Monday, June 23, 2014

Eight Girls Taking Pictures by Whitney Otto (audio)

"Later, Jenny would say she seldom knew what she would take a picture of when she picked up a camera, that she only knew once she peered through the viewfinder, as if the photograph had finally found her."

This book was not at all what I was expected.  I guess I thought it would be a novel - but it was actually eight short stories about eight different girls who were photographers in the late 1900's to 1980's.  The research was excellent (from what I could tell) and the writing rather good in some parts, but I guess this book just wasn't for me.

My main issue with the book was that all of the eight characters seemed exactly the same.  One of the stories might have been a great stand alone short-story, but after reading a few, I couldn't really tell one apart from another.  They all seemed like the same person, but in a different time period and slightly (and I mean slightly...) different circumstances.  Many this was the author intention?  Either way, it got annoying after awhile.  It also was way to feminist for me.  All of the girls had major conflict between their photography careers and their family/love interest.  Being set in the time period that it was, I understand there was a real battle here (you couldn't usually be a famous photographer and a wife/mother at the same time), but I felt like each character made the same choice.  It was annoying.  The books only saving grace was the reference to different characters through out the stories - espeically at the end reference to Cymbeline (the first women's story).  I felt like this book could have been great, but it just wasn't.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole (audio)

"You glided over to me and, as I was struggling to think of something intelligent to say, you said 'There you are.'  I often think of that, Sue.  Here I am.  No matter where I am in the world, 'Here I am.' "

Goodreads Summary: A sweeping story told in letters, spanning two continents and two world wars, Jessica Brockmole’s atmospheric debut novel captures the indelible ways that people fall in love, and celebrates the power of the written word to stir the heart.

March 1912: Twenty-four-year-old Elspeth Dunn, a published poet, has never seen the world beyond her home on Scotland’s remote Isle of Skye. So she is astonished when her first fan letter arrives, from a college student, David Graham, in far-away America. As the two strike up a correspondence—sharing their favorite books, wildest hopes, and deepest secrets—their exchanges blossom into friendship, and eventually into love. But as World War I engulfs Europe and David volunteers as an ambulance driver on the Western front, Elspeth can only wait for him on Skye, hoping he’ll survive.
June 1940: At the start of World War II, Elspeth’s daughter, Margaret, has fallen for a pilot in the Royal Air Force. Her mother warns her against seeking love in wartime, an admonition Margaret doesn’t understand. Then, after a bomb rocks Elspeth’s house, and letters that were hidden in a wall come raining down, Elspeth disappears. Only a single letter remains as a clue to Elspeth’s whereabouts. As Margaret sets out to discover where her mother has gone, she must also face the truth of what happened to her family long ago.

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This novel is told completely in letters: in 1912 between Elspeth and David and years later in 1940 between Margaret and Paul and Margaret and her mother.  The style reminded me a bit of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrow - another novel told through letters.  I loved the idea of letter writing - something that is rare in today's modern world of texts and emails.  With all of the instant communication, it's hard to imagine a time when it messages would take weeks to reach someone!  There is something wonderfully romantic about getting to know someone and falling in love through letters.

Brockmole tells the epic love story of Elspeth and David, who develop an unexpected correspondence when David writes Elspeth a fan letter after reading her book of poetry.  They quickly realize they have a lot in common and their friendship slowly develops into something more.  The two fall in love in unexpected circumstances - Elspeth is already married and David has recently enlisted as an ambulance driver in France. Over the years, the two struggle with finding a way to make their relationship work.  Call me old-fashioned, but it sort-of bothered me that Elspeth was developing a relationship with David when she was married to someone else (similar to how I felt about the characters in Loving Frank by Nancy Horan).  I understood where they were coming from, but I still didn't exactly like it.  That being said, the situation did bring about a lot of complex emotions and decisions that might not have otherwise been there.  

Overall, I enjoyed this book.  I was a little cliche at times, but I liked the story really liked the author's description of the time period and setting (particularly the island of Skye).  It was also really interesting to read Elspeth and David's letters while learning about Margaret's journey to find out about her mother's past.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (audio)

"Just because something seems impossible doesn't make it untrue."

For me, this book was basically an adult version of Twilight.  Basically, Diana is a witch/historical scholar at Yale.  After her parents die at a young age, she goes to live with her aunt and her aunt's partner (both witches) and decides she wants nothing to do with her magical background.  This all changes when she discovers a lost manuscript while completing her research at Oxford and the world of magical creatures, as well as her own, is turned up side down.  Oh and she falls in love with a vampire (of course) named Matthew who loves yoga and is an excellent cook (really??)

I was expecting to enjoy this book more than I did. I loved the historical part of the book and how they were incorporated into the story.  Diana's family are descendants from Bridget Bishop of the Salem Witch trials and this linage becomes an important aspect in the story in a really interesting way.  I also really liked the world that was created where humans, witches, vampires, and demons could co-exist with little problems (at least so far).  Plus it's set in a library!!! These are the only reasons I was able to give this book three stars.

What I didn't like was the romance.  It was way to "chick-lit" and didn't seem to fit with Diana's character or the storyline.  I felt like the author created this really interesting fantasy world and story and then decided to stick in gobs on annoying romantic scenes between the main characters to make the books more appealing to the readers.  Frankly, it was just annoying.  I'm all for romance, if it fits the story and is believable - neither of which I found in this book.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

"What if we had a chance to do it again and again, until we finally did get it right?  Wouldn't that be wonderful?"

Goodreads Summary: On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. Sadly, she dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways. Clearly history (and Kate Atkinson) have plans for her: In Ursula rests nothing less than the fate of civilization.

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This was somewhat of a difficult novel for me.  It was a bit confusing and I wasn't sure I "got" everything. Even though I struggled to get through it at times, there were many things that I loved about this book.  I read a lot of books, and I sometimes find myself reading the "same story" over and over again.  Kate Atkinson managed to take a simple concept (being born over and over again into the same life) and create a unique and complex story.

Each time Ursula is reborn, her life takes a slightly different path.  She managed to avoid one disaster after another, but then ends up with a different problem. I kept hoping that Ursula would finally "get it right," but that wasn't really the goal of the story. This novel is more about life more than anything and how it is effected by the everyday choices that we make.  I also loved the the novel was set in England during both World War I and II.  Usually books tend to focus on one war or the other.  I also really loved all of the different characters that Atkinson created to weave in and out of Ursula's life.

This book was #8 on my top ten list of 2014.