Lillian on Life by Alison Jean Lester

IMG_4275“So many people say that everything happens for a reason. I’ve always felt that things happen because the things before them happen, that’s all.”

Lillian is a single woman in her sixties, who is looking back on her life. She was born in the Midwest in the 1930’s, and then went on to live in Europe in the fifties and sixties, before making New York her home in the latter part of 1960 and the seventies. Each place holds memories of old loves, various disappointments, and ultimately lessons learned. In Lillian on Life, Lillian introduces the reader to those individuals that have played a significant part in her life in some way, and relates her thoughts on what was and what the future might be.

“I don’t want that horrible, exhausting confusion of moving away form the old but being unclear about the new. I want to see a design, and I want to know, because in my experience the new has been an extremely mixed bag.”

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This is a quick and simple read, broken down into concise chapters, each addressing a different time, place, experience, and topic. A few chapter titles include: On the Food of Love, On Big Decisions, On Getting out of Bed, On Behaving Abroad and in General, and On Leaving in Order to Stay. Lillian is a woman who has not travelled the traditional path for women, especially of the time period she belonged to, therefore it is interesting to read her views on different topics and how they may contradict societal expectations. The novel has no particular storyline, but is rather a collection of Lillian’s memories as told by her, and reads as someone simply telling their life story by recalling various moments. It is a nice read, although there wasn’t anything in particular that really stuck with me. However, if you enjoy a non-linear story and philosophizing about life and love, Lillian on Life is a good option.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

img_3774“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.”

The circus held only at night is a unique and amazing experience that enchants all who attend. However, very few know that it is also the venue for a duel between two young magicians who have been studying and preparing for the challenge from the time they were children. The two fall in love without realizing that only one can be left standing. As time passes and the challenge continues without a victor, the lives of those associated with the circus become affected as well with dark consequences.

“Life takes us to unexpected places sometimes. The future is never set in stone, remember that.”

This is a book I have been meaning to read for quite some time, and I am so glad that I finally did. It is a wonderfully creative and engrossing novel that captured my attention from the beginning. It skips around different years and select characters as the story unfolds, and while initially it took a little time to learn the various characters and get familiar with the flow, I found each section to be compelling all on it’s own. Unfortunately I did not connect to the characters as much as I would have liked, and I was not a fan of the way the romance between the two magicians was handled. As a result the ending and the way the story concluded felt quite rushed and somewhat unsatisfactory, but that is likely just a preference on my part. Overall I was really impressed with the intricacy of the story as there is something undeniably magical and compelling about it. An intriguing concept and an engaging read.

“You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.”

The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close

img_3187“If a televised hug could affect an election, weren’t we all just really screwed?”

A gorgeous cover and a wonderful read. The Hopefuls is told from the perspective of Beth Kelly who moves to Washington, DC with her husband where he accepted a job with President Obama’s Inauguration Committee. She struggles to adjust to her new life and to secure work, while her husband, Matt follows his political ambitions. When they meet Jimmy Dillon who also works at the White House, they become inseparable friends with him and his wife, Ash. What unfolds is a recounting of that period in their lives and everything that came along with it.

“Trying to make new friends was like dating – meeting so many new people and feeling them out, trying to find common interests and topics of conversation. It was harder than I thought it would be.”

The Hopefuls provides a really great take on a lot of relatable issues: adjusting to a new city, making new friendships, job struggles, and how all of those things affect a relationship. It also provides a look into a life in politics and the competitive culture that comes along with it. I found this novel to be thoughtfully written as it slowly takes the reader through a distinct period of time, while very effectively conveying not only the atmosphere and emotion of that period, but also the depth of an individual experience. Overall an enjoyable read that gives an interesting look into DC politics and life.

The Red Car by Marcy Dermansky

blog“Leah is living in Queens with a possessive husband she doesn’t love and a long list of unfulfilled ambitions, when she’s jolted from a thick ennui by a call from the past. Her beloved former boss and friend, Judy, has died in a car accident and left Leah her most prized possession and, as it turns out, the instrument of Judy’s death: a red sports car.”

The Red Car is a novel of self-discovery and realization, that follows Leah’s experiences upon returning to San Francisco when she learns of the death of her former mentor. She re-visits her old life in contemplation of where her life took a turn to lead her to where she presently found herself. In many ways, she has accepted her circumstances and her unhappy marriage, however Judy’s death shakes her into looking at her past, and at what the possibilities are for the future.

While I thoroughly enjoy stories of personal journeys, this particular one left me slightly confused by my reading experience. The protagonist, Leah, is incredibly insecure, and her internal dialogue is sad and at times heartbreaking. Even though she is not a particularly sympathetic character, I felt somewhat interested in learning about her and following her progress. However, rather than a story of self-discovery, this reads like a novel of odd circumstances and random events that happen to her, and her choices and behavior is baffling. One interesting aspect was the experience of viewing the sad way a life unfolds when an individual is so consumed by negativity, insecurity and the belief they are not good enough or worth something. I also liked the simple and straightforward writing style. Overall it felt very disconnected and in the end was quite forgettable.

*ARC provided by NetGalley. Publication date: October 11, 2016.

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

img_3051“To the boys who get called girls,
the girls who get called boys,
and those who live outside these words.
To those called names,
and those searching for names of their own.
To those who live on the edges, 
and in the spaces in between.
I wish for you every light in the sky.”

What a wonderful way for an author to introduce a novel. When the Moon Was Ours is a magical realism novel that tells the story of love and friendship between Miel and Sam. Miel is an outcast who fell out of a water tower when she was five years old, and roses grow out of her wrist. Sam is a young trans boy, struggling with his identity, and known for painting moons and hanging them in trees. We are taken on a journey through their personal struggles and stories, which are expressed through beautiful writing.

There is a very whimsical and dream-like quality to this novel, which is absolutely lovely and reminded me why I adore stories with magical realism. The characters are compelling and the way in which the author tackles different social issues along with those surrounding identity is effective, relatable, and ultimately very powerful. There are moments throughout the early sections that are a little confusing and hard to follow, however once I got into the flow of the story it became quite engaging. A truly beautiful novel I recommend for anyone who enjoys magical realism.

*ARC provided by NetGalley. Publication date: October 4, 2016.

The Book Club Murders by Leslie Nagel

blog“In a charming cozy mystery series debut, Leslie Nagel’s irrepressible small-town heroine finds that her fellow mystery book club members may be taking their Agatha Christie a bit too literally—and murder a bit too lightly.”

Charlie Carpenter runs a vintage clothing store in the town of Oakwood, and in an effort to increase her clientele she became a part of Agathas Book Club. A book club that reads a selection of mystery novels, including  of course the works of Dame Agatha Christie. The members are not Charlie’s cup of tea, being composed of privileged ladies who are prone to gossip. When a series of murders take place, Charlie discovers that each crime scene mirrors that of a book on the club’s reading list. She soon becomes a part of the investigation alongside Detective Trenault with whom she has a rocky history with.

This is a cozy little mystery and a nice, light read. The premise is fun and appealing, especially for an Agatha Christie fan. For me there are two key things that made it a must-read; a murder mystery book club, and the Agatha Christie connection. While I typically enjoy fun mysteries such as this, I was not able to get into The Book Club Murders as much as I would have liked. The mystery itself is interesting, however the protagonist comes across as whiny and immature in her attitude. Also, the romantic connection and behaviour along with the internal and external dialogue comes across as quite silly. As a reader it took me out of the story and I was not as invested or as interested in the actual mystery. Overall, a nice read with an interesting concept that ultimately did not match my reading preferences.

*ARC provided by NetGalley. Publication date: September 27, 2016.

Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch

img_2822“Dear Mr. M,

I’d like to start by telling you that I’m doing better now. I do so because you probably have no idea that I was ever doing worse. Much worse, in fact, but I’ll get to that later on….

Yes, I have certain plans for you, Mr. M. You may think you’re alone, but as of today I’m here too…”

Sometimes I have to admit defeat when it comes to a book, and unfortunately this was one of those times. After more than halfway through Dear Mr. M, I had to step away as it was increasingly becoming a very tedious read. But perhaps the reasons I could simply not get into this novel, might be the reasons why others may enjoy it.

Mr. M is a teacher and novelist who is falling into obscurity. He had one bestselling novel many years earlier called The Reckoning, which told the story of a teacher’s disappearance after having had an affair with a student and who was last seen at a cottage where the student and her boyfriend were staying. The novel, while sold as a work of fiction, looks to have been based on real people and events, and in present day Mr. M is being watched and carefully observed by a young man. This is where the novel begins, and later switches to different perspectives from people who have been tied to events described in The Reckoning. 

This novel is complex and slow-paced. The narration at the beginning is quite compelling as the young man watching Mr. M is describing his observations, thoughts, and conclusions. It’s unsettling and sets the perfect atmosphere for a gripping psychological thriller. However, as the narrative progresses it begins to meander and the various trains of thought become increasingly more difficult to follow. There are portions of the novel that I found intriguing, and the characters themselves are interesting, but the overall density of the narrative was a little too much for me.

*E-copy provided by NetGalley for an unbiased review.