recounted in this sweeping epic of a novel.

This was my first encounter with Pat Conroy, and I mostly picked up the book because it was much buzzed about as one of the biggest books of the fall. I think the word that best describes this work is uneven. There were some parts of this novel that I loved, where the story was rich and the writing matched some of the best I have ever read. But then there were other parts that seemed contrived and unrealistic to me, and by the end of the novel so many things happen to Leo that I felt like Conroy had thrown everything but the kitchen sink at me. When put together, these contrasts diminished the book for me. Conroy obviously has a gift for capturing human emotion and the richness that is found in relationships between people. But I think this book simply tries to do too many things. The essence of 3 or 4 really great stories lie in this novel, when put all together they just make one jumbled whole.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Perfection? Well Not as a Reader This Month Anways.

So what ever happened to those summers of my childhood, where I would spend days upon days curled up with seemingly endless stacks of books? Apparently, like so many of the sweet things that fill our childhoods, those days went the way my American Girl dolls and watercolors. Being a grown up--at least for me--means being uber busy and uber delinquent in my reading. Not that I'm complaining about spending a week at the beach and then a week in Europe, but I do have to admit a bit of guilt as I see my TBR pile grow and grow...

But luckily during my trip I did manage to finish one book and start another (time on an airplane can be good for that!)

Julie Metz's "Perfection" is a memoir of the time in her life immediately after her husband Henry's death. A few months after being rocked by Henry's sudden death, Julie discovers something even more earth shattering--that Henry had carried out a number of affairs, including a long term affair with one of Julie's friends. As Julie unravels the secrets surrounding Henry's infidelity, she must come to terms with what this means for the lives of her and her daughter and decide how she will go on living.

This book is catharsis as memoir. The emotions in this memoir are raw, rich, and at times, painful to read. Metz does not hide any of herself from her reader, and you can see the characteristic 12 steps of grief as she recovers from the dual blows of losing her husband and then losing his memory. I found her emotional response moving, but only to a point, and then the memoir seems to shift into self pity. As the self pity begins, I just wanted to shake Metz and tell her to look at all of the good things she has in her life. Ultimately she realizes this herself and moves on, which gives the memoir an uplifting, you-can-overcome tone at its end.

I thought this was one of the more interesting memoirs I've read. I would caution readers that this is an emotional work and it may be too much for you if you are sensitive about the subject matter.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Beach Reading and a Reading Spin

So, we just got back from a week at the beach. And what is the beach great for? READING! I'm not so much of an ocean person, so much of my beach vacay was spent in one of these guys, curled up with a good book!

And what a great book it was--Colum McCann's "Let the Great World Spin." Yes, the book is dense, it takes a long time to get into and it is not exactly light beach reading. But McCann has really created something amazing in this book--with its emotions so rich and raw they simply jump off the page. This book is sure to be in contention for all of the big awards at the end of the year--it's already made Amazon's Best of the Year So Far List--so if big literary novels are your thing, I suggest you read this now so you know what all the buzz is about!

Colum McCann's "Let the Great World Spin" follows the lives of a group of individuals immediately before and after Philippe Petit walked a tightrope between the World Trade Center on August 7, 1974. Although the book does not feature Petit as one of its central characters, the lives of all of the main characters intersect with Petit's walk in a key way, creating a neat puzzle around the event. The book looks at people from all walks of life in NYC in the 1970s--from Bronx hookers to a Park Avenue matron. As the lives of each of these people comes together you wonder who will survive this vicious city, where people and souls seem to be eaten alive.

This was the first work I had ever read by McCann, and wow, was I impressed. McCann is a master storyteller and the way he weaves words together creates such vivid pictures, you feel like you can smell the smoke from the burning Bronx. While this novel wasn't my typical style--it is much darker and rawer than what I typically read--McCann's literary gifts can only leave a reader in awe. I did have a few problems with the structure of the novel--the jumping from character to character sometimes felt jumpy and abrupt, but I think this technique was intended to jar the reader--mimicking the realities of life in 1970s New York. The ending also felt out of place to me.

While this is not exactly light summer reading, I would definitely recommend this book to fans of great english literature. This work has marked McCann as one of the greats of the modern world, and I can't wait to see what else he produces.

Monday, July 6, 2009

A Little Vacation Reading

So we're on vacation this week at the Delaware seashore! I love it down here--so peaceful and fun. Of course vacation does give me a chance to catch up on all of that reading that I didn't get done in June. What a relief!

I've been moving a bit away from review copies recently to read some books recommended to me by friends. I always enjoy recommending books to others, and I'm interested to see what others recommend to me. This review is of a wonderful book that I practically snatched from Elizabeth's bookshelf when I saw she had it, since I had wanted to read it for a while. And like I say in the review--I don't know why I waited so long! Unfortunately, I don't have high hopes for the movie coming out later this summer--leave it to Hollywood to much up a great book like this.

"The Time Traveler's Wife" follows the life of Henry, a man with a strange genetic mutation which makes him travel through time spontaneously. The one thing in life that makes Henry's life worth living is Clare, his wife, who he lives with in the present and visits through time. Although Henry and Clare's love is complicated and challenged by Henry's time traveling, in some ways it makes their bond stronger. This beautiful love story gives a whole new angle to "I will love you forever".

I don't know why I waited so long to read this book--it was fantastic! The time traveling aspect of the novel does take a little getting used to--but I found that I got used to it pretty quickly. Niffenegger's writing style is vivid and emotional, which does a great job of pulling the reader right into Henry's world. The book reads fast, which left me quickly wishing there was more of it to enjoy!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Happy July and An Oldie But A Goodie!

Happy July! I'm excited that July is finally here, because it means we're leaving for our annual beach vacation on Saturday. woohoo!

But first up, a review of a book that I think everyone but me read in the late 90s, Joyce Carol Oates' "We Were the Mulvaneys". This book got a lot of attention then, since it was selected for the Oprah Book Club. I don't know why it took me so long to read, but finally the recommendation of a friend got me started. After a slow start to the book where I wasn't really sure if I was going to like it, I was so happy I devoted the time to this novel. In the end it was powerful--a real picture of human emotional suffering. I know what you're thinking--great beach read, huh? But it really was great, and I thank Jen for recommending!

Joyce Carol Oates' "We Were the Mulvaneys" follows the fallout in the lives of the Mulvaney family of upstate New York as the result of one fateful night. February 14, 1976--the Mulvaney's only daughter, Marianne, attends the prom at the local high school and high on her popularity makes a mistake and ends up being raped. Marianne's unwillingness to face her accuser in court ultimately rips the family apart--alienating the three Mulvaney sons, disolving the parent's marriage, all as Marianne struggles to find an identity for herself as the exiled fallen hero of the family. The novel follows the family for 20 years--and leaves the reader wondering throughout--will they be the Mulvaneys again?

This is an excellent and powerful work from Oates. The story is told primarily from the perspective of three of the children--Judd, Patrick, and Marianne--although Judd is introduced as the primary storyteller at the outset of the novel and both of the parents, Mike and Corinne, have their own chapters. The emotion in this novel is raw--the event damages each of the Mulvaneys in their own way, and no one of them will ever be the same. But there is redemption in the way that each of the children ultimately overcomes the event and comes into his/her own as an adult. Their struggles against the ghosts of their past are not easy, but the journey is an emotional one that Oates shares intimately with the reader.

This is an excellent book if you are interested in a rich character study. A wonderful lyrical storyteller, Oates makes parts of this novel sing with rich language and settings. If you enjoy literary fiction, this is a book for you.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Fishing Fleet and Finding Meaning in Life--Julia Gregson's "East of the Sun"

Wow what a weekend! And it's only half over! I've been indulging in my other passion this weekend--baking--making a baby shower cake with my buddy Eileen. I didn't realize piping icing could be such hard work! But it was well worth it! I think tomorrow I'm going to give myself a break and focus on reading, which I'm woefully behind on here at the end of June.

But for now, a book that I think would make a pretty fun summer read, Julia Gregson's "East of The Sun". I find that I'm often drawn to books set in the far east, and I really liked the angle in this book--British expats, looking for meaning in their lives in India as the empire begins to unwind. Check out my review below!

Julia Gregson's "East of the Sun" follows three young English women to India in 1928. Rose is set to be married to Jack, a young army officer. Tor, is hoping to find a husband to escape her awful mother. And Viva is returning to the country where she spent her youth, looking for adventure and hoping to quiet the ghosts of her family members who died in India long ago. Over nearly 600 pages these women find love, danger, excitement but most of all friendship, as they transition from young women into adults, all as Britain's imperial power begins to wind down in a bittersweet way. This book is really a page turner, and pulls you in right from the first chapter. Although the book captures the stories of all three women, it is mostly about Viva, who's complicated life makes for fascinating reading as she fights her instincts and emotions to make peace with herself in India. The whole novel is richly drawn, and I felt like I could see all of the different settings as the women move around the Indian subcontinent. Gregson also does a wonderful job of mixing in the larger societal context of the time--you get a sense of the poverty and political unrest in India, and how it effects the British expats running the country. If you're interested in India, or in the experience of British expats, I would recommend this book to you. Or if you're just looking for an interesting story of women's lives, this is a good one!
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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Iran in the 1970s--Pre Revolution (How Appropriate!) "Rooftops in Tehran"

I've been in a little bit of a reading rut recently. I don't know if it's the busy-ness of summer, my baking explosion last weekend (a boston cream pie, strawberry rhubarb pie, and an apple hand pie all in one weekend was probably too much), or the fact that time just seems to be getting away from me recently. Like now, I just looked down at my clock and said "what?! it can't be that late already!" It certainly can't be because I'm watching more tv, since we LOST HALF OUR CHANNELS AFTER THE DTV SWITCH! BAH!

But here's a review of something I did manage to finish in the last week. Hopefully I'll finish more before the fourth and our big trip to the beach!

I did think it was interesting that my reading of this book coincided with the recent political turmoil and voting irregularities in Iran. I couldn't help thinking about the injustices described in this book as I was hearing about fresh injustices in the news.

"Rooftops in Tehran" follows Pasha, a 17 year old boy living in Tehran through one summer that will forever change his life. Pasha lives in a middle class alleyway in Tehran, and is surrounded by friends. When he falls for Zari, the fiance of his idol, Doctor, Pasha begins to question some of the traditions of the Persian people. After Doctor is arrested and killed for subversive activities, Pasha and Zari become closer, until one fateful day when Zari makes a decision that will change their lives forever. Will Pasha recover enought to pursue his longtime dreams in America? Or will the Iranian state drag him down too?

"Rooftops in Tehran" is a hearwrenching story, different from some other novels about Iranian oppression because it is set during the rein of the Shah, rather than after the Iranian revolution. The novel is vehemently anit-American at points, which is historically accurate, but still interesting and brave in a novel marketed in the US. Although overall I enjoyed the book, I did have a couple of major problems, including the ending (which I found extremely unrealistic) and the narrative voice, which was simply too choppy for me to get really comfortable with. There is a lot of time jumping in the first part of the novel which really threw me off, as well as the very stacatto voice of our first person narrator Pasha.

I would recommend this book to others who are interested in Iran during the period before the revolution. The book does not shy away from some of the more brutal parts of the regime, so it really does provide an interesting look.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

It's a New York Themed Day!

So, as you all know, we took a little trip to NYC at the end of May. Before we went, I made a list of things I wanted to see that related to my two favorite things, reading and baking! Sadly, as always happens, this trip ended up going a bit too fast and I ran out of time before I ran out of things to do on my list! But good for you readers, I managed to do a few more things on the
reading sights list than I did on the baking list. But then, there's always the next trip :-)

First up, the famous NY Public Library in beautiful Bryant Park:

I loved how they had little book kiosks in the park:

And of course, no book lovers visit to New York is done without a visit to the famous Strand bookstore (18 miles of books!):

So I came home loving New York, and needed something to extend the feeling. I chose a book set in revolutionary New York, a period which I'm always interested in:

Christine Blevins' "The Tory Widow" opens 10 years before the revolution when Anne, a young woman, is getting married to a much older, and meaner, man. After her wedding, Jack Hampton a young printer kisses her spontaneously, causing Anne to fantasize about what her life could have been if she had been allowed to marry someone like Jack. Ten years later and Anne is a widow when she meets Jack again when he torments her for being a Tory. Anne soon becomes a Patriot, and along with the help of Jack and others, carries out espionage against the British during the occupation of New York. Will Anne and Jack be able to evade the British, or will their Patriot actions be foiled?

Overall, I enjoyed reading "The Tory Widow" although I will admit that the book was uneven, and there were parts that I enjoyed more than others. I wish Blevins had stuck with telling the story from Anne's perspective, instead of switching between Anne and Jack. Blevins had a stronger voice and seemed like a better writer when writing from Anne's perspective. I got a little bored during Jack's sections, since I read the book because I wanted a woman's perspective, not a mans. I think Blevins did a lot of research, and her portrayal of the period feels accurate. I just would have preferred if she had stuck with a single perspective.

If you are interested in the Revolutionary period, especially in New York City, I would recommend this book. It's a fun romance romp through the revolutionary period, just be warned if you don't like shifting narrators.

So what do you think, Lower Manhattan looks a little different than in Anne's time, no?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Just a Quick Update...

...To let you all know that Katherine Howe has a guest post on Devourer of Books today! I really enjoyed "The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane" and it's interesting to see a little bit of Howe's story about writing the book!

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Trip to the Far East, The West Coast, and Through Sisterly Trials in Lisa See's "Shanghai Girls

Update on NYC pictures: I promise they're still coming, I'm just having a few technical difficulties with Picasa (really, I'm just out of space) so they've been delayed.

But to tide you over, a review of one of the most talked about books this summer season, from the wildly successful author of "The Snow Flower and the Secret Fan."

Lisa See's latest novel "Shanghai Girls" opens in Shanghai in the late 1930s. Pearl and May Chin are beautiful girls who pose for calendars. One day, their lives changes suddenly when they discover their father has sold them as brides to brothers from America, all to cover his gambling debts. The girls eventually make it to America, only after narrowly escaping the Japanese invasion and the US Immigration Station at Angel Island. The girls enter America with a terrible secret, one that will pull them apart and push them together over the next 20 years of their lives.

This was the first Lisa See book that I've read, and I thought the plot was interesting, along with the perspective of the sisters of their life in America and the discrimination they faced. However, I thought the story was lacking in some of the richness I've come to expect from authors with as much buzz around them as See. The novel felt sparse in places, and would have benefited from some description of the people and places surrounding the women. I also disliked the pacing of the novel in places--it seemed to move much to slowly in the first half, and too quickly in the second half. And the story ended with a real cliff hanger, which left me feeling frustrated as a reader. I enjoyed the time I spent with these characters, so I hope See does a sequel, but it was a let down at end.

If you are a fan of See, I would recommend this book. I would also recommend this if you are a fan of Asian Gothic stories, or if you are looking for a good summer read. There are serious topics in this book, but it shouldn't be too heavy for a summer read.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

New York--In Real Life and Books!

So Noel (that's Mr. Reader) and I just returned from a trip to New York City, and boy was it wonderful.  I often feel like I read a lot of books set in the Big Apple, so it's good to get to see the places I've read so much about.  I'm working on putting together a little post on the reading related sites we saw in NYC, but for now I simply have a New York themed review for you!

I finished "The Late, Lamented Molly Marx" immediately before we left for New York, and I kept thinking I spotted characters from it as we tooled around the city.  It could just be that Koslow does a good job capturing the city, or that I really enjoyed the book, but it made the trip a little more fun imagining the characters in the city this past weekend.  And now for the actual review...

"The Late, Lamented Molly Marx" features the title character retelling portions of her life and observing the actions of the people she loved from the Duration--her version of the afterlife. Molly slowly unfolds the path that led her to be Mrs. Marx, a mother, and ultimately a woman involved with another man. As she, along with the people she is still following on earth, find out how she died Molly discovers who she really was in life, along with her strengths, weaknesses, and friendships. 

Although from the summary it sounds like "Molly Marx" might be totally depressing, this book is actually funny, warm, and at times touching. The emotion the author describes as Molly looks down on those she left on earth feels real, and the story offers an interesting technique for the author to use to allow a woman to consider her life as a whole, including her faults. The characters were not all likable, which made them all more realistic. I really enjoyed this book, and the way the author unfolded the story, even if I wish it had ended slightly differently. 

I would recommend this as a good summer beach read. It's a quick read and a great example of smart chick lit.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

And Now Just In Time for Summer--Witches!

For my first review of the summer reading season, I chose the much hyped "Physick Book of Deliverance Dane".  This book is seriously everywhere--People, Real Simple, Entertainment Weekly--not to mention it was an advance read for both Barnes and Noble and Amazon's Vine Program.  I don't know about all the hype.  While the book was enjoyable, it is a bit heavy for a real summer page turner.  Check out my review below and see what you think.

"The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane" follows Connie, a PhD candidate in history at Harvard as she spends a summer trying to clean out her grandmother's old abandoned house in Marblehead MA. Soon after arriving at the house, Connie finds a key with the strange name of "Deliverance Dane" attached. Strange things start happening to Connie as she searches for facts about Deliverance, who Connie coincidentally thinks might make a good subject for her dissertation in American Colonial History. After a whole bunch of twists and turns, Connie discovers her family's long hidden secret, and knows she must embrace it to save the ones she loves. 

I like the premise of "Deliverance Dane" and I think Katherine Howe's experience as a historian makes her a vivid storyteller, particularly in the sections of the book set in the 17th and 18th centuries. The scenes with Deliverance and her daughter Mercy, in particular, were excellent, and I felt like I could almost smell the fire smoke in their cramped cottage. Howe has an interesting take--what if witches were real--of this often over analyzed period in American history. 

The downfall of this book, however, was the storyline set in the present day. The story with Connie, while strong at points, felt a bit contrived, and the book definitely took a hard turn towards fantasy in its last 100 pages. This isn't exactly what I was expecting in a book where the main character is a historian, and I probably could have gone with it if the story had not gotten so wild at the end. There were certainly some charming elements, and the threads of a good story, but I think the book needed more detail in parts to really flesh it out and make it feel more complete. 

I am interested to read other works by Katherine Howe, especially her historical work since she did such a great job portraying historical scenes. I would recommend this book to you if you want a quick summer read and you don't mind the fantastical.