Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Review of I Love You More by Jennifer Murphy

Jennifer Murphy’s debut novel I Love You More, released on June 17 of this year, is a well-written mystery about love, conspiracy, and deception. Absorbing if not intensely gripping, this novel is a solid choice for a summer read for those who like a story of psychological suspense.

Publisher’s Summary: (I decided to include the publisher’s summary here rather than write my own… Easy way out, maybe. But this way, I hope, I don’t risk getting overly spoiler-ish!) Picasso Lane is twelve years old when her father, Oliver, is murdered at their summer beach house. Her mother, Diana, is the primary suspect—until the police discover his second wife, and then his third. The women say they have never met—but Picasso knows otherwise. Picasso remembers the morning beautiful Jewels showed up at their house, carrying the same purse as her mother, and a family portrait featuring her father with two strange boys. Picasso remembers lifting the phone, listening to late night calls with Bert, a woman heavily pregnant with Oliver's fourth child. As the police circle and a detective named Kyle Kennedy becomes a regular fixture in their home, Picasso tries to make sense of her father's death, the depth of his deceit, and the secrets that bind these three women. Cunningly paced and plotted, I Love You More is a riveting novel of misplaced loyalty, jealousy, and revenge.

My Thoughts: I read a small number of mysteries or psychological thrillers every year. They fall outside of my usual genre choices (typically literary fiction and historical fiction), but periodically I do find myself intrigued by the premise of a mystery or thriller. “One man, three wives, the perfect murder”—yep, I have to admit the publisher’s marketing had me itching to give the book a try.

I found I Love You More to be a good, if not completely gripping, read. It’s well-paced and a strong debut for Murphy. Murphy uses different points of view, both before and after the murder, to good effect. The chapters written from the perspective of Picasso are particularly compelling; Murphy gets the voice of this precocious girl, who carries a few of her cunning father’s traits, exactly right.

A few plot twists and characters struck me as overly implausible, and I didn’t like the use of the collective perspective of “the wives” (when the three women seemed like very distinct characters to me). I did not anticipate the ending, although I suspect more frequent readers of mysteries might find it easy to do so.

So many books were—erroneously, even ridiculously—compared to Gone Girl after the runaway success of Gillian Flynn’s novel two years ago. But I Love You More, if not as intensely suspenseful and unsettling as Gone Girl, will likely appeal to fans of Flynn, as well to fans of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series.

I rate I Love You More three out of five stars.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, Doubleday Books, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. As always, the views expressed here are my own.

Monday, June 23, 2014

It's Monday--What Are You Reading?

It's Monday again! Time again for this weekly bookish meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. For me, today marks the first Monday since the end of the school year, which means a more relaxed schedule . . . and hopefully, plenty of time for reading great books and continuing to develop my skills as a book blogger. I'm still fairly new at all of this, but I feel like I've come a long way since April!

Last week, I finished these three books:

I posted my reviews of Julia Fierro's Cutting Teeth and Ayelet Waldman's Love and Treasure (you can click on each title to read my review). My review of The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman will be coming later this week.

Last week on the blog, I also posted the Top Ten Books on My Summer TBR List. Ha, we'll see how well I do at completing all of those books this summer! I know that other books will pop up during the summer months, so a few of those books will probably be pushed to fall for me. In any case, it's certainly a list of books I want to read at some point this year.

Here's what I'm reading right now:

I am currently reading an ARC of Jennifer Murphy's I Love You More, which is a newly released mystery with a plot centered on a man with three wives. Review to come later this week on that one, hopefully. I'm listening to Americanah by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie as an audiobook. I am just at the beginning, but I'm really enjoying it so far. I often take quite a while to finish an audiobook, and this is fairly long one, so it may be a few weeks before I can post my thoughts.

This week I had hoped to participate in my very first giveaway as a blogger, the Literary Blog Hop hosted by Judith at Leeswammes. Unfortunately, time got completely away from me, with some important family issues going on last week, and I didn't have the opportunity to learn how to do a giveaway properly! I don't want to make a mistake the first time I do it and commit a disastrous blogging faux pas, so for this time I opted out. But I will be checking out the great blogs and their giveaways for the next couple of days, and I encourage you to do the same! The giveaways are open to everyone, by the way--not just bloggers. So check it out--free books and gift cards! You can enter through Wed, June 26; just click here. I hope very much to participate in the next Literary Blog Hop!

Hope you have a good week with time for some wonderful reading!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Review of Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman

Ayelet Waldman’s Love & Treasure is a complex and thought-provoking novel, with a plot inspired by the real-life Hungarian Gold Train of World War II. Gold, jewels, and valuables worth millions of dollars were stolen from Hungarian Jews, and discovered by American soldiers on a long train of forty boxcars at the end of the war. Waldman uses an object from the train—an unusual pendant depicting with the image of a peacock—as a framework for linking three intricately woven fictional narratives. The result is a layered story about guilt, redemption, love, and survival.

The Story: Waldman begins the novel in present-day Maine with Jack Wiseman, a retired classics professor who is dying of cancer. Jack gives his granddaughter Natalie, a young lawyer reeling from the failure of her marriage, an Art Nouveau pendant of enamel and semi-precious stones with an unusual design of a peacock. Natalie had worn the pendant on her ill-fated wedding day, wrongly assuming it had belonged to her deceased grandmother. Jack explains that he had removed it from the Hungarian Gold Train, and asks that Natalie restore it to its rightful owner.

The reader travels to Salzburg in 1945, where Jack, as a young Jewish Army officer, is given the responsibility of cataloging the contents of the gold train. He meets and falls in love with a survivor of Auschwitz named Ilona, a Hungarian woman searching for any sign of her sister, the last remaining member of her family. The narrative then switches to present-day Budapest, where Natalie crosses paths with Amitai, an Israeli war hero turned art dealer who tracks artworks looted during the Holocaust and returns them to the owners’ descendants. Amitai is searching for a Surrealist painting, which seems to depict a woman wearing the same peacock pendant that Natalie received from Jack. In the final of the three narratives, set in 1913 Budapest, Waldman tells the tale of a young woman named Nina through the point of view of her pompous Freudian pyschoanalyst, Dr. Zobel. Nina, a suffragist and intellectual, rebels against the strictures of her parents, who wish to settle her into an arranged marriage.

What I Thought: I’ve never read Ayelet Waldman before, but when I heard about the premise of this novel, I was intrigued. And it really is an excellent premise. Like many readers of literary fiction, I have read dozens of fictional accounts of World War II and the Holocaust, and sometimes I feel like I can’t bear to experience yet another re-telling of the heart-breaking atrocities of the era. But Love & Treasure is a unique book, and Waldman brings fresh light to the time period by considering it from different angles. She deftly describes the appalling experiences of Holocaust survivors and other displaced persons in the postwar years, which is an aspect of the time period not often covered in fiction.

For me, the most compelling and powerful of the three linked narratives was the postwar story of Jack, the well-meaning American officer, and the emotionally damaged Ilona. The middle narrative, of Natalie and Amitai, felt not fully satisfying to me, with some forced and clich├ęd love scenes and a treasure hunt caper that seemed perhaps too unlikely. Natalie and Amitai didn’t feel like fully developed characters to me, at least in comparison to other characters in the novel, and so I found it difficult to connect with them emotionally.

A number of other reviewers have expressed that they found the final story of Nina, as told through her psychoanalyst, to be lacking in interest. For me, it was fairly fascinating. I appreciated Waldman’s amusing satire of early twentieth century Freudian analysis; Dr. Zobel is obsessed with Nina, and yet absurdly certain of his own detachment and his ability to “cure” his patient of her “hysteria” and menstrual cramps.

I do recommend Love & Treasure to those who like literary fiction and historical fiction. It is a moving and haunting novel that I will not soon forget. I rate the novel 4 out of 5 stars.

I listened to Love & Treasure as an audiobook, and the narration by Jonathan Davis and Paul Hecht was very good.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Review of Cutting Teeth by Julia Fierro

Julia Fierro’s Cutting Teeth is a finely observed and highly readable new novel about the stresses and strains of parenthood and modern life. Fierro, a first-time novelist, brings to the table a fresh voice and sharp insight. Cutting Teeth is a solid, quick read for the summer, but in the end I’d describe it as novel that I liked rather than loved.

The Story: A group of thirty-something Brooklyn parents, who meet once a week for a playgroup for their four-year-olds, gather their families together for a Labor Day weekend at a Long Island beach house. Fierro shifts the point of view to each of the parents in the playgroup; all of them are obsessive and neurotic in their own way. Paranoid Nicole fears imminent disaster and smokes pot to get through the day; stay-at-home dad Rip wants to keep his job as an honorary “mommy” and so pressures his career-focused wife to have another baby; sexy Tiffany, who has pulled herself up from the wrong side of the tracks, seeks to be a perfect NYC mom and secure her daughter’s spot in the “right” school; former heiress Leigh struggles with a son with behavioral issues and the loss of her family’s fortune. Only the nanny Tenzin, the “Tibetan Mary Poppins” as one of the characters calls her, seems able to find contentment in the present. At the beach weekend, underlying tension and jealousies among these characters rise to the surface.

What I Thought: Although I thought this might be nothing more than a light and easy read, Cutting Teeth is a sharp and interesting social satire about urban sophisticates and the parenting practices currently in vogue among the upper and middle classes. Fierro cleverly demonstrates that the playgroup parents often behave just like oversize toddlers.

I flew through the pages of this novel and felt deeply enmeshed in the characters’ backstories and weekend foibles. But in the end, the slice-of-life story didn’t feel complete. I struggled with feeling so caught up in the characters’ lives and problems, and then not knowing, ultimately, how certain issues were resolved. Fierro’s characters did not seem to grow and mature, even after a near tragic event at the end of the weekend. Perhaps that is realistic (do people ever really change?), but it doesn’t make for the most satisfying emotional journey for the reader.

I would rate Cutting Teeth a 3 out of 5 stars. I will look forward to further work from the talented Julia Fierro.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Top Ten Books on My Summer TBR List

The Top Ten list, hosted by the Broke and the Bookish, for this week is the Top Ten Books On My Summer TBR List. TBR stands for "To Be Read"... And my TBR list has been growing by leaps and bounds lately! One particularly fantastic benefit to being a book blogger is that you learn about all sorts of wonderful books that you might not otherwise have known about. This is great. . . the big problem is finding the time to read them all, of course!

Ok, so here--I think!--are the Top Ten Books I'd like to read this summer. I reserve the right to change my mind and deviate from this list! I am very talented at deviating. . . because you never know what fabulous book will pop up and need to be read right away, no matter what the plan was! But these are the books topping my TBR pile for the summer months:

1. The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman

2. Americanah by Chiminanda Ngozi Adichie

3. Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian

4. Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

5. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

6. The Vacationers by Emma Straub

7. The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters by Michelle Lovric

8. The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin

9. I Love You More by Jennifer Murphy

10. Euphoria by Lily King

What's on the top of your reading list for summer?

Monday, June 16, 2014

It's Monday . . . What Are You Reading?

Well, here we are at Monday again (joy!). Right now is a busy, busy time of year in my corner of the world, with end-of-school-year hoopla and a quick trip out of town. I have had some limited reading time, but I haven't posted to the blog in a few days. Here are the book-related things I have managed to squeeze in amongst all the craziness this past week . . .

Last week, I completed this new release:

Shirley: A Novel by Susan Scarf Merrell is an interesting read, a sort of psychological thriller about a young woman who goes to stay in the home of the writer Shirley Jackson in the 1960s. I would say it is a must-read for serious Shirley Jackson fans, but I found the book not wholly satisfying. You can read my review here.

Last week, I posted my first Top Ten List. The topic of the week was Top Ten Books I've Read So Far This Year. You can read my list right here.

I read this book this past week:

I will post my review of Julia Fierro's Cutting Teeth later this week.

And here is what I'm reading right now:

In Tom Rachman's new novel The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, a young woman, the owner of a used bookstore in a quiet Welsh village, seeks to uncover the mysterious secrets of her past. I'm enjoying trying to unravel the threads as I go!

Hope everyone has some great reading material lined up for the coming week!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Review of Shirley: A Novel by Susan Scarf Merrell

Susan Scarf Merrell’s Shirley: A Novel is a psychological thriller about a young woman who lives for a year in the home of celebrated writer Shirley Jackson in the 1960s. Merrell mingles the real and the fictional in an interesting fashion, and provides a compelling character study of Jackson. The novel, however, did not captivate me as much as I had hoped.

The Story: A young woman named Rose Nemser, newly married and soon to become a mother, comes to live in the home of Shirley Jackson and her husband Stanley Hyman at Bennington College in Vermont in the mid-1960s. Rose’s husband Fred is a graduate student in English, and Hyman, a noted literary critic, takes him under his wing. Jackson, of course, is the real-life author of the famous short story “The Lottery,” as well as other fiction. While the literary world considers Hyman as the more intellectual of the two, it is Jackson’s writing that pays the family’s bills.

Rose falls under the spell of the fascinating but unpredictable Shirley, hoping to emulate her as a writer and as a person. However, she begins to suspect something is amiss in the Hyman-Jackson home—there are troubling, unanswered phone calls, and gossip in the village about Stanley’s affairs. Rose finds herself becoming increasingly obsessed with the disappearance of a Bennington student years earlier.

What I Thought: This is a fairly unusual novel. Merrell does some interesting things here by blending real historical characters and events into her fiction. The disappearance of the student, for example, actually occurred in 1946 and is still unsolved. The novel provides a fairly intriguing character study of Shirley Jackson, and Merrell even tells the story in the way that, perhaps, Jackson herself would have. I would imagine this is a must-read for serious Jackson fans. In fact, reading this book has interested me in re-reading some of Jackson's work.

But although I appreciated the author’s intent here, I don’t think this novel is fully successful. While Merrell capably builds up tension and evokes a creepy sense of atmospheric dread, there is little pay-off in the conclusion. The suspense, for me, didn't lead anywhere, and key questions are left unanswered. Merrell alludes to some tantalizing elements about Rose’s past, but does not follow through enough on these threads. Rose, in fact, seemed little more than a cipher to me, and I struggled to find an emotional connection to her. In the end, I found Shirley to be an interesting read, but not wholly satisfying. I would rate it about 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Shirley: A Novel will be released on June 12.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. As always, the opinions expressed here are fully my own.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I've Read So Far This Year

Today I am participating for the first time in a weekly bloggers' meme called Top Ten Tuesday, created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week there is a new Top Ten List topic. This week's topic is The Top Ten Books I've Read So Far This Year . . . I thought I could handle that one for my first time.

Ok, deep breath ... here goes! My Top Ten Books for 2014, so far. You can click on the title below the picture to read my review:

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.

Frog Music by Emma Donoghue.

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay.

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine.

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead.

Dark Aemilia: A Novel of Shakespeare's Dark Lady. by Sally O'Reilly.

Sleep Donation by Karen Russell.

Lucky Us by Amy Bloom.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I did not post a review of this book.

Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell.

Have you read any of these books, or would you like to? What are some of your top books for the year so far?

Monday, June 9, 2014

It's Monday . . . What Are You Reading?

For the second week in a row, I'm participating in "It's Monday...What Are You Reading" hosted by Sheila from Book Journey. This seems to be a great way to gather your thoughts about what you've just read and what you are reading for the coming week.

Last week, I posted my reviews of these novels:

Genevieve Valentine's wonderful new novel The Girls at the Kingfisher Club is an intoxicating re-imagining of the fairy tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses in Prohibition-era Manhattan. You can read my review here.

And The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I had previously blogged about my reluctance to even start the novel (On My Strange and Embarrassing Reluctance to Start The Goldfinch) . . . and then when I finally finished that nearly 800-page behemoth, I procrastinated something fierce about writing my review! But here it is.

In addition, I joined the Big Book Summer Challenge for 2014, hosted by Sue at Book by Book. You can see what I committed to reading here. I need to get started on these soon! I am waiting for one of these--The Rise and Fall of Great Powers--to come in the mail. Are you interested in putting any Big Books in your beach bag for this summer?

I just finished reading this book:

Susan Scarf Merrell's novel Shirley, which will be released June 12. It's kind of a psychological thriller about a young woman who goes to stay in the home of Shirley Jackson (the writer of the famous short story "The Lottery") in the mid-1960s. This is an unusual novel that mixes fiction with some real characters and real events. I will post my review later this week.

Next up for me:

Cutting Teeth by Julia Fierro is the next selection of one of my book clubs, so I need to get cracking on it.

On audio, I am still listening to Ayelet Waldman's Love and Treasure. Sometimes it takes me awhile to finish audiobooks; I listen to them when I do household chores or grocery shopping or if I have to drive a distance, so it really just depends on how my week is going. I used to borrow audiobooks from my library, but several times I did not finish listening to the book in the allotted 2 week time period! I find it pretty ridiculous that you can renew a physical book several times, but you can't renew an audiobook. I can't be the only person with this problem! For now, I've given up on the library for audiobooks and I'm using Audible. By the way, did you know that June is Audiobook Month? So celebrate by listening to one... slowly, if you are like me!

What's on your reading agenda this week?

Friday, June 6, 2014

2014 Big Book Summer Challenge

Ok, I am joining my first challenge as a book blogger! It is called the Big Book Summer Challenge for 2014, hosted by Sue at Book by Book. It's a fairly low-key and easy summer challenge--the rules are that you read at least one book of 400 or more pages before Labor Day. I think I can do it!

Too bad I didn't save this hefty tome for the Big Book Summer Challenge:

The Goldfinch is a certifiable chunkster at 775 pages! Yep, it's a Big Book, alright. And I have even blogged about my foot-dragging on reading it, partly because of its length (On My Strange and Embarrassing Reluctance to Start "The Goldfinch"). Well, I finally--at long last--completed it, and you can read my review here. Bummer, it won't qualify for this challenge! I would have felt like I had an impressive entry with that one.

Ok, since that one won't cut it for the Big Book Challenge, let me see what else I can offer. I have quite a list of books I hope to tackle over the summer months, but many of them are under 400 pages. And my summer reading list tends to deviate from what I planned as the season wears on. But, I have two books I think I can commit to this summer that are 400 pages or more.

First, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 477 pages. I've never read Adichie, who of course has received a great deal of critical praise and attention... so it's time to rectify that. Americanah is an award-winning novel about love and race, set in Nigeria and America.

And secondly, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman, which JUST squeaks by for this challenge at 400 pages. Rachman's novel centers on an American woman living a quiet life as a bookshop owner in Wales. She receives surprising news from an old boyfriend that prompts her on a quest to uncover the mysteries of her puzzling past. Sounds intriguing... and I won a copy from Goodreads, so I oughta read it!

Ok, so I don't have any really first-class chunksters on the menu for the season. This is not the summer for me to take on Tolstoy, or Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy, a veritable monster at 1,474 pages, which continues to sit unread in my study. Nope, not this year. I think the two novels above, although the hardly the longest books out there, will do nicely for this challenge.

How about you... Are you interested in tackling any Big Books this summer?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Beautiful, Flawed, and Unforgettable: Review of The Goldfinch

The GoldfinchThe Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch is an astonishing achievement. It is a beautiful and compelling consideration of art and life. It is an evocatively written literary novel, yet at the same time a readable thriller that will keep readers anxiously turning the pages (all 775 of them) until the end. Sometimes, it’s also a bit of a sprawling mess. But once begun, I could never have walked away from The Goldfinch. Despite its flaws, I can’t give it any less than a 5 star rating; it is the most memorable piece of fiction I have read in a year, and I believe it will continue to be read many decades from now.

The novel begins with a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by thirteen-year-old Theo Decker and his mother, interrupted by sudden tragedy when a terrorist bomb blasts through the museum. Theo’s mother is killed, but Theo survives, and emerges from the confusion of the blast with a small painting that was handed to him by a dying older man. The painting is “The Goldfinch,” a masterwork by 17th century Dutch painter Carel Fabritius, and Theo holds onto it while he is sent first to live with a friend’s WASPy family on Park Avenue, and then to Las Vegas to live with his drunk and gambling father. In a ghostly, almost sinister exurb, Theo meets Russian teen Boris, and they forge a deep, drug-fueled bond over their loneliness and misery. Years later, Theo returns to New York and becomes an antique furniture dealer. Still carrying the painting with him—and wracked by guilt because he has not returned it—Theo finds himself immersed in a dangerous scheme with underworld art thieves.

Here is an image of the actual painting, painted by Fabritius in 1654 and soon on display again at the newly renovated Mauritshuis museum in the Netherlands:

The painting of the little chained goldfinch symbolizes, to Theo, all of his losses--his mother, his life in New York, his innocence—but also, perhaps, his own survival and his hope for the future. Themes of art, morality, survival, fate, obsession, and friendship abound in this novel. Tartt explores these with depth and sensitivity. Most especially, for me, the themes of identity and redemption emerged as the some of the strongest—who are we, who do we become, and how do we forgive ourselves for our failures and transgressions? Tartt writes movingly of grief, as well; Theo’s deep grief for his mother is palpable, and this thoroughly connects the reader to the emotionally damaged boy’s fate.

The Goldfinch struck me as very much a 9/11 story. Tartt’s account of Theo’s experience in the disorienting aftermath of the bomb, while he waits for a rescue that doesn’t arrive, is gripping and intense. Although the bomb at the Met is a fictional terrorist attack, it powerfully calls to mind the experience of those trapped in the Twin Towers. Theo is unmoored by the experience, and his psychological wounds take a decade to heal; perhaps, in a way, Theo is like New York itself as it struggles to find its footing after the tragedy.

Tartt’s homage to Dickens is clear and has been well-noted by many reviewers—the orphan making his way in a cruel world, the dodgy villains and thieves, the kindly father figure Theo finds in Hobie, who seems like a man plucked from the 19th century. The meandering plot and large number of characters are, indeed, highly Dickensian. But I was far more attuned to The Goldfinch’s references to Russian literature. Throughout, it has a certain Russian tone and mood; Theo’s very name is an Anglicized version of Fyodor (as in Dostoyevsky himself), and there is, of course, the inescapable Russianness of Boris. Theo’s guilty soliloquies and his crippling existential angst are reminiscent of Crime and Punishment, while the drunks and gamblers and the tortured prince trying to do good bring to mind The Idiot.

So let me turn to The Goldfinch’s flaws. Yes, at 775 pages, it IS too long. And I don’t say that simply because I think the length turns off some readers, but because I truly believe this novel would be stronger trimmed by about 200 pages. I wouldn’t have wanted to be the editor who cut Tartt’s prose, but characters sometimes ramble on in monologues and there are excessive, almost list-like descriptions. The novel drags noticeably in its third quarter. A tighter, more focused, and cohesive Goldfinch would ultimately have made for a better book.

I also struggled with Theo’s obsessive, unrequited love for Pippa. If Tartt hadn’t told me repeatedly that Theo loved Pippa, I wouldn’t have seen it. I felt their connection as children who had experienced a tragedy together, but Tartt never showed me the growth of Theo’s love for her.

But flaws and all, The Goldfinch represents a stunning artistic achievement for Donna Tartt, and it is deserving indeed of all the acclaim and literary awards, including the 2014 Pulitizer Prize for Fiction. For those who read literary fiction, it shouldn’t be missed. And I hope we won’t have to wait another decade for the next work from Tartt.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Love & Liberation in a Jazz Age Fairy Tale: Review of The Girls at the Kingfisher Club

The Girls at the Kingfisher ClubThe Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, Genevieve Valentine beautifully re-imagines the Brothers Grimm fairy tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses in glittering 1920s Manhattan. The result is a dazzling story of dancing, sisterhood, love, and most importantly, liberation, against the backdrop of Prohibition. For the reader, it’s an intoxicating Jazz Age treat with a surprisingly emotional conclusion.

The twelve Hamilton sisters live imprisoned in a castle fortress of sorts, a large New York City townhouse. Their wealthy, controlling father keeps them hidden from public view, embarrassed by his late wife’s excessive and rather gauche fertility. Led by first-born Jo, the oldest girls begin to sneak out at midnight to dance in speakeasies. As the years wear on, Jo introduces each of her younger sisters to their enchanted double life--dutiful and dull daughter by day, wild flapper by night. The sisters, known only as “Princesses” at the nightclubs, dance the Charleston and the foxtrot with abandon, but seem to have hearts of stone. They never tell men their real names, and they never fall in love.

But in 1927, after the youngest daughter has joined her sisters in their secret revels, the Princesses face danger from their father’s growing suspicions and a sudden police raid at the Kingfisher Club. Most dangerous of all, perhaps, is the thing that Jo has always feared most—opening her heart to love.

Valentine’s update of the fairy tale is inspired. Far from just a frothy confection about flappers & their beaded dresses, her novel takes on the theme of women seeking freedom from the debilitating “enchantment” of male control. I loved that the dancing princesses realize they can rescue themselves, each finding a hidden source of strength and power. Valentine’s prose is sharp, direct, and refreshing. The characters of each of the twelve sisters are surprisingly well-drawn, and Valentine skillfully reveals Jo’s emotional transformation from the protective, almost cold, eldest sister, unwilling to trust any man, into a woman who can freely give and accept love.

I rate The Girls at the Kingfisher Club with a 4.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for a thoroughly entertaining read. The novel reminds me of Amor Towles’ excellent Rules of Civility, another intelligent tale of 1920s Manhattan starring a strong-willed heroine.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. As always, the opinions expressed here are fully my own.

View all my reviews

Monday, June 2, 2014

It's Monday . . . What Are You Reading?

Happy Monday, everyone! Sheila at Book Journey has a cool weekly meme called "It's Monday, What Are You Reading?" Bloggers can link up and discuss what books they are reading right now, what they have just finished, what they hope to read later this week. I decided to start participating today, but it took me until this evening to sit down to the computer. It was one of those crazy, off-kilter Mondays!

So this is the book I am reading right now:

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine sets the fairy tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses in 1920s Manhattan. The "princesses" are a group of 12 sisters who escape their restrictive father's home at night to go dancing at speakeasies. I thought this might be just a light and fluffy read, but I'm finding it has more depth than I expected. Very interesting! It will be released June 3. I will try to finish in the next couple of days and post my review soon.

And on audio, I am listening to:

Love and Treasure is also starting off well. I have never read a novel by Ayelet Waldman, but when I heard the premise of this one, I had to give it a try. The novel's plot is centered on the Hungarian Gold Train, a train of 40 boxcars full of valuables and gold, worth millions of dollars, stolen from Hungarian Jews during World War II and discovered by US soldiers at the end of the war. Waldman uses the real-life train as a framework for telling three linked fictional narratives. So far, this a very compelling book, and I'm looking forward to continuing.

Yesterday I finished Sisters of Treason, Elizabeth Fremantle's new novel, which will be published July 8, and posted my review. Last week, I also finished reading Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, although I haven't written my review yet. I was too busy following Armchair BEA! That bloggers' conference, by the way, was such a great means of connecting with other book bloggers and learning new things about the blogging world. I admit that I got a bit sidetracked in my reading and reviewing ... but it was all for a good cause.

What are you reading this week? I hope your Monday wasn't quite as topsy-turvy as mine. Happy Reading!