Thursday, January 30, 2014

The One I Left Behind by Jennifer McMahon

I can't say exactly how it happened, but Jennifer McMahon has made it onto my list of "auto-read" authors–– the ones whose books I always pick up and enjoy reading. That said, my reading habits were pretty terrible in 2013, and although I picked up The One I Left Behind right when it was released, it took me nearly nine months to finish it (until September). With her next novel, The Winter People, about to release, I knew that it was time to write this review before I get the two confused.

In The One I Left Behind, thirteen year-old Reggie's life changes forever when a serial killer called Neptune takes her mother. It's the killer's last victim, and nobody appears before he disappears forever. Nearly two decades later, Reggie gets a call-- her mother is confused and sick, but alive. Now Reggie has to figure out what happened in order to prevent Neptune from returning.

The One I Left Behind is the fourth book I've read by McMahon, and at this point there are certain things I expect from her books. Basically, I expect vivid settings, a mystery that suddenly becomes important decades later (and the book alternates between when it occurred and the present time), and a strong, female voice to narrate. Occasionally, there is a hint of the paranormal as well.

Despite certain predicable elements, there is something just so engaging and well-written about McMahon's books, and so although I don't think I would reread any, I will definitely keep picking up her new ones. Although it has a few lulls, overall The One I Left Behind had me on edge while I was reading it and wanting to know what happened. It was an intelligent, original, and fun novel to read, one just as much about Reggie and her relationships both as a child and now, as about the serial killer.

Ultimately, The One I Left Behind is successful for the same reason McMahon is, because her storytelling takes fully-fleshed characters that feel authentic and human, and put them in unexpected mystery situations the reader really wants to solve. As long as she keeps doing that, I will keep reading her books!

Release Date: January 2nd, 2013  Pages: 422  Format: ARC
Source: Publisher  Publisher: William Morrow   Buy It: Book Depository

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Wine of Solitude by Irene Nemirovsky

The Wine of Solitude is the second book I've read by Irene Nemirovsky, a Jewish novelist born in the Ukraine who lived and worked in France and died in Auschwitz. The first book I read by her, Fire in the Blood, was in 2010, and this was nearly three years later (yes, I'm still catching up on old reviews). Honestly, I can't tell you why I haven't read more, because the truth is every word I've read by Nemirovsky has blown me away.

At the centre of The Wine of Solitude is a young girl, Helene, intelligent and lost, searching and alone. There are a slew of complicated relationships, with her incredibly vain mother, her father, her mother's lover. Although the novel begins in the Ukraine, then moves to Russia, Finland, and France, as the family flees the Russian Revolution and World War I. Although the historical aspect is really interesting, this is really a story about Helene coming-of-age in a dysfunctional family and world. 

The writing in The Wine of Solitude is beautiful, and out of the whole novel one quote really stuck with me, even now, a year after reading it:
I may be alone, but my solitude is powerful and intoxicating.
That said, I didn't have the strongest emotional connection to the characters in the story, I felt like I was at a distance to them, and so it was a book I often put down and picked up again. The words captured me, but the people did not. Reading The Wine of Solitude definitely reminded me how much I still need to read Nemirovsky's most famous novel, Suite Francaise.

Release Date: 1935, English translation: September 18th, 2012  Pages: 248  Format: Egalley
Source: Edelweiss  Publisher: Vintage   Buy It: Book Depository

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Aesop's Fables by Aesop

Aesop's Fables came free on my Kobo with 100 Classics and since each one is short and sweet, I read most of it while traveling at the beginning of 2013. It's a hard book to review in retrospect, but I do have some notes on ones I liked or found particularly memorable.

I recorded these as being "memorable":
The Father and his Sons
The Cock and the Jewel
The Woolf and the Crane: In serving the wicked, expect no reward, and be thankful if you escape injury for your pains.
The Traveler and His Dog: The loiterer often blames delay on his more active friend.
The Dog and the Shadow
The Bear and the Fox
The Tortoise and the Eagle: If men had all they wished, they would be often ruined.
The Bear and the Two Travelers: Misfortune tests the sincerity of friends.
The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: Harm seek, harm find.
The Man and His Two Sweethearts: Those who seek to please everybody please nobody.
The Shepherd's Boy and the Wolf: There is no believing a liar, even when he speaks the truth.

However, there are definitely some whose messages don't quite stand the test of time. For example, "The Ass and the Lapdog" in which the ass laments, "I have brought it all on myself! Why could I not have been contented to labor with my companions, and not wish to be idle all day like that useless little Lapdog."

"The Aethiop" is just one of them that has become offensive, ending with the message "What's bred in the bone will stick to the flesh."

There are also some that are very similar, for example "The Wolf and the Lamb" and "The Cat and the Cock" both revolve around animals looking for excuses to eat their dinner– but not needing them.

However despite some obvious misses, overall it was fun to read Aesop's Fables. There are so many in here, and while many are ones I have heard repeated in various ways, there are also plenty that are new and fun to discover. I had a vague plan in 2013 to read more classics, and while that failed miserably, at least I started the year off right. I have no such plan in 2014, so that seems even less promising, but perhaps the year will surprise me.

Let me know if you have read this book, or have another, easy-to-read classic you recommend I add to my list.

Translator: George Fyler Townsend
The Project Gutenberg EBook of Aesop's Fables, by Aesop

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Bruised by Sarah Skilton

Well, I noticed that Sarah Skilton has a new novel coming out (in April, called High and Dry) so that guilted me into sitting down to write a review of her debut, Bruised. I am pretty much a book blogger failure on this one because I requested it and read it about a year ago but never wrote a review. That is basically the theme of In The Next Room these days, and I'm sorry about that. I started my PhD a little over a year ago and it definitely took up more time and energy than I expected. I'm going to continue to try to get reviews up here when I can, but no promises about their regularity. 

I requested Bruised because the story really caught my attention as something unique and exciting in YA literature. In it, Imogen has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and she always expected it would protect her but when she fails to act during a holdup at a dinner, the gunman is killed by the police and she holds herself responsible. Now she has to rebuild her life in the face of PTSD and without the confidence and skills that she once thought were irrevocable.

What I really liked about Bruised was how easy to was to read, the story was straightforward, Imogen's voice was clear, and it kept me turning the pages (according to Goodreads I finished it over 2 days). However, the main issue I had with Bruised is that I really just didn't feel that gut-wrenching connection to the story and the characters that I wanted to, especially with such an emotional premise. Sometimes, when I was reading it was more like I knew that things were upsetting than I really felt it. I was definitely still rooting for Imogen, but I wanted to be doing it with a bit more of my soul. There were moments when I did get that connection, but it wasn't consistent. I also wanted more from the secondary characters as some of them felt a bit like background.

Ultimately, the easy flow and details of Skilton's writing kept my interest in Bruised so I would consider reading her next novel, but when it came to Bruised it just didn't hit me emotionally as strongly as I wanted it to.

Release Date: March 5th, 2013  Pages: 288  Format: ARC
Source: Publisher Publisher: Amulet/Abrams  Buy It: Book Depository