Ashley Bell by Dean Koontz

Ashley BellDean Koontz created a twisting story with the psychological mystery, Ashley Bell. With layers that reminded me a bit of The Twilight Zone, he has woven a story within a story. At times I was a bit confused. Most of the time I was completely absorbed. I felt like I was missing some essential element of the story and this gap of information kept me reading on like good suspense novels do.

Bibi, a headstrong and imaginative writer, is our main character. Above all else, Bibi believes that she’s the master of her own life and that nothing can be left up to fate. When she receives shocking news that she only has a year to live, she responds by saying, “We’ll see.” When she recovers just as quickly as she was diagnosed, Bibi learns that she has been saved in order to help another, Ashley Bell. Bibi sets out on a journey that is both mystical and very real to save the little girl.

I liked Bibi from the start. With her go-getter attitude, I couldn’t help but be impressed by her drive and ability to face her antagonists head-on.

While the plot was imaginative and shocking, the book seemed to be longer than the story necessitated. I thought that some sections of the book dragged a bit, and while I wanted to see what happened to Bibi, I wanted the story to move more quickly. My critique is two sided though because my impatience to unravel its mysteries explains how well the book hooked me…

My favorite quote from the book – “ I’ve read more truth in fiction than in nonfiction, partly because fiction can deal with the numinous, and nonfiction rarely does.”

Overall, Ashley Bell is an engaging book with parallel threads that are all woven back together in the end.

 

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My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

My Name is Lucy Barton“When I write, I suspend judgment of my characters. I really love them.” – Elizabeth Strout. I was lucky enough to attend an author reading with Elizabeth Strout and was able to hear her read a passage from her latest book, My Name is Lucy Barton. It’s always a pleasure to hear an author read their work so this was a great experience!

The book is told from Lucy Barton’s perspective and while it’s a shorter novel, it covers many powerful issues. The most prominent is the relationship between a mother and daughter. The book switches between a period when Lucy is in the hospital with flashbacks to her childhood. Lucy grew up in a very poor household, her family of five living in a garage when she was young. Lucy and her mother have a very complicated relationship, but at the same time it is very simple in this: they love each other irrevocably. Her mother has never been on a plane, but flies out to Lucy while she is in the hospital and stays by her bedside for 5 days. During this time we see Lucy ‘s memories of pain, fear and love, although it is done very subtly.

A couple of my favorite quotes from the book are the following:

“It interests me how we find ways to feel superior to another person, another group of people. It happens everywhere and all the time. Whatever we call it, I think it’s the lowest part of who we are, this need to find someone else to put down.”

“I feel that people may not understand that my mother could never say the words I love you. I feel that people may not understand: It was all right.”

I really liked My Name is Lucy Barton! Because it’s a shorter book it’s very quick, but very consuming at the same time.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the LaneI was very pleasantly surprised with The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman because I had no expectations when I started reading. A beautifully written story, it is both touching and a bit dazzling.

Our narrator returns to his hometown for a funeral and finds himself drawn to one of the farms neighboring his childhood home. Once there, he revisits an old memory of an adventure he had when he was seven years old. The boy is a lonely child and a bit self-deprecating in a sadly humorous way. Because of this, he is very excited to meet the little girl from the neighboring farm, Lettie. Lettie is mature beyond her eleven years and our narrator is instantly stricken by her wisdom and bravery to face danger as an adult might.

Gaiman does a fantastic job of allowing the reader to get inside the head of a child and I really enjoyed it. There is a really interesting divide between adults and children and the boy refers to the grown-ups in his life as though they are a set of different species.

A few of my favorite lines from the book:

“I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else.”

“I lay on the bed and lost myself in stories. I liked that. Books were safer than other people anyway.”

I really recommend The Ocean at the End of the Lane. This is one of those books with lines and ideas that stick with you long after reading it.

The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth

The Things We KeepI was so excited to receive an advanced readers’ edition of The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth after reading the book description. A story sharing a woman’s experience with early onset Alzheimer’s disease, the book is very touching. I connected with the characters early on and felt for them, which is something I look for while reading.

The book is told from three different perspectives. We first meet Anna, a 38-year-old woman who has been checked into a residential care facility when she begins to show signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Once there she meets another resident her age, Luke, and a touching connection is formed between them. Through these characters, Hepworth illustrates the frustration and sadness of living with Alzheimer’s disease.

We also meet Eve Bennett, a newly single mother, and her daughter Clementine. The story is written from each of their perspectives and it’s very interesting to see how they each deal with the loss of a loved one. Eve begins working at the residential care facility where she meets Anna and Luke and after witnessing their bond, she goes to great lengths to help them.

This is an engaging story and I was hooked quickly. I definitely recommend this read!

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for sending me an advanced readers’ edition of The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth in exchange for an honest review! The book is released for sale today, January 19, 2016.

Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins

Gold Fame CitrusAfter reading 110 pages of Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins, I couldn’t stick with it. I don’t typically stop reading a book once I’ve started, but after I was a third of the way through I still wasn’t excited about the story and found my mind drifting.

The story is built on an interesting idea that a massive drought has swept through California. A drought that is so drastic it sends most of the population away. Luz and Ray, the main characters of the book, are holdouts living in an abandoned mansion in southern California and are surviving on rations and whatever they can scavenge. Claire Vaye Watkins did do a great job illustrating this desert landscape that left me feeling quite thirsty every time I was reading. Unfortunately, I found the writing to be scattered and a bit un-engaging. That’s not to say it’s a bad story though, maybe reading it in another place at another time would be an entirely different experience…

Has anyone else tried reading Gold Fame Citrus? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Why the British Tell Better Children’s Stories than Americans – The Atlantic

Dream by DayLast week, The Atlantic came out with a very attention-grabbing article titled, “Why the British Tell Better Children’s Stories Than Americans” written by Colleen Gillard. Gillard explains that British “…history informs fantastical myths and legends, while American tales tend to focus on moral realism.” This is an intriguing concept that immediately had me reading further.

The stories of Harry Potter and Huckleberry Finn are both brought up, each representing their respective countries of origination. One side focuses on imagination while the other focuses on realistic settings of everyday life. Gillard brings up the idea that American fantasies differ from British ones because of these themes of realism and lessons learned.

Throughout the article Gillard goes on to explain how history and religion have shaped storytelling in each country and how fantasy is proven to be an important factor in childhood development. The article closes by mentioning recently popular American fantasy novels including The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner. Each of these stories is part of a new trend of fantasy filled with dark twists.

As an American, I have to say that I’m jealous of these British childhood stories filled with fantasy. On the other hand though, I was exposed to Harry Potter and other British children’s books at an early age (thanks mom!) so I can’t say I missed out much.

To read more, here’s a link to the article: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/01/why-the-british-tell-better-childrens-stories/422859/

Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams

Along the Infinite SeaBeatriz Williams is an author that makes me want to become a writer myself. Along the Infinite Sea, her most recent novel, is an incredible story told from the perspectives of two strong women. I haven’t been disappointed by any of William’s stories yet and I’m already eagerly waiting for her next release this summer!

This book picks up where Tiny Little Thing left off with Pepper Schuyler’s story in the 1960’s. While these books are not a traditional series, and don’t need to be read in order to be enjoyed, they focus on the Schuyler family and each of the three sisters in turn. Pepper is pregnant, unwed, and on the run from her baby’s father. She has just sold an old restored Mercedes and plans to use the large sum of money to raise her child on her own. The car’s buyer, Annabelle, introduces herself to Pepper and they take a liking to each other, if hesitantly at first on Pepper’s part. Pepper doesn’t believe in love and doesn’t trust anyone besides herself, but Annabelle’s story may just change her mind…

The book switches from Pepper’s perspective in the 1960’s to Annabelle’s in the 1930’s when she was in Europe between the two world wars. I love Annabelle’s spirit and poise, and I love her relationship with the mysterious and charming Stefan as well. The circumstances and misunderstandings that keep Annabelle and Stefan, a Jewish German man, apart are truly heartbreaking.

This is a delicious story, one that I devoured as quickly as I could. I love the trio of sisters that Williams has created because the Schuyler sisters are just so great.