Oof. Wow, what a night. It wasn’t even that bad it’s just…a school night. A school night when the ladies of Casa de Katie were left on their own, and one minute I swear we were ready for bed at barely 8 o’clock…the next, there was wine and sugar and YouTube happened and then Cyndi Lauper and Taylor Swift and INSTANT DANCE PARTY! See what happens when we’re left to our own devices? Chaos!
But that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about today. I’ve been on this amazing book kick lately, and I wanted to share some quick reviews. Let’s go:
- It started with The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, by Leslye Walton. (Candlewick Press, 2014, 301 pages. Library ebook, although I’ve picked up the paperback and put it down a hundred times.) It’s the generational story of Ava’s family after they immigrated, and how unlucky in love they’ve been. The writing is gorgeous, the characters unique, and the overall effect so haunting. Think Middlesex meets Night Circus. If you don’t like magical realism – even in light doses – this isn’t for you. But, oh, if it’s your cuppa, you definitely want to make room for this. 4 of 5 stars.
- My Sunshine Away, by M.O. Walsh. (Amy Einhorn Books, 2015, 306 pages. Library ebook.) I wouldn’t quite tag this as YA fiction, because it read very grown-uppish for me, but I know some reviewers have it pigeon-holed that way. Sunshine tells the story of the 15-year-old narrator as he looks back at what was both a picture-perfect and utterly miserable adolescence. He professes to have grown up in an idyllic neighborhood, although as he unravels what actually happened the summer his high school crush was raped, we learn that his father was a philanderer who left his mother, his neighborhood housed bullies (children and grown-ups), foster families abused their children, and husbands beat their wives. It’s a skilled balance between keeping the story moving while untangling the narrator’s understanding that his childhood didn’t have to be one or the other – it could be complicated and layered. I wish the author had done more with the idea of class that peeked in just at the end, but I absolutely loved what was there. It reminded me of Lovely Bones meets some of Stephen King’s early stories about growing up (a la The Body). 4 of 5 stars.
- The Last Flight of Poxl West, by Daniel Torday. (St. Martin’s Press, 2015, 304 pages. Library ebook.) You guys know I have a thing for World War stories – fiction, non-fiction, maps, movies, I want it all. Poxl is the story of a young boy who idolizes his Uncle Poxl, who grew up in Prague before becoming a medic during the blitz of London, and then flew bombers for the Royal Air Force. It was a moving coming of age story, in which Elijah learns that not all is ever as it seems in the world of grown-ups, and why, when you really love someone, not all is ever lost. It’s a great story, but you can get all the same themes somewhere else if you don’t enjoy stories of growing up in Europe or WWII. 4 of 5 stars.
- We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson. (Penguin, 1962, 146 pages. Paperback.) Can you believe I’d never read this one? I adore Shirley Jackson – she’s the queen of not being able to sleep because you’re scared to death, if you ask me. She knows just how to take innocent words, phrases of every day conversation, throw in a creepy childish chant, and then BOOM! Psychological thrills and pitfalls galore. I kept waiting for the story to turn out a bit different, but I still loved all the places it took me. (No spoilers from this girl.) I was afraid I had hyped the story too much in my mind, but I shouldn’t have worried – Jackson always delivers. A solid hour’s read. 4 of 5 stars.
- The Walls Around Us, by Nova Ren Suma. (Algonquin Young Readers, 2015, 336 pages. Library ebook.) This was most definitely a Young Adult novel, but it read well. Yes, sometimes the writing was trite and forced and definitely sounded geared towards a Young Adult attention span, but the story made up for it. Two young ballet prodigies are bullied by the other dancers. One of them ends up in jail. The story plays out as we read about the time after that girl was in prison, upstate, and what her life was like before when she was hanging out with her bestie. Oh, also: there was a bunch of trippy, creepy, ways time and space were messed with. In a good way. I was dying to figure out how the story was resolved and read the ending at breakneck speed. 3 1/2 of 5 stars. Definitely worth borrowing.
Now what’s sad – or insanely awesome? – that’s not even the entirety of my list! But it’s a good five books to get you started. Enjoy your weekend, everyone!
Tags: book reviews, Daniel Torday, Leslye Walton, literature, M.O. Walsh, My Sunshine Away, Nova Ren Suma, reading, Shirley Jackson, The Last Flight of Poxl West, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavendar, The Walls Around Us, We Have Always Lived in the Castle