The Lightkeepers – Abby Geni

This may be my favorite book that I’ve read this year.

lightkeepers
Find it here on Goodreads

The story is told through the eyes of Miranda, a photographer recently accepted into a program that finances biologists on the Farrallon Islands, an uninhabited archipelago off the coast of California. Miranda joins 6 biologists on the islands, some who have been there for many months, or even years, studying local shark, bird, and seal populations. The seven of them share a small cabin, often assisting with each others’ work, spending their evenings together dining on their limited provisions, and studying their findings. What they don’t share, however, is anything about their pasts. That’s the unspoken rule on the islands, and Miranda doesn’t really know who she has been stuck with in this remote location.


The book is interspersed with educational explanations of the animal populations, which I found interesting, and, later, useful in helping to understand the human relationships among the seven scientists. Geni pulls no punches in demonstrating how at the core we really are all just animals, and our basest nature is really our true self.

A large portion of Miranda’s story is told in letters to her deceased mother. At times the book reads like a memoir. This book is a commingling of biological observation of sharks and seals with emotional introspection and speculation of the motives of the biologists. After a crime is committed and accidents befall some of the inhabitants,  the passions of the biologists begin to overcome their objectivity. Different perspectives of these events come through, and the reader, like Miranda, is left wondering who is trustworthy and who has something to hide.

Geni has created a book with a claustrophobic atmosphere that blankets the entire story. The overall feeling of the Farrallon Islands is grey and bleak, but also exotic with the thrill of the newly discovered. The world of the islands is tempestuous and isolated. The animals are beautiful to observe, but as the story unfolds, the cruelty and callousness of nature is revealed that underlies it all.

The Lightkeepers is beautiful and raw. I couldn’t look away from the pages. It has the soulfulness of literary fiction, the wonder of natural observations, and the haunting qualities of a gothic mystery. I highly recommend this one. It’s one of my absolute favorites. Put on a warm cardigan and pull the sleeves over your hands. Grab a mug of hot tea and curl up with an afghan. You’ll need some warmth to overcome the hardened chill of this riveting story. 

 

The Buried Book – D. M. Pulley

theburiedbook
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The Buried Book is told through the eyes of 9-year-old Jasper who has just been abandoned by his mother on his uncle’s farm outside Detroit. Jasper doesn’t understand why his mom has run off. Snippets of conversations he overhears in the barn or in town lead him to believe his mother might be dead. While adapting to farm life and trying to glean more hints about his mother’s disappearance, Jasper discovers his mother’s teenage diary in an abandoned house on his uncle’s property. This book only raises more questions than it answers, and Jasper is determined to find out what happened to his mother. He finds that his mom has gotten mixed up with some bad people (drug smugglers, gamblers, and bootleggers), and now the bad guys are after him, too.

Pulley has done her research. Set in the rural 1950s, many stories of farm life are interspersed into Jasper’s adventures. This made for an extremely entertaining but tense story, as everywhere Jasper turned he was running into trouble. This book is not just a linear mystery tale – this is a family saga, a story of fugitives, a story of the mistreatment of Native Americans at the hand of shady law enforcement, and the tale of a little boy trying to understand the world of adults. I appreciated how deftly Pulley was able to use historical fact in her story without being pedantic or heavy-handed. There are so many elements at work, and yet, Pulley weaves them into a cohesive narrative that left me flipping the pages to find out what happened next. The chapter titles are written as police investigator interrogatives, which hints at what’s to come.
This story was engrossing with just enough breaks in the story to allow the reader to catch a breath. Recommended.

Many thanks to Netgalley and Lake Union Publishing for providing this advance copy.

The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters – Laura Thompson

mitford

I received a free copy of this book from Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press in exchange for my honest review. This book was previously published as Take Six Girls. The Six will be released on September 6th.

I am loath to post a review when I didn’t finish the book, but I gave this an honest 30% and I just can’t go on. I wish there were SparkNotes for this. In order to fulfill my obligation and assuage my guilt for not finishing, let me tell you why I gave up, or, rather postponed, my reading.

I wanted to read this book because I’ve heard of the Mitford sisters but didn’t know much about them. “Who are they?” a friend asked, having only vaguely heard of the Mitfords. “Kinda like 1930s British Kardashians,” I said. “What are they famous for?” I contemplated and can come up with nothing. “Being Mitfords,” I guessed. But I still wanted to know more about this scandalous group of women.

This book is not for Mitford amateurs.

Unfortunately, to put it simply, this book is just all over the place. It reads like a stack of index cards. It’s a completely discombobulated list of minor factoids and anecdotes. I could never follow where she was going. One reviewer claimed that it’s chronological, but I couldn’t say that’s consistently true. Granted, there is a lot of information when trying to write a biography of SIX related people. Going in as a tabula rasa, like I did, will leave your head spinning. The author assumes you’re intimately familiar with a). All Mitford sisters and associated aunts, uncles, cousins, and various fleeting family friends b). All novels written by Nancy Mitford and lesser-known literary works of the period c). Obsolete modern and/or 1930s British slang and minor pop culture references.

For example, in just the first six pages of Chapter 6 of the e-book, the author covers:

Family friend James Lees-Milne’s obituary for the Mitford mother
Lees-Milne’s feelings for sister Diana and antipathy for Nancy
Other various friends’ and relatives’ feelings about Nancy
Other sisters’ feelings about Lees-Milne’s obituary for their mother
Anecdote about Lees-Milne’s unfavorable experience at a Mitford dinner party
Lees-Milne’s subsequent publication of this anecdote 25 years after the publication of Nancy’s The Pursuit of Love
Backstory of how Lees-Milne met the Mitfords
Lees-Milne’s affair with Tom Mitford at Eton
Discussion of Tom Mitford’s homosexuality

I got to the sixth page of this chapter and couldn’t remember how it began or discern where it was going. Most of my flagged notes included such questions as, “What does this mean?” and “What the hell is she alluding to? Google this.”

The book is heavily researched; I just wish the author had included some semblance of relevance for all the information she included. If you’re very familiar with the Mitford family, and if your own ancestry includes at least eight generations of British gentry, then you should have enough knowledge to understand and appreciate the details included in this book. If, like me, you’re lacking in these areas, be sure to read this near an Internet source to aid your understanding. Laura Thompson is definitely smart and includes references and jokes into these Mitford stories; I am just not knowledgeable enough about this family to get the jokes. Maybe I’ll try a more introductory Mitford book and begin again. I appreciate the opportunity to read this book and will attempt it again in the future after I study up a bit. I’m holding off on a rating until I can fully appreciate this book.

Sorry, toots. I had to make tracks.

The Whale: A Love Story – Mark Beauregard

 

 

whale
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Mark Beauregard’s The Whale: A Love Story is the novelization of the unfulfilled romantic longing between Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne during the short time they lived near one another in Massachusetts from 1850-1851.

 

During this time, Melville was pursued by creditors and lived off of loans from his father-in-law. His writings yield lackluster profits, and he struggled financially. He met Nathaniel Hawthorne at a picnic and was instantly captivated, falling in love that spiraled into obsession. Melville craved a life beyond his grasp – fame as a novelist, a house far beyond his means, a desire for an unavailable lover.

Beauregard suggests his desperation is paralleled in the story of Moby Dick. Ahab is chasing an unattainable goal for revenge; but, as Hawthorne explains in a letter to Melville, this lust for revenge is not for the loss of his leg, but for the loss of his heart. Beauregard skillfully incorporates actual correspondence between the two men, showing the agony of Melville’s unrequited longing and Hawthorne’s suppression of his desire for Melville.

The Whale: A Love Story blends historical accuracy and speculation of the level of admiration between these two literary icons. The fiery urgency of Melville and the agonizing denial by Hawthorne makes for a tale of woeful desperation. This book humanizes the authors who were writing at the dawn of American literature. It made me view Moby Dick with a new perspective and understand the honesty and manic intensity behind the pursuit of the whale. Highly recommended.

Spill Simmer Falter Wither – Sara Baume

spill
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This book will tear your heart.

Spill Simmer Falter Wither is described in a lot of reviews as being about a relationship between a man and his dog.

That is not what this book is about at all.

Ray’s relationship with OneEye is only a part of the story. For a while I thought the dog may be entirely imaginary.

This book is about loneliness. It’s about abandonment. It’s about craving parental approval and coming back for more disappointment. And it does not offer redemption.

Spill Simmer Falter Wither is a mondegreen for spring, summer, fall, winter, and the book covers one year in Ray’s life, after the death of his father and his new relationship with OneEye. They live together in Ray’s house until an incident compels Ray to pack up his small car and take to life on the road with his only companion.

Baume’s writing is poetry. It’s subtle, terse, often sparse, but each detail is full of meaning. There is a heavy sense of place, and Ray’s place in the universe, or lack thereof, comes through in his interactions with the people he encounters and his vicarious freedom through OneEye. At first everything seems happy-go-lucky, but slowly and indirectly Ray’s sadness and rage begin to show. If you take up this book, give it the time it deserves. Don’t read this on the beach, or at the playground, or in five-minute snippets. Every word is there for a reason, and if you’re hurried, you will miss something of devastating importance.

This book is eerie and beautiful. There is a disquieting sense of foreboding that carries through the story, with a culmination that will leave you breathless.

 

The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet – Reif Larsen

SelectedWorksOfTSSpivet I bought this book on a whim at a used book store last month. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, and this just jumped out at me (there’s a sparrow skeleton on the cover!). I’m so glad I picked this up. I started leafing through it and ended up just reading it for two hours. The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

The story follows T. S. (Tecumseh Sparrow) Spivet, a 12-year-old scientific savant enduring a lonely, misunderstood existence on his family’s ranch in Montana. His father (another in a long line of Tecumsehs) is a rancher, his mother, whom he calls Dr. Clair, is a reclusive scientist studying the elusive and possibly non-existent tiger moth beetle.

T. S.’s life changes with a phone call. The Smithsonian (T. S.’s Shangri-La) has phoned to let him know he’s been awarded a Baird fellowship for his scientific illustrations, and they would like for him to come to Washington to give a speech. They have no idea that T. S. is only 12-years-old.FullSizeRender (8)

Armed with four compasses, two heliotropes, a theodolite, 16 packs of cinnamon Trident gum, and some underwear, T. S. decides to make the journey to Washington hobo-style by hitching a ride on the rails across the country. Along the way, we learn about T. S.’s life: his compulsion for illustration and map-making, his older brother’s accidental death, his father’s reticence, and his mother’s family history. T. S. discovers just how he fits in, with his current family as well as those who have gone before.

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The book is cleverly illustrated with all kinds of illuminating details. These illustrations are what make this book so enjoyable. They’re witty, sometimes humorous, often revealing.

I recommend this to readers of all ages, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is a “kids’ book.” It’s not. I think some mature young readers will be able to appreciate the story, but adults may enjoy it more. The ideas presented in T. S.’s story are universal. Find a copy of this, leaf through it. I promise you won’t be able to stop.

 

 

 

 

 

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things – Bryn Greenwood

26114135This is a beautiful book. Bryn Greenwood definitely has a rare skill in creating unforgettable characters. Kellen is a beefy, uneducated, motorcycle-riding mechanic and occasional meth trafficker (think Jesse Pinkman, just larger and kinder). Wavy is the daughter of the meth dealer, a neglected, taciturn, independent waif whose parents don’t care if she exists. They come together to support each other, mostly filling each others’ black hole of loneliness. Kellen, age 25, takes care of her, takes her to school, gives her a place to sleep. Wavy takes care of him: shows him he has worth and value as a person, and deserves the love she gives him.

It’s innocent at first, a younger sister / older brother kind of relationship. Until suddenly it’s not.

But Greenwood handles this development so carefully, with such grace and understanding, that as the reader I wasn’t surprised when their relationship developed past the threshold of propriety. It made sense. The Big Thing I didn’t understand, however, is that Kellen met Wavy when she was eight years old. Things take the inappropriate turn when she’s thirteen. I just can’t quite wrap my brain around that taboo acceptance, even after understanding the circumstances that brought these two together.

Ultimately, many psychological and abusive disorders get passed over in this book, and that was unsettling. Wavy obviously has many emotional problems as a result of her wretched childhood. Did no one ever think she needed a doctor? She has an eating disorder at an early age, not being able to eat in front of anyone, hardly speaks a word, communicating only with shrugs and nods, and is constantly terrified due to her savage upbringing. I just don’t see this going on and on into adulthood without some kind of intervention. Was her love for Kellen pure, or was it just a result of her psychological scarring? If she’d been allowed to get some counseling and see a doctor, would she have developed into a more functional adult and thus moved past her obsession with Kellen?

The story was interesting at first, but began to lag with repetitive incidences of Wavy’s cruel home life causing Kellen to rescue her. I did enjoy the slow build, however incongruous this may seem, but after the first half of the book I was wondering if there would be any more to the story. The pace of the second half was a whirlwind, with many exciting events and time passing much more quickly. I appreciated the ending, though I’m not sure it should have ended the way it did.

Give this a chance. It will grow on you, and the characters will stay with you for a while.

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, Netgalley, and Bryn Greenwood for the opportunity to read this advance copy.

Other books in this same vein that may interest you:

tiger
Find it here on Goodreads
thegirls
My review of The Girls
the kiss 2
Find it here on Goodreads