Books We Loved, Oct. 2019
And while you’re browsing all these wonderful books, don’t miss our latest release: Joan Schweighardt’s Gifts for the Dead, book 2 in her Rivers trilogy. Find out more by clicking her cover, below.
Melissa Albert, The Hazel Wood (Flatiron Books, 2018)
Melissa Albert‘s The Hazel Wood is a shivery delight, like a dazzling vintage ball gown of paisley silk, slithering over your head. Reading it is like drowning in musk rose petals and damson wine.
It begins in an almost conventional manner, with a missing person mystery. Alice and her mother, Ella, live a peripatetic existence, which takes them from Nacogdoches, Texas to Brooklyn, New York. Alice copes with the frequent moves by becoming a loner, though she feels a fierce loyalty to her mother, and curiosity about her grandmother, a mysterious reclusive writer of fairy tales. When Ella meets and marries Harold, Alice and she stay still long enough for her past to catch up with them. One day Ella disappears, abducted in front of Harold. This is no ordinary kidnapping though, as Alice and her friend Finch soon find out. Their search for Ella takes them deeper and deeper into another reality, and the secrets of Alice’s origin, and things start to get really weird.
Interview with the author at New Books in Fantasy.—GM
Tracy Chevalier, A Single Thread (Viking, 2019)
Violet Speedwell belongs to a generation of “surplus women,” created by the massive losses of the First World War. In an era when women’s success is still measured in terms of marriage and family, this puts her at a significant disadvantage: with her fiancé long dead, she has no hope of finding another man, especially now that she’s turned thirty-eight. But neither does she want to spend the rest of her life caring for her angry widowed mother, who never misses an opportunity to complain.
Violet takes a new job in Winchester, adding betrayal to her many sins (according to her mother). There she struggles to make ends meet. A chance encounter with a society of embroiderers bent on enlivening the city’s ancient cathedral with their work offers Violet a more satisfying way to spend her time, and soon she is making friends and a life for herself in her new location.
This is a gentle, appealing, everyday story filled with details of needlepoint and bell ringing, and Violet is a believable and sympathetic heroine. Her yearning to define her own path to happiness had me rooting for her at every step.—CPL
Louisa George, Something Borrowed (Amazon Digital Services, 2016)
I’ll admit it. The whole reason I picked up this book in the first place was because the main character was a wedding planner who got left at the altar. This is the same premise that starts my novel A Holiday Wish, and I wanted to see what another author did with it.
It’s amazing how two stories with so many similarities can turn out so differently. Both women are left for another woman. Both are close with their sisters and mothers, having been abandoned by their fathers, but Chloe’s wedding business is a family thing, while Noelle has put a hundred miles between herself and her childhood.
Chloe finds herself falling for Vaughn, her ex’s cousin and the one who broke the news that the wedding wasn’t going to happen (and was beaten with a bouquet for his efforts). Vaughn is closed off and moody, but gorgeous, of course—and a brilliant chef. The relationship between them starts off slow, but builds to a supremely satisfying crescendo, and even when it looks like all is lost, a glimmer of hope burns beneath the surface.
If you like slow-burn romances that take the characters from enemies to lovers, not to mention strong family ties and even long-buried secrets, you’ll enjoy this book! I was thrilled to see that it was the first in a series and definitely plan to read the rest.
For a longer review, see my website.—CJH
Richard Powers, The Echo Maker (Picador, 2007)
Mark Schluter is on his way home after a night out with the boys when his truck overturns on a rural road near the Platte River in Kearney, Nebraska. As soon as his older sister (and only kin) Karin learns what has happened, she drops everything (apartment, job, boyfriend) and returns to her hometown to sit at her brother’s bedside. Two weeks later, when Mark finally emerges from his coma, it becomes clear that he is suffering from Capgras syndrome, which renders its victims unable to recognize some individuals from their past. Accordingly, Mark is certain that Karin is an imposter, someone who looks like his sister and seems to know everything about her—and obviously has an ulterior motive for impersonating her.
In an effort to find help, Karin writes to a famous author-neurologist, Dr. Gerald Weber, who is clearly fashioned after the great Oliver Sachs. Weber comes to meet Karin and Mark, but instead of solving any of their problems, he drags his own intellectual and emotional issues into the mix—resulting in a mountain of selfhood/identity-related puzzles for characters and readers to wade through. Additionally, there are plot issues concerning the whereabouts of Mark’s friends at the time of the accident, a mysterious note that was discovered in Mark’s hospital room by someone who claims to be “No One,” Karin’s relationships with two old boyfriends whose career paths put them at odds, and a nursing assistant who seems a little too eager to insert herself into the lives of the other characters.
Crucial to the story as well are the sandhill cranes, the “echo makers,” that return to the Platte River every February, retracing a route “laid down centuries before their parents showed it to them.” Not only is their intuitive stability a counterpoint to the mental weaknesses and memory lapses of the characters, but the spectacle their migration creates brings more tourists to the region every year, which brings more housing developers, which results in a shrinking of the cranes’ landing zone—and we know where that will lead. The Echo Maker is magnificent and expansive, a true work of genius and a pleasure to read.—JS