Recently read: Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend

A middle grade fantasy filled with a hint of danger & darkness (Morrigan Crow is a Cursed Child, blamed for local misfortunes, doomed to die on her 11th birthday), plenty of charm & humour (a giant talking cat does the housekeeping). Also there are trials to get into the Wondrous Society and even after I’ve finished the book I still haven’t the faintest idea what the society is about, but I’d love to join it any day (where’s my invitation?)

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Holiday reading: The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

A quirky book for holiday reading that was ultimately a bit disappointing. I really loved how it talked about music and the small community feel of the street. And I loved Frank’s devotion to his record store. It was charming at times but the plot line just took too long to get going and I never quite felt that “happy sigh” feeling when a good romance happens. So for me it’s a 3.5 ⭐️ read.

The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A Flynn

“Queasy as I was from the bumping carriage, with the stink of horse and mildew in my nose, with the gibbet and the meat pie and the innkeeper’s rudeness still vivid, the Jane Austen Project no longer seemed amazing. What I’d wanted so badly stretched like a prison sentence: wretched hygiene, endless pretending, physical danger. What had I been thinking?”

I’m so thoroughly pleased with this book. I hadn’t really heard much about it but was attracted by the title when browsing the library’s ebook catalogue. It’s an intriguing storyline, going back in time to retrieve (i.e. steal) a manuscript from Austen herself. One that wasn’t published in her time. Rachel and Liam are well prepared and well researched. Rachel is a doctor and has worked in disaster areas and Third World countries. But nothing could really prepare her for this.

But eventually, with mishaps often skirted by their use of their back story – that of a brother and sister who grew up in Jamaica and who have only for the first time stepped into England – they get used to life in the 18th century. It’s especially hard for Rachel – she’s the doctor but has to let Liam play the doctor (of course women couldn’t be doctors at the time). The plan is to befriend Henry Austen, Jane’s brother, and somehow weasel their way to Jane.

The chief danger of time travel, aside from the obvious physical risks to travelers themselves, was of somehow changing the past so as to decisively alter the future you’d come from, setting in motion some version of the grandfather paradox.

Time travel is always such a fascinating idea. What do their actions change, for example, the simple hiring of their staff, or when Rachel saves a young climbing boy from a horrendous future by paying his employer and letting him live in her household?

I wasn’t that big a fan of Rachel at first. She seemed a bit tactless at times but she eventually grew on me. I like the way Flynn brought the Austen family to life, especially Jane, sharp and intelligent, an acute observer initially wary of Rachel.

I tend to stay away from any Jane Austen spinoffs (if that’s the right word) but I really enjoyed this one. I mean of course every time travel story leads to many many questions and possibilities but I feel like Flynn handled it all really well.

TLC Book Tours: Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

 

 

Another Brooklyn cover

Jacqueline Woodson is best known for her memoir in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming, which won the 2014 National Book Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, a Newbery Honor Award, an NAACP Image Award, and the Sibert Honor Award. 

Her latest book, Another Brooklyn, isn’t in verse but it somehow reads like it is. 

In other words it is lyrical and it is stunning. 

Running into an old friend on a train triggers memories, both good and bad, for August, who is in Brooklyn to bury her father.

In 1973, aged eight, August, her four-year-old brother and her father move from Tennessee to Brooklyn, New York, after her mother starts hearing the voice of her dead brother Clyde, who was killed in the Vietnam War. In a new city, a new apartment, August and her brother are friendless, unsure of themselves. But she soon falls into a group of three girls: “Sylvia, Angela, Gigi, August. We were four girls together, amazingly beautiful and terrifyingly alone.”

And they navigate their world of growing up as girls, trying to find their place in this world, in 1970s Brooklyn, with absent mothers, drugs, uncertainty, and changing times. 

Another Brooklyn is a collection of memories and a wonderful freeflow of vignettes past and present. 

I may not have grown up in 1970s Brooklyn but a story like this, told with such grace and power, with brevity and confidence, just carries the reader in, fills her with emotions, and doesn’t let go. 

 

 

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I received this book for review from its publisher and TLC Book Tours

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour stops!

Jacqueline Woodson AP

Jacqueline Woodson is the bestselling author of more than two dozen award-winning books for young adults, middle graders, and children, including the New York Times bestselling memoir Brown Girl Dreaming, which won the 2014 National Book Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, a Newbery Honor Award, an NAACP Image Award, and the Sibert Honor Award. Woodson was recently named the Young People’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York.

Find out more about Woodson at her website, and connect with her on FacebookTwitter, and Tumblr.

TLC Book Tours: The Summer Guest by Alison Anderson

 


Don’t you love it when a book just completely takes you by surprise, just wows you and leaves you sitting there, unable to stop thinking about what you read?

All I knew heading into The Summer Guest was that it was by Alison Anderson, who translated Muriel Barbary’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog which is such a fantastic book that I hope you have read (or will now go and read!).

Its synopsis begins:

What if Anton Chekhov, undisputed master of the short story, secretly wrote a novel—a manuscript hidden long ago that might have survived?

And that may have plenty of people going ooh. And… here is where I admit to you that I have not read Chekhov’s stories. This probably will appall some of you. You’re wondering, what business do I have reading this book?

antonchekhovBut here’s the thing, it’s not all that  important to have read Chekhov’s work to enjoy The Summer Guest. Sure, you may have a better understanding of things but it’s ok. I still really liked reading the book anyway. And it has also made me want to read Chekhov now, whom, you have to admit is quite a dashing man.

The Summer Guest unfolds from three different perspectives.

We have the diary, a newly uncovered diary from the 19th century, written in Russian by Zinaida Mikhailovna, a young woman trained as a doctor but recently blinded by an illness. She keeps the journal to fill her hours, now that she is unable to work. Anton Chekhov and his family rent the guesthouse on her family’s country estate and they become friendly.

Then we have Katya Kendall who runs a small publishing company with her husband Peter in London in 2014. Their business isn’t doing well so they hope that this diary by Zinaida Mikhailovna will help get them back on their feet. Their marriage isn’t doing very well either.

Ana Harding is a translator who lives in France, and who once worked with Katya’s company. Her Russian “was perfectly adequate, but she didn’t go looking for translations from Russian; they found her.” She takes on the project, as she had no reason to refuse, a job is a job, she needs the money. But she soon “befriended the diarist in that odd way translators sometimes have,  if they are lucky, of knowing their authors through a text, of inhabiting their identity and seeing through their eyes”.

Anderson, as a translator herself as well as a novelist herself, fully understands the difficulty of being one.

“She had had enough of being invisible, of slipping inconspicuously behind the more glamorous author whose photograph beckoned from the back cover of a book they had both written. As translator, she mused, she was no more than the lining of the dust jacket. This substance she craved – beyond meaningful texts, beyond creativity – should lead to an identity.”

There are long excerpts from the diary, observations about country life, conversations between Anton and Zinaida, Zinaida’s reminisces about her life. But there is also talk about alcoholism, consumption and other problems of 19th century Russia. And of course, the sad fact that Zinaida, the young and intelligent Zinaida, is wasting away from her illness.

In the bed I inhabited a warm, safe place. The sound of my breathing lulled me into memory: childhood. Papa, before. With us still. Outings to the islands on the river. Games in the field. Snowdrifts against the house where we hid. Sleigh rides. The thaw, Easter. The kulich and paskha and brightly colored eggs: the days of feasting and dancing. The priest blessing the house. The visitors, telling us how we’d grown.

The Summer Guest is a quiet novel. It is gentle and feels like it should be read sitting on a riverbank, under the shade of a willow tree, with some cold lemonade swigged from a bottle and strawberry sandwiches wrapped in brown paper. But gentle does not mean easy or simple. It has such beautiful, elegant prose, a well-constructed plot, complex characters and an ending that made me sit up and rethink the whole story. It may not be a book that you race through, but it is a book that stays with you, that makes you consider the importance of translators. And now I am so completely intrigued by Anton Chekhov, who, as Alison Anderson writes in a blog post:

“Chekhov had a very interesting love life, but one which could only be supported by speculation and conjecture, since many of the more explicit letters he wrote were destroyed either by his sister Masha in her task as guardian of his literary estate, or by Soviet academics.”

 

Juicy…

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I received this book for review from its publisher and TLC Book Tours.

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the stops on the tour

Alison Anderson APALISON ANDERSON, a native Californian, works as a literary translator in the Swiss Alps. Her many translations include the Europa edition of Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Ingrid Betancourt’s memoir, and the work of JMG De Clezio. She has also written two previous novels and is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Literary Translation Fellowship, as well as fellowships at the prestigious MacDowell Colony and the Hawthornden Retreat for Writers.

Find out more about Alison at her website.

Pleasantville by Attica Locke

pleasantville

Jay Porter is back.

He was the star of Attica Locke’s intense Black Water Rising, published in 2009.

But I didn’t know Jay Porter until I signed up for this Pleasantville tour. I just jumped onto the tour bandwagon because  I saw Attica Locke’s name and decided, yes, I have to get on this tour. Because her Cutting Season was a great read. Not an easy read. But it was a little dark and twisty and as a result quite intriguing.

I didn’t know that Pleasantville takes place fifteen years after Black Water Rising. You don’t necessarily have to read Black Water Rising before Pleasantville although I would highly recommend it. It took me just a few days to read Black Water Rising. It startled me with its intensity and its complexity. And I couldn’t wait to read Pleasantville – or really, anything else by Attica Locke!

Here’s the synopsis of Pleasantville:

In this sophisticated thriller, lawyer Jay Porter, hero of Attica Locke’s bestseller Black Water Rising, returns to fight one last case, only to become embroiled once again in a dangerous game of shadowy politics and a witness to how far those in power are willing to go to win.

Fifteen years after the events of Black Water Rising, Jay Porter is struggling to cope with catastrophic changes in his personal life and the disintegration of his environmental law practice. His victory against Cole Oil is still the crown jewel of his career, even if he hasn’t yet seen a dime thanks to appeals. But time has taken its toll. Tired and restless, he’s ready to quit.

When a girl goes missing on Election Night, 1996, in the neighborhood of Pleasantville—a hamlet for upwardly mobile blacks on the north side of Houston—Jay, a single father, is deeply disturbed. He’s been representing Pleasantville in the wake of a chemical fire, and the case is dragging on, raising doubts about his ability.

The missing girl was a volunteer for one of the local mayoral candidates, and her disappearance complicates an already heated campaign. When the nephew of one of the candidates, a Pleasantville local, is arrested, Jay reluctantly finds himself serving as a defense attorney. With a man’s life and his own reputation on the line, Jay is about to try his first murder in a case that will also put an electoral process on trial, exposing the dark side of power and those determined to keep it.

It is marketed as a thriller and it is indeed, thrilling.

And like Black Water Rising, there is far more to the story than just the murder.

There are high stakes here, not just because a young girl has been killed, but because of who has been accused of her murder. There is much manipulation going on, deep and dark family secrets, money under the table, skeletons in the closet, and not to mention all that politicking. Jay is reluctant to be a part of this at first, he is recently widowed and struggling to raise his children. But he reluctantly steps into the courtroom, becomes entangled in this major mess and finds a target on his back.

When I finished Black Water Rising and started on Pleasantville, there was a big part of me that was hoping for things to have gone well for Jay Porter. I had felt very invested in his life after finishing the first book and just wanted the best for him. I’m sure I’m not the only reader who feels that way about characters! So it was a little sad to learn that things aren’t going so well for him. But I like how Locke doesn’t just give in to her characters – or her readers. It’s not about “and they lived happily ever after” here. This is life, and life is hard.

Locke is truly a master at weaving an intriguing web of murder-mystery, the campaign drama of local politics, social commentary, community and more into an intelligent, complex story. It is an intense read, but wonderfully so.

 

Attica LockeAttica Locke is the author of the widely acclaimed debut novel Black Water Rising, which was nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, an Edgar Award, and an NAACP Image Award, and was shortlisted for the UK’s Orange Prize. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter.

Find out more about Attica at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I received this book for review from its publisher and TLC Book Tours

Check out the tour schedule:

Tuesday, April 14th: Bibliophiliac

Tuesday, April 14th: Crime Fiction Lover

Wednesday, April 15th: Jen’s Book Thoughts

Friday, April 17th: Olduvai Reads

Monday, April 20th: Much Madness is Divinest Sense

Tuesday, April 21st: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Wednesday, April 22nd: Book Loving Hippo

Monday, April 27th: FictionZeal

Tuesday, April 28th: Living in the Kitchen with Puppies

Wednesday, April 29th: M. Denise Costello

Thursday, April 30th: A Bookworm’s World

Monday, May 4th: My Bookish Ways

Tuesday, May 5th: Reading Reality

Thursday, May 7th: Kritters Ramblings

Friday, May 8th: Drey’s Library

Tuesday, May 12th: Tina Says …