Friday, December 20, 2019

OLIVE, AGAIN (2019)


Olive, AgainOlive, Again by Elizabeth Strout
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Olive Kitteridge published in 2008, won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize. My book club chose to read the book before it became a movie (which I still haven't seen and am not sure I would want to). Not everyone found Olive to be a sympathetic character. She is abrasive and sometimes thoughtless but not a bad person. She may remind you of yourself sometimes.

On November 7, 2019 I received the gift of life -  a kidney transplant. Among the wonderful results of this surgery, I was able to start reading once more. I picked up Olive, Again and continued reading where I had left off. The short story  "Light" was about Cindy Coombs and dealing with illness. It spoke directly to me.

FIRST LINE: "In the early afternoon on a Saturday in June, Jack Kennison put on his sunglasses, got into his sports car with the top down, strapped the seat belt over his shoulder and across his large stomach, and drove to Portland - almost an hour away - to buy a gallon of whiskey rather than bump into Olive Kitteridge at the grocery store here in Crosby, Maine."

THE STORY: "I do not have a clue who I have been. Truthfully, I do not understand a thing."

Revisiting Elizabeth Strout's iconic character, Olive Kitteridge once again becomes the glue holding together the thirteen interlocking stories about human loneliness. Olive is older now and has begun to experience the trials and tribulations of aging. Some stories hit pretty close to home.

WHAT I THOUGHT: One is always a bit apprehensive when approaching a new book by a loved author especially when it is a sequel, but I found and still find Olive to be a fascinating person.

Both the November (written by Joyce Carol Oates) and December (Oprah's Book Club) issues of Oprah Magazine, stories about Elizabeth Stout's new book Olive, Again. Publication was on  October 15, 2019.

One other minor connection was the setting in Maine where we often vacationed when I was growing up. Although Cosby, Maine is fictional, Reid State Park is mentioned and I remember going there to picnic. The author knows how to convey the sense of place in which her characters live.

BOTTOM LINE: I'd read both books. The poignancy that evolves from aging will resonate with readers. The writing is beautiful. The ways Olive appears in the various stories is carefully crafted. Experience Olive for yourself.

Disclaimer: A copy of Olive, Again was provided to me by Random House/Net Galley for an honest review.

Hardcover: 293 pages
Publisher:  Random House (October 15, 2019)
ISBN-10: 1984818236
ISBN-13: 978-1984818232
 
Elizabeth Strout is the author of the New York Times bestseller Olive Kitteridge, for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize; the national bestseller Abide with Me; and Amy and Isabelle, winner of the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize. She has also been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize in London. She lives in Maine and New York City.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

THE SWALLOWS (2019)


The SwallowsThe Swallows by Lisa Lutz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It took me forever to read The Swallows. I was first drawn to the story by the boarding school setting, but the cacophony of voices telling the story in first person was a challenge. And although the story was darkly humorous, it was rather unpleasant. Relevant to the #MeToo conversation, the boys take and share revealing pictures of girls and rate sexual encounters. The battle eventually turns into a war where no one is left unscathed.

FIRST LINE: "Some teachers have a calling. I'm not one of them."

THE STORY: Alex Witt reluctantly takes a job teaching creative writing at an elite Vermont boarding school where her parent's friendship with the Headmaster means her recent past will be overlooked. 

It starts with a simple writing prompt from Alex Witt in her effort to get to know the students. When the answers raise disturbing questions, Ms. Witt suspects there's more going on at the school than the faculty wants to see.

WHAT I THOUGHT: I am always attracted to a story that takes place in a boarding school, but apparently I wasn't the only reader who found the book slow going (It took me over two months to finish.) Filled with anonymous notes and secret meetings, Lutz pays homeage to spy novels with a reference to Magnus Pym, a double agent in a book by John le Carré. The actual writing is sharp and funny. And, by the way, swallow has many meanings. One is "a female agent employed to seduce people for intelligence purposes." You can guess at the others.

I enjoyed her earlier book, The Passenger, a thriller, but I'm not familiar with the Spellman series.

BOTTOM LINE: Some reviewers loved this book, some reviewers did not finish reading. The amount of frank sexual description may be too much for some readers.

Disclaimer: A copy of The Swallows was provided to me by Ballantine Books/Net Galley for an honest review.

Hardcover: 416 pages
Publisher:  Ballantine Books (August 13, 2019)
ISBN-10: 1984818236
ISBN-13: 978-1984818232

Lisa Lutz is the New York Times bestselling author of the six books in the Spellman series, Heads You Lose (with David Hayward), and How To Start A Fire. Her latest offering is the thriller The Passenger (March, 2016 from S&S).

Lutz has won the Alex award and has been nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel. Although she attended UC Santa Cruz, UC Irvine, the University of Leeds in England, and San Francisco State University, she still does not have a bachelor's degree. Lutz spent most of the 1990s hopping through a string of low-paying odd jobs while writing and rewriting the screenplay Plan B, a mob comedy. After the film was made in 2000, she vowed she would never write another screenplay. She lives in the Hudson Valley, New York. .(from Amazon)


Monday, October 14, 2019

Upcoming Reviews Fall 2019


My reading schedule for this fall.

1. Olive, Again (Random House, Oct. 15) by Elizabeth Stout - This is a sequel to her Prize-winning Olive Kitteridge, dealing with the complicated and poignant life of Olive in Crosby, Maine.

2. The Family Upstairs (Atria Books, Nov. 5) by Lisa Jewell - Three siblings who have been out of touch for more than 20 years grapple with their unsettling childhoods, but when the youngest inherits the family home, all are drawn back together. (Kirkus)

3. Palm Beach, Mar-A-Lago, and the Rise of America's Xanadu (Atlantic Monthly Press, Nov. 15) by Les Standiford - The author recounts the creation of the Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, by cereal company heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post and her husband, E.F. Hutton in 1927.

4. Good Girls Lie (Mira, Dec. 30) by J.T. Ellison - The heroine of this high-tension thriller from bestseller Ellison, leaves the U.K. after the death of her parents to attend the Goode School, an exclusive girls’ boarding school in Marchburg, Va.

And these are the books I am reading for In Good Company, our book group:

October - Milkman (Ann Burns)
November - Where the Crawdads Sing (Delia Owens)
December - A Gentleman in Moscow (Amor Towles)

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

29 SECONDS (2019)


29 Seconds29 Seconds by T.M. Logan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There seems to be much repetition and hand wringing by our heroine Sarah in the beginning; but once things start to happen, you'll read right through until the end. A perfect summer choice.

FIRST LINE: "The Rules were simple enough."

THE STORY: Sarah has been playing the academic game and waiting patiently for her reward - a permanent seat on the faculty. Her boss is a well-known BBC personality and a terrible womanizer. He is making Sarah's life unbearable.

Then one day she is given a gift. Having stopped a kidnapping, the child's wealthy father offers Sarah the chance to name a person she would like to disappear. She has 72 hours to decide, but things are never that simple.

You may think you know where this story is going, but there are lots of twists and turns. What a surprising ride!

WHAT I THOUGHT: This is my second book by T.M Logan. My first one was Lies, which I actually liked better; but this was still another great read. The sexual harassment Sarah endures will resonate with many readers.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. Watch for T.M. Logan's newest title The Holiday, which is currently only available in the United Kingdom.

Disclaimer: A copy of 29 Seconds was provided to me by MacMillan/Net Galley for an honest review.

Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher:  Macmillan Press/September 10, 2019
ISBN-10: 1785770802
ISBN-13: 978-1785770807

Bestselling author TM Logan was a national newspaper journalist before turning to novel-writing full time. His debut thriller LIES was one of Amazon UK's biggest ebooks of 2017, selling 350,000 copies and gathering more than 1,400 5-star reviews so far. It was published in the USA in September 2018 and has also come out in South Korea, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Hungary, Serbia, Romania and the Netherlands.
(From Amazon)


Thursday, August 1, 2019

THE LAST TRUE POETS OF THE SEA (2019)


The Last True Poets of the SeaThe Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Taking my own advice, I decided to read several young adult novels. My choices were Scars Like Wings by Erin Stewart and The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake. See May 21, 2019 entry). I should point out that both books won't be available until October 1, 2019.

FIRST LINE: "Fun fact: my great-great-great-grandmother was the lone survivor of a shipwreck."

THE STORY: Drawing comparisons to Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, Violet has been banished to Lyric, Maine for the summer after her brother Sam attempts suicide and is placed in a treatment center.

There Vi meets Orion (Orsino) and Liv (Olivia), who seem to be perfectly suited to each other. She is fascinated by both of them.

As children, Vi and Sam spent hours planning how they would find the shipwreck someday. Their ancestor Fidelia founded Lyric, Maine.  Now the goal becomes an obsession for Vi. 

WHAT I THOUGHT: In general, I do not often read Young Adult books, but this one came highly recommended. In other reviews no one mentioned the complicated language. How the young people communicated was foreign to me and there were many words with which I was not familiar. Abstract and clever, I still found it difficult to follow.

Obviously the world has changed since I was a teen. Some of the content was unexpected: the discussion of specific sex acts, bi-sexuality, depression, and mental illness. Obviously young people today need to be able to relate to the new world they must navigate.

I enjoyed the theatrical aspects, the search for the shipwreck, and the details about the Lyric Aquarium. I wish I had liked the book better.

BOTTOM LINE: Sometimes choppy, sometimes poetic, I guess I would recommend reading this book before sharing it with someone you love. You'll want to be able to discuss how it affects them and you.

Disclaimer: A copy of The Last True Poets of the Sea was provided to me by Hyperion Press/Net Galley for an honest review.

Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher:  Disney-Hyperion (October 1, 2019)
ISBN-10: 1368048080
ISBN-13: 978-1368048088

Julia Drake grew up outside Philadelphia. As a teenager, she played some of Shakespeare's best heroines in her high school theater program, and their stories would stay with her forever. She received her BA in Spanish from Williams College, and her MFA in creative writing from Columbia University, where she also taught writing to first-year students. She currently works as a book coach for aspiring writers and teaches creative writing classes for Writopia, a nonprofit that fosters love of writing in young adults. She lives in San Francisco with her partner and their rescue rabbit, Ned. (From Amazon)

Sunday, July 21, 2019

BIG SKY (2019)


Big Sky (Jackson Brodie, #5)I have been a Kate Atkinson fan since Stephen King raved about Case Histories a number of years ago in Entertainment Weekly. Her earlier books are mostly literate mysteries featuring Jackson Brodie, former police inspector now a private investigator. I loved them all not to mention the free standing Life After Life, which I read twice.

This is the 5th book in the series which includes:
1. Case Histories (2004)
2. One Good Turn (2006)
3. When Will There Be Good News (2008)
4. Started Early, Took My Dog (2011)

Although you don't have to read them in order and Big Sky is certainly able to stand alone, there's much to enjoy by reading the whole series. Visit Kate Atkinson's offical website here.

FIRST LINE: "So what now?" he asked.

THE STORY: Jackson Brodie is living in a quiet seaside village on U.K.'s northeastern coast in order to share custody of his teenage son and an aging dog, with his ex-partner Julia. Now a private investigator his jobs seem reduced to spying on an unfaithful husbands.

While walking along the sea cliff one evening he ends up saving the life of a desperate man which draws him into a sinister network and back across the path of his friend Reggie. Old secrets and new lies intersect.

WHAT I THOUGHT: There are lots of characters to follow in this intricately plotted story with the narrative jumping from present to past and back again (but then that's typical Atkinson). If you pay attention, you'll have a sense of what's happening.

Of course, we are all in love with Jackson Brodie but other characters caught my attention this time out. Nathan, Brodie's recalcitrant son, is a typical teenager especially contrasted with Harry, Crystal's stepson, who is an amazing big brother to his half sister. Crystal herself is a character with a past but a heart of mostly gold. Actually Atkinson finds a way to keep us interested in all the various good and bad actors in the story.

Another bit of fun comes from identifying the popular allusions although I must confess I don't get them all. Doesn't matter. This is great storytelling.

QUOTES: "Perhaps the past was no longer the concept for the present. Perhaps none of it mattered anymore. Was this how the world would end - not with a bang but a 'So'?"

"He was becoming a walking, talking history lesson, a one-man folk museum, except that nobody was interested in learning anything from him."

BOTTOM LINE: All the usual features are here: fascinating characters, an elaborate story line, and literary and social media references. Do be aware that sex trafficking is involved. Highly recommended if you like literate mysteries.

Disclaimer: A copy of Big Sky was provided to me by Little, Brown and Company/Net Galley for an honest review.

Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher:   Little, Brown and Company (June 25, 2019)
ISBN-10: 0316523097
ISBN-13:  978-0316523097

Kate Atkinson’s first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, won the Whitbread (now Costa) Book of the Year Award. She has been a critically acclaimed, bestselling author ever since, with over one million copies of her books in print in the United States.

She is the author of a collection of short stories, Not the End of the World, and of the novels Human Croquet, Emotionally Weird, Case Histories, One Good Turn, When Will There Be Good News?, and Started Early, Took My Dog. Case Histories, which introduced her readers to Jackson Brodie, former police inspector turned private investigator, was made into a television series starring Jason Isaacs.

Kate Atkinson lives in Edinburgh (from Amazon).

Saturday, July 13, 2019

SCARS LIKE WINGS (2019)


Scars Like WingsScars Like Wings by Erin Stewart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Taking my own advice, I decided to read a young adult novel. They tend to be shorter but no less compelling. This one and The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake were my choices. See May 21, 2019 entry). I guess I should point out that both books won't be available until October 1, 2019.

FIRST LINE: "One year after the fire, my doctor removes my mask and tells me to get a life."

THE STORY: What's it like to lose everything you love including yourself? 16 year old Ava survived a fire that left her alone and disfigured. How she faces trying to find a new normal is heartbreaking and inspiring. This is an amazing view into what burn survivors live through, but then all of us have scars, although some aren't as visible.

WHAT I THOUGHT: I was immediately drawn into the story by the awful facts of Ava's situation. At first she turns away from everyone but, forced to go back to high school, she encounters and makes friends with Piper and Asad.

"For each species on the planet, finding this community is not a luxury; it's an essential element of survival."

I loved the social media aspects and the musical theater references. Ava makes some bad decisions that worried me, but these issues were overcome by others who love her enough to help her find appropriate outcomes. Ava's world will never again be what it was before the fire but there is a new normal that is worth living.

BOTTOM LINE: Well written, plotted, and paced, this debut novel is worthy of the attention it has garnered. Although the story is about teenagers, I think anyone can read and take away a message of hope. Appropriate for 12 and over/7-9th grades.

Disclaimer: A copy of Scars Like Wings was provided to me by Delacorte Press/Net Galley for an honest review.

Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher:  Delacorte Press (October 1, 2019)
ISBN-10: 1984848828
ISBN-13:  978-1984848826

Erin Stewart is the author of Scar Like Wings, her debut novel. Erin is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern and a BYU undergraduate who works as a freelance writer and editor, as well as a weekly columnist in Salt Lake City.

Erin lives in Utah with her husband and three children. She is represented by the amazing Brianne Johnson of Writers House.