The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton

The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton has been sitting on my bookshelf for almost 18 months and now I wish that I’d picked it up sooner. This unexpected story is compelling, unsettling, and hopeful at once.

Yasmin, brilliant and slightly cross, and her deaf 10-year-old daughter Ruby arrive in Alaska to meet their husband/father, Matt. Once they’ve landed at the airport, they learn that the small village where Matt was staying suffered a terrible fire. When police tell them that no one could have survived, Yasmin and Ruby refuse to listen and instead set out on a wild and wicked journey to find him.

What they find at the end of their journey is shocking, but what they learn along the way is just as compelling, if not more so. We learn that Yasmin desperately wants Ruby to speak with her mouth while Ruby wants to speak with her hands. It’s touching as the pair begins to understand each other.

“It wasn’t that Yasmin wanted Ruby to speak so much as she wanted her to be heard.”

The story shifted between Yasmin and Ruby’s perspectives and I loved this aspect of the book. Both points of view were true to character and provided really contrasting views of the same situations.

I enjoyed The Quality of Silence very much and hope that you’ll pick it up as well!

The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams

I’m happy to report that I’ve read another one of Beatriz Williams’ books (this time, The Wicked City) and have been completely captivated by the story. She has an extraordinary way of bringing characters to life, especially through their dialogue and quick-witted thoughts. I’m reminded yet again of why she’s one of my favorite authors!

The Wicked City shares the stories of two women, both living in New York City, during very different time periods. Meet Gin Kelly, a firecracker of a girl living in New York City during the 1920’s. She came to the city to escape her despicable stepfather, but before too long she gets caught up in his bootlegging business and is pulled back to her small hometown. Along the way, she comes across Anson, the stoic, noble, quiet do-gooder who might just be the only man that can throw her for a loop.

Shift forward to 1998 and we meet Ella, a woman also living in New York City, who just learned that her beloved husband is a rather dirty fellow. As she tries to recover from this shock, she finds herself in Gin’s old stomping grounds and although 70 years have passed, she can almost sense her presence. I appreciate that Williams brought a bit of the magic from the 1920’s to the 1990’s.

My only criticism is that the plot left a couple loose ends and some of Ella’s story line was a bit unrealistic, but it was fun. I still really enjoyed the book and definitely recommend it!

“She wanted the radiant, satisfied skin her mother had. The adoring gaze that followed her mother around the house.”

American War by Omar El Akkad

In the year 2074, a civil war rips apart the United States of America. The North has prohibited the use of fossil fuels in the country to help preserve the environment and the South disagrees. American War by Omar El Akkad is thought provoking and horrifying at once in the way that it examines a second civil war and two deeply passionate and opposing sides.

At the center of this story is Sarat Chestnut, who was born in Louisiana. As the war builds, Sarat and her family are displaced and move to Camp Patience with other refugees. The tragedies she faced hardened her and drove her to make a tremendous impact in the war. While she’s the hero for one side, she’s another person’s villain. It interesting to think that one person could play both roles simultaneously.

American War explores themes of loyalty, revenge, pride, and what right and wrong means in capacity of war. This is a really well written book and I would like to read it again.

Into The Water by Paula Hawkins

A river runs through the town of Beckford and within that river, there’s The Drowning Pool. The pool lives up to its bleak name when a mother and a teenage girl are both found dead within the water’s depths one summer. There’s a large cliff above that leads to the question: Did they jump? Paula Hawkins’ latest release, Into The Water, shares the story of the women who’ve been lost to The Drowning Pool.

When Nel Abbott died, her daughter is left alone in a large creaking house with an estranged aunt who she’s never met. It turns out that Beckford, like many small towns, is filled with underlying connections and affairs. Throughout the book it seemed like half the town was looking for answers as to how these women died while the other half was keeping secrets.

My feelings about Into The Water are mixed. On the one hand, I was fascinated (and horrified) by the idea of The Drowning Pool and the myths that it’s a place where “troublemakers” are “taken care of.” The writing was infectious and I didn’t want to put the book down (similarly to Hawkins’ previous book, The Girl on the Train). On the other hand, the book is told from at least 10 different perspectives and all of the switching back and forth between characters took away from the depth of the story. I was lucky enough to attend an author event with Paula Hawkins a couple weeks ago and these alternating perspectives was an aspect of the book that she experimented with while writing.

Overall, I recommend reading Into The Water, but I also recommend having a pen and paper handy in order to jot down quick notes of each of the characters mentioned.

Standout quotes: 

“Beckford is not a suicide spot. Beckford is a place to get rid of troublesome women.”  

“It must take a strange sense of entitlement, I would have thought, to take someone else’s tragedy like that and write it as though it belonged to you.”

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

Sometimes you read a book that feels completely separate from and relevant to your life at once. The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti is that novel for me. This father-daughter story stars the gun-toting Samuel Hawley and his daughter, steel-toe boot-wearing Loo. Despite their rough exteriors, the duo charmed me.

Loo and her father have been on their own for as long as she can remember, her mother gone before she could walk. Moving from motel to motel, they have never stayed in one place for long. One day though, Sam decides that Loo deserves a “normal” childhood and takes her to Olympus, Massachusetts, the town where Loo’s mother grew up. As Loo gets older, she learns more about her father’s dark past (a life on the run) and she’s not sure how to reconcile this information with the father she knows and loves.

Throughout the book, there are twelve chapters that describe the stories behind each of Sam’s bullet wounds. Sam is a character who has done bad (illegal) things, but does that make him a bad person? The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley made me stop and think.

I really enjoyed the book and definitely recommend it!

 

 

Standout quotes: 

“’But the past is like a shadow, always trying to catch up.’” 

“…Never quite understanding the reasons but feeling the cause must be some personal defect, some missing part of herself that the others recognized…” 

“Changing where you were could change how much you mattered.”

“Hawley took her face into his hands and kissed her forehead, her eyes and then her lips, slow and grateful and brimming with the hundreds of ways he wanted to touch her.”

“My God, Loo thought, these men do it to all of us.”

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

In an interview with Harper Audio Presents (the podcast) Jessica Shattuck said that she hopes for readers to describe her book, The Women in the Castle, as compelling. I can confirm that it most definitely is. This story is told from the perspectives of three German women before, during, and after World War II. I’ve read a lot of books set during this time period and I was fascinated by the controversial points of view presented here.

“She was the last man standing, the decoy left holding the key.”

After the war ends, Marianne (who can be described as a “camp director” type) fulfills her promise to protect the wives and children of the men who participated in the Hitler assassination attempt. She finds two of these wives and their children and brings them to the abandoned castle that belonged to her husband’s family. The three women are very different and yet they compliment one another. They are left to recover after a brutal war and it turns out that all are not necessarily who they seem to be.

It was inspiring to see such determination during a terrible time. I really recommend The Women in the Castle, even to those who have already read many World War II based novels!

Bleaker House by Nell Stevens

If you could go anywhere in the world, all expenses paid, where would you go? Rome, Paris, and London all cross my mind. For Nell Stevens (who actually received this absurdly lucky opportunity through her fellowship), her destination is Bleaker Island where she will live alone for weeks on end.

Bleaker House by Nell Stevens is made up of her time on the island (in the style of journal entries), memories, and her fictional writing (including what she had originally set out to write on Bleaker Island). While I wouldn’t choose to spend three months on a dreary island, Nell’s choice was intriguing. There were quite a few points while reading when I was internally shaking my head at her – why didn’t she pack more food? Another book? But it’s entirely possible that she wanted to suffer a little bit for her art.

 Bleaker House is a slower paced novel, but it didn’t just feel like an extended diary. It’s interesting that she went to the island to write a fictional novel and ended with an entirely different book.

Above all else, reading Bleaker House motivates me to continue writing myself along with eating lots of fresh food, which weren’t available on Bleaker Island. I enjoyed this book because it’s different from what I typically read in both genre and pace.

Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach

Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach is enchanting with a punchy voice, quick pace, and unexpected twists. I didn’t want to put down this vibrant book!

Ava and Zelda, twin sisters, come from a wacky family filled with alcoholics who have expensive taste and very little work ethic. The mother, Nadine, is psychotic and sharp while their father, Marlon, is charming when he wants to be and absent the rest of the time.

The book begins when Ava receives an email calling her home from Paris because Zelda has died in a fire. Whoa. Although she’s shocked, Ava doesn’t panic because she doesn’t believe it. Once she returns home mysterious emails, letters, and clues from Zelda appear that lead her on a wicked scavenger hunt. We eventually learn why Ava had left their home in the first place and what Zelda has planned for her.

Caite Dolan-Leach writes beautifully, casting an eccentric line of characters in a beautiful (albeit unsuccessful) vineyard in a small town. Images of the vineyard, the lake beyond, and the endless glasses of wine and booze came easily to mind. Beyond the mystery of the story, it was thoughtful as Ava (and Zelda) reflect on their relationships with one another and their family.

I really liked Dead Letters with all of the intensity, vibrancy, and would like to re-read it.

Quotes:

“I’m pretty sure he thinks that birthdays and funerals and dishes and housework are all magically arranged by some sort of domestic deity who oversees life’s practical considerations.”

 “…Maybe this was how she though about parenting us: as an unbalanced checkbook where she never got the sum she earned.”

“…That Zelda was unknowable, that any intimacy you thought you shared with her was a fiction she graciously let you maintain.”

 

The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd

Before reading The Shattered Tree, a Bess Crawford mystery, I was unfamiliar with the mother-son writing pair, Charles Todd. Charles and Caroline Todd come from a family filled with storytellers and write books together!

Bess Crawford is an English battlefield nurse during World War I and one night, an injured officer is brought to Bess’s station. He’s freezing, bloody, and was found besides a shattered tree. As Bess stabilizes him she’s surprised to learn that the officer isn’t British, he’s actually wearing a French uniform and speaks fluent German. Her curiosity and suspicion spark the story that unfolds in The Shattered Tree.

Soon after, Beth is wounded and sent to Paris to heal. It turns out that this mysterious man is also in Paris although his whereabouts are unknown. Beth can’t shake the thought of him; what if he’s a spy? She goes on a mission to find the man with the help of American Captain Barkley.

I thought Bess was pushy and nosy although her determination was impressive. She had very little connection to this officer and mystery she stumbles upon. Despite this, she pushes her way in. Throughout the story there was a sense of urgency, however I didn’t feel it as a reader.

Unfortunately, I had a hard time engaging with the story although it was an interesting idea.

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak

Sometimes a book is so endearing and nostalgic to teenage years that you can’t help getting brought along for the ride. For me, The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak is one of these stories. The book feels like a shout-out to all the teenagers  who feel out of place and awkward.

Billy is a fourteen-year-old teenager who spends most of his time hanging out with his friends, playing video games, and thinking about girls while also avoiding them. Despite having terrible grades in school, Billy’s brilliant with computers and has taught himself to code his own games.

When an edition of Playboy is released featuring Vanna White, Billy and his two best friends will do just about anything to see the photos. Because they’re under eighteen (and cannot legally purchase the magazine), they develop an elaborate plot to get their hands on a copy. In the process, Billy meets Mary Zelinsky and everything changes. She’s an expert programmer and together they develop The Impossible Fortress, a video game, to enter in a large competition. Of course the plan gets off track and Billy finds himself torn between what he knows is right and peer pressure.

One of the major themes of the book is sharing what it feels like to be a teenager when anything feels possible and you’re at the beginning of rest of your life. I really felt for Billy, a shy, hopeful, and at times, naïve kid. Despite his principal openly telling him that his future is drear and video game programming isn’t a career option, he works even harder to complete The Impossible Fortress. I was rooting for him!

In the end I was a bit confused about Mary’s motivations (Jason Rekulak, I have a few questions for you!) that I don’t feel were well explained, but overall this book is really good! The Impossible Fortress shares many similarities with Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (which I really liked as well) and I recommend both!

I thought this quote sums up Billy’s teenage temperament well:

“I didn’t try to compete with either of them. All I knew was that I didn’t know anything.”