Saturday, November 20, 2010

Galley Roundup

The rain is pouring down outside and I am looking at the latest pile of galleys that have arrived on my doorstep and dreaming of the upcoming Thanksgiving break....

THE WEIRD SISTERS by Eleanor Brown

Wonder how many books I can read over the holidays....

Thursday, November 18, 2010

VIXEN (The Flappers Series) by Jillian Larkin

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I am very picky about my young adult fiction. I'm always looking for books in this genre that are original and don't speak down to their readers. I was intrigued by this new Flapper series because I loved the idea of looking at the lives of young adults in the 1920's.  It is such a fascinating era of change and liberation, especially for women. 

In the first book of the series, VIXEN, we are introduced to several young flapper wannabes.  Gloria Carmody is a coddled 17-yr-old socialite who is engaged to be married to prominent young bachelor Sebastian Grey.  Gloria is unsure about her life and marriage and starts dabbling in the world of speakeasies.  Her friend, Lorraine Dyer, is envious of Gloria and always seeking to get attention and climb out of Gloria's shadow.  Gloria's cousin, Clara Knowles, arrives to help keep Gloria in check and make sure she marries Sebastian but Gloria has a secret wild flapper past of her own.  These three women get caught up in Chicago's underground world of speakeasies and flappers with mixed results.

I love the use of 1920's slang and detail in the book. Larkin is very good at setting the tone.  She reveals how even 80 years ago, young adults were dealing with the same sorts of issues that we struggle with today.  These women wrestle with sex, alcohol and rock 'n' roll. (only in the form of jazz at this time)  One of my problems with the novel, however, is that the only likeable character is Clara.  Clara is seeking to overcome her past and start over.  She is flawed but genuine. Gloria is just annoying and thoughtless.  Lorraine is a rotten friend and her constant need for attention is tiresome. The men in the book don't fare any better. Sebastian is a jerk.  Gloria's friend Marcus is a spoiled brat. Even Gloria's secret lover comes off as too cliched. The book felt very much to me like a teenaged version of DANGEROUS LIAISONS set in the Roaring 20's.  But it fails to reach any real depth.

*PARENTAL ADVISORY*--The young people in the book are in their late teens and early twenties. They drink heavily, they are disrepectful to their parents, they have illicit sex and smoke like chimneys.  It is naive to think that young people don't struggle with these issues today and I don't think a book should be written off because they depict these things. However, none of the characters seem to really learn anything except for Clara. They just continue on with their irresponsible behaviors.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended with reservations.  I think this series is original but the whole thing fell flat for me.  The characters are wooden and boring and not likeable. However, I would be interested in reading more and seeing how the series develops.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Galley Round-up

The nightstand is filling up again and it is going to be hard to decide what to read next.  Here are some of my November-February galleys:

MUST YOU GO? by Antonia Fraser
UNBROKEN by Laura Hillenbrand
SUNSET PARK by Paul Auster
THE RADLEYS by Matt Haig
THE RED GARDEN by Alice Hoffman
THE ORACLE OF STAMBOUL by Michael David Lukas

So, which one of the first four should I read next?

DISTANT HOURS by Kate Morton

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I loved Kate Morton's book THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN so I was very excited when I got a galley of her newest book, THE DISTANT HOURS.  When a letter from 1941 finally arrives at its destination fifty years later, it has powerful repercussions for Edie Burchill, a young publisher in London.  Edie's mother opens the much-belated letter and is powerfully affected by it. She reveals to Edie that she had been evacuated to a castle called Milderhurst in the countryside during the war. Edie is very surprised to learn of this previously hidden episode in her mother's life.  She is even more surprised to learn that Milderhurst was the residence of the author of Raymond Blythe, the author of one her favorite books, THE TRUE HISTORY OF THE MUD MAN.  This book is a national treasure and no one has ever cracked the mystery of the true inspiration behind the story. When Edie is brought to Milderhurst by chance, she can't resist learning more about the place her mother had been exiled to and, in so doing, becomes drawn into the lives of the three elderly Blythe sisters that reside there still and the mysteries surrounding them.

This is a very difficult book to describe. There is so much going on!  It is a bit of a chunkster at 670 pages but the story flew by as I could not put it down. The story moves back and forth between the present of 1992 to the war years. We see the events unfolding through multiple perspectives as we try to learn the truth about the hidden secrets of the Blythe sisters and the origins of the famous MUD MAN story. There is also the side story of Edie trying to understand her mother, Meredith, by delving into her past.  The book reveals a great deal about the often complicated relationships between parents and children and also between siblings. The book offers a literary mystery and reminded me a great deal of AS Byatt's POSSESSION and Diane Setterfield's THE THIRTEENTH TALE. All of the characters are interesting and the secrets and mysteries keep you guessing until the end.

I could not put this book down.  I loved it even more than THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN.  It has many of the elements of my favorite books--mystery, books, family drama and secrets, madness, passion, castles, romance and even some wartime drama.  Although I think the ending was successful, it felt a little abrupt to me.  I wish Morton hadn't hurried things up so much. However, it was a thoroughly entertaining read overall.

BOTTOM LINE:  HIGHLY recommended.  One of my favorites this year.  Fans of AS Byatt and Diane Setterfield and even Charlotte Bronte will find much to enjoy here. This makes a great winter read.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Notes in the Margin

Winter ARCs are starting to pour in and I'm getting really excited!  I will post a list here of my latest acquisitions later.

Right now, I am 3/4 of the way through THE DISTANT HOURS by Kate Morton and I am LOVING it!  I am also working on DEWEY'S NINE LIVES and a young adult title called VIXEN by Jillian Larkin. So, I should have new reviews soon.

Tonight, I am heading to a special event featuring Alice Walker. So excited to see her in person!  Maybe I can get her to sign my copy of THE COLOR PURPLE. Fingers crossed!!!!