The Memory Garden by Mary Rickert

The Memory Garden by Mary Rickert

Publisher’s Description:

Nan keeps her secrets deep, not knowing how the truth would reveal a magic all its own.  Bay Singer has bigger secrets than most. She doesn’t know about them, though. Her mother, Nan, has made sure of that. But one phone call from the sheriff makes Nan realize that the past is catching up. Nan decides that she has to make things right, and invites over the two estranged friends who know the truth. Ruthie and Mavis arrive in a whirlwind of painful memories, offering Nan little hope of protecting Bay. But even the most ruined garden is resilient, and their curious reunion has powerful effects that none of them could imagine, least of all 

MemoryGarden_image_AppleBlossomBay.

Reading Mary Rickert’s The Memory Garden is a lovely and rewarding experience. I adore books containing atmosphere and am equally fond of reading about witches. Rickert combines both with a heartwarming and engaging tale about great love, big secrets, relationships, and coming of age - not only for a young generation, but also for the one beginning the process of reflecting and coming to terms with what will likely be their final years. The Memory Garden is filled with lush writing, unforgettable characters, and manages to  immerse readers in the politics of a small town of an earlier time, and in friendships whose strength transcends a painful past.

Another fascinating aspect of reading about witches is how they draw on elements of the natural world in their preparations for cures, charms and enchantments. Rickert adds to the richness of The Memory Garden by prefacing each chapter with an ingredient – fruit, vegetable, herb – and its uses and meaning. I am able to share the APPLE BLOSSOM card with you today. Another clear endorsement of the apple of day philosophy.

 

For more thoughts on this book, and to see the rest of the lovely cards, visit: Royal Reviews /Book Bag Lady / Lesa’s Book Critiques / The Bibliotaphe Closet / Bookalicious Babe / Mirabile DictuStory Matters

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Jessica Levine, Rachel Zoe, and Susan Rieger|Reading Round Up

One of the key things about having less time for one of my great loves (reading!) is that I am much more ruthless about reading what I find to be really enjoyable and/or rewarding. Gone is the time when I can meander through a book with vague feelings of boredom and/or annoyance with a plot. These days if I pick a book up and don’t feel a compelling desire to come back to it, I don’t. The last few weeks have offered up an eclectic mix of reads, but for the most part, I have been happy with my choices.

Jessica Levine, Rachel Zoe & Susan Rieger

The Geometry of Love by Jessica Levine:  Yesterday, I posted my interview with Jessica Levine, and I was fascinated with her discussion of the psychological nature of her books, women having male muses, and the different types or literature and reading that have spurred the creation of her characters and novels.

I have high praise for The Geometry of Love. The novel’s protagonist, Julia, is in a safe, though creatively stifling relationship with her college sweetheart when she has a chance run-in with their old roommate, Michael (a creative soul mate with whom she once shared a steamy kiss). While both men offer an essential element to Julia’s well-being, her attempts to resurrect their damaged relationships, establish agency in her creative life, and determine her path in life, unfolds in surprising ways and brings all involved all but to the brink of ruin. Levine’s characters are thoughtfully rendered and contain a level of nuance that holds the reader hostage in their messy lives. Julia in particular reminded me of that friend whose life is a mess, and though you’ve heard way too much about her problems, too many times, there is something that keeps you from turning away.

Living in Style: Inspiration and Advice for Everyday Glamour by Rachel Zoe: I’m a pretty recent convert to The Zoe Report (Rachel Zoe’s daily beauty, style and fashion newsletter) but I do love a pretty dress, and her astute style curation caught my eye. Though a new devotee, I was fairly excited to find out that she has a new book out. Right off the bat I am favorably disposed to enjoy a coffee table book like Living in Style. There are beautiful photographs of style icons, sneak peeks behind the scenes – at fashion soirees, and practical suggestions for formulating a sense of style, work life maintenance routine and balance. The book is written in a conversational style, and Zoe shares tips from her beauty care routine, and stories about her early days and establishing her career. If you want a more substantive guide for for fashion, make up an style choices, I would subscribe to her newsletter as this is mostly breezy and fun.

The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger: Susan Rieger’s debut novel is instantly memorable to me, if only because I had so much fun  reading it. I loved escaping into Sophie Diehl’s world of long catch-up emails with her best friend, detailed and informative work briefs, and intriguingly accurate representations of divorce documents. The fact that Sophie is a criminal lawyer who has has no interest in dealing with people adds to the comic elements of the novel, which doesn’t lose its poignancy among the humor. Rieger artfully weaves Sophie’s troubled relationship history, tenuous parental bonds, and deep ambivalence about marriage in to the secondary story of divorce negotiations between a privileged heiress (the fabulously charming, intelligent and empathetic Mia Meiklejohn) and and her prominent physician husband. My only complaint is that it felt a tad long in spots, but having the option to skip around in the legal documents remedied any restlessness that I had.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB   Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook – Book Review

The Aftermath by Rhidian BrookIn Rhidian Brook’s stunning post World War II novel, The Aftermath, English Colonel Lewis Morgan is tasked with reinvigorating Hamburg and the surrounding territory while also determining the degrees of guilt or innocent of the population and ensuring the prosecution of Nazi war criminals. While carrying out his duties, Lewis is reunited with his wife Rachael and son Edmund, who come to him after a separation of several years, with a brief exception for Lewis to attend the funeral of his eldest son. Allied officers are housed in the residences off the wealthy Germans, while they are re-homed in camps. Faced with evicting the family living in the mansion that has been chosen for him Lewis, without consulting his wife, decides that the two families will share the spacious home. Inevitably, tensions arise as the families try to cope with the new living situations and their own precarious relationships.

It’s easy to be wary of World War II novels. It’s a period that lends itself to dramatization, and it’s easy to feel as if you’ve read certain stories before. At this point, I am pretty selective about the ones I choose to read, but I am willing to take a chance on the novels that I think will offer up a different perspective. The Aftermath caught my attention for that reason. Brook writes eloquently about the devastation of the country, pride and livelihoods of the people, many of whom were near starving in camps. Edmund is befriended by a group of boys who have no one but each other, his German teacher arrives thin, hungry and worried that he will be convicted of crimes greater than the ones he has committed. Throughout the novel questions and degrees of guilt are explored with few satisfactory answers. How can you tell who is good just by appearances? Whom can you trust?

Brook weaves all of these issues seamlessly into this tapestry of family, homecomings, love, redemption and loss. Lewis and Rachael’s uncomfortable relationship and loss of each other, and their failed attempts at regaining a semblance of former intimacy form shape the novel, along with Herr Lubert’s mourning his wife, anger at his reduced circumstances, and lack of control over rebellious Freda. Brook masterfully build impalpable tension as the families struggle to achieve civility toward each other in the face of suspicion, stereotypes, and class tension. Lewis’s ability to have compassion for the community he serves, but being unable to extend that same thoughtfulness and courtesy to his family is thoughtfully explored over the course of the story. There were so many powder kegs that I expected to explode during the course of the novel, but each situation comes to a head in ways that were satisfying, and mostly, surprising. The Aftermath is a wonderful novel – rich in historical detail, impressive in its analysis of the subtle contradictions of human frailty and strength, and a fine example of engaging and compelling storytelling. Highly recommended.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB   Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

Lies You Wanted to Hear by James Whitfield Thomson – Book Review

Lies You Wanted to Hear

Though it begins in 1990 with a woman named Lucy mourning the loss of her son on his birthday, James Whitfield Thomson’s Lies You Wanted to Hear is essentially the origin story of Lucy Thornhill and Matt Drobyshev’s troubled marriage, and what happens when a relationship built on a faulty foundation collides with an obstacle that cannot be overcome. When Matt and Lucy meet, he is a young police officer from a modest background and means while she is the dilettante daughter of a wealthy businessman. Lucy had recently been deeply involved with the irresponsible and unfaithful Griffin, in a passionate and draining on-again/off-again affair. They never seem able to let go completely, and Lucy feels as if she should be ready to move into a more stable and committed relationship. Matt, for his part, loves Lucy immediately. While he suspects that Lucy doesn’t return the depth of his feelings, he is willing to accept what she is able to offer in the hopes that they can build a strong and loving marriage. There are many lies they tell themselves, but chief among them is that they will be happy together in the long run.

 

Thomson takes pains to establish Matt and Lucy’s relationship, and after their initial meeting and romance the novel progresses almost too slowly, and in too much detail, about the ins and outs of their marriage. The character’s stories unfold in alternating first person narratives, so while it is very interesting to see how they each view the relationship and each other, it is just as easy to see that they are mistaken in thinking they can successfully build a life together. Thomson bogs down the middle of story unnecessarily, and doesn’t leave much room to develop the end, which is where the novel shines. I knew that something happened to separate Lucy from her children, but it was something I forgot to wonder about as I found myself lost as I was in the tedium of Matt and Lucy’s marital woes and increasing animosity toward each other.

 

Putting the novel down for awhile ultimately helped me to finish it. I picked it up again, and the final third of the book had me hooked. For my taste, Thomson took too long to get to the meat of the story, but by the time he got there I was well versed in Matt and Lucy. I could see the perspective of both parents in the sad aftermath of their marriage, but I did little wavering between the two – though I felt I should. If you enjoy marital dramas, “he said, she said,”  and don’t mind a little extra filling in the middle, Lies You Wanted to Hear will definitely warrant interest. Thomson clearly communicates how sympathy and righteousness can be granted either aggrieved party, but most readers will stay play favorites with the characters (it’s almost impossible not to), as most of us will think we are as justified in our opinions as do Matt and Lucy.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB   Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

Check out this interview where James Whitfield Thomson answers several questions about his writing, what he’s reading and Lies You Wanted to Hear.

Memories of A Marriage: A Novel by Louis Begley – Book Review

Memories of  a Marriage by Louis Begley

After reading twisty and murderous marriage fare such as Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and A.S. Harrison’s The Silent Wife, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Louis Begley’s Memories of A Marriage. While just as insightful in showing how couples grow apart, or ignore glaring signs that they aren’t meant to be in the first place, Memories of a Marriage quietly explores the bitter dissolution of  marriage between an American heiress and her successful husband whose crimes against her seem to include being from modest beginnings.

The novels begins when Phillip, a writer and widower from the moneyed class, runs into Lucy de Bourgh, a Rhode Island heiress obsessed with the storied background of her once prominent family. Phillip knew a vivacious, flirtatious Lucy from his post-grad days in Paris, where she was quick to throw a party, and often just a tad risque. Lucy reintroduces herself to Phillip at a chance encounter at the ballet. Having met her husband, Thomas Snow, numerous times he is surprised to hear her refer to him as a “monster” and is overcome with curiosity about her reason for doing it. During lulls in writing his latest book he become obsessed with excavating the reasons behind their failed marriage and spends the summer interviewing not only Lucy, but any former friends who also knew the couple.

When I first started reading Memories of a Marriage, I wasn’t sure whether I would like it. Phillip and Lucy are similarly absorbed with lineage, background and breeding, and a good amount of time is spent detailing the clubs they belonged to, where they summered, and who knew whom and when. Just when I thought it would be a never ending catalog of the wealthy, their toys and quibbles, it takes on a surprising depth. While much of the novel examines Lucy’s choices, sexual obsessions, emotional health, and money squabbles, it’s ultimately about connections, loneliness and obsession. While Phillip as narrator focuses on Lucy, readers will be equally intrigued with the plight of the lonely, older gentleman trying to get the story. Recommended.

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Sanctus by Simon Toyne & The Heavens Rise by Christopher Rice – Little Book Reviews

Sanctus by Simon Toyne

Sanctus by Simon Toyne (September 2012, William Morrow) I’m a fan of conspiracy theories, if only because I like the idea of alternate explanations and theories for what is so readily accepted as fact, especially when it pertains to religion and science. Toyne introduces a monk determined to expose an ancient church conspiracy, his sister who has long thought him dead, and the two opposing factions who want to reach the both of them for the means to their own ends. Sanctus is the first in a trilogy, and as such many of the character’s stories are still unfolding. I like that there are strong female characters mixed in with the usual suspect (church heads, curious detectives), an interesting story line and a surprise at the end that I did not see coming. The pace is a fast one, and Toyne’s cinematic writing makes this a visual read (and a visceral one, there were some rituals and autopsies performed that had me squirming), the scenes pop from the pages. Other than it being a tad long, I’m looking forward to the next books in the series.

 

The Heavens Rise by Christopher RiceHeavens Rise by Christopher Rice (October 15, Gallery Books) I had high hopes for this one which were mostly fulfilled. The ending is where it went wrong for me. Rice writes absorbing novels that feature nuance in the relationships where  people are from different walks of life, but still interact with each other, forming friendships and rivalries. In The Heavens Rise, a young gay reporter and his older black mentor team up to get to the bottom of the mysterious events surrounding his best friend, who disappeared with her family shortly before the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina. This is an engaging and creepy read that I really enjoyed it up until the  last quarter. There it took a turn that was entirely too fantastical for my taste. I wouldn’t warn anyone away, because I suspect this is likely a taste thing.  Unfortunately the last bits colored (and spoiled) everything that came before for me, but it’s still a worthwhile consideration for a creepy reads line up.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB   Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

Backstage Cat by Harriet Ziefert, Jenni Desmond (Illustrator) – Little Book Review

Backstage Cat by Harriet Zieffert

Backstage Cat by Harriet Ziefert, Jenni Desmond (Illustrator) (March 12, 2013, Blue Apple Books) Simon the cat goes to work with his person, who is the star of a Broadway show. Havoc ensues when he escapes to roam the theater and have a few escapades of his own! I am always on the look out for cute books for showers, birthday presents or to fill a Christmas stocking, and this fits the bill. It’s a simple introduction to the workings of the theater using a runaway cat as the guide. The writing is simple and fun and can be expanded to answer the questions of older kids or simplified even further for the younger set. I’m not sure even who could resist these adorable illustrations! I certainly couldn’t. Recommended.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Simon Vance (Narrator)  Audiobook Review

The Wandering Goose, S.E.C.R.E.T., Subtle Bodies – Little Book Reviews

The Wandering Goose by Heather EarnhardtThe Wandering Goose: A Modern Fable About How Love Goes by Heather Earnhardt, Frida Clements (Illustrations) (September 17, Sasquatch Books) Oddly touching, this is the illustrated story of a bug and goose who spend time together, become friends and eventually fall in love. Short and bittersweet the illustrations and lovely, and though tinged with loss the story is hopeful and life affirming. (Source: Edelweiss)

SECRET by L. Marie Adeline

I skimmed through some of the novel’s sexy times (you know what to expect after awhile!), I loved that the novel explored Cassie’s feelings about her husband, why her relationship with him was so damaging to her, and how she needed to focus more on her own wants and needs before she could make capable decisions about choosing the right man for her life. Just when things really start looking up, Cassie hits a snag that sends her in another direction, as is to be expected in the first novel of the series. (Source: Publisher)

Subtle Bodies by Norman Rush

Subtle Bodies: A Novel by Norman Rush (September 10, 2013, Knopf) I’m not fully sure what I expected when I picked up Norman Rush’s Subtle Bodies. The premise is simple but promising. Ned and Nina are a married couple trying to get pregnant with their first child when Ned is called away to attend the funeral of an old college friend (the ringleader of their witty, irreverent nonconformist clique) with whom he has had little contact for twenty years. Furious that he has left in her most fertile time of the month, Nina takes off after him and arrives to ensure their offspring, and to navigate Ned through the analysis of the brief friendship which shaped his life. Rush is a wonderfully observant writer an there is much that he gets right about the haunting dynamics of lost friendships, and the insular concerns of career and marriage, but there was a lack of emotion connecting the threads, and some insufferable characters that made this a slow and tedious read. The characters are given to long winded political rants and lengthy conversations that lack a true conversational feel, and seem to serve more as an arena for the presentation of very big ideas (invasion, war, Jewish and Palestinian problems in the Middle East). Hopefully Rush’s other acclaimed work will more prominently feature the emotional impact missing from this one. (Source: Purchased)

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The Explanation for Everything by Lauren Grodstein – Book Review

The Explanation For Everything by Lauren GrodsteinThe Explanation for Everything
Lauren Grodstein
Literary Fiction
Algonquin Books
September 10, 2013
Hardcover
352 pages
Publisher

Affiliate Links: Amazon | IndieBound | Powell’s

Andy Waite is a young father, atheist, and biologist, raising his daughters alone after the death of his wife, Lou, in Lauren Grodstein’s new novel, The Explanation for Everything. Andy is adrift  and at somewhat of a crossroads – estranged from his brilliant but scandal plagued mentor, attempting tenure at what he considers to be a second tier university, managing his girls (who seem older by the minute), and troubled by unexpected results in the research that is the cornerstone for a grant he is seeking. Though Lou, died several years before, he still grieves deeply for her and sees her ghost everywhere. Andy’s life takes several unexpected turns when Lionel, a young Creationist, joins one of his courses, and then steers Melissa, a young woman seeking sponsorship for an independent study in Intelligent Design, Andy’s way.

The Explanation of Everything proves why Grodstein’s work is lauded by readers and critics alike. Her writing is lovely and well-considered. I loved the details that supported the  intimate portrait of Andy’s relationships with his daughters, his neighbor, Sheila, and his place among the faculty and staff. Grodstein made it easy to see why Andy arrived at some of his conclusions, and how he could have wandered so far off track.

Still, there was something missing (a lack of urgency, too much apathy from the characters?), that was hard to pinpoint and bogged the story down. While I was happy enough while reading it, I didn’t find particularly compelling reasons to go back to it once I had set it aside. While Andy and his daughters were fully realized (and maybe even Lionel, whose character I really enjoyed), the revolving female characters would have benefited the novel had they been fleshed out a little more.  I also would have liked to have more cohesion in the way certain story lines were linked. Halfway through, a story that was before only mentioned in passing, takes center stage in a way that is rather jarring, even though it’s also one of the more fascinating aspects of the book. As carefully paced as it is the ending is rather abrupt and vaguely unsatisfying.

Ultimately, The Explanation for Everything didn’t work for me as fully as I had hoped, but Grodstein is an author whose work I will continue to look forward to. A Friend of the Family comes very highly recommended, so luckily I will have that to read in the meanwhile.

Read More Reviews At: River City ReadingDevourer of Books (BOOK CLUB Discussion) - Love At First Book

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Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas – Book Review

Throne of Glass
Sarah J. Maas
Young Adult, Fantasy

August 7, 2012
Hardcover
404 pages
Source: Publisher

Affiliate Links: Amazon | IndieBound

Publisher’s Description: After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin. Her opponents are men-thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the king’s council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she’ll serve the kingdom for three years and then be granted her freedom.

Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilarating But she’s bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her… but it’s the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.

Then one of the other contestants turns up dead… quickly followed by another.

Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.

My Thoughts:

This was an engaging book to read and one that I will doubly enjoy because my newly teenaged cousin will be reading it as well. I liked the perspective of a female, teenage assassin and I look forward to continuing the series and delving more into Caelena’s origins, what happened to her family, the man who mentored her and how she feels about the lives she has taken in the course of her work. Most of this novel concentrated on Caelena’s training and getting herself into shape to win the competition. I appreciated the detail that acknowledged that she wasn’t in immediate fighting shape, and that she had to work hard to be a worthy opponent. Maas’s strength in this book is her world building, and I loved getting to the know the characters, rules and mythology of this world. It’s a great set up to further explore why and how magic became forbidden, her relationships with Dorian, Chaol, Nehemia, and her relationship with the King..

Caelena is a feisty and smart heroine, who looks forward to making the best of her opportunities without getting too bogged down in the troubles of her past. I really liked that she was optimistic, strong and forward focused, and this book has really built the anticipation to meeting characters Caelena has mentioned as being important in shaping her life. Recommended.

Read More Reviews At: Snuggly Oranges - Tumbling Books - Sash and Em

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Simon Vance (Narrator)  Audiobook Review