Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

It is 1686 in Amsterdam.  It is cold, damp and an alien environment to eighteen-year-old Nella who has journeyed there from the countryside to join her husband at his home.  He is nice enough, welcoming and bestowing gifts and praise upon her at their second meeting.  Yet there is something odd going on in the house.  Her sister-in-law is forbidding, the servants are nice but closemouthed and she hasn’t seen her husband for more than a few hours at a time, leaving their union unconsummated. 

To make up for his absence Nella’s new husband has a miniature house delivered and hopes she will be entertained with furnishing it.  She contacts a miniaturist she finds in the city directory and commissions a few small pieces.  The pieces she asked for arrive and so do some more; items that seem to predict events in the household before they happen.

I am still left with questions after finishing this book which is something that I like and I know others really don’t appreciate.  The book is a slow starter, I almost gave up on it, but it is a good suspense story if you can mull through the first seventy-five pages or so.  You learn a lot about the life of a high level merchant in the Dutch East India Company and his family and the lack of power that females had in this time of commerce, as well as religious oppression and the constant public scrutiny wealthy families experienced.
Sound like something you would want to read?  Place your holds now!  The book comes out on the 26th of August.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Save the Date by Mary Kay Andrews

Save the Date by Mary Kay Andrews

Cara Kryzik is busy building her floral business, the appropriately named Bloom, in Savannah when everything, and I do mean everything, seems to go wrong all at once.  She’s dealing with an intense (read: controlling and scary) mother-of-the-bride at the society wedding that could make her career when her dog runs out the door of her shop and is dog-napped.  And who happens to be the Best Man at that wedding?  The darn dog-napper.  This is just the beginning.  Add in ex-husbands, runaway brides, unscrupulous competitors and the trials and tribulations of running a small business.  I will give one thing away; it does have a happy ending.

This was a very enjoyable audiobook.  The reader did a great job with the southern accents and had a nice soothing voice.  She did an admirable job voicing Cara trying very hard to keep her voice calm when dealing with interesting (read: unbearably stressful) situations.  If you like romances that focus more on the life of the main character than the relationship, enjoy dreaming of dream weddings, or just need something light for vacation, this could be a great choice.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Rooms by Lauren Oliver

Rooms by Lauren Oliver

A man has just died.  His family gathers in his home to take care of his funeral arrangements and hear the reading of the will.  Two curious onlookers are anxious to see the family they watched grow up for many years and lost track of when the heads of the household divorced.  All three surviving family members, the matriarch, daughter and son are hot messes and the two onlookers are by turns intrigued and dismayed.  Alice and Sandra are the observers, two ghosts trapped together in the family house.  While they have never been able to really affect the physical world Alice is having some luck lately.  Can the ghosts free themselves from the house?  Who is that new voice they are hearing?  What happened to Alice and Sandra to entrap them in these rooms?

The writing style is unique.  Each chapter is told from a different point of view with most of the chapters being dedicated to the ghosts, both in flashbacks from when they were alive and in the present.  The title of the book comes from the construction.  Chapters are arranged into sections and each section is the name of a room in the house.  The past and present of each room helps shape the storytelling.

I received a pre-publication of this novel when I met the author at an event.  She seemed really cool, the book itself sounded neat when she talked about it, so I gave it a try!  This book comes out on September 23rd so place your holds now!

The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje

The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje

Eleven year old Michael boards a ship to sail away from the only home he has known, Sri Lanka, to go to England to live with his single mother, a woman he hasn’t seen in four years.  On the ship he is seated at the Cat’s Table – the least desirable table in the dining area because it is the furthest from the Captain’s Table.  At his table sits a ragtag bunch including the two other unsupervised boys on the ship, a botanist and a jazz pianist with an interesting past.  While the ship makes the three week journey Michael gets involved in all sorts of adventures and makes friendships and learns lessons that shape his life.

While I enjoyed this book it didn’t stay with me very well.  I agreed with the author’s observation that the people unworthy of sitting at the Captain’s Table are much more interesting than those that sit there because they are the ones with the best stories.  There are a slew of characters and due to the book’s slim size you meet them briefly, then again many pages later and it’s difficult to remember who is who.  If you have some hours to dedicate this would be a much better read; picking it up and reading only a few pages at a time is not the best way to keep the characters clear.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman

The Ice Cream Queen of OrchardStreet by Susan Jane Gilman

Malka Bialystoker is a young Russian-Jewish immigrant girl out looking for her wandering father in the early 1910s in New York when disaster strikes.  She is run over by a cart selling ices and her life takes a dramatic turn.  Severely injured she is hospitalized and abandoned by her family.  The man who hit her feels guilty and takes the young girl in making her part of the family and changing her name to Lillian Maria Dinello.  As part of this new Catholic Italian family she learns the family business, first making flavored ices, then ice cream.  Lillian later marries and helps create an ice cream empire, one that is now crashing down around her in the 1980s amid scandal.

This is the story of an enterprising woman trying to assert her authority and business acumen in a time when women were shoved to the background.  She is smart, savvy and an amazing risk taker and following her story, and the story of her ice cream empire, is a joy.  I knew right off that things aren’t going well in 1980s (the present in this tale), a trial is looming, but that is only part of the reason I kept reading, wanting to know the source of the scandal.  I just wanted to see Lillian, this scrappy, conniving and amazing young woman grow up.

After reading what the book was about I didn’t think this would be my flavor.  Then I remembered enjoying Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, a memoir by the author.  Lillian is a real character.  You love not liking her all the time, you respect her ruthlessness and she has such a refreshingly no nonsense non-apologetic voice it’s great fun to read.  I devoured this book, like my favorite cone of coffee ice cream with multi-colored sprinkles.  I did eat quite a bit of Umlaut ice cream (read the book and you’ll understand) while reading this novel so make sure you have a pint or two handy!

Moving Target by J. A. Jance

Moving Target by J. A. Jance

Two mysteries come to a head during MovingTarget.  Leland Brooks returns to England for the first time in sixty years with his employer, Ali, at his side.  Leland goes to visit his estranged family and discovers that his father’s death sixty years earlier was not due to illness or accident as he assumed, but murder.  Meanwhile in the States Ali’s betrothed B. Simpson is looking into the “accidental” burning of a teenager his company helped incarcerate for hacking his school’s server.  Turns out the burning was probably not accidental and neither were other related deaths.  The teenager reportedly made some amazing new code, and people are willing to kill and die for it.

This was my first Jance mystery and it was probably not a great place to jump in.  There was a lot about wedding planning and not having any background of the characters I didn’t really care about the wedding planning portions.  Thankfully they were very limited.  The story moved after the first disc, and I was intrigued with both storylines.  I didn’t like the voice actor though, her accents were weird.  She seemed to have issues going between American and British accents and her British sounded off, almost a little Australian, to me.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Euphoria by Lily King

Euphoria by Lily King

This is the story of three anthropologists studying the tribes of New Guinea in the 1930s.  Two of the anthropologists are a married couple, two very different people who seem to have a great ability to understand native peoples but not each other.  The third is an anthropologist who put rocks in his pockets and walked in to the river a few days before the couple arrived.  The newcomers have given him reason to live, especially Nell, who he is captivated with at their first meeting.  The three find themselves among the Tam, a tribe with very interesting views about gender roles when compared to life in the “civilized” world.

This book is getting a lot of buzz for the similarities between Nell and Margaret Mead, who was apparently a famous anthropologist.  I am a little embarrassed that I didn’t know who she was because most reviewers write their reviews in such a matter of fact style that assumes everyone knows who she was.  (After talking to a few colleagues I feel much better, they didn’t know who she was either!)  The good thing is that this book made me want to find out more about her to see the similarities between fiction and reality. 
 
A slim book with a complete story that makes you think and question as you go along.