The Frolic of the Beasts – Yukio Mishima

mishimaThis book is described as a love triangle between a student, his mentor, and the mentor’s wife, but that’s not completely accurate. The writing is very Mishima (not that I’m any kind of expert), in that the descriptions are beautiful, the surroundings serene and delicate. And like many Japanese stories I’ve read, the violence erupts unexpectedly amid mundane dialogue. The behavior of the characters is confusing and often unpredictable, which made me re-read paragraphs to confirm what I understood to be happening. The writing evokes scenes of peacefulness and aching desperation, and the ending makes the entire book worthwhile.

Recommended for fans of Mishima or Murakami, or those who are looking to explore Japanese literature.

Many thanks to Knopf Doubleday and Netgalley for the copy in exchange for my review.

 

The Water Cure – Sophie Mackintosh

watercurejpgAlone on an island with their parents, three girls live a life of poverty and abuse. They are taught that men are toxic, and their family must help the sick women who come to the island recover from the violence inflicted on them by men. The girls are psychologically tortured, given “love tests” to prove how much they care for one another.

Early in the book their father dies, and soon after two men and a boy arrive on the island, claiming they were lost at sea. Things escalate when the girls are left alone with the men.

This story was unusual and disturbing. It reads like an allegory or a Greek myth, with a dystopian feel. There is an ethereal quality with undercurrents of constant violence. I would not recommend it for the sensitive reader, but I found the story riveting. The Water Cure is gritty and original, and not something I’m soon to forget.

Many thanks to Read it Forward for the advance copy.

A Middling Sort – Jud Widing

Original, smart, delightful!

A Middling Sort is as if Christopher Moore grabbed a thesaurus and started writing historical fiction.

middlingsortIt’s 1767, and Denton Hedges, a talented but insecure lawyer, heads to Fidget’s Mill, a small hamlet near Boston, to convince the three reigning wealthy families, who’ve made their money on importation, to refuse goods from England. The problem is, no one wants to listen to Denton, and he needs a way in to their inner circle. He’s also naive and unsure of himself.

Enter Miss Carsis, resident witch with her own aims for the town; her Familiar, No-Good Bulstrode (a turkey-demon with a British accent and his own motivations); her co-conspirator and underestimated side-kick, Mr. Increase; and members of these wealthy families, some of whom want Denton dead and some who just want to hang out and be friends.

This book made me laugh out loud. The story is original, the writing above par with droll intelligence, and just all-around entertaining. The ending, however, I found somewhat unexpected, but not in a good way.

Recommended for the reader who appreciates smart writing and tomfoolery balanced with tender insight.

Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners – Gretchen Anthony

evergreenEvergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners has a family of cracked characters just trying to do their best for one another, and often failing.

Violet Baumgartner is the quintessential formidable matriarch. She loves her family fiercely, but sometimes that fierceness can be smothering. She is a busybody and a perfectionist who is obsessed with tradition, but every annoying thing she does is done out of love. Her husband, Ed, is just trying to endure her frenetic antics while he’s stuck at home adjusting to retirement. And their daughter, Cerise, has a secret she’s been waiting to share that just erupted unexpectedly at her father’s retirement party. Throughout the story are Violet’s annual Christmas letters that are often as earnest as they are snarky.

Throw in Violet’s best friend whose marriage is crumbling and the other child, a son, who’s being investigated by the feds, and you have a cocktail of crazy for the holidays.

The crisis in Evergreen Tidings leads to some hilarious family blow-ups worthy of “Arrested Development”. I couldn’t stop reading even though the book was shaking in my hands from laughter. Underneath it all, however, are some tender insights about how familial roles change with time.

Definitely pick this up in time for Christmas. It’s one you’ll want to re-read every year.

Many thanks to Netgalley and Harlequin Hanover Square Press for the review copy.

White Elephant – Julie Langsdorf

whiteelephantPerfect for fans of Tom Perrotta and Jonathan Tropper, White Elephant is an impressive debut that I binge-read in a couple of days. These neighbors are so dysfunctional, and yet, so relatable. I wanted to simultaneously hug and yell at every character in this book.

Charming 100-year-old Sears homes, a children’s library, the local coffee shop where everyone has their own mug . . . an idyllic bedroom community for upper-middle class families. All is perfect in Willard Park, until newcomer architect Nick Cox moves in and begins building massive mansions that loom over the cozy smaller houses. His neighbor Ted is at first moved to peaceful protest, but Willard Park is a crucible, boiling everyone’s fears and insecurities into an explosion.

White Elephant is packed with flawed characters that are entertaining and sympathetic (well, most of them anyway). There’s Ted, the do-gooder who just wants his small town back; his wife, Allison, stifled in her sexless marriage and tempted by other options; their daughter Jillian, who just wants to be noticed; their neighbors, the volatile Nick and his trophy wife, Kaye, who is not as vapid as she appears; and new to the neighborhood, the pothead lawyer Grant and his wife Suzanne, who is coming to realize her marriage is going up in smoke.

Animosity simmers until Nick Cox cuts down the maple tree that Ted planted when his daughter was born. The vitriol escalates exponentially, and the residents of Willard Park start behaving in ways they never deemed possible.

This book is quite a page-turner, and each chapter introduces more conflict. It’s hilarious and heartbreaking.  Highly recommended.

Many thanks to HarperCollins and Ecco Press for the advance copy in exchange for my review.

The Eulogist – Terry Gamble

The Eulogist is much more than the typical 19th century abolitionist trope.

euologistjpegThis is the tumultuous story of an immigrant family of three very different siblings: James, the eldest, a chandler, reliable but unyielding; Olivia, the middle sister, inquisitive and intelligent, but forthright to a fault; and Erasmus, the prodigal, itinerant black sheep, taken in with the charismatic river preachers, who leaves the family to follow his heart, often with his priorities askew.

All three siblings clash and reunite out of devotion to a common cause. The book follows this family and their hopes and tragedies through most of the 19th century, exploring the immigrant experience during the dynamic upheaval of a developing nation. The Eulogist presents the moral indignation of slavery felt by many during this time, but also shows the reader a more realistic spectrum of abolitionism, from mild disapproval to vehement activism.

The Eulogist is a comprehensive story of a family, with nuanced detail that enhances the energy of bustling 19th century America. The story is well told, full of twists and revelations, and I tore through it in a matter of days. Gamble’s attention to detail is above reproach, and her characterizations are perceptive without being sentimental.

This is historical fiction at its best.

Many thanks to William Morrow Books (Harper Collins) for the advance copy in exchange for my review. It was a joy to read.

Erebus – Michael Palin

Palin’s Erebus is a comprehensive account of one of the most famous Arctic and Antarctic exploration vessels. Palin provides a detailed yet compelling overview of the life of Erebus, recently rediscovered in only 36 feet of water in the Arctic, where she has remained since her last voyage with Sir John Franklin in 1845.

erebusPalin’s Erebus reviews the life of the ship, from her first uneventful days as a warship to her watery demise in the mid-1800s in the infamous and mysterious Franklin North West Passage expedition. He offers information and direct quotations from numerous primary sources with engaging narrative, often breaking the tension with some levity. The scholarship is commendable and thorough. I found myself taking copious notes while reading, as I didn’t want to forget a thing.

Although there’s not a lot of new information presented here, Palin’s historical account of Erebus is sprinkled with descriptions of his own travels — to Hobart, where Erebus and Terror visited while Franklin was governor of Van Diemen’s Land, to Antarctica in 2014, to various places where Erebus docked during her service, like the Falklands. Palin includes historical accounts of Erebus’s time in these places, as well as his impressions of the landscape as it looks currently, and Erebus’s long-standing legacies.

Palin left no stone unturned, often literally, while tracking Erebus’s journey. He even reviews the plans by the master shipwright who outfitted her for her expedition to the Arctic. He reviews Erebus’s time in Antarctica under James Clark Ross, as well her time under John Franklin, where she ended her tenure. The last chapter of Erebus covers the recent resurgence in the Franklin mystery, and ends with Palin’s visit to Antarctica in 2017, to see the final places along the parties’ sojourn across the ice. I wish he had actually gotten to Erebus, and I look forward to future books containing new information from the recently discovered ships.

Some reviewers have complained that not enough time was spent discussing the Franklin expedition, but honestly, that’s not what I was reading this for. The book is called Erebus for a reason; and there’s more to this ship than just the Franklin expedition. If you’re looking for Franklin information, I recommend Russell Potter’s Finding Franklin; Palin’s Erebus is a thorough account of Erebus, and I was excited to read this to learn of her lesser-known voyage with James Clark Ross.

Erebus will appeal to Arctic scholars as well as armchair sailors like me. No sentence was superfluous and every chapter offered something engaging.

Highly recommended.

Many thanks to LibraryThing First Reviewers and Greystone Books for this advance copy in exchange for my review.