Review: ‘The Immortalists’ by Chloe Benjamin

91NmVdhZX0LFour siblings with the last name Gold, travel to see a psychic they’ve heard tales about. A women who can tell them the date on which they will die. Simon, Klara, Daniel and Varya leave her rooms with a date spinning around in their heads, a date that may be in a few years or one that may not be for a few decades.

The premise of the book looks like it’s addressing how each child would live their lives if they believed in their death date. What the book really asks is do we ourselves have control over the decisions we each make, or does fate have its way no matter what?

This book was well-written, thought-provoking and unique. But it wasn’t cohesive, nor well balanced. Each section follows a different Gold sibling as he or she grapples with whether the date given to them is real or fake, whether it should define their lives or not.

The first section is the strongest, following Simon as he and Clara move from New York to San Francisco. It’s in San Fran that Simon can truly explore his sexuality and figure who he is and where he fits in. His story is riveting, heartfelt and heartbreaking. I wanted to stay in Simon’s story much longer.

Second we learn about Klara, as she tries to make it as a magician and performer, meeting a man and falling in love and the happiness and strife that comes with growing up while wanting to pursue a different path. Klara was a captivating character, but at times her story seemed to fantastical, too different from the (mostly) very real situations Simon found himself in. She takes her fate into her own hands, but at what cost?

Then comes Daniel’s chapter, the weakest of the bunch. I feel like I still don’t understand Daniel as a character, and his obsession with the psychic seems forced. He was the most underdeveloped and least interesting of the four siblings.

Last we get to Varya, the most bookish child who now works in medical research with monkeys. Varya is the sibling who plays it the most safe, but her plot line also seems to veer into a forced direction.

The jumps from sibling to sibling are a bit jarring, as each leads such a drastically different life and reacts to their death date in very different ways. I just in the end didn’t get invested enough in anyone but Daniel, and found the novel too unbalanced to really enjoy.

Three of five stars.

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Review: ‘The Music Shop’ by Rachel Joyce

MusicShop“Real love was not a bolt out of the blue, it was not the playing of violins, it was like anything else, it was a habit of the heart.”

“The Music Shop” by Rachel Joyce is an ode to the power of music, both to heal and to inspire. It’s a delightful, beautiful and charming book, and my favorite of 2017 so far.

The book is set in 1988 on a small street in England. There are a few shops on the run-down row, including one owned by Frank — a bright and eclectic music shop. Frank has a knack for knowing what someone needs to listen to at exactly the right time, whether it be to get over heartbreak, feel joy or fall in love with music again; but his own heart is often a mystery to him. The book is filled with wonderful oddball characters, from the owner of a tattoo parlor, to a former priest and an eccentric young clerk.

These characters add to the charm of the book, but Frank is at its center. And when one day a woman in a green coat faints in front of his shop, his life is changed in ways he couldn’t imagine. The mysterious, witty Ilse Brauchmann steals his heart, but Frank has a thread of loneliness running through him, and the question is whether Ilse can untangle it. Toward the middle of the book confusion and disaster strikes, and Frank and Ilse’s futures lay in question. After the joy and upbeat nature of the start of the book, the change was a bit of a shock, and I felt myself scared I wouldn’t like the outcome. However, I was very pleased with the way the book ended.

It’s like the perfect record, filled with upbeat tunes, a few more somber tracks, and one at the end that ties it all together.

This book reminded me greatly of Nick Hornby, one of my favorite authors. Fans of his should get this book immediately, as should anyone who believes in the power of music.

Five stars out of five! (A rare rating for me)

 

Review: ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ by Kevin Kwan

Kevin Kwan’s funny, engrossing “Crazy Rich Asians” was first published in 2013. Recently, with a movie in the works, the book has garnered even more buzz, which led me to finally getting my hands on a copy. And, readers, it did not disappoint.

The story centers on Rachel Chu and her boyfriend Nicholas Young, heir to a gigantic Asian forbooktune, which Rachel knows nothing about. Living in New York, everything is perfect for this young couple, and it finally becomes time for Nick to bring Rachel to his home of Singapore for the wedding of his best friend Colin. Rachel soon realizes that the trip she had envisioned is nothing like the one she’s on. Nick’s relatives and friends have wealth beyond belief.  Nick brings her to meet his grandmother in an estate straight out of Downton Abbey, and she watches in shock as the fiancee charters a private jet just for a two-day bachelorette getaway.

There’s also another shock awaiting Rachel, one even more head spinning than her boyfriend’s family’s ostentatious wealth. Obviously I won’t say much more on that, but it was an interesting twist, and one I wasn’t expecting. I’m also glad there are other books in the series, because this plot point wasn’t fully fleshed out by the end of this book.

My one complaint may be that mostly I wanted to spend time with Rachel and Nick, and by extension Nick’s cousin Astrid, but there are other characters we meet whom I wasn’t as keen on and felt myself rushing through their story lines to get back to Nick and Rachel.

All together I found “Crazy Rich Asians” to be a thoroughly fun and satisfying read. It also made me both wish I had thousands of dollars to blow on diamonds (erm, books) and very glad that money is far from the most important thing in my life. It also may have caused me to take a quick trip to the mall, though I’m sure the wealthy characters in Kwan’s novel would not approve of the $30 dress I bought at Ann Taylor Loft.

Four stars out of five!

‘The Hazel Wood’ by Melissa Albert

hazelDark fairy tales and adventure and a page-turner is what I thought awaited me with Melissa Albert’s “The Hazel Wood.” Unfortunately, I came away disappointed.

Albert’s is a unique writer with a fantastic imagination, but much of the book fell flat. It’s the story of a teenager named Alice Proserpine who flees with her mother from city to city, bad luck and danger always in their heels. Alice has never met her grandmother, Althea, but upon hearing of her death, Alice’s curiosity is reignited. Althea is the author of a famous book of dark fairy tales Alice has never been able to read in full, and the mystery surrounding her grandmother has always captivated her.

The reader follows Alice as she learns more about Althea and falls deeper into her story – almost literally.

The start of the book is slow, with Alice and classmate Ellery Finch venturing out to find Althea’s estate, The Hazel Wood. The fairy tale telling takes its good time in coming, with awkward pacing leading into it. I enjoyed some of the “Alice in Wonderland” illusions, but found myself wanting to spend more time there and for the world of Althea’s stories to be fuller.

Alice also isn’t a very likable character, and even if she doesn’t have to be, the reader should still want to root for her in the end. And I didn’t.

Alberts has so much promise as a writer, but I think there are a lot of moments in this book that miss the mark. There’s just so much more I wanted from this story, and the fairy tales within.

Three stars out of five.

Back again!

This blog once again was abandoned for quite some time, but this go-around feels different. I’ve been reading more widely and diversely the past couple of years, I’ve formed a community of book lovers in D.C., and reading has become even more part of my identity than before. I want to make a commitment to keeping this blog updated, and sharing reviews and #bookstagram posts.

I hope you’ll follow along and that I might convince you to read a book you may have not picked up and inspire you to read even more.

If you want to follow me on Instagram I’m at @kmdbookworm!

Happy reading!

Home is where…

Lately I’ve been thinking about the concept “home” a lot. About place and belonging.

My parents are moving from our house in New Jersey of 22 years to head down south. A house that is filled to the brim with memories of my childhood will soon be “home” to a new family.

It’s bittersweet. My parents are looking for something new and different, and I know that they need new sights and new sounds and a new adventure. But to never lay my head down in my sunshine yellow room is something I cannot even fathom right now.

Over 4th of July weekend I went home for the last time. I sat on our deck under the shade of the trees, walked the quaint Main Street of our town one last time, and said one last goodbye to the garden my dad and I planted in every year. A yellow sign in the yard of my neighbor’s yard showed I’m not alone in this. In these goodbyes. This feeling of nostalgia and sentimentality.

Now I don’t know what to call home. When I go see my parents down south, I can’t see myself saying I’m going home. I’ll simply be going to visit my parents.

Is the state I currently reside in home? I think Virginia could be home, someday. But right now it feels impermanent. I have no plans to necessarily stay here. I don’t own property or land or have a place I call my own (living that renter’s life).

For now my home is wherever the people I love are. I have homes scattered across the northeast and south.

At the same time, I’d like a place I call my home. Somewhere to put down roots, to really know and love the community. To tread familiar paths and feel like I truly belong.

I’m not sure where that place will be yet; I’m still searching for a home that I can call my own.

Change of mind

As of Friday, I was going to brace myself and read Harper Lee’s new book “Go Set A Watchman.”

Then I woke up Saturday morning and hopped onto Facebook and Twitter, and the few tweets and posts I did see made my heart drop into my stomach.

It seems that in “Watchman” Atticus Finch may not be the man we thought he was. I didn’t click on any of the reviews or links, but the little I did see in my feeds had me quickly deciding that no, I would not read this book.

As my mom put it “I want to love Mockingbird just as it is.” I don’t want something Lee wrote 55 years ago, and before she penned Mockingbird, to taint my favorite book.

I don’t know that this means I’ll never read “Watchman,” but right now is not the time for me to read it.

So I’ll continue with Judy Blume’s “In the Unlikely Event,” which is great. I will also be wandering the shelves of D.C.’s Politics & Prose on Monday with some coworkers to see Don Winslow speak and will probably pick up another book (or two or three) then.

Any suggestions for a summery read?