Year of the Bookwormz: 2011

52 weeks. 2 friends. 1 challenge.

Book #44: LibraryLove October 30, 2010

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

Book description~  On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents’ attention, bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the cake. She discovers this gift to her horror, for her mother–her cheerful, good-with-crafts, can-do mother–tastes of despair and desperation. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes a peril and a threat to Rose.

The curse her gift has bestowed is the secret knowledge all families keep hidden–her mother’s life outside the home, her father’s detachment, her brother’s clash with the world. Yet as Rose grows up she learns to harness her gift and becomes aware that there are secrets even her taste buds cannot discern. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a luminous tale about the enormous difficulty of loving someone fully when you know too much about them.

Like me, I’m sure throughout your life at some point, even as a kid, you wondered what it’d be like to hear people’s thoughts or be a fly on the wall. Might not be all it’s cracked up to be…especially not for Rose Adelstein. Rhe blessing is also her curse, as Rose can taste people’s feelings and emotions through the food they cook. The worst part- those feelings, emotions and secrets are of her family, among others.  Discovering her curse through a bite of chocolate lemon cake made by her mother on her 8th birthday, Rose’s life would never be the same. Never again could she ignore the painful secrets or struggle of her mother, who is restless and feels that something is missing from her life though she does not know what, her father,  who never really “got” how to be a Dad, and her older brother Joseph, so intelligent, he is unable to assimilate into the rest of society.

Lemon Cake follows Rose through the years and into young adulthood as she learns how to harness the surreal power she was given and try to keep her family’s inner secrets.

This book was much different than I expected. Chosen by one of my book club babes for November discussion and despite wanting to adore this novel, I couldn’t help but feeling rather ambivalent about it. Bender does a nice job building the rising action but her bizarre lack of conversational punctuation became a bit of a cumbersome distraction, and her subtlety was almost too subtle for my liking.

One of my favorite parts is when Rose learns how to find loopholes in her curse; she’s able to use the school cafeteria vending machine as a “safety” net since the foods are not handmade, but made in a factory by machines. Unfortunately, although I think Bender had a great concept for a book, she doesn’t necessarily tie up all the parts of the story as I would have liked. As the reader, we are invested in each character introduced, not just Rose. For me, the book ended much too soon; I felt as though Bender only wrote the first half of the story. In particular, I would have loved to see where Rose’s life went as a result of the the job at the school working with children.

I think there is a happy medium between being subtle in the way you write, like Diane Setterfield, and being TOO subtle to the point where you may be losing your audience along the attempt. Unfortunately, I think Bender was the latter.

I’m looking forward to hearing what the book club babes think about this one next weekend.

3/5 stars

In progress- Burnt Toast by Teri Hatcher

44 down, 8 to go!

xo♥xo,

LibraryLove


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Book #40: LibraryLove September 18, 2010

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Book description~ When Margaret Lea opened the door to the past, what she confronted was her destiny. All children mythologize their birth… So begins the prologue of reclusive author Vida Winter’s collection of stories, which are as famous for the mystery of the missing thirteenth tale as they are for the delight and enchantment of the twelve that do exist. The enigmatic Winter has spent six decades creating various outlandish life histories for herself — all of them inventions that have brought her fame and fortune, but kept her violent and tragic past a secret. Now old and ailing, at last she wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. She summons biographer Margaret Lea, a young woman for whom the secret of her own birth, hidden by those who loved her most, remains an ever-present pain. Struck by a curious parallel between Miss Winter’s story and her own, Margaret takes on the commission.

As Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good, Margaret is mesmerized. It is a tale of gothic strangeness featuring the Angelfield family including the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, a topiary garden and a devastating fire.

This modern-day ‘chunkster’ and piece of literary fiction is written beautifully with a Gothic-style undertone sure to transform you right along with the story AND make your heart pound! Remember how magically transformative movies like The Princess Bride and The Neverending Story were when we first watched them as kids? Remember how halfway through the movie, we’d forget the main character was reading a story? Or as adults, watching The Sixth Sense, when nothing was as it seemed?? This is exactly how I felt while reading The Thirteenth Tale (TTT). The beginning was a bit rocky; I wasn’t sure where the author was going with things. But quickly, after Margaret Lea makes a bone-chilling discovery about her past, she decides to take an offer she can’t refuse.

As the reader, I was transported right along with Margaret to the remote English countryside after accepting the offer to write the sought-after biography of notorious and dying author, Vida Winter. Less than 50 pages in, I was sending fevered texts to some of my book club babes who had already read TTT so I could share in the ride with them. I think if you’re interested in starting your own book club, or just for fun reading a book along with a friend, TTT is a great one to start with; it’s a definite conversation piece, will certainly keep your interest, and spark much conversation.

Biographer Lea couldn’t have predicted the parallels between her life and Miss Winter’s but it is quickly made clear that the adventure she embarked upon will change her on every level. And Miss Winter, although known for her ability to create vivid mockeries when asked to share about her personal life, opens up in such unlikely ways; you have to read to believe it…

“I shall start at the beginning. Though of course the beginning is never where you think it is. Our lives are so important to use that we tend to think the story of them begins with our birth. First there was nothing, then I was born…yet that is not so. Human lives are not pieces of string that can be separated out from a knot of others and laid out straight. Families are webs. Impossible to touch one part of it without setting the rest vibrating. Impossible to understand one part without having a sense of the whole.” – Vida Winter

Although I never would have picked up TTT on my own, I’m so glad it was chosen by one of the book club babes as the October selection.

As usual, I don’t like to reveal too much plot information in my reviews. For a synopsis, you can always read the book description up top. But I want to share some of my reactions while whetting your appetite and hopefully intrigue you enough to want to read this book. I don’t want you going into this novel with too many preconceived notions; just know you will not be disappointed!

“As I started to sleepwrite my questions, the margin seemed to expand. The paper throbbed with light. Swelling, it engulfed me, until realized with a mixture of trepidation and wonderment that I was enclosed in the grain of the paper, embedded in the white interior of the story itself. Weightless, I wandered all night long in Miss Winter’s story, plotting its landscape, measuring its contours, and on tiptoe at its borders, peering at the mysteries beyond its bounds.” – Margaret

One criticism- I wish Margaret’s character was as dimensional as Miss Winter’s character. I’m sure Setterfield did this on purpose, to draw the reader closer to Miss Winter, but I still would have liked Margaret’s character developed a bit more.

TTT was such a fantastic palette cleanser of a book. If you’re looking for a quirky, mysterious, dark and enthralling departure from the norm, I highly recommend TTT as a great way to dive into your fall reading. Special thanks to Tiffany for picking this for October.  I look forward to hearing about everyone’s thoughts.

4.5/5 stars

40 down, 12 to go!

In progress- Stash (Advanced Review Copy)

Xo♥xo,

LibraryLove

PS- sidenote….after our bookclub discussion and two of the book club babes couldn’t stop raving about how well done the audiobook was, I simply HAD to get it from the library. I can’t believe I’m saying this but I now look forward to sitting in traffic getting to re-read this amazing book again knowing what I now know! 🙂


 

Book #38: LibraryLove August 15, 2010

The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkaupf

Book description~ It happens quietly one August morning. As dawn’s shimmering light drenches the humid Iowa air, two families wake to find their little girls have gone missing in the night.  Seven-year-old Calli Clark is sweet, gentle, a dreamer who suffers from selective mutism brought on by a tragedy that pulled her deep into silence as a toddler. Calli’s mother, Antonia, tried to be the best mother she could within the confines of marriage to a mostly absent, often angry husband. Now, though she denies that her husband could be involved in the possible abductions, she fears her decision to stay in her marriage has cost her more than her daughter’s voice. Petra Gregory is Calli’s best friend, her soul mate and her voice. But neither Petra nor Calli has been heard from since their disappearance was discovered. Desperate to find his child, Martin Gregory is forced to confront a side of himself he did not know existed beneath his intellectual, professorial demeanor. Now these families are tied by the question of what happened to their children. And the answer is trapped in the silence of unspoken family secrets.

As if being a mother didn’t already leave you with constant worry. Now you’re daughter is missing and was taken from the comforts of her bed. In your house. In the middle of the night. Oh wait. And by the way- your daughter is a selective mute who has not spoken since tragedy struck her as a toddler. This is the premise for Gudenkauf’s page-turning novel The Weight of Silence. We are along for a suspenseful thrill ride that I would compare to The Lovely Bones and Memory Keeper’s Daughter not in terms of plot, but the tone of the novel.

Silence was narrated by Antonia (Calli’s mother), Louis (detective), Martin (Petra’s father) , Petra (Calli’s best friend) and Ben (Calli’s brother) in first person narrative where Calli’s voice (the main character) is told in the third person. This was an extremely smart and strategic move on Gudenkaupf’s part and I absolutely loved her use of this technique, where if you remember, I criticized it in my earlier review of Heart of the Matter.

Calli, 7, is a selective mute. Calli has not spoken since she was four years old. Calli’s character would not have been anywhere near as magnetic to me if I knew what she was thinking/feeling. Instead, we rely on her best friend, kindred spirit, and “voice”, Petra, who also goes missing that fateful night from her own bed, to fill in the blanks.

“I am thinking that I should have put up posters the day Calli lost her voice. Missing it would say, Calli Clark’s beautiful voice. Four years old but sounds much older, has a very advanced vocabulary, last heard on December 19th, right after her mother fell down the stairs; please call with any information regarding its whereabouts, REWARD.”

Under normal circumstances, I probably would have criticized Gudenkaupf right away too, for how she develops the rising action so slowly, only giving the reader 1-3 pages per character/chapter before it switched to someone else’s voice. I compare it to listening to the radio on SCAN mode; just getting into a song and then it switches to the next station. Gudenkaupf also spent a lot of time on the backstories/love triangle between  Antonia, Louis and Griff (Calli’s father) when as the reader, I wanted nothing more than to stick with Calli, Petra and Ben’s stories. However, I feel as though Gudenkaupf’s goal was to do just that- frustrate the reader. Why would an author WANT to frustrate the reader you say? As a literary device.  How do you think you’d feel if for the last three years you’ve not been able to utter a single word. How frustrated would you be? Gudenkaupf wants to frustrate the reader, igniting a passion to find out what happens next. It successfully allowed me to really connect and relate to what Petra and Calli were going through in the woods, and feel the agony the family was going through during the search, in the moment, for that particular character. If the reader were let inside Calli’s head, there’d have been no element of uncertainty which every good suspense novel needs! I just love Gudenkaupf’s literary choices in this novel and think it really made me want to keep reading and turn the page.

“I see your lips begin to arrange themselves and I know, I know. I see the word form, the syllables hardening and sliding from your mouth with no effort. Your voice, not unsure or hoarse from lack of use but clear and bold.  One word, the first in three years. In an instant I have you in my arms and I am crying, tears dropping from many emotions, mostly thankfulness and relief, but tears of sorrow mixed in. I see Petra’s father crumble. Your chosen word doesn’t make sense to me. But it doesn’t matter, I don’t care. You have finally spoken.”

I enjoyed this book selected by one of my book club babes for discussion later this month. I’m really looking forward to hearing the opinions of our group and you as well, if you decide to pick it up.

If you want a suspenseful and quick read, I definitely recommend this book.

“My own silent little girl is even more of a mystery to me. The way she likes her hair combed smooth after a bath, the joy she has in inspecting her nails after I have inexpertly painted them. Having a little girl has been like following an old treasure map with the important paths torn away”.

4/5 stars

38 down, 14 to go!

In progress, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

xo♥xo,

LibraryLove