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.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Finally An Update!

Due to an unforseen circumstance known as life, it's been a while since I've posted.  I've still been trying to read and review, things just weren't making it onto the blog.  But I'm back!  So look for a few extra reviews over the next few days as I try to catch up!

"The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" is the first installment of a mystery series featuring Flavia de Luce, an 11 year old chemist and detective. In the book Flavia comes to the aid of the local police when a mysterious murder and stamp heist occurs on her family's crumbling English estate. Flavia quickly raps up the mystery, all while successfully tormenting her older sisters. 

I think that perhaps this book is not my ideal "piece of pie". There were parts of "Sweetness" that were quite clever and funny, but there were also parts that I found just dull and mundane. The chemistry and details of stamp collecting in particular, really felt like they weighed down the story, and didn't really seem like things that an 11 year old girl would discuss in detail, for long stretches. I understand that this is part of what makes the book funny, but it was also something that bored me as a reader because of the excruciating detail used to describe it. 

All in all, my feelings about this book were just lukewarm. I didn't love it, but I also didn't think it was terrible. It could make an entertaining beach read, since the plot is very straightforward and easy to figure out. I think I would read another Flavia de Luce book out of curiosity, and I think if you're into mysteries, this could totally be your thing.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

"The House at Riverton" opens in the years before the First World War, with Grace, our narrator, beginning her career of service as a housemaid at Riverton, a great English country estate. Grace is immediately drawn to the children of Riverton--David aged 16, the eldest, Hannah, a boisterous girl of 14, and Emmeline a shy 10 year old. Grace feels an immediate connection with the children, and longs to be included in their secrets. Over the next several years she becomes closer to them, first as they visit the house, then after the death of their grandfather and uncle in the Great War, which leads them to take up permanent residence in the house. Hannah marries soon after turning 18, and decides to take Grace with her as a ladies maid. After marrying, Hannah's life slowly unravels, and she takes Grace with her into her decline. Grace escapes, but only with the knowledge of a terrible family secret. 

Kate Morton is an excellent storyteller, and she does a fantastic job slowly unfolding the secrets of "The House at Riverton." I thought I had figured out the "twist" in this book, but was surprised in the end to find out I had gotten it wrong. Her description of life during and after WWI in England feels authentic, and she does a great job capturing the emotions of the different characters. I do wish she had given us a little bit more about Grace--throughout the novel Grace hints at all of the wonderful things she has done in her life, and I would have liked to read more about them, instead of the novel focusing exclusively on Grace's interactions with the doomed Hartford sisters. 

I came to this novel after reading Morton's more recent "The Forgotten Garden". If you enjoyed that book, I think you won't be disappointed by this one.