Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street-Susan Jane Gilman

Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street-Susan Jane Gilman

the facts
satisfaction: up/side
pages: 505
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 2014
novel
Crippled Malka grabs the American Dream with both hands and forces it to happen. Through the process she reveals herself to be a very cunning person even as she transforms into a fluffy matron of a major ice cream company.


This novel lead to ambivalence mainly because of difficult it is to like the narrator. It's not just that she was racist and ambitious in that self-centered way that leaves everyone else harmed, but she was written with just too shtick I felt like I wasn't reading a character so much as a stereotype taken to its extreme. Which was probably the point because Gilman writes really well incorporating an impressive array of historical details to bring NYC and NJ of the early 20th century to life. And the acerbity of Malka really allows this book to avoid any hint of becoming twee or saccharine or even aspirational like most books that start in appalling poverty and end in extreme wealth do. You barely notice the 500 pages, you've just been absorbed into that intricately detailed setting. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Forgotten Seamstress-Liz Trenow

Forgotten Seamstress-Liz Trenow

the facts
satisfaction: side/up
pages: 400
gender: F
nationality: UK
year: 2014
novel
What really happened to Maria, a seamstress? Was she tricked into the mental asylum or was she delusional about being the Prince of Wales’s lover?


This was very entertaining as a story. It was a light, undemanding read. Mainly, it was so light because the story was highly predictable. The plot drew you in and the twists existed but were lacking sophistication and it was like the characters didn't react or change in any meaningful way to the plot twists even when they were substantial differences in their situation. It was perfect for me when I read it since I was tired and really just wanted something simple that didn't require any thought and this delivered. I guess it was partially because Trenow managed an almost perfect sense of tone whether talking about the past (Maria as seamstress) and the present (Maria in asylum).

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Lying Down Room-Anna Jaquiery

The Lying Down Room-Anna Jaquiery
the facts
satisfaction: side
pages: 326
gender: F
nationality: France
year: 2014
novel
A mysterious death in Paris leads to two suspects and the stressed out detective to the darkest reaches of Soviet Russia.

Commandant Morel. He is an unusual character-different from the typical detective in these sorts of stories, deeply embedded into his cultural context, and never falls into pastiche. His relationships with his coworkers are complicated but realistic and the use of origami as a way to display his calm, methodical character was clever. The unfolding of the investigation itself was well-paced and engaging. But somewhere along the line, it failed me. Maybe the book was overall too somber, too deeply interested in creating an atmosphere that foreshadowed tragedy or maybe there was too much detail. But as the book geared up to the atrocities that created the killer, I grew disengaged and uninterested. I'd be interested in future installments as I did really enjoy Morel but the story and motivations of the killers were less entertaining or believable.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Fifteen Lives of Harry August-Claire North

The Fifteen Lives of Harry August-Claire North

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 405
gender: F
nationality: UK
year: 2014
novel
Harry August is a time traveler-of sorts. Every time he dies, he returns to his birth. He is not the only one and that is both a good and a bad thing.

This was a masterful management of various very difficult to balance plot types-time travel and apocalypse. The narrator is likeable but not lovable. With his ouroboran status, he's not too relatable (I certainly do not die and return to my birth and nor do I feel the ennui of returning to my childhood). These ouroborans are a bit bored of their lives partially because they avoid the usual pitfalls of time travel-paradox-by not doing anything to change history (inaction as a tactic). However, someone does not follow this plan so the plot picks up as Harry figures out who is it and how to stop them. Nothing is explained in terms that would go over the head of the typical reader but it stands up to basic logic and so belief is easily suspended and draws you into this world.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Past the Shallows-Favel Parrett

Past the Shallows-Favel Parrett
the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 272
gender: F
nationality: Australia
year: 2014
novel
Within the abusive, unpredictable black cloud of their father, a Tasmanian fisherman, live two brothers who dream of escaping like their oldest one did.


I don’t really know how to write a synopsis for this that wouldn’t give away the plot. It’s an excellent contemporary novel with this amazing dreamy prose. The plot unfolds with far too much tragedy amidst skillful pacing all in this prose that carries the reader forth. Make no mistake, this is a moody novel full of calm punctuated with violence and an environment that shows the same scars as the people. In fact, the overarching takeaway you get is that nothing can be as bad as the hatred and fear of humankind. Simple and spare, Parrett’s prose nevertheless burns into your mind.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

A Red Tale-Nicola Mar

Red Tale- Nicola Mar

the facts
satisfaction: down/side
pages: 262
gender: F
nationality: St. Michael
year: 2014
young readers

In a world affected by ‘global cooling’, the Caribbean is mired in ice and Stasia Forrestor is cold. So cold she discovers a funnel to another world called Surritz. However, figuring out who to trust is harder than it needs to be.


This really felt like it had the potential to be there at the beginning but the world building really let it down. The narrator’s voice was quite whiny with a lack of character development that meant that the plot actually had no drive aside from the issues of pacing and connecting that it also suffered from. There was never any reason why Stasia needed to do the things ‘she needed to do’. This would have been alright if the world building wasn’t so simplistic. So much of this wonderful fantasy world was taken for granted or left unexplained which is quite a shame considering there were like three threads of ‘menace’ to the world. Nothing got connected and nothing was dwelled on making this a somewhat annoying read what with all the business (not denseness) of the plot.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Henna House-Nomi Eve

Henna House-Nomi Eve
the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 320
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 2014
novel
Epic following a Yemeni Jewish community. Set against a policy that forcibly adopts unbetrothed orphaned children, Adele has to come of age in a time of change and challenge.


My notes from this novel are the single word: “intense”. The characters are drawn magnificently-every woman in this novel is her own strong person. They are bound into their small community-Yemeni Jews-as a strong force that helps recall the uniqueness of their past and their present while also presenting a variety of voices showcasing the ways women are oppressed but push back against it. I just loved Adela, the main narrator. Her voice was one of experience as well as learning and she never succumbed into blaming others but rather states what is and what was done to counteract it. As the family must leave Yemen and move to Israel, the intensity of the journey and the prose used to bring it alive only increases. This is one of those novels of fiction that nevertheless tells a real story about a largely unknown group, the Yemeni Jews with their emphasis on henna. The ending perhaps doesn’t live up to the beginning and middle (becoming a bit melodramatic) but the prose makes up for it.