Review: The Girls

Book Title: The Girls

Book Author: Emma Cline

Book Rating: ☆☆ (2 out of 5 stars)

Published: June 14, 2016

Synopsis: Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.

Emma Cline’s remarkable debut novel is gorgeously written and spellbinding, with razor-sharp precision and startling psychological insight. The Girls is a brilliant work of fiction—and an indelible portrait of girls, and of the women they become.”

I feel like there must be something wrong with me. I keep hearing such wonderful things about this debut novel, and I was completely underwhelmed. The Girls is filled with prose that just screams “I am Literary!!! Look at all of these pretty words!” And while I love descriptive writing that draws you into a story, there is such thing as overkill. I am also a little irritated by the comparisons of this novel to The Virgin Suicides. I love The Virgin Suicides and can see the parallels about growing up in a world that is not always kind to teenage girls, but The Girls is just not as engaging and not nearly as well-written.

The story begins with an aging woman named Evie, who we quickly learn was part of a cult during her early teenage years. I think the author intends for readers to be shocked by this fact that this unremarkable woman has such a sordid past. After the first chapter, the book flashes back to the year 1969, and describes how Evie went from being a typical 14 year old girl to a member of one of the most infamous cults in history. Unfortunately, the story just seemed to drag on and on. Of course we need background on our character to understand why she would be interested in joining a cult, but it was just too much. Too much mundane description and not enough plot.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book through Netgalley.


Review: The Lost Garden

Book Title: The Lost Garden

Book Author: Katharine Swartz

Book Rating: ☆☆☆☆ (4 out of 5 stars)

Published: June 27, 2015

Synopsis: “Marin Ellis is in search of a new start after her father and his second wife die in a car accident, and at thirty-seven she is made guardian of her fifteen-year-old half-sister Rebecca. They leave Hampshire for the picturesque village of Goswell on the Cumbrian coast, and settle into Bower House on the edge of the village church property. When a door to a walled garden captures Rebecca’s interest, Marin becomes determined to open it and discover what is hidden beneath the bramble inside. She enlists the help of local gardener Joss Fowler, and together the three of them begin to uncover the garden’s secrets.

In 1919, nineteen-year-old Eleanor Sanderson, daughter of Goswell’s vicar, is grieving the loss of her beloved brother Walter, who was killed just days before the Armistice was signed. Eleanor retreats into herself and her father starts to notice how unhappy she is. As spring arrives, he decides to hire someone to make a garden for Eleanor, and draw her out of – or at least distract her from – her grief and sorrow. Jack Taylor is in his early twenties, a Yorkshire man who has been doing odd jobs in the village, and when Eleanor’s father hires him to work on the vicarage gardens, a surprising – and unsuitable – friendship unfolds.”

This novel centers around two different pairs of sisters, residing on the same property nearly a century apart from one another: Marin and Rebecca in the present day, and Eleanor and Katharine in the early 1900’s.  Their stories are told from the alternating perspectives of Marin and Eleanor, and the narrative floats seamlessly from one timeline to the next. Both pairs of sisters have just experienced the loss of a dear family member and turn their attentions to the walled garden located on the property as a way to process their grief.

This wasn’t a very quick read, but rather a story that unfolds itself slowly, and is more driven by the characters than by any particular drama or action.  The depth of the characters and the exquisite writing will be more than enough to keep you attention, however.  While there were elements of romance, I really appreciated that those relationships often took a backseat to the bonds between the sisters.  I also loved the depictions of this small, English town in which the women resided.

The best way I can think to describe this book would be as The Secret Garden for an older audience, and if you enjoy novels with a past and present story line, I would highly recommend this book.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book through Netgalley.

Review: In a Vertigo of Silence

Book Title: In a Vertigo of Silence

Book Author: Miriam Polli

Book Rating: ☆☆ (2 out of 5 stars)

Synopsis: “In Miriam Polli’s debut novel, Emily, the young protagonist, discovers a family secret and thinks, I know now that secrets run in the blood and bones of those who came before. This intensely moving, multi-generational novel follows the lives of women, both strong and frail—shrouded, at times warped, by the confines of a long-held secret. Polli has drawn characters with empathy and poignancy as Emily strives to change the destiny of her family.

I find books that revolve around a family secret to be very intriguing.  The synopsis of this novel states that this story is about Emily, and her discovery of a long buried family secret.  The description isn’t incorrect, but you should be aware that Emily doesn’t discover this family secret until about two-thirds of the way through the story.  I explain of all of this to simply say that this novel has a very slow build.  It is very beautifully written, and I enjoyed reading about the women in this Polish family; but the plot moved excruciatingly slow, and it was at times nearly impossible for me to muddle my way through the rest of the book.

The story is told from the perceptive of three different women, and the timeline jumps around quite a bit, but the author has laid out everything in a way that is very easy to follow.  The characters themselves were fleshed out nicely, although I had a hard time connecting with any of them.  Overall, this book was “just okay” for me, and I would have a hard time recommending it to anyone.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book through Netgalley.

Review: The Mermaid’s Sister

Book Title: The Mermaid’s Sister

Book Author: Carrie Anne Noble

Book Rating: ☆☆☆☆ (4 out of 5 stars)

Synopsis: There is no cure for being who you truly are…

In a cottage high atop Llanfair Mountain, sixteen-year-old Clara lives with her sister, Maren, and guardian Auntie. By day, they gather herbs for Auntie’s healing potions. By night, Auntie spins tales of faraway lands and wicked fairies. Clara’s favorite story tells of three orphan infants—Clara, who was brought to Auntie by a stork; Maren, who arrived in a seashell; and their best friend, O’Neill, who was found beneath an apple tree.

One day, Clara discovers shimmering scales just beneath her sister’s skin. She realizes that Maren is becoming a mermaid—and knows that no mermaid can survive on land. Desperate to save her, Clara and O’Neill place the mermaid-girl in their gypsy wagon and set out for the sea. But no road is straight, and the trio encounters trouble around every bend. Ensnared by an evil troupe of traveling performers, Clara and O’Neill must find a way to save themselves and the ever-weakening mermaid.

And always, in the back of her mind, Clara wonders, if my sister is a mermaid, then what am I?

Clara and Maren were both left in the care of their “Auntie” as infants, and have been raised as sisters their entire lives.  When the sisters turn 16, Maren begins transforming into a mermaid; her fingers are becoming webbed, her feet are turning into fins, and she has new scales appearing all over her body almost daily.  Clara must sadly accept that she will soon have to say goodbye to her sister, and doesn’t know how she will ever be able to let go.  Outside of this little family and two close family friends, Scarff and O’Neill, no one else in their village is aware of Maren’s “condition”, and it is kept a closely guarded secret to protect her.  As Maren grows ill, Clara realizes that she must find a way transport her sister to the ocean, in the middle of a harsh winter.  Clara and O’Neill set out on their own, with only a wyvern and a raven in tow to keep them company, to bring Maren to the ocean. Their journey takes a horrible turn, however, when their carriage is attacked and Maren is captured. And they must quickly find a way to rescue the young mermaid before it is too late.

This was a beautiful little story that I could see appealing to a wide range of age groups, but would probably be most enjoyed by middle grade readers.  The highlight of this fairy tale was the close relationship between Maren and Clara.  It was refreshing to read something where the focus was NOT on a romantic relationship, although there was a bit of a romance in this story as well.  Most of the writing is very descriptive in nature, and there are many chapters where not much happened to keep the plot moving forward. So my only complaint is that the pacing of the book was a bit slow, and I think that this may have worked even better as a short story. Other than that, this was a very enjoyable read.

Review: The American Lady (The Glassblower Trilogy #2)

Book Title: The American Lady (The Glassblower Trilogy #2)

Book Author: Petra Durst-Benning

Book Rating: ☆☆☆ (3 out of 5 stars)

Synopsis: “Tempestuous and beautiful Wanda Miles, daughter of Ruth and Stephen Miles (or so she thinks), aspires to more than the life of a debutante, but the trouble is she doesn’t know precisely what she wants. Then her aunt Marie, the family’s renowned glassblower, arrives from Lauscha, Germany, and Wanda decides that learning about her ancestry may hold the key to her future. When Marie accidentally reveals a long-held secret about Wanda’s parents, Wanda goes to Lauscha to unravel the truth.

While Marie finds herself increasingly swept up in New York City’s bohemian social scene—catching the eye of a handsome young Italian in the process—Wanda explores a past she never knew in the village of her mother’s youth—and begins to build a life that she never expected.

A sweeping tale that takes readers from the small town of Lauscha to the skyscrapers of New York and the sun-kissed coast of Italy, The American Lady is a tribute to the enduring power of family and what we’ll do in the name of love.”

I think my expectations were just too high for this follow up to a book that I consider one of my all-time favorites, The Glassblower.  A lot of the things that I really enjoyed about the first book in this series were noticeably missing from this installment.  In the first book, I really enjoyed reading about the glassblowing process, and the town of Lauscha in Germany, and the relationships between the three Steinmann sisters.  All of those elements were either given in sparing amounts, or were missing altogether in this sequel.  In fact, the most engaging parts of this novel didn’t even begin until about a third of the way into the story.

This volume focuses very heavily on Marie, the youngest of the Steinmann sisters, and on her niece, Wanda, the daughter of Ruth Steinmann.  About 17 years have past since the events of the first book, and Marie wakes up on her 36th-ish birthday feeling restless.  For years, her art has been her whole life, but lately she has been feeling uninspired. On the advice of an old friend, she travels to America to see her sister, Ruth, for the first time in almost two decades, and becomes swept up in the New York art scene, and takes in the culture and beauty of the big city.  She ends up taking an Italian lover, who I did not at all care for. I was pretty surprised that she so quickly forgot about the man who had been her partner for nearly two decades, while following her new beau to Italy on a whim to start a new life.

Where in the first book Ruth was a sweet, hopeless romantic, she and her husband Steven are now fixtures of New York’s high society.  This Ruth is a far cry from the strong woman we were introduced to in book one, who risked everything to leave her abusive husband and protect her infant daughter.  This Ruth is more concerned with planning elaborate parties, and spending countless hours shopping on 5th Avenue.  She has never told her daughter, Wanda, the truth about who her father really is, and completely mishandles the situation when Marie does accidentally let the truth slip.

Johanna was probably my favorite character in the last book, and she was noticeably absent for most of this volume.  Luckily, I really began to like Wanda’s character and enjoyed watching her transformation in this story.  In the beginning, Wanda is a little aloof and spoiled, and seems to be struggling to find her own way in the world.  She quickly forms an intense bond with her aunt when Marie comes to visit.  Marie is also really instrumental in helping Wanda cope with discovering the truth about her father, especially since that was a topic that Ruth refused to discuss.  But when Marie essentially abandons Wanda to follow her new boyfriend, Wanda courageously makes the decision to travel to Germany on her own to learn more about her roots, and begins to find herself.

I can only really recommend this novel to true fans of the first installment; if your feelings about The Glassblower were lukewarm, then you should definitely pass on this one.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book through Netgalley.