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 www.990square.com. 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.