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.”

 

Look at You Now by Liz Pryor

look-at-you-now-by-liz-pryorWhen Liz Pryor, a senior in high school about to graduate and start the rest of her life, finds out that she’s pregnant, her parents decide to send her away. The year is 1979 and according to her parents, no one can know about it, not even their friends, family, or Liz’s siblings. Liz is sent to a facility for girls “in her condition” and her world shifts while she’s there. The place turns out to be a locked government-run facility.

At first Liz (who is from an upper-class family) feels completely at odds with the girls (many of whom came from the foster care system). As she settles in though, she bonds with the girls and in some cases finds deep friendships. Liz gains a new perspective that causes her to reevaluate her own life.

I appreciated the honesty throughout the book and seeing Liz grow as she faced an incredibly challenging experience with grace and maturity, especially for someone so young. The book emphasized how much her pregnancy and her time with the girls shaped her. I wonder whether they are still in touch today or ever connected later on after leaving the facility.

look-at-you-nowI enjoyed both the pace and the length of the story, it was just right in my opinion. I definitely recommend Look at You Now and have quite a few follow-up questions – I may have to do some digging for a follow-up interview with Liz Pryor!

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

Sleeping GiantsI think that it’s good to go outside of your reading comfort zone every once in a while in order to dip your toes into the water of another genre. That’s what reading Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel, a science fiction novel, was like for me.

The story begins when Rose, a young child, is riding her bike one evening and falls into a square shaped hole in the earth. She wakes up in the palm of a giant metal hand. As an adult, Rose becomes the physicist that leads the team researching the huge mysterious hand, where it came from, and whether there are other artifacts out there. The more the team learns about the hand, the more they question what the artifact means for humanity.

The story is made up entirely of interviews, journal entries, and news clippings. I thought this was an interesting approach to writing and although I felt oddly disconnected as a reader I didn’t dislike it. The same mysterious figure conducts each interview during the book and I felt quite curious about the character. We don’t know much about him besides the fact that he’s got powerful connections and is a bit of a bully. There were a lot of political components to Sleeping Giants as well, both within the United States and between the governments of countries across the globe.

Sleeping Giants On a disappointing note, the flow of the plot seemed a bit scattered to me and it was a bit challenging to keep up with the timing. I thought some of the plot decisions (don’t worry, no spoilers here!) were random and unnecessary as well.

Although Sleeping Giants wasn’t my favorite read, I enjoyed the tone and the idea behind the plot. I also enjoyed reading a book outside of my typically preferred genres to mix things up!

Now it’s your turn! Do you typically stick to one genre while reading?

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall KellyLilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly has been sitting on my TBR pile for a while now and I’m happy to have finally picked it up!

Lilac Girls is set during World War II and tells the stories of three women around the world. The first, Caroline, is an American working in the French consulate in New York City. The next, Kaisa, is a Polish teenager working for the underground resistance who is arrested and sent to a German concentration camp. The last, Herta, is a German doctor who becomes involved with the camps.

I’ve read many books set during World War II and am both fascinated and horrified by the stories, but this is one of the only books I’ve come across that extends so far after the war. By continuing the story more than a decade after the war ended, we were able to see the effects of the war on world.

It was really interesting to read these different perspectives of the war, especially as their stories began to intertwine. I really enjoyed this aspect of the book. On the other hand, because there were three separate points of view, the writing felt a bit choppy in the beginning.

Caroline, the character from New York City, really frustrated me at times as well. She was incredibly stubborn when it came to her love interest and pushed him away after all they had been through, causing them to both be unhappy. The person who this character is based on, Caroline Ferriday, played a huge role in helping survivors of the concentration camps and I wish the book and given more emphasis on the impact she had.

A few quotes that I marked while reading:

“I was free of spending my life pleasing them, free to go it alone.”

“’Everyone steals from everyone now. Goods belong to those who can hold onto them.’”

Lilac Girls“…the war was officially over, I did not rejoice. The war continued for us, just under a different dictator, Stalin.”


“How nice is its, when one’s own reputation is damaged, to hear of others’ misfortunes.”

Lilac Girls is a great book and I definitely recommend it, especially for historical fiction fans!

Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar

Vanessa and Her SisterIn Vanessa and Her Sister, Priya Parmar has brought the members of the famous Bloomsbury Group to life in this powerful novel. The group is filled with incredibly talented intellectuals, artists, and writers in the early 1900’s. Within the Bloomsbury Group are the sisters, Victoria Woolf and Vanessa Bell, and that is whom this story centers around.

The story is told from Vanessa’s perspective and revolves around the very strange and intriguing relationship between the sisters. Vanessa is the elder sister and while she is calm, grounded, and wise, Virginia is brilliant, unstable, and constantly seeking Vanessa’s full attention. Throughout the book we see how far Virginia will go to be closer to Vanessa…

I also loved the way that Parmar brought Lytton Strachey to life with an outrageous personality and charming dialogue. I adored his character.

Vanessa and Her Sister was filled with so many insightful and powerful quotes that I couldn’t pick just one! Here are a few of my top picks:

“…It is a narrow precipice with Virginia. Too much affection given to someone else and she can topple over, too little and she gloats.”

“I worry that life is always in the future and that I am always here, in the preamble straightening up the cushions so that life will go smoothly once it does begin.” 

“Affection is so much easier to give when it is not owed.” 

“In my deep bones, I have always known that Virginia is in love with me.” 

“…She basks in my protectiveness, but it only spurs her on to recklessness.”

“’Hope is an unbreakable habit.’”

Priya Parmar has done an incredible job bringing this time period and these people to life in a beautiful narrative.

I received a copy of Vanessa and Her Sister from Random House in exchange for an honest review.

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.

 

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.