Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d — Alan Bradley

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd (Flavia de Luce, #8)Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d by Alan Bradley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The most recent installment of the Flavia de Luce series by the inspiring Alan Bradley is a big step for Flavia and the series.

After her stay at Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy cum boarding school in Toronto, Canada, Flavia returns triumphantly to her homeland: England and her beloved estate Buckshaw.

Alas alack, Buckshaw has changed and so has our heroine. Father has taken ill and is hospitalized, Buckshaw feels uninhabited, and Flavia has her freedom to visit dear friends and strangers–who of course, end up murdered.

TTBCHM is a bit predictable: prior to the “big reveal”, I guessed quite easily who had perpetrated the crime. That being said, the novel was still entirely engrossing. There is a bigger focus (again, as with the previous novel) of Flavia growing into herself, while still remaining the precocious girl that she is.

My chief complaint about this novel was the very apparent lack of chemistry used in a practical way. Throughout the series we have been treated to Flavia’s intellect and her practical use of chemistry in her sleuthing and every day activity. However, chemistry does take a backseat in this chapter of the series, which was a little saddening.

Of course, there is no de Luce novel without a touch of mourning and sadness…and I will end off there before spoiling any potential reader.

4/5 for another great Flavia novel. I eagerly anticipate the next one and the arrival of Flavia on television (eventually).

View all my reviews

Inside the O’Briens ~ Lisa Genova

Inside the O'BriensInside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Lisa Genova is a masterful story-teller. What makes her work so interesting is her education is neuroscience which manifests itself in her books as each work delves into a different diseases/syndromes. Still Alice was early onset Alzheimers, Left Neglected was left neglect syndrome, Love Anthony was autism.

Unfortunately, I have found her writing to be less interesting as her newer works are published. I did not enjoy Love Anthony very much and felt the same way about Inside The O’Briens.

Joe O’Brien is a Boston police officer who finds himself facing the devastating diagnosis of Huntington’s Disease (HD). As he comes to grips with the reality of the disease, the effect it had on his mother and it effect it slowly has on him, we learn much about the disease and how it is characterized in people.

Unfortunately, I found the novel was quite disjointed. I wanted to remain in Joe’s narrative (as he IS the protagonist who is suffering), but for some reason Genova chose to delve into the mind of certain other characters with no true explanation on WHY she chose them specifically.

We certainly understand that she is attempting to show the effect that HD has on families — as it is genetic and children of those diagnosed with HD have a 50% chance of inheriting the positive gene and thus the disease itself.

However, I felt that the novel skipped around far too much and didn’t delve enough into the individual characters. There was too much going on; Still Alice felt much simpler and easier to follow, creating more of an impact on the reader.

While I sympathized for the family as I read the book, I didn’t find myself able to truly *FEEL* their anguish as they all suffered from the disease in a myriad of ways.

I so wish that Genova had focused the novel a bit more, as it could have been much more emotional and moving than it ended up being. Perhaps the most important goal of the novel is achieved anyway though: educating us on the truth of Huntington’s Disease and hopefully helping spur on more research into it’s eventual cure.

2/5 for what I had hoped would be better.

View all my reviews

The Spectacular Now ~ Tim Thorpe

The Spectacular NowThe Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Besides, it doesn’t matter if it’s real. It never does with dreams. They aren’t anything anyway but lifesavers to cling to so you don’t drown. Life is an ocean, and most everyone’s hanging on to some kind of dream to keep afloat.”

The Spectacular Now is an interesting read.

Sutter Keely is all about living in the moment and the moment usually involved knocking back some alcohol and enjoying the small things in life. It quickly becomes very clear that Sutter is an alcoholic and it is fascinating as the reader to watch him justify his drinking and the consequences of his actions.

He is coasting through senior year of high school, not paying attention to assignments or exams. He drinks through his classes and part time job. He loses his girlfriends in succession due to choices he makes under the influence.

But yet…Sutter is an endearing character even in his darkest moments, such as lighting in brother-in-law’s suit on fire in the closet. You root for him and you desperately want him to face the realization of what he is doing with his life: wasting it.

Eventually Sutter meets Aimee who is a straight A student, a girl who has been through emotional devastation, a person who doesn’t know how to stand up for herself and speak her truth. Sutter decides he will help her become a stronger person and thus begins their relationship, romantic and otherwise.

The Spectacular Now reads as a coming of age story and the ending is very realistic. In a way, it’s disappointing because as the reader you want…something more for Sutter. You want him to grow and walk away from his experiences a better and deeper person.

I can’t go more into detail without ruining the ending, but I do recommend this book–it’s a great coming of age story. I watched the movie before reading the novel and I view both pieces as separate works because of the minor variations. I recommend both highly.

4/5 for an easy and painless read.

View all my reviews

When Breath Becomes Air ~ Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes AirWhen Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Even though it is only September, I believe I can say with certainty that When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi is by far the most stunning, heart-breaking and beautiful book I will read this year. My greatest fear is that with this review I will not be able to do justice to this work.

In this auto-biography written by himself, Paul Kalanithi–it just strikes me now that it is interesting he does not label himself as Dr. Paul Kalanithi–is finishing up his neurosurgeon/neuroscience residency when he is diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer with metastases to the brain and spine.

The book has a prologue written by Abraham Verghese (who himself penned the most excellent book Cutting for Stone) and the epilogue is written by Paul’s wife Lucy. In between the prologue and epilogue are a couple hundred pages divided into two parts: one primarily dedicated to Paul’s childhood (although he touches on that fairly briefly) and journey through medical school, the second on his life post cancer as he struggles to accept his diagnosis and live with it.

It’s a quick read–I finished it in a couple hours, but I also found I simply could not put it down. As a reader we are aware that Paul has been writing these sentences knowing he does not have long to live. This somehow creates an importance and urgency to this book that propels you forward through it.

His writing is both technical (most likely due to his training in medicine) and yet poetic. He philosophizes in a way that isn’t too deep or confusing for the every day man to understand. There were many times when I would stop, go back, re-read a paragraph or sentence because it struck such a deep chord inside of me.

A couple of my favourite quotes are as follows:

“The physician’s duty is not to stave off death or return patients to their old lives, but to take into our arms a patient and family whose lives have disintegrated and work until they can stand back up and face, and make sense of, their own existence.”

Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete.”

Nearing the end of the book, he lightly touches on his religious beliefs in a very genuine and gentle way:

“The main message of Jesus, I believed, is that mercy trumps justice every time.”

We know from reading the description on the jacket of the book that Paul died in 2015, 22 months after his diagnosis. Knowing this somehow makes each word and pronouncement that much more weighty.

This book was truly a privilege to read. I can’t write anymore because I feel that one needs to read it for themselves. You will not regret it. Admittedly, you may find yourself relentlessly sobbing during the final couple chapters, but the message is so important for everyone.

“You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.”

5/5 stars. Don’t pass this one by.

View all my reviews

The Supreme Macaroni Company ~ Adriana Trigiani

The Supreme Macaroni CompanyThe Supreme Macaroni Company by Adriana Trigiani
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The Supreme Macaroni Company by Adriana Trigiani is the final novel in the trilogy of the Roncalli family and the Angelini Shoe Company. I had read the first novel The Shoemaker’s Wife and had given it 3/5 stars as I found it to be a decent light read. I did skip the second novel and picked up the third one as I found it on a random stack of books at a book outlet event. Did missing the second novel affect my enjoyment of this book? I doubt that.

The problem with this novel is…it’s just extremely boring. It opens with Valentine Roncalli (main character) becoming engaged to an older man Gianluca something (I even forget his boring name) and immediately jumps into the two of them driving to her family home for Christmas dinner and the ensuing dramatics of the American-Italian family. Even the dialogue between the family, which I think was supposed to be snappy and comedic, falls flat. After several chapters and pages wasted on the family’s reaction, wedding plans and eventual wedding day…skip to the honeymoon in New Orleans…big fight because Valentine and Gianluca haven’t deeply delved into what their life will be like post-wedding.

Then she gets pregnant, tries to manage the company, the inevitable and truly expected happens… Honestly, the entire book just seemed like a giant cliche that made me want to set it on fire. The characters were entirely one dimensional and boring; the plot line—well, what’s plot line??? This has to be one of the most boring books I ever read.

The strange thing was, I did enjoy the first novel. This book did not sound anything at all like the author’s previous writing. I have no idea what happened to Trigiani to change her writing voice so drastically, but it seems as though she didn’t give a flying fig about this novel. Perhaps she was halfheartedly attempting to finish up the series.

Whatever the reason, it’s a terrible novel and definitely belongs on my “Books to Never Read Again” list. Avoid avoid avoid at all costs.

Sorry, Adriana.

1/5

View all my reviews

Come Rain or Come Shine ~ Jan Karon

Come Rain or Come ShineCome Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Come Rain or Come Shine is the eleventh novel in the Mitford series by Jan Karon. I have the entire series multiple times and own all the novels, so I was quite excited to finally read this most recent work. (I was waiting for the paperback version, as usual.)

I have read many reviews on Goodreads about this novel and I would guess that most of them had the chief complaint of Karon’s work being noticeably absent of narration specification; many readers were confused by the narrative switching between characters and having to guess by pronouns who we were reading about.

In reply to that I have to say: you probably should never read any Russian literature or even any classics. You were confused by some *fairly obvious* character point of view switches? Thank God you have never attempted to read any classics. Not only that, people claim that this narrative scheme was not of Karon’s typical writing style, to which I have only to say: PHOEEY. In many previous novels, Karon wrote small excerpts from different points of view, which I personally had occasionally found far more confusing than CROCS.

Mainly, CROCS focuses on the wedding of Dooley Kavanagh to Lace Turner. As already mentioned, the novel rotates the narrative through many different character’s eyes which is refreshing. I only had a few minor issues with the novel that I will quickly list–

1. There was a brief mention of Barnabas, but I didn’t feel the reader got the Barnabas ending that we deserved.
2. The ending was a bit saccharine sweet, even for Karon.
3. The actual book felt different. The pages were much thicker than the format that her novels are normally released in. I believe this is because the novel was actually shorter than her other works. It’s a small complaint, but still.
4. The focus on Mink Hershell during the wedding was out of character. Who was he even? No one cares. Write more about Pauline.
5. And finally, more Father Tim! I suppose Karon is possibly moving her narrative to Dooley and Lace instead as perhaps she will keep writing about them? Whatever the case may be, we all know Father Tim is heading into his twilight years, so can we please have one more solid novel featuring him and his thoughts ONLY? Thanks in advance, Karon.

All in all, I was quite happy with this novel. I finished it in less than 24 hours and I have an active 10 month old underneath my feet and in my lap.

4/5 and hopefully there will be another Mitford book *fingers crossed*.

View all my reviews

The Angel’s Game ~ Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Angel's Game (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, #2)The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Angel’s Game in the second novel in The Cemetary of Forgotten Books series by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Technically the novel is a prequel (in a way) to Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind– Sempere & Son who dominate Shadow of the Wind are featured in The Angel’s Game, but as side characters. I very much enjoyed “visiting” with the Semperes again, but that was where my enjoyment ended.

I can’t help but compare this novel to Shadow of the Wind, especially since I just finished a re-read of it and then followed it with closely with The Angel’s Game. Both are gothic historical fiction. Both are tinged with romance and mystery. Zafon desperately tries to recreate the milieu of SofW, but fails in The Angel’s Game.

First, the novel opens with the protagonist Daniel Martin, a young and poor man, working at a newspaper agency as an errand boy and eventually writer. The book is divided into three parts–the first sets the scene, the second spins the tale (and is the most boring part, in my opinion) and the third wraps up loose ties (sort of).

We discover that Martin has had a tragic upbringing with a mother who does love not him and a father who dies tragically at a young age. He finds himself mentored by a rich friend and falls in love with said friend’s chauffeur’s daughter–and we know that romance is inevitably doomed.

Trying to pull himself up out of poverty, Martin signs a deal with a couple of shady guys who enlist him to write campy and dramatic serials for their press. Eventually, unhappy with his career choice and wanting more money, Martin decides to seal a deal with a strange man who offers him obscene amounts of money to “write a book that invents a religion”.

From that point, it just gets confusing and devolves into a lackluster series of philosophical conversations between Martin and the stranger Corelli. They attempt to explore the possibility of creating a religion and a belief system that bewilders the reader. Corelli denies the existence of God and the supernatural, but it is clear from the ecclesiastical descriptions of him that he might possibly be *gasp* the devil himself.

Even though one might not think it possible, the story continues to meander along, to the point where I was forcing myself to pick it up and keep reading. Eventually as the book entered into part three, the pace of it gained momentum and I found it much more interesting. Unfortunately, from there to the end of the novel, we don’t receive a full explanation of what exactly was going down through most of the preceding parts.

It seems as though Zafon entirely clouded his writing with symbolism and analogies. We’re left guessing what has *really* happened. The novel lacks any cheerful tone or happiness and in the end, Martin is condemned to a life…well really, if I managed to suffer through most of it to reach the end, I expect you to do so without being simply told the ending.

3/5 stars… But even though I was left disappointed, I will still be attempting the next novel The Prisoner of Heaven.

View all my reviews

The Time in Between ~ Maria Duenas

The Time in BetweenThe Time in Between by María Dueñas
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have discovered that I primarily give 3 star ratings when I review novels. I blame Goodreads for not having a 1/2 star rating system, in which case I would give The Time in Between 2 1/2 stars. I am forced to drop this down to 2 stars though.

The blurb on the back of the book is promising enough. Sira Quiroga is a young seamstress growing up in Madrid. Spain is facing a civil war, the citizens are beginning to suffer. She follows a lover to Morocco where she is abandoned and left with debt incurred looming over her head. Slowly she pulls herself out of the gutter and lifts herself up into a more promising position. In the description, as WWII commences and Spain finds itself caught between the Allies and the Third Reich, Sira begins a harrowing stint as a spy.

First off, the novel is 600+ pages and 69 chapters long. Divided into three parts, the novel felt like it was never going to end. Sira doesn’t even begin her delving into the spy world until chapter 36. 36. Imagine, 35 chapters of her backstory that is interminably dull.

The character of Sira herself is as interesting as a shoe or doorknob. She survives through many horrible situations, but yet I found myself barely able to keep myself interested in her saga. There was minimal dialogue, mostly just long paragraphs about what Sira was thinking, which incidentally, was dull as dishwater. For someone who supposedly triumphed even though odds were against her, it was awfully tepid.

Her supposed romance with a character isn’t even delved into or truly fleshed out. She claims to have missed this person dreadfully during their separation, at which I went, “Eh, did she even truly and deeply care about him?” As a protagonist, Sira’s character is shockingly lacking in being fleshed out or in any way dimensional.

Part three (from chapter 36 on) was much more interesting than the beginning stages of the novel. I did manage to read through that section at a much quicker pace. That being said, was it worth struggling through an huge portion of the novel in order to enjoy the last little bit of it?

There are other much more compelling novels about Spain in the civil war and their involvement in WWII. If you want to read a novel about spies, check into anything written by Ken Follett.

Pass by this novel though, unless you are into a long boring read with little pay off.

2/5 stars.

View all my reviews

The Shadow of the Wind ~ Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books,  #1)The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first read this novel a couple years ago on the emphatic suggestion of a worker at the local Chapters. I gave it 4/5 stars initially. I managed to snag a used copy of another Carlos Ruiz Zafón novel and decided I would re-read The Shadow of the Wind before starting this next novel.

Upon completion, I have decided to bump the rating up to 5/5, because I finished it with no complaint and I would not have changed anything about the novel. Although I had read it once, I couldn’t put it down…again.

The novel is a story within a story. Daniel Sempere, our young protagonist, finds a novel called “The Shadow of the Wind” by a Julian Carax within a book cemetery, deep in the heart of war torn Barcelona. I have read very few books on the civil war within the Spanish borders and the ensuing chaos, so it was refreshing to read about a period of history in a country other than the usual England/France/etc.

It becomes clear to Daniel that there is something strange about the author and his novels. He discovers that someone has been systematically finding and destroying all of Carax’ novels with fire.

The story is complex but easy to read. It would be impossible for me to explain the novel in a book review; I would not do it justice. Suffice to say, the novel is well written. The characters grasp you and the dialogue is not stilted or boring. Even though the story is fantastical, it never struck me as reaching. There are many twists and turns that will leave you guessing and wondering, right up until the last chapter.

My favourite quote in the book was as follows:

Bea says that the art of reading is slowly dying, that it’s an intimate ritual, that a book is a mirror that offers us only what we already carry inside of us, that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind, and great readers are becoming more scarce by the day.

Honestly, from that quote itself, doesn’t the book sound magical?

5/5 for one of my favourite books. I cannot wait to read his next novel!

View all my reviews