Sunday, November 29, 2009

After You by Julie Buxbaum

Book Description:
"On a cobblestone street in Notting Hill, Ellie Lerner's life-long best friend, Lucy, is stabbed to death in front of her eight-year-old daughter. Ellie, of course, drops everything - her job, her marriage, her life in the Boston suburbs - and travels to London to pick up the pieces of the life Lucy has left behind. While Lucy's husband, Greg copes with his grief by retreating to the pub, eight-year-old Sophie has simply stopped speaking.

Desperate to help Sophie, Ellie turns to a book that gave her comfort as a child, The Secret Garden. As the two spend hours exploring the novel, its story of hurt, magic and healing blooms around them. But so, too, do the secrets Lucy kept hidden, even from her best friend. As Ellie peels back the layers of her friend's life, she's forced to confront her own as well - the marriage she left behind, the loss she'd hoped to escape, and the elusiveness of the place we choose to call home."

Though others have categorized this book as chick-lit, I think that underplays the emotional truths laid out in the narrative. When Ellie's friend Lucy is killed, Ellie knows she has to rush to London to help care for Sophie; what she doesn't seem to realize is how much her actions are driven by a desire to escape the life she is currently living. Ellie uses that classic tale The Secret Garden to reach out to Sophie because her mother used it years before to reach out to Ellie in a time of grief, or at least so Ellie believes. Over the course of the novel, Ellie comes to realize that Lucy's perfect life in London wasn't so perfect, and begins to address the problems in her own marriage that helped drive her out of the country.

This book is features a compelling narrative that does founder a little toward the middle before recovering, but the emotional truths that Ellie comes to learn more than make up for that brief section. Definitely an excellent read that I for one found hard to put down. Highly recommended.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan

Book description:
"1915. The dawn of the hydroelectric power era in Niagara Falls. Seventeen-year-old Bess Heath has led a sheltered existence as the youngest daughter of the director of the Niagara Power Company. After graduation day at her boarding school, she is impatient to return to her picturesque family home near Niagara Falls. But when she arrives, nothing is as she left it. Her father has lost his job at the power company, her mother is reduced to taking in sewing from the society ladies she once entertained, and Isabel, her vivacious older sister, is a shadow of her former self. She has shut herself in her bedroom, barely eating—and harbouring a secret.

The night of her return Bess meets Tom Cole by chance on a trolley platform. She finds herself inexplicably drawn to him—against her family’s strong objections. He is not from their world. Rough-hewn and fearless, he lives off what the river provides and has an uncanny ability to predict the whims of the falls. His daring river rescues render him a local hero and cast him as a threat to the power companies that seek to harness the power of the falls for themselves. As their lives become more fully entwined, Bess is forced to make a painful choice between what she wants and what is best for her family and her future."

This historical novel focuses on a truly intriguing time in the history of Niagara Falls- one of the great wonders of the world. Well-written and well-imagined, this book is a love story with an environmental message, an unlikely combination that works nevertheless. The characters rise off the page and live, from poor doomed Isabelle to gutsy Bess and mysterious Tom. Once I started the book, I had a hard time putting it down because the story was carrying me along. I really enjoyed how Buchanan made the river and the falls themselves essential characters in the story; it is the contrast of petty human problems against that magnificent backdrop that makes this book so good. Four strong stars for this enjoyable read.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To by DC Pierson

Book description:
"When Darren Bennett meets Eric Lederer, there's an instant connection. They share a love of drawing, the bottom rung on the cruel high school social ladder, and a pathological fear of girls. Soon they're collaborating on a comic book that becomes a series of graphic novels that becomes a movie trilogy before they've actually put pen to paper. Then Eric reveals a secret: He doesn't sleep. Ever. When word leaks out about Eric's condition, he and Darren suddenly find themselves on the run from mysterious forces. Is it the government trying to tap into Eric's mind, or is there something else Eric hasn't told Darren? It could be that not sleeping is only part of what he's capable of, and the truth is both better and worse than they could ever imagine."

This book was an unexpectedly quick and enjoyable read, one that should certainly appeal to its target audience. The story is a little all over the place, but it works nonetheless, and Pierson does a wonderful job capturing the inner voice of a teenager. There is enough foreshadowing in the introduction to hint at how the story will unfold, but the journey is still worth the effort. I was especially impressed by Pierson's willingness to explore the more negative aspects of Darren's behavior, aspects that helped make him a more believeable character. Though I found the sexual content and language realistic, some readers may find it more offensive. All in all, a great debut novel- I hope we see more from DC Pierson in the future.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Imposter's Daughter by Laurie Sandell

Flap copy from ARC:
"Laurie Sandell grew up in awe (and sometimes in terror) of her larger-than-life father, who told jaw-dropping tales of a privileged childhood in Buenos Aires, academic triumphs, heroism during Vietnam, friendships with Kissinger and the Pope. As a young woman, Laurie unconsciously mirrors her dad, trying on several outsized personalities (Tokyo stripper, lesbian seductress, Ambien addict). Later, she lucks into the perfect job--interviewing celebrities for a top women's magazine. Growing up with her extraordinary father has given Laurie a knack for relating to the stars. But while researching an article on her dad's life, she makes an astonishing discovery: he's not the man he says he is--not even close. Now, Laurie begins to puzzle together three decades of lies and the splintered person that resulted from them--herself."

This graphic novel was a truly wonderful read, full of insights and pathos. Sandell's willingness to lay bare her family secrets in an effort to better understand the reasons behind her sometimes self-destructive behavior is so raw and honest that I hurt for her. Her story is a touching one that outlines the challenges that those living with mental illness in the family must endure, and the terrible effect that an untreated condition can have on family members. I found myself enraged on Sandell's behalf when her mother and sisters acted as enablers, but came to realize they too were coping in the ways they thought best. Though this is my first graphic novel, its quality has convinced me it will not be my last. Highly recommended!