Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery – Scott Kelly

Wow. Just, wow.  

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 This memoir is a page-turner from start to finish, and I appreciated that it wasn’t structured chronologically, but rather followed Kelly’s storytelling with flashbacks and flashforwards to create a riveting narrative.  

 Endurance is not just about Kelly’s time on the ISS, but also delves into the training that led up to his becoming an astronaut. All of Kelly’s experiences, from his time as an EMT on an ambulance to his career in the military flying fighter jets, contributed to his skill of calm focus in the face of extremes necessary to command the ISS. He also gives credit to those who molded and guided him on his journey, including his mom, who became the first female police officer in their home town of West Orange, New Jersey. 

As “civilians,” we’re fortunate to have this intimate glimpse into day-to-day life in space, and how the astronaut-adventurers come together to handle adversities, from space walk repairs to those dreaded phone calls from earth that something may be wrong with their loved ones back home. Endurance provides food for thought about our relationships with other nations and how precious our home planet truly is.  

I had to carry a book of tape flags with me while reading this because I had to mark so many eye-opening passages that I didn’t want to forget. I tortured my family with expositions and factoids that began, “Listen to this, I read in Scott Kelly’s book . . . ”  

 

 

 Without a doubt, you want to read this.  

 Many thanks to BookishFirst and Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group for the copy in exchange for my honest review.  

Eventide – Therese Bohman

The lives of women are full of ambivalent choices: career or family, love or security, confieventidedent risk or self-preservation? Eventide explores these dilemmas as faced by Karolina Andersson, a professor of art recently separated from a long-term relationship and now on her own in a small apartment, wondering if her entire life, both professionally and personally, has been a waste.

Karolina is attracted to many different men, most recently her postgraduate student who exudes an irresistible confidence and may have discovered a link between artists previously unknown in the art world. This discovery is tempts Karolina into a dangerous relationship, and leads her to choose either devastation or liberation. Eventide is not plot-driven, but is rather a thoughtful character study of a woman who feels powerless and at the same time is craftily manipulative of others. It is intelligent and empowering.

Many thanks to Netgalley and Other Press for the advance copy in exchange for my honest review.

As Bright as Heaven – Susan Meissner

heavenSet during WWI and the outbreak of the Spanish flu epidemic, As Bright as Heaven follows the Bright family and their move to Philadelphia to begin a new life helping their uncle run his funeral business. There are 3 daughters: Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa, who each have their own plans for the future. The family is already under the burden of mourning, and they hope that starting again in a new town may help overcome their grief. The book is organized with multiple points of view, so the reader can understand the family’s situation from different characters’ perspectives.

The Spanish flu affected everyone during this time, especially a funeral home overwhelmed with the number of victims requiring burial. The flu took the old and young alike, the healthy and the infirm, and there was no explanation for those who recovered and those who did not. On top of the desperation and fear of the flu, men were leaving to fight in the war, leaving behind many women to endure this calamity on their own. This book was well-researched and skillfully organized.

This story is wholesome; there is little violence, no bad language, and no sex. It’s a book you can lend to your grandmother or your middle-schooler without concern. Despite the lack of the usual sordid inclusions, it’s still a riveting story and the drama doesn’t disappoint.

As Bright as Heaven had steady pacing, and the plot moved forward with new developments to keep my interest. The writing was superb, never trite or cloying. I read this book in two days, and I always looked forward to reading more. There were no slow sections, no middle-of-the-book slump. I enjoyed the experience of this book,and I’m definitely going to investigate some of this author’s previous work.

Recommended to anyone who enjoys historical fiction or an easy-to-read, enjoyable story.
Many thanks to BookishFirst and Penguin Random House for this advance copy in exchange for my honest review.

The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches – Gaetan Soucy

matchesThe Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches is a novel by Canadian writer Gaetan Soucy. 

The story begins with two siblings living on a large estate alone with their father. When the father dies suddenly, the children know they have to take care of the burial, which means leaving the estate, which they’ve never done, and travelling to the nearby village. 

The siblings are teenagers, which takes a moment for the reader to discover, as their language, behavior, and lack of knowledge of the outside world leads one to think that they’re small children. The older sibling has a skewed view of reality, believing that fictional places, as well as far away nations like Japan, lie just beyond the grove of trees surrounding the estate.  It’s obvious that their father has kept them developmentally and emotionally stunted, but to what purpose?  

 Slowly, the truth comes to light, and the circumstances of the children’s lives on the estate is revealed. The language of the book comes from the mind of the older sibling, which at times is convoluted or confused. I can understand why this might be distracting, but this character’s interpretation of the world only enhances the ominous atmosphere.  

This story is grotesque and twisted, and many of the scenes are disturbing. I wouldn’t recommend this book to everyone, but would suggest this book for those who like challenging language, puzzling characters, and aren’t bothered by unsettling or gruesome descriptions. If you have ever read The Wasp Factory and survived, then you’ll be okay.  

Translated from the French, the book is only about 150 pages, so it’s a quick read, and there is no time wasted and no piece of the plot that isn’t crucial. I recommend you read it in one sitting . . . if you can handle it.  

The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne

I loved this book. It’s worth every page, every moment of your time. I had a hard time putting it down, and when I had to do other things instead of reading this book I wondered about the characters and what they were up to. It’s around 600 pages, but I read it just a few days because I couldn’t help but read it every chance I had.  THIF-USA

The Heart’s Invisible Furies is the story of Cyril Avery, from the moment of his conception through the final days of his life. Set mostly in Ireland during the ‘50s and ‘60s, Cyril is adopted by the Averys when he’s just three days old. His adoptive parents are distant and eccentric, his father often reminding him that he’s “not a real Avery.”

Cyril befriends Julian, the son of his father’s solicitor, and also falls in love with him at a young age. He grows up internalizing the struggle of his sexuality and the agony of being in love with his best friend. This story follows Cyril through his adolescence in Ireland, his relationships as an adult, and finally into the 1980s during the early years of the AIDS epidemic in New York City. Each character is multifaceted and sympathetic, and as their lives intertwine their faults and triumphs make for an amazing story.

John Boyne has created real magic here.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies is full of snarky banter, hilarity, and tragedy. It’s devastating and uplifting, smart and relevant. The characters are like good friends that I will remember fondly. I want to go back and start reading it all over again. I recommend it highly.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

The Last Ballad – Wiley Cash

balladThe Last Ballad is the true story of Ella May Wiggins, a young mother of 5 children, who worked in the textile mill in 1929 and became the voice of the union struggle for workers’ rights. Ella only earned $9 a week working nights at the mill, unable to stay home to care for her ill children. Her husband ran off, and she lived as a single parent in Stumptown, depending on the help of her poor neighbors to care for her children while she worked grueling hours at the mill.

Cash’s story of Wiggins and her involvement with the formation of the union is a fascinating, often-ignored piece of history. The book uses multiple perspectives, which is a useful technique to show the determination of the grassroots efforts of the labor movement and why unions were the only answer for many people with no other options. This book is important and Ella’s story needs to be told; however, it’s over-researched, and Cash often drifted into tangents of historical information or recitation of timelines that pulled me out of the story. Also, the outcome is revealed early in the book, which deflated the powerful ending.

The Last Ballad is good, but not great. I knew what was coming, since Cash told me from the beginning, so most of the story was just watching the events unfold. The ending was gentle and heartbreaking, which almost redeemed the slow middle.

I really enjoyed another novel of Cash’s, A Land More Kind Than Home, so although The Last Ballad fell flat for me, I still look forward to his subsequent books.
Many thanks to Edelweiss and William Morrow for the advance copy in exchange for my honest review.

The Visitors – Catherine Burns

 

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Based on the jacket copy, I thought this was going to be a “there’s something in the basement”-type horror story. But, The Visitors is not a ghost story. It isn’t a thriller.  It’s a twisted descent into the madness of a sociopath.

Mary is in her 50s, living with her older, sexually deviant brother John, in a filthy, ramshackle house full of garbage. They don’t have any financial worries, so Mary and John are free from responsibility and can pursue their hobbies. John’s hobbies include pornography and model airplanes (among other things that I won’t mention), and Mary’s involve indulging in daydreams where she’s married to a male acquaintance she met 30 years ago, watching sentimental Lifetime movies while gobbling junk food, or petting her stuffed animal collection. It’s depraved, but not exactly evil. Lurking just beneath the surface, however, there are more nefarious goings-on.

Mary is intellectually disadvantaged. She’s uneducated, unskilled, and she is also overweight and unsightly. She’s never been loved or encouraged to do anything with her life, so she hasn’t. She’s believed everyone who has ever told her she’s worthless. She’s wasted away in her childhood home never doing anything at all. When she allows herself some time for self-reflection, she’s aware of her lack of ambition and fulfillment, but soon reverts to daydreams about men who never actually even learned her name. This denial of reality has some evil consequences when Mary has to deal with her brother.

This book is a glimpse into Mary’s head, into her psyche of aching for love and attention, and also her lurid desires for revenge on those who have slighted her or rejected her. There are flashes of epiphany when Mary understands she has done wrong, knows that her clothes are disgusting and her house is squalid. These insights are fleeting, but they allow some sympathy to flow in between the cracks of the abhorrence one feels for her. 

The Visitors reminded me of Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh. Repulsive, sinister, and yet, you can’t look away. Recommended.

Many thanks to Netgalley and Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books for the advance copy in exchange for my honest review.