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Happy 6th Birthday, SPR!

As of my "maternity leave," here are the stats of the past year: 74 books reviewed 9 guest posts 4 independent bookstores 3 d...

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Violet Hour: A Novel

Family dysfunction. I love it. Can't get enough, in fact. So I picked up Katherine Hill's The Violet Hour and reveled in it this weekend.

Abe and Cassandra are happily married, living a tranquil life with their Harvard-bound daughter, Elizabeth, until the day when their secrets come to a head. On an idyllic afternoon sailing off the coast of California, a fight breaks out and Abe jumps off the boat, swimming to shore. The marriage abruptly ends, and they do not see each other for eight years. When Cassandra's father dies suddenly, Abe comes to the funeral. It is then that their love story unfolds for the reader, from the beginnings of their romance until the day it fell apart.

We are all human, and we make human mistakes. The characters in this novel are so real and so very raw; they make bad choices and they make good ones, too. They love deeply and intensely, and we watch love do what it does over time--it grows and it fades, it solidifies and it liquifies. Real life is messy, guys. It's not all peaches and cream, roses and peonies, unicorns and rainbows.

Young love is just as messy as old love. Elizabeth is a central character in this novel, and her relationship is a juxtaposition to what was her parents' so long ago. She loves him but she doesn't; she is comfortable but she faces the age-old question: "Is that all there is?" It's not just Abe and Cassandra that must face their demons; Elizabeth must also determine what she wants and where she wants to go.

What I liked most about this book was the realness that was imbued in the characters and their messy, real lives. They struggled with love, loss, anger, happiness, hope, and frustration. They come to the realization that life, and more importantly, relationships are what you make it, for better or for worse. If life was easy and love was a breeze, we would have no novels. And then where would we be???

Kindle version on the left, hard copy on the right.

Monday, July 29, 2013

A Marker To Measure Drift: A Novel

Gasp. That is the only sentiment I have for Alexander Maksik's A Marker to Measure Drift.

A woman sleeps in a cave only accessible at low tide. She has seen things that would would stunt even the strongest human. Her mother speaks to her often and guides her on the desperate search for a place to sleep at night, food to fill her belly, and peace to accept what life has handed her. In the beauty of the Aegean, Jacqueline must find her basic sanity in order to carry on with life.

Oooooohhhhhh eeeemmmmm ggggeeeeeeee. This novel was haunting. It was all-consuming. It owned my head and my heart for a time. It was completely arresting and alternately horrifying and heartbreaking. It was like peeling away the layers of an artichoke to get to the heart. I was completely curious, overwhelmingly desirous even to figure out was this woman and how she ended up here in the most beautiful place on earth. Why did she leave her family behind in Liberia, and why does she choose to stay on the island she has found?

I thoroughly enjoyed this book for its heavy-handedness and lack of boundaries on Jacqueline's spiral into loneliness. I cared about finding out who she was, where she came from, and where she was going. I also cared about from where she would get her next meal, and I had specific opinions on when and why she should, or shouldn't, move. I was so happy when she found a home and wary when she found a friend. She was a compelling character that drove the story, humanizing a tale so heartbreaking.

Kindle version on the left, hard copy on the right.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Wish You Were Here: A Novel

I thoroughly enjoyed Stewart O'Nan's Songs for the Missing, so Wish You Were Here has been on my to-read list for quite some time. I finally picked it up this week for a cold-weather read.

After losing her husband to cancer, Emily gathers her family at the lake house for one last visit. Her two children come with their families, and her sister in law is present as well. As the family says goodbye to the house in Chautauqua that been in their family for generations, they also deal with their own personal crises. Meg is getting divorced and her children are adjusting; Ken and his wife Lisa are struggling to make ends meet while Ken follows his dream. Each Maxwell comes to the table with their own baggage and must deal with losses much greater than their own.

This book was so lovely. I have to say, I found it the perfect length for a vacation read. It's a tad on the long side but not too thick that you can't sit out on the porch or take it to the beach. The story is incredibly in-depth with full and complete character arcs. You will close the book astounded that you only spent a week with the Maxwells--you feel like you have known them your whole life.

I was able to dive into the pages and completely give myself over to this week at the lake house. I was able to experience the trip from every person's perspective. I understood Arlene's loss of love at a young age; I understood Emily's bitterness and need for control; I understood Meg's frustration at her mother and the continuation of the fraught relationship; I understood Lisa's disdain for her mother-in-law. This book was really beautiful and lovely, and I am glad I spent my week in the pages.

Pick this up before your summer vacation. Kindle on left, hard copy on right:

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Really Awesome Mess

Want something funny and kooky and completely off-beat? Try Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin's A Really Awesome Mess.

Emmy finds herself thrown into Heartland Academy after a rough patch which included threatening a classmate on Facebook and poor decision making. Justin finds himself there after a very unfortunate incident involving his father walking in on a teenage boy's dream come true followed by an overdose of Tylenol. Neither has a desire to be there, and no one seems to be terribly welcoming. They are on a journey to find themselves (which is the only way they can get out), on which they find what they never knew they were always looking for--friends, acceptance, and love.

This book is categorized under YA lit, but I found myself enjoying it immensely as an adult novel. We have all been there as teenagers making decisions that might not be the best ever, even though it seemed innocuous back then. I most definitely cringed thinking back on the poor decision making I made at that age, and it was so easy to relate to the frustration, the attitude, and the emotions of the ragamuffins in the reform school.

I really enjoyed watching the character arcs of all of the characters, but in particular Justin and Emmy. Over the course of the novel they both grew in ways that they might not have if not for Heartland Academy. I would never wish that kind of reform school experience on anyone, but it sure can be a boon for self-discovery for those who need it. My favorite scene involves a county fair, an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink hotdog, and a pig heist. Just trust me--it will have you giggling like a fifth grade girl with a crush on the cover of Tiger Beat in 1987.

Kindle version on the left, hard copy on the right.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Countdown City

Countdown City by Ben H. Winters is the second book in The Last Policeman trilogy about the last days of the earth. [Happy squeal.]

Henry Palace is no longer a cop, which is just fine as far as he's concerned since an asteroid is scheduled to hit and destroy earth in 77 days. He spends his days hanging out with his dog, Houdini, and missing his sister who has joined one of those end-of-the-world cults. When his childhood babysitter calls in desperate need of help finding her missing husband, Henry agrees to find him out of an old loyalty. What the search leads him to find is unbelievable and completely normal all at the same time.

I. Loved. This. Book. It was weird and awesome and nail-biting and creepy and just like every day life except gone off the rails a bit since, you know, everyone is going to die and it will all be for the same reason at the same time. The asteroid hangs over everyone's heads as they go about their everyday lives--it is the often unspoken character in the book. It lent an ominous feeling to the writing which only enhanced the story and my love for it.

Winters is a fantastic writer, one whom I hope to keep seeing more from in the future. He reminds me a lot of some of my favorite writers; he has a way for writing in a realistic and a raw style that I eat up with a spoon. The action of the story was completely unexpected--in fact, we know what happens to the husband half-way through. It's just one peg in the board of insanity of the last days of Earth.

I feel a pull to go pick up the first book of the trilogy now because I just need to get more of his prose. (I picked up Countdown City pre-release at BEA.) I can't wait for the third book in the trilogy to come out. (Mr. Winters, may I puh-leeeeeeze get my hands on a copy this very second??? I can wait until tomorrow if I have to.)

I would like to encourage you all to check out Countdown City this month. If you love great writing, you will not be disappointed. If you love doomsday stories, thrillers, or otherwise crazy shenanigans, this book will be up your alley. You will not be let down.

Kindle version on left, hard copy on right.

Friday, July 19, 2013

An Ordinary Toad's Extraordinary Night

An Ordinary Toad's Extraordinary Night by Joanne McGonagle and illustrated by Rachael Mahaffey is an extraordinary children's book with which I fell immediately love upon opening the front cover.

Andrew, a young toad, is going through an ordinary identity crisis--he wishes he could be a frog. After all, they don't have warts, they are a brighter shade of green, and their lithe figures are much more attractive. Andrew heads off to spend an evening with his grandfather, who explores these wishes with him and teaches him to appreciate everything that he does have. Loving who you are is the moral of the story--and it's what makes you extraordinary.

Whether or not I like a children's book depends on the moral of the story being: 1) present, and 2) weaved into the story so that it is not preachy or overwrought. I absolutely adored this story and the character of Andrew. I found him to be absolutely relatable and positively adorable. Everything I love about animal characters is encompassed in this book, and Andrew as protagonist is wonderful and down-to-earth.

Now let's turn to the illustrations. Gorgeous. There was so much care and love put into this book that I found myself squealing while reading. (Yes, a thirtysomething actually let out squeals while reading a children's book.) It's colorful and realistic while being very child-friendly. I much prefer illustrations to photographs in children's books, so this was a win.

A final note for parents and other book-buyers, this book is chock-full of facts on animals. They are intertwined in the story to enhance the narrative while still passing on information about animal habitats and animal characteristics. It's an excellent feature of this book, and I am so happy I picked it up. I am looking forward to giving copies of this book as gifts as the tiny people in my life become merely small people.

For the toddler of any size in your life:

Oh Brother! A Nico and Tugger Tale

Oh my goodness gracious--I am in love with these dogs. Oh Brother! A Nico and Tugger Tale by Kimberly Sentek and illustrated by Eumir Carlo Fernandez stole my heart.

Nico and Tugger are brothers, and each has a story of how they came to be. The first half of the book is Nico's story--he was an only dog and things were just fine until his parents brought home Tugger. Nico must learn to live with Tugger and eventually love him, because that's how siblings are. The second half of the book is Tugger's story--he is an innocent pup brought home to his new family, and he is beside himself to have a sibling! Tugger must learn to respect the boundaries of the relationship with his new brother.

Together these stories explore the meaning of family relationships. No matter how much your brother or sister drives you nuts, they are your family and you love them no matter what. I adore the illustrations in this book--the dogs are just too stinkin' cute. I love how similar yet how different they look, and I smiled through the whole book. What a great gift this is for a young child expecting a new baby brother or sister. Watch out, friends! You know what gift is coming your way soon...

Kindle version on left, hard copy on right.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Bully Bean

I picked this book up at Book Expo America because I loved the concept and illustrations--and I wanted to tell you all about it! Bully Bean by Thomas Weck and Peter Weck, illustrated by Len DiSalvo.

Bully Bean is mean. He picks on his fellow beans, he plays tricks on them, and he makes them all very scared. One day Bully Bean makes a poor choice and finds his life in danger. When those that he has terrorized choose to help him instead of ignore him, Bully Bean learns a valuable lesson and begins treating others with the care and respect everyone deserves.

I am so excited to give this book as a gift to a young man just entering the world! (Welcome to life, Killian!) I love the story overall--the length, the reading level, the poetry integrated into the story, and the moral. The illustrations are kid-friendly and beautiful, and the writing hits the nail on the head. This is a great book to use to teach children to be kind to one another while also encouraging them to help those in need regardless of how they treat you. Bullies are everywhere; it's up to you to be kind.

What is the most valuable about this book series, however, is the last few pages of the book which feature activities and learning extensions for you to do with your small people on the topic of bullying. They are age-appropriate and can be done in an adult-child dyad to take the topic and reading to the next level.

Pick up a copy:

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

I loved the movie--yes, I was one of those. I picked up Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret as a baby gift for a friend (I believe in small humans reading at advanced levels) and decided to read it for myself before wrapping it.

Hugo Cabret is a young man living in the attic of the Paris train station. He winds the clocks everyday; this job used to be his drunk uncle’s until the day he disappeared. Hugo continues the work without anyone knowing in order to have a place to live and food to eat. Hugo spends his spare time rebuilding an automaton that his father worked so very hard on reconstructing before he died; it’s the only thing Hugo has left of his father. When the owner of the toy store in the station catches Hugo stealing, Hugo is led on a journey of self-discovery that could only happen in the most serendipitous of ways.

I lovelovelove this book. It’s my favorite children’s book that exists anywhere, because the story is so rich and so fulfilling, and about half of the story is told through illustrations. I love when a story can be told through pictures; I find graphic novels so powerful for this very reason. The illustrations in Cabret are gorgeous pencil sketches that are expressive and lovely. I adore the narrative, and I love that it is enough to keep adults interested while being full of intrigue and depth for kids. Anything that can entertain all generations at once is simply marvelous as far as I am concerned. (Yes, I also loved the movie, thanksforasking.)

Get this for the short person in your life.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Stuck in the Doldrums and If You Were Me and Lived in Mexico

Today I have two books by children's book author Carole P. Roman. First up, we have Stuck in the Doldrums: A Lesson in Sharing. This is part of her Captain No Beard series, which follows the adventures of the captain and his crew as they sail the high seas.

Captain No Beard and his crew find they are marooned in the doldrums this particular day. When the captain pulls a power play and takes a telescope from Mongo the monkey who is using it to while away the time, the crew decides they have had enough of the captains bossiness and that he is on his own. But when Captain No Beard discovers that a squid is attacking their ship, he must make amends quickly and learn to share, or he must say goodbye to his beloved mode of transportation. No one likes a bossypants.

I absolutely adored the illustrations in this book. Roman is very talented, and I felt that illustrations were very well-done and were colorful and busy enough to capture the attention of any rowdy toddler. Also, who doesn't like pirates? (No one, that's who.) I found the moral of the story to be important and timely; if you can't share with others, you can't expect them to help you out in your time of need--but, on the other hand, if someone is mean to you and needs your help, you should consider being the bigger person and helping them regardless of what they have done to hurt you.

The second book I read by Carole P. Roman was If You Were Me and Lived in Mexico, which is part of her larger series that describes what life would be like if you lived in different countries. This one focuses on Mexico, and it includes what you would call your parents (mama and papa), what money is called (pesos), where you would learn things (escuela, or a school) and what popular names you might be named (Alejandro and Sophia, for example).

Um, I am madly in love with this series. Like, whole hog. How amazing is this--a series of books, others of which currently include France and South Korea, that creatively share information about other cultures with lovely illustrations and plain language for kids of all sizes. The information Roman has chosen to share is the right amount (not too much, not to little) and right on the money (names, titles, and things that are relatable to children). I can't wait to pick up a copy of the rest of the countries to give for an upcoming baby gift! (Could I put in a request for Germany, Australia, and Canada? Pretty please?)

Stuck in the Doldrums (Kindle on left, hard copy on right):

If You Were Me and Lived in Mexico...

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Stella Batts Series

This week I am going all themey-like on you guys--it's children's book week! Since I have so many friends who are popping out small humans as of late, I wanted to make sure everyone knows how thrilled I am that they are passing down their awesomeness. What better way to do this than to dedicate a whole week to children's books for a variety of ages?

Ladies and jellybeans, I have a new love. Her name is Stella Batts; she's eight years old, precocious as anything, and utterly magnificent.

Stella Batts, by Courtney Sheinmel and illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell, lives with her mother, father, sister, and soon-to-be-born baby brother in California. Her father runs a candy store, Batts Confections, and her bestest friend in the world is Willa.

In Stella Batts Needs a New Name, we are introduced to Stella and her younger sister, Penny. Stella decides to write her autobiography, and this is where we begin. We learn about Stella's family dynamics, we accompany her on a class field trip to her father's candy store, and we witness Stella deal with being bullied by a classmate who calls her "Smella". When the bullying gets to be too much, Stella decides to choose a new name for herself--but can she learn that her name is exactly what she needs?

In Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow, Stella is so excited about the new gum at Batts Confections (it's glow in the dark--you would be too!) that she chews it late into the night regardless of her parents' instructions to the contrary. She wakes up in the morning with gum in her hair, and she decides to take action by cutting it out, hoping her parents won't notice. Oh no! This only increases the teasing from the bully at school. Just when Stella thinks things can't get worse, her best friend Willa announces she is moving clear across the country. Can Stella weather these storms, or will they make her hide under the covers forever?

I had the pleasure of meeting Courtney at Book Expo America this year, and I have to tell you, she is as lovely as her books.

I was not exaggerating when I said that I am in love. From, like, page five of the first book I was sold on Stella, and I only grew more fond of her as the books went on. I can not wait to pick up these books for the young ladies in my life--they are perfect for upper elementary readers, even as young as  7 or 8 if you have an advanced reader on your hands. I loved the characters, all of Stella's friends and even Joshua, the class bully. The stories are super appropriate for young readers and they all have a moral without being preachy. I would have enjoyed these books immensely as a young girl.

I can't wait for you to read these for yourself and grow to love Stella as much as I do!

Stella Batts Needs a New Name (Kindle on left, hard copy on right):

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow (Kindle on left, hard copy on right):

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Pink Hotel: A Novel

I snatched up Anna Stothard's The Pink Hotel as soon as I heard about it--long listed for the Orange Prize and all. Here is what I found.

A young girl leaves her home in the UK after stealing her father's credit card to piece together who her mother was and how she died. She spends weeks bouncing around Los Angeles in search of answers to her questions. Her mother, Lily, abandoned her as a baby, and this may be the young girl's only chance to know her. Part of this is through the red suitcase stuffed with clothes, mementos, and cash she stole during Lily's wake at the Pink Hotel, where Lily and her husband were the proprietors. She may find that she is more like her mother than she ever thought.

What a winding, interesting, lucid take on the ever-classic coming-of-age story. Sobering yet whimsical. Honest yet potentially outlandish. Heartbreaking yet full of strength. Shocking yet addicting. I felt all of these things by the time I closed the back cover.

I can absolutely see why people have fallen in love with this novel. It's small and mighty with no emotions to spare. It's a tight little piece that covers only a swatch in time, but it adds up to such a large portion of this young woman's identity. I vacillated between pulling for her and wanting her caught. This novel caught such a wide range of emotions in its net that it's hard to put a finger on how the book made me feel as a whole. It, frankly, depended on the page. That is astounding writing skill.

Kindle version on left, hard copy on right.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Shut Up, You're Welcome: Thoughts on Life, Death, and Other Inconveniences

I desperately needed a good humor piece this week. Something to lighten the mood from all of the heavy novels I have been reading. So I picked up Annie Choi's Shut Up, You're Welcome: Thoughts on Life, Death, and Other Inconveniences. Well worth the laughter.

Annie Choi, comedienne extraordinaire, lends us her thoughts on some of life's inconveniences such as airlines losing your luggage when underwear is hard to find, celebrating Christmas with your family when they fail to show up in their own home, and trying to get your parents to get rid of that pesky dining table that is about to fall apart while eating your next dinner. Choi's parents, Korean immigrants, are thrifty, lovable, and horrible drivers. Choi takes us through some of the high (or low, depending on how she might view things) points of her childhood to help us realize that home really is where the heart is--and that if you don't laugh about it, no one will.

I pretty much giggled through this entire book. It is clear how much Choi loves her parents yet lives in constant exasperation of their quirks and their idiosyncrasies. For once, she just wishes that her father would not gold-plate everything he can get his hands on. Maybe, just maybe, her family can do something fun on vacation instead of rush from monument to monument to get a picture. (Also, possibly Grandma could not ruin a natural habitat next time.) And no, Choi does not believe that underwear from Korea is better. It may fit, but it is horribly embarrassing in the locker room.
I adored Choi's conversations with her parents. She painted such a vivid picture of who they are--her mom calls herself "Mommy" and chuckles at her own jokes--that is hard to not want to hunt them down in person to meet them and give them a huge hug. As exasperating as family can be, Choi has found the gold (pun intended) in them.

And she has made me crack up in the process.

Kindle version on left, hard copy on right.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Happy Second Birthday, Sassy Peach!

Wow, you guys! Two whole years of book reviews. Can you even believe it? This year has seen 159 posts, which averages out to 3 books per week. This does not count reading for school, either, which averaged about 350 pages of psychology and education reading per week between textbooks, articles, and prep for the two undergraduate courses I teach. And a few magazines here and there. (A few? What am I talking about? I read four monthlies and one weekly.)

Some amazing things that happened this year include starting my PhD program (and finishing my first year!), attending Book Expo America, and having the freedom to do nothing but read (and some research, of course) this summer.

You guys. We breezed past 10,000 views this second year, and this blog is now surpassing 1,200 views per month. That is amazing, and it is because of you. I can't thank you enough for your love and support and most of all, your reading. Keep doing it. Because really, I can't do this without you.

So, now onto the tradition I started last year, where I throw out (in no particular order) some of the best reads of which I had the pleasure of putting my eyes on this year. Note that not all of them were released in the past year (although many were)--but all of them were read by yours truly this year.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler and Moira Kalman

The Burn Palace by Stephen Dobyns

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

This Bright River by Patrick Sommerville

The Drowning House by Elizabeth Black

The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace by Lynn Povich

The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

What in God's Name? by Simon Rich

The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death by Jill Lepore

Friday, July 5, 2013

Big Brother: A Novel

I am a massive (no pun intended) Lionel Shriver fan. We Need To Talk About Kevin blew my mind, and I also loved The New Republic and So Much for That. So when I heard she had a new book coming out, Big Brother, I jumped in the library queue like a jackrabbit on speed.

Pandora flies her brother, Edison, out from New York City to visit her family in Iowa hoping that the jaunt will break his spell of depression. When Edison arrives, Pandora doesn't recognize him--he has gained 250 pounds, and can barely fit through the door. Throughout his visit Pandora feels her family being strained--food disappears like water, her husband resents putting Edison up, and their son is not impressed to say the least. The only person who loves Edison unconditionally is Pandora's daughter, Cody. As a last ditch effort to save her brother's life, Pandora puts it all on the line--her marriage, her children, and her sanity. She moves in with her brother nearby and starts him on an excessive weight loss plan. Will he lose the weight and live to see another day? Or will Pandora lose everything that she holds dear?

Of course I enjoyed this book. Like I said, I am a Shriver fan so I reveled in her new work. I was fascinated by Pandora--her relationship with her husband, Fletcher; her relationship with her brother; and her accomplishments as a business woman. One thing I found particularly interesting is the dynamic between Pandora and the two men in her life. I was puzzled as to why she didn't tell her brother to quit picking on her husband; she spent so much time defending her brother to Fletcher that I wondered when she was going to have a serious discussion about respect with her brother.

This is also a very timely book--how often are we hearing about obesity in the news? This puts a human face on the epidemic, and as readers we have the "inside scoop," if you will. We get to see the struggle behind the weight, that it's not just about food but about control, and often times the lack of it. We see in Edison a lost little boy who can't stand that he is past his glory days; in Pandora we see an accomplished woman who must face the jealousy and resentment of an older brother who never quite made the same strides. It's an interesting dynamic and one that I really enjoyed in this book.

Kindle copy on left, hard copy on right.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Longings of Wayward Girls: A Novel

I picked up Karen Brown's The Longings of Wayward Girls this weekend without a clue as to the darkness I was getting into. Yummy.

Sadie is a hometown girl--she was raised an only child in the bucolic New England town by a wannabe actress mother, she married a good man in her twenties, and settled down to raise her children in the same place. Twenty years later, the return of a boy from her childhood brings to the surface the reminder of the horrible results of one particular summer prank. Without warning, the mystery begins to unravel, and with it, Sadie's marriage, family, and life.

This novel was super intriguing--I feel like my brow was furrowed for most of it trying to put the pieces together in an orderly fashion. That is a good thing, by the way; I love a book that makes me think for hours after. Brown really captured the mix of emotions of Sadie--she loves her husband but is slightly bored with life while still caring deeply about her children. Flawed women with strength are my faves, so it's no surprise that I found Sadie interesting, complicated, and deep.

Brown has a stylistic way of writing that keeps your eyes on the page. I know I have used "intriguing" earlier in this post, but it's the word I want to use over and over and over again. I was just so constantly curious about what happened that summer that I kept going back every time I had to walk away from the book.

Fascinating and intriguing.

Kindle version on left, hard copy on right.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Mouse-Proof Kitchen: A Novel

Saira Shah's The Mouse-Proof Kitchen called out to me for it's promise of love, loss, and coping with what hands us. In other words, life.

Anna and Tobias, a very happy, very chic couple, are expecting their first child and after that plan to move to Provence from their current London home. When baby Freya is born, however, they are stunned with the news that their daughter has scrambled eggs for brains. They choose to still move to France where they must learn to cope with a handicapped baby, a crumbling house, a new life--and a new kitchen filled with mice. Life as they know it will never be the same, but will it be too much for them to make it, or will they find solace in one another and baby Freya?

This novel had such a languid feel to it. I found myself identifying strongly with Anna and her struggle to love her child while balancing the indifference of her husband. Anna was such a sympathetic character, and even as she recognizes she is turning into an un-fun, nagging housewife, the very thing she swore she would never be, I still loved her and would have fiercely fought on her side to defend her choices.

I loved the secondary characters in this book as well, all of those crazy French countryside residents who each have their own way of doing things which is the only right way to do it. I found each character to be terribly endearing, even Tobias who at times drove me up the wall with his surface-level callousness that was simply masking fear and anxiety. I desperately wanted Anna to mouse-proof her kitchen and succeed in her one-woman war against the nature of the French countryside.

I found myself thinking about these characters when I was away from the book, and that to me is the sign of very well-developed characters who live and breathe. This book is well worth the read if only to be in their world for a short time.

Kindle on left, hard copy on right.