Book Review: Glass Sword

Book Review:  Glass SwordGlass Sword (Red Queen, #2) by Victoria Aveyard
three-stars
Series: Red Queen #2
Published by HarperTeen on February 9th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 444
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Synopsis from Goodreads: If there’s one thing Mare Barrow knows, it’s that she’s different. Mare Barrow’s blood is red—the color of common folk—but her Silver ability, the power to control lightning, has turned her into a weapon that the royal court tries to control. The crown calls her an impossibility, a fake, but as she makes her escape from Maven, the prince—the friend—who betrayed her, Mare uncovers something startling: she is not the only one of her kind.

Pursued by Maven, now a vindictive king, Mare sets out to find and recruit other Red-and-Silver fighters to join in the struggle against her oppressors. But Mare finds herself on a deadly path, at risk of becoming exactly the kind of monster she is trying to defeat. Will she shatter under the weight of the lives that are the cost of rebellion? Or have treachery and betrayal hardened her forever?

The electrifying next installment in the Red Queen series escalates the struggle between the growing rebel army and the blood-segregated world they’ve always known—and pits Mare against the darkness that has grown in her soul.


My Review of Glass Sword:

For those familiar with the Red Queen series, the second book Glass Sword picks up right where the first book leaves off. The “little lightning girl” Mare Barrow and fallen Prince Cal have escaped from King Maven and his silver minions, and along with members of the Scarlet Guard, they’re on the run. Aveyard sets a fast and exhilarating pace from the first page as the band of rebels flee to safety and then regroup to devise their own plan of attack against Maven. The action-packed conclusion of Red Queen was my favorite part of that novel, so I was very excited to see there was no gap in the action between the two books.

The first mission at hand for the band of rebels is the list that Mare’s mentor, Julian, had given her before Maven had him killed – a list of what they have now dubbed ‘New Bloods’. These ‘New Bloods’ are others who are just like Mare – red blooded but with Silver abilities. Mare and the others know that since Maven is determined to prove that she is nothing more than a fraud with no special abilities, then he will try to find and eliminate everyone on that list to hide the fact that ‘New Bloods’ actually exist.

The story then becomes a race against time for Mare and the Scarlet Guard to find each New Blood first and to hopefully recruit them to their cause. With an army of New Bloods on their side, the odds of stopping Maven become much greater. This sounds exciting, and at first it is, as each ‘New Blood’ is found and we learn what their special powers are. However, and maybe it’s just me and my impatience, but after a few journeys to find, save, and recruit, I got bored and just wanted to fast-forward to when all of the ‘New Bloods’ had been located so that I could just move along with the rest of the plot.


Okay, so what did I really like about Glass Sword?

Backstory on Farley – Farley is still my favorite character so I love that I got to learn a lot more about her in this book.

Cal – I didn’t really think Cal was all that in the first book, but he’s really starting to grow on me in this one. He’s a bit of an enigma now that he has lost everyone and everything he held dear and we get to see a side of him that we haven’t seen before as he’s trying to figure out who he is and what he wants. Will he help Mare and the Scarlet Guard or will he ultimately side with his Silver brethren if they will take him back? Only time will tell, but I like the developments in this character and want to see more of him.

New Blood super powers – I know I said I got bored with the actual tracking down of the New Bloods, but that said, the powers they possess are awesome! Aveyard seems to come up with an endless supply of super cool abilities for our rebels. Among others, there’s a chameleon, one who can manipulate gravity, and another that can create optical illusions. The powers are very different from the brute force, X Men like powers we saw in ‘Red Queen’ and seem sure to come in handy in a death match versus King Maven and his army of Silvers.

The ending! – I don’t want to give it away, but the ending is cliffhanger of epic proportions. In spite of my disappointment with certain aspects of ‘Glass Sword’, the ending alone makes me want to get my hands on the next book as soon as possible.


And what didn’t I like about Glass Sword?:

Aside from the repetitive nature of the recruiting missions I already mentioned, there was one other problem area for me and I hate to say it, but it’s Mare. I don’t know why, but I’m just not feeling the connection to her that I think I should be feeling, especially since she’s the protagonist. I don’t want to say that I don’t care what happens to her because that’s not true, but there is still something about her that frustrates me to no end. I understand that she’s in turmoil because of what has already happened to her and because of her fears about what she could become in her quest to defeat Maven – the fact that she would be responsible for not only taking lives herself, but also for potentially sacrificing the lives of those around her. I get it; I really do.

However, her constant running internal dialogue about it drove me crazy after a while, especially her repetitive bemoaning of the fact that she misses her Maven – the boy she thought Maven was before he turned out to be such a complete and utter monster. I really just wanted to scream at her Cher-style: “Snap out of it!” So, yeah, even though I truly do love Mare’s badass side and want her to rise up and defeat Maven, I really need her to hurry up and move past the whole ‘missing Maven’ thing and get focused on the task at hand.


Would I recommend Glass Sword?:

Well, I liked it, but I didn’t love it. Even with my disappointments though, the overall story still has potential to be pretty amazing if I could just find a way to better connect with Mare. I’m still hopeful this will happen as she grows more into her role. Even if that doesn’t happen though, I’m still committed enough to the story to want to see how it ends and, for that reason, would definitely still recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the first book.

Rating: 3 stars

three-stars

About Victoria Aveyard

In her own words:

“I’m a writer repped by Suzie Townsend at New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc. I split my time between my hometown East Longmeadow, Massachusetts and Los Angeles. After graduating with a BFA in Screenwriting from the University of Southern California, I decided to try my hand at writing a novel. My debut RED QUEEN came out of the terrifying, unemployed year after college. The sequel GLASS SWORD released in February 2016.

Currently I’m working on the third book in the RED QUEEN series, along with pursuing other projects in literature and film. My proudest achievements are riding a horse in the mountains of Montana and navigating from London to Edinburgh without GPS.”

Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Book Review:  Fangirl by Rainbow RowellFangirl by Rainbow Rowell
four-stars
Published by Pan Macmillan on January 30th 2014
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 461
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Synopsis from Goodreads: Cath and Wren are identical twins, and until recently they did absolutely everything together. Now they’re off to university and Wren’s decided she doesn’t want to be one half of a pair any more – she wants to dance, meet boys, go to parties and let loose. It’s not so easy for Cath. She’s horribly shy and has always buried herself in the fan fiction she writes, where she always knows exactly what to say and can write a romance far more intense than anything she’s experienced in real life.

Now Cath has to decide whether she’s ready to open her heart to new people and new experiences, and she’s realizing that there’s more to learn about love than she ever thought possible …A tale of fanfiction, family, and first love.



My Review:

I have to say I LOVED Fangirl. I think it’s one of those books that is going to resonate with a lot of readers because of how ‘real’ the story and its characters are. Going off to college is one of those major milestones in life that most of us can relate to and so college makes the perfect backdrop for a coming of age story, which is basically what Fangirl is.

One of the things I enjoyed most about Fangirl is how perfectly Rainbow Rowell captures the entire college freshman year experience. Even though it has been more years than I care to think about since I graduated from college, she transported me right back in time to my first day as a freshman – to the awkwardness of meeting my roommate for the first time as well as the terrifying knowledge that I was completely on my own as soon as my family drove away from the campus.

In addition to her ability to transport me back to my own college days, Rowell also creates such relatable characters that it’s just so easy to see yourself and maybe even your friends in them. I don’t know that I have ever identified with a fictional character as much as I identified with Cather Avery (or Cath as she calls herself). I felt an immediate kinship to Cath as soon as I realized that, like me, she is both a writer and an introvert. Cath’s awkwardness was a bit more extreme than mine, but I could still see myself in her utter cluelessness when it comes to making friends and interacting with boys that she likes, as well as in her reluctance to engage in any and all social activities. Aside from the actual fanfiction thing, which, to my knowledge, didn’t exist when I was in college, the whole time I was reading I kept thinking that this could have easily been a story about me! From the moment I felt that connection, I just had to know how things were going to turn out for her. Pulled out of her comfort zone, would she be able to discover her own true identity? Not fanfiction-famous writer ‘Magicath’ and not one half of the Cather-Wren twins, but just Cath?

Cath is not the only awesomely relatable character that Rowell creates. There’s also Reagan, who is Cath’s roommate, and Levi, who went to high school with Reagan and so is always hanging around their room. I think EVERY introvert needs a friend like Reagan. For the most part, Reagan just lets Cath be Cath, but occasionally she does step in and stage a much-needed intervention to make Cath look up from her fanfiction and interact with the world outside. Cath and Reagan actually first bond when Reagan realizes that Cath has been living off nothing but protein bars for days and days. When she asks Cath why and Caths’s response is that she doesn’t know where the cafeteria is, Reagan just shakes her head and drags Cath down to the cafeteria where they eat together and eventually become friends.

And then there’s Levi. He’s blonde, cute, lovable, loyal, goes out of his way to be friendly with anyone and everyone, and will do anything to please those he loves. Ha, when you put it that way, he kind of sounds like a golden retriever! I love Levi not just because he reminds me of a golden retriever, but because of the way he accepts Cath’s fanfiction addiction. He sense that it gives her comfort in a world where she is otherwise completely ill at ease and so, being the nice guy that he is, he doesn’t belittle her and make her feel deviant for it. In fact, he even encourages her and has her read her chapters to him. Just like every introvert needs a Reagan, I think every introvert could use a Levi as well.

Although the overall tone of the novel is fairly light and often humorous, Rowell also weaves in just enough drama to make Fangirl a page-turner. There are strained family relationships as Wren pulls away from Cath, and again when the mother who had abandoned them when they were small children randomly tries to re-enter their lives. There is also concern for Cath and Wren’s father who suffers from a mental illness. Although he is usually fine and able to control his symptoms, it is still a concern for the girls since they have moved out and left him on his own. Again, although these elements are designed to add drama to the story, family relationships and their complications are something that we can all relate to. It’s almost a universal truth – if you have family, at some point there will be drama that you have to deal with.
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four-stars

About Rainbow Rowell

Sometimes she writes about adults (Attachments and Landline). Sometimes she writes about teenagers (Eleanor & Park, Fangirl and Carry On.). But she always writes about people who talk a lot. And people who feel like they’re screwing up. And people who fall in love.

When she’s not writing, Rainbow is reading comic books, planning Disney World trips and arguing about things that don’t really matter in the big scheme of things.

She lives in Nebraska with her husband and two sons.

Burying the Honeysuckle Girls – Book Review

Burying the Honeysuckle Girls – Book ReviewBurying the Honeysuckle Girls by Emily Carpenter
four-stars
Published by Lake Union Publishing on April 26th 2016
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 310
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Synopsis:

Don’t let that bright and serene cover fool you — Emily Carpenter’s debut novel “Burying the Honeysuckle Girl” is a dark and riveting mystery filled with betrayal, scandalous family secrets, and political intrigue. At the heart of the novel are four generations of women, three of whom all mysteriously died when they turned 30 years old after being committed to Pritchard, a hospital for the mentally ill. The fourth generation is Althea Bell, who is the protagonist of the novel. Haunted all her life by the circumstances surrounding her mother’s premature death, and by the idea that she could suffer a similar fate, Althea has turned to drugs to ease her pain and calm those fears.

When the novel opens, Althea is returning to her family home in Alabama to visit her father after a year-long stint in rehab. As soon as she enters the home, she is met with open hostility by her brother, Wynn, and his wife. It is crystal clear that Wynn, who is running for political office, wants nothing to do with Althea, the black sheep of the family. Driven by those political ambitions, Wynn has plans to get rid of Althea so that there’s no way she can embarrass him while he’s on the campaign trail. He informs Althea that because she is clearly still sick and because of the history of mental illness in the women in their family, he has made plans for her to continue her therapy – with an extended visit to, of all places, Pritchard. Desperate to keep Wynn from imprisoning her against her will and equally determined, especially as her own 30th birthday approaches, not to suffer the same fate as her mother, grandmother, and great grandmother, Althea sets out to discover the truth of what really happened to each of them when they reached the age of 30.

My thoughts on Burying the Honeysuckle Girls

Overall, I thought this was an entertaining read. Carpenter grabbed my attention right away with the face off between Althea and her brother Wynn in the opening scenes. Wynn is clearly such a power hungry jerk that I couldn’t help but root for Althea to beat him at his game and come out on top. I always love a story where there’s an underdog to cheer for.
Aside from being the underdog, Althea is truly just a likeable character in general. She definitely has her flaws and her weaknesses because of all of the emotional baggage she has carried with her all these years, but she gets stronger and stronger throughout the novel as she moves closer to the truth. She is also very resourceful and proves that she can be a badass when the situation calls for it, especially when she realizes what she is up against – namely, the fact that there are some folks who have a lot to lose if the truth gets out and so are determined to stop Althea – no matter what.

“Burying the Honeysuckle Girls” also appealed to me because of its fast, beat-the-clock pace that Carpenter has created and the many twists and turns the story takes as Althea frantically races around Alabama piecing together her family’s history. Althea runs into obstacles at almost every turn – missing death certificates, missing grave sites, very few people who are actually willing to talk to her, as well as too many people who are clearly under Wynn’s thumb.

This was a real page turner for me because there were so many questions that I wanted answers as I followed Althea’s investigation: Will she solve the mystery before her 30th birthday? What will happen to her if she doesn’t? Why was 30 the magic number for whatever happened to them? Were the women in her family really ill at all? Or maybe it’s actually Wynn that’s mentally unstable? Carpenter even manages to successfully weave in a hint of possible supernatural activity that further shrouds the women’s family history in mystery and makes it an even more intriguing puzzle to piece together. I don’t want to give anything away since this is a mystery novel, but I will say that what Althea discovers is more shocking than anything I could have possibly imagined.

Overall, I’d say this is a very solid effort for a debut novel and I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good mystery. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed. It’s a hell of a ride!
Thanks so much to Netgalley, Emily Carpenter, and Lake Union Publishing for allowing me to preview this great read!

Rating: 4 stars

four-stars

About Emily Carpenter

EMILY CARPENTER, a former actor, producer, screenwriter, and behind-the-scenes soap opera assistant, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Auburn University. Born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, she now lives in Georgia with her family. BURYING THE HONEYSUCKLE GIRLS is her first novel. You can visit Emily online at emilycarpenterauthor.com.

Book Review: All the Bright Places

Book Review:  All the Bright PlacesAll the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
five-stars
Published by Knopf on January 6th 2015
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Library
Goodreads

Synopsis & Review:

With its realistic and honest portrayal of someone living with a mental illness, All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven is one of the most moving and thought-provoking novels I’ve ever read. I finished reading it a couple of nights ago and have been trying to gather my many thoughts about it ever since in hopes of doing justice to not only how beautifully written this story is, but also to how important it is because of the major issues that it highlights such as mental illness and the stigma that surrounds it, as well as teen suicide and bullying.

At the center of All the Bright Places are Theodore Finch and Violet Markey, two high school seniors who on the surface appear to be complete opposites. Theodore (or Finch as he is called by pretty much everyone) is bit of an outcast, often referred to as a freak or weirdo by his classmates. He spends most of his free time either writing music or fantasizing about death, in particular all of the possible ways he can end his own life. At the opposite end of the social spectrum is Violet, who is attractive, popular, and a member of the cheerleading team.

This unlikely pair becomes connected in the novel’s opening scene which takes place on the ledge of the school’s bell tower. Plagued by an unnamed condition which he says makes him “sleep” for weeks at a time, Finch has climbed up there to contemplate what it would be like to commit suicide by jumping off the tower. He decides this would probably not be his preferred method, but as he turns to leave, he unexpectedly encounters Violet, who has apparently been having suicidal thoughts of her own. We then learn that Violet has recently suffered a tragedy that she can’t seem to get beyond – the death of her older sister and best friend Eleanor. Because she feels like she is just drowning in her grief and unable to move forward, Violet is having suicidal thoughts.

Finch, his own thoughts of suicide momentarily forgotten, does everything he can to talk Violet down to safety. He then dedicates himself to helping Violet overcome her thoughts of suicide. Although she is initially reluctant to even associate with Finch because of his reputation as a ‘freak’, Violet finally gives in and agrees to work with him on a school project which requires them to journey around their home state taking in its “natural wonders”.

The bulk of the novel focuses on the relationship between Violet and Finch as they work on this project and really get to know one another. Their journey together is an emotional roller coaster – it will make you laugh and it will bring you to tears, but what they find along the way is that they can draw strength from each other as they each battle their demons. Finch really pushes Violet to start working through her grief and seeing that her own life is worth living, and Violet helps Finch in that he can let his guard down around her and just be himself. As he focuses his attention on Violet, he becomes more and more determined not to let the ‘sleep’ take him again.

What I loved about All the Bright Places:

I think what makes All the Bright Places such a powerful read is that by having Violet and Finch tell their story, Niven takes us directly into the minds of these two troubled teens. We experience firsthand exactly what Finch and Violet are feeling as they think about killing themselves and what goes through their minds as they struggle just to exist from day to day. We’re seeing what Finch and Violet have been trying so hard to hide from their parents, friends, teachers, and counselors. It’s raw and unfiltered emotion and it will definitely make you think twice when you look at someone and assume that you know what they’re going through when you really have no idea what’s going on in their head or how much they might be struggling even though they’re trying to put on a brave face.

I also loved that Niven makes Finch the voice for those who are afraid to seek help for mental illness because they fear being labeled as “mentally ill”. He’s such a likeable and relatable character that we as readers desperately want him to get the help he needs, but at the same time, he makes us see why it’s so hard to do so. Finch embodies the fear that if diagnosed, in the eyes of others, he will become that diagnosis and nothing more:

“Moody Finch. Angry Finch. Unpredictable Finch. Crazy Finch. But I’m not a compilation of symptoms. Not a casualty of shitty parents and an even shittier chemical makeup. Not a problem. Not a diagnosis. Not an illness. Not something to be rescued. I’m a person.”

Finch even takes this a step further in the sacrifice that he makes for Violet, even when he barely knows her. When he talks Violet down off that ledge, he lets everyone believe she is the one who saved him rather than the other way around. He knows firsthand how crippling labels can be and he wants to protect her from that. So he takes on the label that would have otherwise have been given to her. He’s the suicidal one, not her. It’s a touching gesture.

‘All the Bright Places’ is such an important book because it shines light on the very problematic issue that a person would contemplate suicide rather than seeking medical help for mental illness. That should not be the case at all and it’s something we as a society, starting with our young people, need to address.

This is also a book that I wish had been around when I was teaching high school because of the way it spotlights the potential consequences of bullying. Because the characters in ‘All the Bright Places’ are so easy to relate to (Didn’t we all go to school with a Roamer, the guy who just lives to build himself up by putting others down?), I think this book could start a much needed dialogue in schools to educate students about the power of words. In this day and age when teen suicide rates are so high and school shootings are so prevalent, you just never know if your words are going to be the ones to push someone over the edge.
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five-stars

About Jennifer Niven

New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Niven has always wanted to be a Charlie’s Angel, but her true passion is writing. Her most recent book, All the Bright Places, is her first novel for young adult readers and tells the story of a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die. All the Bright Places was the GoodReads Choice Award for Best Young Adult Fiction of 2015, and named a Best Book of the Year by Time Magazine, NPR, the Guardian, Publisher’s Weekly, YALSA, Barnes & Noble, BuzzFeed, the New York Public Library, and others. It was also the #1 Kids’ Indie Next Book for Winter ’14-’15 and SCIBA’s Young Adult Book of the Year, as well as being nominated for the Carnegie Medal and longlisted for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. As of today, the book has spent over thirty weeks as a New York Times bestseller, and foreign rights have sold to forty territories. The movie rights have been optioned with Elle Fanning attached to star and Jennifer writing the script. As a companion to the book, Jennifer has created Germ, a web magazine for and run by girls (and boys) — high school and beyond — that celebrates beginnings, futures, and all the amazing and agonizing moments in between.

With the publication of her first book, The Ice Master, Jennifer became a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writer. A nonfiction account of a deadly Arctic expedition, The Ice Master was released in November 2000 and named one of the top ten nonfiction books of the year by Entertainment Weekly, and translated into multiple languages, including German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Danish, and Icelandic. Jennifer and The Ice Master appeared in Newsweek, Entertainment Weekly, Talk, Glamour, The New Yorker, Outside, The New York Times Book Review, The London Daily Mail, The London Times, and Writer’s Digest, among others. Dateline BBC, the Discovery Channel, and the History Channel featured The Ice Master an hour-long documentaries, and the book was the subject of numerous German, Canadian, and British television documentaries. The Ice Master has been nominated for awards by the American Library Association and Book Sense, and received Italy’s esteemed Gambrinus Giuseppe Mazzotti Prize for 2002.

Jennifer’s second book, Ada Blackjack — an inspiring true story of the woman the press called “the female Robinson Crusoe” — has been translated into Chinese, French, and Estonian, was a Book Sense Top Ten Pick, and was named by The Wall Street Journal as one of the Top Five Arctic books.

Her memoir, The Aqua-Net Diaries: Big Hair, Big Dreams, Small Town, was published in February 2010 by Gallery Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, and was optioned by Warner Bros. as a television series.

Her first novel, Velva Jean Learns to Drive (based on her Emmy Award-winning film of the same name), was released July 2009 by Penguin/Plume. It was an Indie Pick for the August 2009 Indie Next List and was also a Costco Book of the Month. The second book in the Velva Jean series, Velva Jean Learns to Fly, was released by Penguin/Plume in August 2011, and the third book in the series, Becoming Clementine, was published in September 2012. The fourth Velva Jean novel, American Blonde, is available now.

With her mother, author Penelope Niven, Jennifer has conducted numerous seminars in writing and addressed audiences around the world. She lives in Los Angeles.

Source: www.jenniferniven.com

Book Review: The Girls

Book Review:  The GirlsThe Girls by Emma Cline
five-stars
Published by Random House on June 14th 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Goodreads Synopsis: Girls—their vulnerability, strength, and passion to belong—are at the heart of this stunning first novel for readers of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.   Emma Cline’s remarkable debut novel is gorgeously written and spellbinding, with razor-sharp precision and startling psychological insight. The Girls is a brilliant work of fiction—and an indelible portrait of girls, and of the women they become.

My review:

Set in California during the late 1960s, Emma Cline’s debut novel The Girls tells the story of fourteen year old Evie Boyd, an average, ordinary teenager who has become disenchanted with her life. Her parents are recently divorced – her dad has moved on and is now living with a new girlfriend, while her mom is desperately searching for love again and is constantly bringing men home. The revolving door of men starts to create friction between Evie and her mom, and so Evie starts spending less and less time at home. In addition to her troubles at home, Evie also has a falling out with her longtime best friend, Connie, and is left feeling very much lost and on her own.

Lonely and desperately wanting to connect with someone, Evie meets and is immediately infatuated with an ultra cool and attractive older girl named Suzanne. Suzanne tells Evie all about how she and a group of others live on a ranch together outside of town and about a man named Russell, who loves and takes care of them all. Seduced both by Suzanne and by the idea of this wonderful ‘hippie-esque’ family Suzanne describes to her, Evie jumps at the opportunity to hang out at the ranch and meet Russell.

This begins a journey that takes Evie down a dark and potentially dangerous path because that happy, hippie family is actually a cult and Russell is its Charles Manson. Yes, Russell takes care of his girls, but he also frequently has them do his bidding. The acts committed are fairly harmless at first: the girls dumpster dive for food because they don’t have enough money to feed themselves and they also occasionally break into homes. Once she is part of the group, Evie is persuaded to start stealing cash from her mom whenever the opportunity arises and bring it to Russell. But then as with Manson, that bidding eventually takes a violent and deadly turn. Russell is a singer-songwriter wannabe and has been angling for a record deal with this guy named Mitch. When the record deal never materializes, Russell is furious and sends his girls over to Mitch’s house to send him a message that neither he nor anyone else in their community will ever forget.

What I loved about The Girls:

One of the things that fascinated me most about this novel is that even though it contains a mass murdering Manson-like cult, Cline crafts her story in such a way that the murders committed are really just a footnote. The primary focus of the novel is, as the title suggests, the girls.

Cline deftly uses two narrative perspectives to tell Evie’s story. The first, and main one, is fourteen year old Evie describing how she meets Suzanne and gets seduced into joining Russell’s group. This allows us to see the events as they unfold, to watch Evie’s obsession with Suzanne grow and see the lengths she will go to in order to please Suzanne, and, most importantly, it allows us to understand Evie’s motivations as these events are taking place. In her portrayal of young Evie, Cline perfectly captures all of the nuances of being a teenage girl – the volatile emotions, the vulnerability, the intense need to belong to a group and just fit in. Cline is so spot on with her writing that I felt like I could have been reading the diary of a fourteen year old. Heck, it could have been my own diary when I was a teenager (minus the murderous cult, of course!).

The second perspective Cline uses to tell the story is much more reflective and really helps to round out Evie’s story. Evie is still the narrator, but now she is much older and is looking back on herself when she was fourteen and thinking about what happened, what could have happened, why everything happened, etc. Again, Cline perfectly captures the inner workings of older Evie’s mind down to the almost giddiness that she still seems to feel at being associated, however loosely, with the now infamous cult. Even as an adult, Evie still feels their hold over her, Suzanne’s in particular.
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five-stars

About Emma Cline

Emma Cline is from California. Her fiction has appeared in Tin House and The Paris Review, and she was the recipient of the 2014 Paris Review Plimpton Prize.

Cynthia D’Aprix’s debut novel ‘The Nest’ is an engaging tale about the importance of family

Cynthia D’Aprix’s debut novel ‘The Nest’ is an engaging tale about the importance of familyThe Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
four-stars
Published by Ecco on March 22nd 2016
Genres: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Synopsis from Goodreads: A warm, funny and acutely perceptive debut novel about four adult siblings and the fate of the shared inheritance that has shaped their choices and their lives.

Every family has its problems. But even among the most troubled, the Plumb family stands out as spectacularly dysfunctional. Years of simmering tensions finally reach a breaking point on an unseasonably cold afternoon in New York City as Melody, Beatrice, and Jack Plumb gather to confront their charismatic and reckless older brother, Leo, freshly released from rehab. Months earlier, an inebriated Leo got behind the wheel of a car with a nineteen-year-old waitress as his passenger. The ensuing accident has endangered the Plumbs joint trust fund, “The Nest,” which they are months away from finally receiving. Meant by their deceased father to be a modest mid-life supplement, the Plumb siblings have watched The Nest’s value soar along with the stock market and have been counting on the money to solve a number of self-inflicted problems.

Melody, a wife and mother in an upscale suburb, has an unwieldy mortgage and looming college tuition for her twin teenage daughters. Jack, an antiques dealer, has secretly borrowed against the beach cottage he shares with his husband, Walker, to keep his store open. And Bea, a once-promising short-story writer, just can’t seem to finish her overdue novel. Can Leo rescue his siblings and, by extension, the people they love? Or will everyone need to reimagine the future they’ve envisioned? Brought together as never before, Leo, Melody, Jack, and Beatrice must grapple with old resentments, present-day truths, and the significant emotional and financial toll of the accident, as well as finally acknowledge the choices they have made in their own lives.
This is a story about the power of family, the possibilities of friendship, the ways we depend upon one another and the ways we let one another down. In this tender, entertaining, and deftly written debut, Sweeney brings a remarkable cast of characters to life to illuminate what money does to relationships, what happens to our ambitions over the course of time, and the fraught yet unbreakable ties we share with those we love.

 

My Review: 

Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s debut novel The Nest is, by far, one of the most talked about books of 2016 so far.  In fact, I’m pretty sure it has appeared on nearly every ‘Must-Read’ list I’ve read in recent months.  I was eager to see what all the hype was about so I purchased a copy and dove in.

Sweeney hooked me instantly in the prologue with her dramatic and suspenseful description of a tragic accident that sets the rest of the events of the novel into motion.  While attending a family party, Leo Plumb, inebriated and high on cocaine, persuades a young lady named Matilda, who is working at the event, to take a ride in his Porsche. The ride, and the prologue, end abruptly when Leo loses control and crashes his car during an ill-timed sexual encounter.

The central storyline of The Nest deals with the fallout from this accident. Although both Leo and Matilda survive the crash, Matilda is left with a permanent disability that, of course, Leo is responsible for because of his reckless actions.  And yet, ironically, what has the Plumb family, particularly Leo’s three siblings, Melody, Jack, and Beatrice, distraught when the novel opens, is not what has happened to Matilda because of Leo, or even how could have possibly wrecked his own life.  No, what has them all  upset is that their mother has dipped into what they refer to as ‘The Nest’ to pay off Matilda and otherwise clean up Leo’s mess.

So why all the fuss about the so-called ‘Nest’?  The Nest is the Plumb siblings’ trust fund.  It was set up for them by their father years ago and was meant to be divided equally between the four of them when the youngest sibling turned 40.  Their father had intended that the Nest would simply be a modest sum to pad whatever fortunes his children should have already amassed for themselves by the time they had all reached middle age.  Because of some shrewd investing by the family attorney, however, the Nest had grown considerably in size and had promised a huge payout for each of the Plumbs — at least until their mother decided to raid it to help Leo get out of his scrape.

What we learn immediately about the Plumb siblings is that they have each been financially irresponsible over the years and so have grown to depend on the disbursement of ‘The Nest’ to bail them out of their financial difficulties.  Melody, the youngest Plumb sibling, is a homemaker who is stubbornly clinging to an upscale lifestyle that her family really can’t afford to maintain anymore.  She can barely manage to pay her mortgage but yet is still determined to send her twin high school age daughters to expensive private colleges.   Older brother Jack, an antiques dealer, is not faring any better.  He has gotten in over his head and is keeping his store afloat with a line of credit he has taken out against the beach house that he and his husband Walker own.  Walker, however, is unaware of the line of credit and so Jack has been living a life of secrets and lies in hopes that his share of the Nest would allow him to pay off the credit line so that Walker would never know what Jack had done behind his back.   Beatrice (Bea), the elder Plumb sister, is a talented writer whose career started out with a lot of promise but has since completely stalled out.  She is supposed to be writing a novel and has been living primarily off of the advance for her book, but after nearly a decade with no signs of a forthcoming novel, Bea’s literary agent is threatening to drop her.  When their mother and Leo burst their bubble that the Nest is going to save them, the Plumb siblings all panic and begin scrambling around trying to figure out how they’re going to hold their lives together if they can’t force Leo to pay them back their share of the Nest.  The irony here is that Leo apparently has been secretly squirreling away money for years in an offshore account and probably has enough to have pay off Matilda by himself in the first place, but most definitely has enough to repay the funds that were taken from the ‘Nest.’  Leo, however, doesn’t want to lose his own little nest egg, so he evades his family when they ask him how he’s going to pay them back and begins scheming to raise money to repay his debt.  Sweeney uses the Plumbs and their lost ‘Nest’ to very effectively satirize the elite and the money/status-obsessed.  How will the Plumbs ever survive if they have to live like the rest of us lowly non-trust fund babies?

Strengths of The Nest:

Character driven.  While the story in itself is a great one, what really drives The Nest are the characters and the ultra-realistic way in which Sweeney draws them.  They are the textbook definition of a dysfunctional family and I’ll admit that initially I had some trouble relating to them because of their obsession with how not getting the Nest has ruined their lives.  I wanted to yell at Melody for being so horrified that her children may have to attend public colleges instead of private ones and at Jack because OMG! He might have to sell his beach house without the Nest.  The more I read, however, the more I was able to get past the entitled, elitist exteriors and see how flawed and utterly human Sweeney has painted them.  I even started to see myself and my own family in the Plumbs and thus could more easily identify with their struggles and with their frustrations with each other and especially with Leo.  Nothing is more frustrating than having a loved one who is his or her own worst enemy.

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four-stars

‘Eligible’ by Curtis Sittenfeld gives ‘Pride and Prejudice’ a Fresh and Fun Makeover

‘Eligible’ by Curtis Sittenfeld gives ‘Pride and Prejudice’ a Fresh and Fun MakeoverEligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld
four-half-stars
Series: The Austen Project #4
Published by Random House on April 19th 2016
Genres: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 512
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Synopsis from Goodreads: From the “wickedly entertaining” (USA Today) Curtis Sittenfeld, New York Times bestselling author of Prep and American Wife, comes a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. A bold literary experiment, Eligible is a brilliant, playful, and delicious saga for the twenty-first century.

This version of the Bennet family—and Mr. Darcy—is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help—and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray.

Youngest sisters Kitty and Lydia are too busy with their CrossFit workouts and Paleo diets to get jobs. Mary, the middle sister, is earning her third online master’s degree and barely leaves her room, except for those mysterious Tuesday-night outings she won’t discuss. And Mrs. Bennet has one thing on her mind: how to marry off her daughters, especially as Jane’s fortieth birthday fast approaches.

Enter Chip Bingley, a handsome new-in-town doctor who recently appeared on the juggernaut reality TV dating show Eligible. At a Fourth of July barbecue, Chip takes an immediate interest in Jane, but Chip’s friend neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy reveals himself to Liz to be much less charming. . . .

And yet, first impressions can be deceiving. Wonderfully tender and hilariously funny, Eligible both honors and updates Austen’s beloved tale. Tackling gender, class, courtship, and family, Sittenfeld reaffirms herself as one of the most dazzling authors writing today.

My review: 

Prior to requesting Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible from Netgalley, I was completely unfamiliar with the Austen Project, in which six prominent modern-day authors have been tasked with giving contemporary makeovers to Jane Austen’s classic novels.  Because I’ve been a Jane Austen fan since I first read Pride and Prejudice in high school, I was immediately intrigued by the project and eager to see what kind of modern spin these authors would put on some of my beloved favorites.

I’m happy to report that Eligible, Sittenfeld’s modern take on Pride and Prejudice, did not disappoint.  For those who are familiar with the original classic, Eligible preserves its main characters, primary storylines, satirical elements, as well as its overriding themes:   Mrs. Bennet is still obsessed with finding suitable husbands for her five daughters to marry, and Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett again steal the spotlight as they verbally spar their way from hate at first sight to eventual true love.

In spite of the many similarities to Pride and Prejudice, however, Sittenfeld skillfully infuses Eligible with enough modern elements and unexpected plot twists to keep her story fresh and hilariously entertaining rather than simply a rehash of the original.

Highlights for me:

There were so many things I loved about this book that it’s impossible to name them all. The contemporary spin on the Liz/Darcy storyline is a given, but here are some of my other favorites:

The Americanized setting.  Swapping out the English countryside for the suburban landscape of Cincinnati, Ohio gave the original storyline an instant facelift, as did replacing fancy dress balls and strolls around formal English gardens with barbecues and jogs around the block.  The change in scenery was instantly relatable, and of course, there was the added amusement of learning that our oh-so-dignified Mr. Darcy was a big fan of Cincinnati chili.

The aging  of the Bennet sisters.  Since it would have been somewhat old-fashioned to be worried about twentysomethings and the danger of spinsterhood, Sittenfeld deftly updates both the ages of the Bennet sisters as well as the driving forces behind Mama Bennet’s desire to find them all men.  Eldest daughter Jane is now 40, with Liz not too far behind her at 38, so the relevant issue at hand for them, Jane in particular, is fertility.  If they want to have children, they had better get busy.

For the younger three Bennet sisters, the issue is more just about having them grow up and start fending for themselves.  Here, Sittenfeld has woven into her narrative a powerful, albeit humorous, criticism of millennials, and particularly of what she refers to as the ‘boomerang effect’ when the grown children return home to live with their parents.  Even though all five Bennet sisters are grown women, only two of them, Jane and Liz, have moved out of their parents’ home and secured careers for themselves.  Kitty, Lydia, and Mary have instead chosen to remain living at home and behaving like children.  They do absolutely nothing to help out around the house either through monetary contributions or by helping to care for their father when his health declines.  Instead of needing husbands, what these three girls need is a swift kick in the pants to get them out of their parents’ home and living independently.

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four-half-stars

5 Stars for Emma Donoghue’s ‘Room’

5 Stars for Emma Donoghue’s ‘Room’Room by Emma Donoghue
five-stars
Published by HarperCollins Publishers on September 15th 2015
Genres: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 432
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Synopsis from Goodreads: Now a Major Motion Picture starring Brie Larson and William H. Macy#1 International BestsellerWinner of the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction PrizeWinner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book (Canada and Caribbean region)Winner of the Hughes & Hughes Irish Novel of the Year.

To five-year-old-Jack, Room is the world. It’s where he was born. It’s where he and Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. There are endless wonders that let loose Jack’s imagination-the snake under Bed that he constructs out of eggshells; the coziness of Wardrobe beneath Ma’s clothes, where she tucks him in safely at night, in case Old Nick comes.
Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it’s the prison where she’s been held since she was nineteen-for seven long years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in that eleven-by-eleven-foot space. But Jack’s curiosity is building alongside her own desperation, and she knows that Room cannot contain either indefinitely . . .
Told in the inventive, funny, and poignant voice of Jack, Room is a celebration of resilience-and a powerful story of a mother and son whose love lets them survive the impossible.

 

My review:  

I have to confess I had never heard of Emma Donoghue prior to the Oscar buzz that surrounded the film ‘Room’ earlier this year.  Because I have a rule that I never watch a movie that is based on a book until I have actually read the book, I immediately purchased a copy of ‘Room’ and settled in to find out why this story was generating so much interest.

There are some books that are out of sight, out of mind as soon as you finish reading the last page, and then there are others that crawl into your brain and won’t let go. ‘Room’ is most definitely the latter of the two.  I finished reading it a week ago and literally cannot stop thinking about it.  It’s just that mind blowing.

‘Room’ is a 12’x12’ shed where ‘Ma’ and her son, Jack, are living when the novel opens.  Ma was abducted when she was 19 years old and has been held captive in this room for seven years.  Jack, who is five years old (so yes, a child of rape), was born in this room and has never been outside of it.  This one room is literally his whole world.

What makes this story so unforgettable is the unique point of view from which it is told.  Instead of having Ma tell her story, which is what I would have expected, five-year old Jack is actually the narrator.  Because we are seeing the story unfold from Jack’s innocent perspective, rather than being plunged immediately into a horrific tale of kidnapping, imprisonment, and rape, instead we are presented with a view of everyday life in what Jack refers to as ‘Room’ and a beautiful story about a mother’s love for her child.  The first half of the novel paints a vivid picture of the world within ‘Room’ that Ma has painstakingly created for Jack.  The reader can see that Ma has clearly poured her heart and soul into shielding Jack from the reality of their imprisonment and into making his life as close to normal as she possibly can, given the circumstances.  And she has succeeded.  Jack truly believes that ‘Room’ is all there is and that anything else he sees on television is just make believe.  He has no idea that he and his mother are being held captive and that terrible things have happened to his mother since before he was born.

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five-stars

About Emma Donoghue

emma donoghue

Emma is the youngest of eight children of Frances and Denis Donoghue. She attended Catholic convent schools in Dublin, apart from one year in New York at the age of ten. In 1990 she earned a first-class honours BA in English and French from University College Dublin, and in 1997 a PhD (on the concept of friendship between men and women in eighteenth-century English fiction) from the University of Cambridge. Since the age of 23, Donoghue has earned her living as a full-time writer. After years of commuting between England, Ireland, and Canada, in 1998 she settled in London, Ontario, where she lives with her partner and their son and daughter.

Book Review: Go Set a Watchman

Book Review: Go Set a WatchmanGo Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
three-half-stars
Published by HarperCollins on July 14th 2015
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 278
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Synopsis from Goodreads: From Harper Lee comes a landmark new novel set two decades after her beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird.
Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch--"Scout"--returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise's homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in a painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past--a journey that can be guided only by one's conscience.
Written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman imparts a fuller, richer understanding and appreciation of Harper Lee. Here is an unforgettable novel of wisdom, humanity, passion, humor and effortless precision--a profoundly affecting work of art that is both wonderfully evocative of another era and relevant to our own times. It not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird, but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context and new meaning to an American classic.

 

 

My review:

Count me as one of the many readers who considers Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird one of the most powerful works of fiction ever written.  Assigned to me as required reading when I was in eighth grade, To Kill a Mockingbird was the first ‘grown-up’ book I had ever read and a far cry from the books I was used to having my nose buried in – namely, those fun and fluffy tales of the Wakefield twins from Sweet Valley High.  Viewing racism through the eyes of an innocent child, the novel’s eight year old narrator, Scout Finch, coupled with Harper Lee’s beautiful prose, spoke to me in ways that no book that I’ve read before or since has.   I was thrilled therefore to hear that after so many years, we were finally getting another novel from Ms. Lee with Go Set a Watchman.

I think the key to fully appreciating Go Set a Watchman is to read it with the knowledge that it is not meant to be a sequel to “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  As HarperCollins explains on its website, this is the first book that she submitted to her publisher for consideration and it was believed to be lost until it was recently discovered.

Originally written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman was the novel Harper Lee first submitted to her publishers before To Kill a Mockingbird.  Assumed to have been lost, the manuscript was discovered in late 2014.  HarperCollins.com

Business Insider is a bit more explicit in discussing the relationship between the two novels:

Her publisher rejected it and suggested Lee explore the childhoods of the characters in the original novel, which led to the now-famous “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  BusinessInsider.com

In light of this information, I chose to view Go Set a Watchman as an early draft of what later became the much beloved To Kill a Mockingbird, basically an alternate universe if you please, and in viewing the novel as such, I quite enjoyed it.

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three-half-stars

Book Review: Glory over Everything

Book Review:  Glory over EverythingGlory over Everything: Beyond The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
four-half-stars
Published by Simon & Schuster on April 5th 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Synopsis from Goodreads: A novel of family and long-buried secrets along the treacherous Underground Railroad. The author of the New York Times bestseller and beloved book club favorite The Kitchen House continues the story of Jamie Pyke, son of both a slave and master of Tall Oaks, whose deadly secret compels him to take a treacherous journey through the Underground Railroad.
Published in 2010, The Kitchen House became a grassroots bestseller. Fans connected so deeply to the book’s characters that the author, Kathleen Grissom, found herself being asked over and over “what happens next?” The wait is finally over.
This new, stand-alone novel opens in 1830, and Jamie, who fled from the Virginian plantation he once called home, is passing in Philadelphia society as a wealthy white silversmith. After many years of striving, Jamie has achieved acclaim and security, only to discover that his aristocratic lover Caroline is pregnant. Before he can reveal his real identity to her, he learns that his beloved servant Pan has been captured and sold into slavery in the South. Pan’s father, to whom Jamie owes a great debt, pleads for Jamie’s help, and Jamie agrees, knowing the journey will take him perilously close to Tall Oaks and the ruthless slave hunter who is still searching for him. Meanwhile, Caroline’s father learns and exposes Jamie’s secret, and Jamie loses his home, his business, and finally Caroline. Heartbroken and with nothing to lose, Jamie embarks on a trip to a North Carolina plantation where Pan is being held with a former Tall Oaks slave named Sukey, who is intent on getting Pan to the Underground Railroad. Soon the three of them are running through the Great Dismal Swamp, the notoriously deadly hiding place for escaped slaves. Though they have help from those in the Underground Railroad, not all of them will make it out alive.

My Review:

With its heartbreaking and brutally honest depiction of how slaves were treated in the American South, Kathleen Grissom’s The Kitchen House stands out as one of the most memorable novels I’ve read in recent years. Because it had such a profound effect on me, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the sequel, Glory over Everything: Beyond the Kitchen House. Thanks so much to Netgalley, Simon & Schuster, and of course, Kathleen Grissom, for making it possible for me to obtain a copy prior to the novel’s April 5th release date.

So, how best to describe Glory over Everything? Think Nella Larsen’s Passing and Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave, with a smattering of Gone with the Wind thrown in for good measure. While The Kitchen House explores the horrors of slavery by showing how hard it is to live as a slave in the South, Glory over Everything tackles the same theme but from a different point of view, that of the free black or mixed race individual who has managed to escape from the South. Grissom exposes the ugly truth that until slavery was finally abolished in this country, freedom was merely an illusion if you had any ‘color’ in your blood. It could be stolen from you anywhere at any time, and so you lived life constantly looking over your shoulder.

The offspring of a white slave master and a slave, our protagonist James Pyke learns this lesson the hard way. When the novel opens, James has already escaped from slavery once, traveling via the Underground Railroad to freedom. He is now living in Philadelphia as “James Burton”. Because of his pale complexion, he has been able to ‘pass’ as a white man for a number of years now and is a respected businessman and artist in his community. Using a series of flashbacks, the first half of the novel returns us to when Jamie first arrives in Philadelphia and retraces the path he takes to become James Burton.

Two events transpire, however, that threaten to destroy this new life he has worked so hard for: 1) his lover Caroline becomes pregnant and 2) James’ servant, a young boy named Pan that James loves like a son, is kidnapped and shipped south to be sold into slavery. Although he is frightened to return to the South because of his own past, James promises Pan’s father, Henry, that he will find and return Pan home. Initially James is conflicted between his duty to Caroline and their unborn child and his oath to Henry. However, ultimately James is forced to flee Philadelphia when he is betrayed by someone who knows of his past and uses it against him. With nothing else left to lose at this point, James swallows his own fears and heads south to find Pan. The second half of the novel focuses on this potentially dangerous rescue mission.

Highlights:

I loved nearly everything about this novel, but here are some aspects of it that really stood out for me.

The suspense – While the first half of the novel moves along at a slow and steady pace as it traces James’ backstory and focuses on character development, the rest of the novel becomes very Mission Impossible. It’s so intense that I stayed up nearly all night long to finish it because I was so desperate to know how it ended. Every chapter is suspenseful and filled with potential dangers as James, first of all, must lie to everyone he encounters on his journey to create a plausible cover story that allows him to search for Pan. Then, once he locates him, he must come up with a feasible plan to free Pan and bring him home, all the while without revealing his own true identity, especially once he hears that his former slave master is not only still alive, but is still actively looking for him.

Pan – I know James is the protagonist in this novel and a wonderful character in his own right, but I guarantee that you will fall in love with Pan. Just as Mama Mae was the heart and soul of The Kitchen House, Pan is the heart and soul of this novel. He’s a precocious young boy with a heart as big as Texas, who instantly enchants everyone he meets. After Pan was taken, I waited anxiously to hear more of him and wished I could give James a kick in the pants to hurry him along on his journey to rescue him.

Underground Railroad – The chapters that deal with the Underground Railroad stand out as the novel’s most memorable moments. On the one hand, what an absolutely terrifying experience to have an escape route that passes through a swamp containing bears, wild cats, poisonous snakes, and who knows what other dangers. But on the other hand, it was heartwarming to see so many people along the way who were helping as many as they could escape to freedom.
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four-half-stars