This Too Shall Pass by Milena Busquets

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This Too Shall Pass

by Milena Busquets

published by Hogarth

I received an advanced review copy of this book from Library Thing as part of the Early Reviewers group in exchange for an honest opinion.

This was an enjoyable, quick read.  Blanca is a forty year old woman from Barcelona who has just lost her mother to a prolonged illness.  She takes her family- children, best friends, ex husbands- to the family beach house on Cadaques- to recover from her grief.  She is reeling from the loss of her mother.  I read this book in about 4 hours and while I enjoyed it and very much want to go to this beach town myself, it was not an extremely deep book.  It definitely left me wanting to know more about everyone in the book.  I wanted to know why Blanca’s mother was such an amazing force in her life, why she divorced both of these amazing men if she still loves them.  All in all, a very enjoyable read.

Summary

Blanca is forty years old and motherless. Shaken by the unexpected death of the most important person in her life, she suddenly realizes that she has no idea what her future will look like.

To ease her dizzying grief and confusion, Blanca turns to her dearest friends, her closest family, and a change of scenery. Leaving Barcelona behind, she returns to Cadaqués on the coast, accompanied by her two sons, two ex-husbands, and two best friends, and makes a plan to meet her married lover for a few stolen moments as well. Surrounded by those she loves most, she spends the summer in an impossibly beautiful place, finding ways to reconnect and understand what it means to truly, happily live on her own terms, just as her mother would have wanted. 

One of my favorite books this year- A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

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A Little Life

by Hanya Yanagihara

published by Doubleday

2015

Thoughts

Yes- this is one of my favorites books this year (which is almost over).  I will be totally honest- this is not a happy book.   Quite the opposite, this is one of the most difficult, depressing books I have ever read, and that usually isn’t my cup of tea.  I am also hesitant to recommend this book lightly.  I will mention how much I liked it, admired the writing, etc, but I always follow it up with this might not be the book for you.  Because it is hard.  It actually hurt reading this book.  I am not sure if I cried this hard since Dumbledore died.

Many people will describe this as a book about four college friends living in Manhattan.  I think it begins that way, but evolves into the story of Jude, and how his friends affect his life.  Jude is a tough character to get involved with.  From the beginning we know he is somehow disabled, his legs permanently  injured.  He doesn’t say an accident, but a car injury.  We slowly get to know more about all four men- Jude, the broken man, Willem, the charismatic actor, JB, the artist, and Malcolm the talented, quiet architect.  As the story centers more on Jude, we come to see the horrible things he has had to live through, and his unrelenting pain, physical and mental, is devastating.

I do recommend this book for someone who will immerse themselves here.  It might leave you feeling hollowed out, as it did me.  But it might also stay with you long after you finish, as it did me- I am still talking about it months after finishing.

  Summary

When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

Quotes-

“I have become lost to the world
In which I otherwise wasted so much time It means nothing to me
Whether the world believes me dead
I can hardly say anything to refute it For truly, I am no longer a part of the world.”

“Sometimes he wakes so far from himself that he can’t even remember who he is. “Where am I?” he asks, desperate, and then, “Who am I? Who am I?”
And then he hears, so close to his ear that it is as if the voice is originating inside his own head, Willem’s whispered incantation. “You’re Jude St. Francis. You are my oldest, dearest friend. You’re the son of Harold Stein and Julia Altman. You’re the friend of Malcolm Irvine, of Jean-Baptiste Marion, of Richard Goldfarb, of Andy Contractor, of Lucien Voigt, of Citizen van Straaten, of Rhodes Arrowsmith, of Elijah Kozma, of Phaedra de los Santos, of the Henry Youngs.
“You’re a New Yorker. You live in SoHo. You volunteer for an arts organization; you volunteer for a food kitchen.
“You’re a swimmer. You’re a baker. You’re a cook. You’re a reader. You have a beautiful voice, though you never sing anymore. You’re an excellent pianist. You’re an art collector. You write me lovely messages when I’m away. You’re patient. You’re generous. You’re the best listener I know. You’re the smartest person I know, in every way. You’re the bravest person I know, in every way.
“You’re a lawyer. You’re the chair of the litigation department at Rosen Pritchard and Klein. You love your job; you work hard at it.
“You’re a mathematician. You’re a logician. You’ve tried to teach me, again and again.
“You were treated horribly. You came out on the other end. You were always you.”

 

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

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The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

by Katarina Bivald

published by Sourcebooks Landmark – Paperback

2016

I received an advance review copy of this book from the publisher through Net Galley in return for an honest opinion.

Thoughts

When a book is compared to another book that I loved, I am usually a sucker and jump right for it.  The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend has been compared to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which is one of my favorites- so of course I jumped at the chance to read it.  I am so happy I did.  I loved the story of how a stranger comes to a broken little town and breathes new life into it.  Sara has lost her job in Sweden and is unsure of what to do with her life.  She decides to visit her pen pal Amy, who lives in Broken Wheel, Iowa, a town that has seen better days.  Amy and Sara have been exchanging letters and books for a while and Amy encourages Sara to visit.  Shen Sara arrives, it is just in time for the end of Amy’s funeral.  The town people insist that she stay in Amy’s house- that that was what Amy wanted.

I loved Sara and all the people of Broken Wheel.  What a fun and quirky group this turns out to be- even the judgy church lady turns out awesome!  My favorite is Sara- who teaches people how different books have different smells.  Sara reminds me slightly of A.J. Fikry (The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry)  and Monsieur Perdu from The Little Paris Bookshop– two characters that love books so much- maybe more than they love most people.  These are characters I relate to.

If you enjoy books about people who love books, or sell books, or have lots of books and know exactly which one is perfect for someone- you will love this book.

Summary

Once you let a book into your life, the most unexpected things can happen…
Broken Wheel, Iowa, has never seen anyone like Sara, who traveled all the way from Sweden just to meet her pen pal, Amy. When she arrives, however, she finds that Amy’s funeral has just ended. Luckily, the townspeople are happy to look after their bewildered tourist—even if they don’t understand her peculiar need for books. Marooned in a farm town that’s almost beyond repair, Sara starts a bookstore in honor of her friend’s memory. All she wants is to share the books she loves with the citizens of Broken Wheel and to convince them that reading is one of the great joys of life. But she makes some unconventional choices that could force a lot of secrets into the open and change things for everyone in town. Reminiscent of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, this is a warm, witty book about friendship, stories, and love.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin

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The Swans of Fifth Avenue

by Melanie Benjamin

published by Delacorte Press

January 2016

Thoughts

This is really my kind of book.  It is based on true people, has secrets, scandals, affairs, style glamour, and betrayal.  If that sounds like too much, it’s not.  Melanie Benjamin does a wonderful job of bringing us into the inner circle of the rich and glamorous of New York society in the mid 1900s.  She paints a picture of the relationship that blossoms between author Truman Capote and his “Swans” – the women of the social elite in New York- Babe Pauley, Slim Keith, Gloria Guiness, and Pamela Harriman.  These ladies seem to serenely drift through a series of lunches, shopping and parties on estates and yachts.  We also see the underbelly of their lives- the addictions, affairs, and betrayals.  We float along as they take Capote under their wings, each believing they are closest to him.  We are there when Capote finally breaks into the big time with his publication of the true crime novel  In Cold Blood.   This is followed with his famous Black & White Ball.  Desperate to put out another successful story, he publishes  the short story Le Cote Basque 1965 in Esquire magazine.  The title is a direct reference to the storied restaurants the Swans would always lunch at.  Here is a great article about that piece and its fall out-needless to say Truman was shocked to find himself totally cut off from the friends he betrayed.

This was such a great book.  It was fun but held my interest completely.  My only problem was that I had to keep putting it down so I could google pictures of all these glamorous people!

Summary

Centered on two dynamic, complicated, and compelling protagonists—Truman Capote and Babe Paley—this book is steeped in the glamour and perfumed and smoky atmosphere of New York’s high society. Babe Paley—known for her high-profile marriage to CBS founder William Paley and her ranking in the International Best-Dressed Hall of Fame—was one of the reigning monarchs of New York’s high society in the 1950s. Replete with gossip, scandal, betrayal, and a vibrant cast of real-life supporting characters, readers will be seduced by this startling new look at the infamous society swans.

The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie

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The Sisters of Versailles

by Sally Christie

published by Atria Books

September, 2015

I received an advance review copy of this book from the publisher through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Thoughts

I like a fun historical fiction and that is exactly what this was.  This book, which was a very quick read, reminded me a little of Phillipa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl.  The Sisters of Versailles takes place in the French Court of Louis XV in the early 18th Century.  It is based on the real life relationship between Louis and the Nesle sisters- Louise, Pauline, Diane, Marie-ann, and Hortense.  Four of the five sisters became Louis’ mistress.

This story, which is the first in what is to be a trilogy, is told in the voices of the five Nesle sisters.  The first sister to come to court at Versailles is Louise.  She is married to a cousin, very unhappily.  At Versailles, she is a lady for the queen.  Through the machinations of those closest to the King, Louise is chosen to become Louis’ mistress.  A few years later, she invites her sister Pauline to visit her, unwisely it turns out, since Pauline quick replaces her site in Louis’ heart and bed.  Eventually, all the sisters except Hortense- who is actually happily married- become a lover to the king.

This was a fun book that I was able to read rather quickly.  I of course had to look up the actual history of the relationship between Louis and the sisters, and BAM- all true.  Four out of five of them were his “official” mistress.  I couldn’t believe it.  What was more incredible was the fact that Pauline made the King wait until she was married before she would sleep with him.  It was more acceptable if she was married and a part of the court.  It turns out the French people were not really thrilled by the relationships, many calling it incest.  This was a fun book and I am looking forward to reading the next two installments.

Summary

Goodness, but sisters are a thing to fear.

Set against the lavish backdrop of the French Court in the early years of the 18th century, The Sisters of Versailles is the extraordinary tale of the five Nesle sisters: Louise, Pauline, Diane, Hortense, and Marie-Anne, four of whom became mistresses to King Louis XV. Their scandalous story is stranger than fiction but true in every shocking, amusing, and heartbreaking detail.

Court intriguers are beginning to sense that young King Louis XV, after seven years of marriage, is tiring of his Polish wife. The race is on to find a mistress for the royal bed as various factions put their best foot – and women – forward. The King’s scheming ministers push Louise, the eldest of the aristocratic Nesle sisters, into the arms of the King. Over the following decade, the four sisters:sweet, naive Louise; ambitious Pauline; complacent Diane, and cunning Marie Anne, will conspire, betray, suffer, and triumph in a desperate fight for both love and power.

In the tradition of The Other Boleyn Girl, The Sisters of Versailles is a clever, intelligent, and absorbing novel that historical fiction fans will devour. Based on meticulous research on a group of women never before written about in English, Sally Christie’s stunning debut is a complex exploration of power and sisterhood; of the admiration, competition, and even hatred that can coexist within a family when the stakes are high enough.

 

The Courtesan by Alexandra Curry

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The Courtesan

by Alexandra Curry

published by Dutton

September 2015

I received and advance review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

My Review

I was eager to read this book because it was based on the famous courtesan Sai Jinhua.  One of my favorite books is Memoirs of a Geisha, which while not based on a real person, was an impressive depiction of the lives of these intriguing women.  The Courtesan takes place in China during the late Qing dynasty.  The story is steeped in history- the weak emperor, the threat of Western Imperialism, the Boxer Rebellion.  I felt the need to break out my old books from college, especially the class I took in Chinese history.  Jinhua is a pampered child of a courtesan who is adored by her father, but barely tolerated by his first wife.  When the father is executed by order of the emperor, the wife sells the child to a brothel and enters a convent.

At the brothel, Jinhua finds a friend in the maid Suyin, who tries to protect her the best she can.  Their relationship is the only good thing in her life, as she suffers the pain of foot binding, and an education in “bed business”.  When she is old enough, her virginity is sold to the highest bidder.  For some years, she must suffer the humiliation of living and working in the brothel, until she is sold to a wealth diplomat as his courtesan.  With him, she travels to Europe and is amazed at the amount of freedom women have there.  She realizes she cannot life forever hidden away.

While I enjoyed much of this book, Jinhua never felt like a real character.  I understand how difficult it must be to write about a actual person, but I think the author made Sunyin a more interesting character and would have liked to have had the story include her more.  While some parts of Jinhua’s life was passed over- like how she left the diplomat- I thought the author did wonderful job of portraying China and her people during this turbulent time.

 

 

Summary

The Courtesan is an astonishing tale inspired by the real life of a woman who lived and loved in the extraordinary twilight decades of the Qing dynasty. To this day, Sai Jinhua is a legend in her native land of China, and this is her story, told the way it might have been.

The year is 1881. Seven-year-old Jinhua is left an orphan, alone and unprotected after her mandarin father’s summary execution for the crime of speaking the truth. For seven silver coins, she is sold to a brothel-keeper and subjected to the worst of human nature. Will the private ritual that is her father’s legacy and the wise friendship of the crippled brothel maid be enough to sustain her? 

When an elegant but troubled scholar takes Jinhua as his concubine, she enters the close world of his jealous first wife. Yet it is Jinhua who accompanies him–as Emissary to the foreign devil nations of Prussia, Austro-Hungary, and Russia–on an exotic journey to Vienna. As he struggles to play his part in China’s early, blundering diplomatic engagement with the western world, Jinhua’s eyes and heart are opened to the irresistible possibilities of a place that is mesmerizing and strange, where she will struggle against the constraints of tradition and her husband’s authority and seek to find “Great Love.”

Sai Jinhua is an altered woman when she returns to a changed and changing China, where a dangerous clash of cultures pits East against West. The moment arrives when Jinhua’s western sympathies will threaten not only her own survival, but the survival of those who are most dear to her. 

The Murderer’s Daughter by Jonathan Kellerman

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The Murderer’s Daughter

by Jonathan Kellerman

published by Ballantine Books

August 18, 2015

I received an advance review copy of this book from the publisher through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

My Review

Psychologist Grace Blades treat patients that have suffered extreme trauma.  As a child, she witnessed the murder-suicide of her parents and had to suffer through many difficult situations in foster care.  Now she helps people through the hardest parts of their lives, while keeping her own life sealed off from relationships.  When a new patient is murdered, Grace feels she must solve the crime herself.

I am sure I have read other books by Jonathan Kellerman in the past, but I honestly don’t remember them.  I was excited to read this book, because it wasn’t a part in a series, like many of his are.  While I enjoyed the book, I didn’t love it. The story is in alternating times- the past and present of the main character.  It did keep me absorbed for about 3/4 of it, but I began to feel the parts with the adult Grace were a lot less  interesting than those with young Grace.  I think that a reason for this is that young Grace, despite such a difficult childhood, still had the potential to become a happy person.  Adult Grace simply has not, but instead has crafted a very lonely life.  The murder mystery was pretty cool- I love anything to do with cults- but the idea of this beautiful, smart psychologist running around in disguise and breaking the law herself just didn’t seem that believable.

 

 

Summary

A brilliant, deeply dedicated psychologist, Grace Blades has a gift for treating troubled souls and tormented psyches—perhaps because she bears her own invisible scars: Only five years old when she witnessed her parents’ deaths in a bloody murder-suicide, Grace took refuge in her fierce intellect and found comfort in the loving couple who adopted her. But even as an adult with an accomplished professional life, Grace still has a dark, secret side. When her two worlds shockingly converge, Grace’s harrowing past returns with a vengeance.
 
Both Grace and her newest patient are stunned when they recognize each other from a recent encounter. Haunted by his bleak past, mild-mannered Andrew Toner is desperate for Grace’s renowned therapeutic expertise and more than willing to ignore their connection. And while Grace is tempted to explore his case, which seems to eerily echo her grim early years, she refuses—a decision she regrets when a homicide detective appears on her doorstep.
 
An evil she thought she’d outrun has reared its head again, but Grace fears that a police inquiry will expose her double life. Launching her own personal investigation leads her to a murderously manipulative foe, one whose warped craving for power forces Grace back into the chaos and madness she’d long ago fled.