REVIEW: Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Almost all of my friends loved Niffenegger’s book The Time Traveller’s Wife — but I didn’t. I thought it was well-written but I hated the ending, which I saw foreshadowed and hoped wasn’t coming (but did).

However, I respect Audrey as a writer and wanted to read her new novel, which sounded compelling: twin sisters inherit a London flat from their mother’s twin whom they have never met, and must live in it for a year. They meet and befriend the other residents of the building, including their aunt’s lover and a crossword-creating genius who suffers from severe anxiety and compulsions. This book, which I got from the library, was part a coming-of-age novel, part mystery, part romance, and part ghost story. And I really, really liked it!!

Throughout this book, I enjoyed the sense that there was a mystery just under the surface. Why didn’t the twins’ mother and aunt talk to each other? What really happened? And the ghost story was intriguing to me, too – though at some points it seemed rather fantastic (ghostly communication through dust on a regular conversational basis). However, thoroughout the story I was immersed in Valentina’s (one of the twins) character development. Would she grow to independence? Would she stay attached to and under the power of her sister? And how much did the twins’ relationship mirror their mother’s and aunt’s? What DID happen to their mother and her sister, and what is being hidden from Valentina and Julia?

While I could certainly see disaster coming down the pike, I did like the ending of this book as I felt it was somewhat redeeming and positive. Each character had their own demons to dispel and most did a pretty good job of it, in one way or another. It wasn’t predictable – at least to me – and the characters who lacked strength seemed to finally get it. (I won’t go into details – that would give too much away!!).

I would give this book 4 Stars!

Review: The Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon

Yes! I have finally finished reading the latest in the “Outlander” series: The Echo in the Bone. This 800+ page tome was a good read, and I had fun getting back in touch with Jamie, Claire, Bri, Roger, and the gang! It was SLOW going for me, though, and took me a bit to finish.

I should admit: I love, love, love this series (which if you haven’t read it, centers on Claire time-travelling from the mid 20th century to the 1700’s in Scotland and all the adventures that ensue). I have often been asked if you need to read the books in order. In my opinion, yes, you do. There are SO many characters and SO many events that popping in during the middle of the series not only doesn’t give you the background knowledge, but does not afford you that thrilling sense of “what is HE (or SHE) doing here??” when characters return to the page unexpectantly.

In this installment, the story is told in three points of view: Claire’s, Brianna’s, and William’s. Claire and Jamie are in America, with their nephew Ian, in the middle of the Revolutionary War. Bri and Roger have brought the kids back to present day (1980’s) Scotland. William is travelling with British troops in America, fighting in the war as well.  The three threads of the novel wind closer and closer together, with characters crossing over between them, until the fast and furious ending, which is a cliff-hanger.

That said, the ending of this novel surprised me (SPOILER ALERT!) because there was no sense of finality. The story left off right when most of the main characters were in trouble or crisis. That didn’t thrill me as I have to wonder how long I’ll need to wait for the next book in the series!! Rereading the last 100 pages of this one will be necessary to reacquaint myself with the various crises that were occurring for them all.

However, it was a comforting feeling to return to the story of Jamie and Claire. Of all the characters, these two- and their relationship – are my favorite. To be honest, Brianna seriously annoyed me in the earlier books, but she has grown on me as well. The characters are linked, in this story, through letters that Jamie and Claire have written to Bri and Roger and left for them to read 200 years later. William’s story runs parallel to Jamie and Claire’s, and to be honest, was rather a dull read for me until we got near the ending. I’ve never gotten into the Lord John Grey series that  class=”hiddenSpellError” pre=”that “>Gabaldon writes as much as I have the “Outlander” series, and William and Lord John, though originally in the “Outlander” books, are characters from them.

Of all the books in this series, I think my favorite was the first one, though I really enjoyed all of the first four. I also really enjoyed A Breath of Snow and Ashes. The Fiery Cross took me 4 starts and some determination to get through. This current book was not my favorite, but it was a good read and it did make me happy to be back with these familiar friends and their adventures! I do purchase all these books so I have them in my home library.

I’d give this book 4 Stars!

REVIEW: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

A friend recently recommended The Help to me, as she thought I would like it. Well, I did like it – a lot!

This story, which takes place in Mississippi in the 1960’s, is told in three voices: that of Aibileen, a black housekeeper and nanny, Minny, a mother of 5 and black housekeeper, and “Skeeter” (Eugenia), a white college graduate who returns home after graduation and is looking for some meaning in life. The perspective and voice in this novel moves back and forth between these three women as they come together for a daring and incredible project (SPOILER alert!): Skeeter decides to anonymously write the stories of 12 black maids, told in their voice, so that America can hear the “real” story of being black and working for white families in Jackson, Mississippi.

This novel is the story of their creative project, along with the personal stories of these three remarkable women – Aibileen: who has raised 17 white children and dearly loves the little girl she is currently in charge of;  Minny: known for being outspoken and proud of being one of the best cooks in the county; and Skeeter, awkward and somewhat shy, yearning to be herself in a society and among people who want her to conform to their ideals and parameters.

I really enjoyed reading this book, which I got from the library. I wanted to keep reading it to see what would happen next. I loved the different voices depicted, and even though the book was sometimes written in dialect (which I can find hard to read), I had no difficulty “hearing” their voices. I found their stories moving, sometimes disturbing, and inspiring. The only problem I had with this book, in truth, (SPOILER alert!) was when Skeeter published the novel anonymously, did she REALLY think no one was going to figure it out that it took place in Jackson?? In truth, that seemed a bit too much to believe, particularly since all the women were telling their stories in detail and they all knew each other and worked for families who knew each other. Changing the name of the town seemed scarcely enough to provide anonymity, and Skeeter seemed so shocked that people figured it out.

Regardless, I just loved this book and would recommend it to those who like to read about strong women and/or the Civil Rights era.

I give this book 4 1/2 Stars!

What I’m Reading…..

First, let me say that I am behind in writing my review of “The Help” – a book which I loved! I will get that out asap. I am currently reading two books: upstairs I’m reading “The Echo in the Bone” – the latest tome from Diana Gabaldon in the Outlander series. Over 800 pages, and it keeps me going! I love, love, love Diana’s books and am enjoying this one. Downstairs I am reading “Ahab’s Wife” – another tome of over 500 pages. I was hoping I wouldn’t like it, so I could return it to the library, but alas, I am loving it! So, it’ll be a while until I do a new review (after “The Help”). In the meantime, sometimes I slip in an “easy” read – usually a Hamish MacBeth book or cozy mystery. I don’t review these if I’ve already reviewed some by the author in the series. Coming out next week is my friend Trilby Kent’s book: “Medina Hill” – a must-read for me! Then I also won a (free) autographed copy of Michelle Moran’s “The Heretic Queen”. Soooo — LOTS of good reading this month!! 🙂

Review: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I came across The Shadow of the Wind at the local Border’s as a book club suggestion and was intrigued by it. So I was thrilled when my online book club chose it for this month.
This novel tells the story of young Daniel Sempere, living in post-WWII Barcelona. His father, a bookseller, lets him choose a book for his tenth birthday. Daniel’s choice is “The Shadow of the Wind”, and this book changes his life. Mystery and intrigue follow this book within a book as Daniel, throughout the years, tries to find its author, Julian Carax, and the other books he has written. Daniel uncovers mysteries that have been covered up for years, as he retraces the steps of Carax’s life, uncovering the people and places that have shaped Carax and his story and that are exerting an effect on Daniel’s life, too.

I just loved this book. The mood of the book was set by the seemingly constant presence of thunderclouds, rain, and candlelight. I loved Daniel’s tenacity, in the face of many obstacles, to solve the mystery of Julian Carax. The sense of gothic mystery in this book was thrilling, and I couldn’t put it down (even though I’ll admit I had figured out the plot twist).

This book was beautifully written, which I often find with books that are translated from Spanish. It has been compared to some of Garbriel Garcia Marquez’ works. I look forward to reading the latest from Ruiz Zafon.

I give this book 4 1/2 Stars!