The Girl of Ink and Stars

27973757

I’m a sucker for a beautiful book.

I was on twitter the other day looking at what other people were reading and someone tweeted about The Girl of Ink & Stars and I admit, I took one look and wanted it. It’s not just the cover, which is lovely, but the inside pages are strewn with star trails. And it actually sounded like a great read.

Isabella is the daughter of a cartographer. He used to explore the world beyond Joya (their island) and make beautiful maps from his adventures. Then an oppressive Governor arrived. The Governor doesn’t let the people go beyond their small sectioned off part of the island, which is rigged with bells to alert his guards of anyone trying to leave. Isabella dreams of seeing beyond their little hometown after years of studying the maps on her walls and growing up with her father’s stories of the world that exists beyond their boundaries.

When Isabella’s friend from school dies in the Governor’s orchard, Isabella gets in a fight her with other schoolmate Lupe, the Governor’s daughter, and blames her. Lupe runs away into the forgotten territories to find out why their friend died. Wracked with guilt and regret, Isabella cuts off all her hair and disguised as a boy, joins in the search party to find her.

As the search continues, Isabella realizes there is much more to be saved than her friend. Their whole island is on the precipice of destruction.

Definitely written for young readers, the characters are simple and the plot is straight forward. Interwoven through Isabella’s trek into the forgotten territories are aspects of the myths she grew up with. The balance between good and evil, the concept of sacrifice for the greater good and ultimately, the end of a myth that began long before she was born.

Though it didn’t engross me the way I wish it could have, it was a fun read that kept me interested to the last page. As an adult reader, my biggest disappointment was that the characters felt flat. The author doesn’t give them enough depth that we really care what happens to them in the end.

Though it’s not a book I would highly recommend to adult readers, for a young reader just discovering fantasy and mythology, it may be a perfect choice.

in a dark, dark wood by Ruth Ware

23783496

I picked up “in a dark, dark wood” by Ruth Ware partially because – let’s be honest here – the cover is really pretty. But also because I felt like a good thriller. With the beginning of that crisp fall chill in the air, I wanted something a little creepy that would keep me turning the pages while curled up under my blanket at night. The inside jacket compared it to “Gone Girl” (which I didn’t love) but also to “The Girl on the Train” (which WAS good!) so I figured I had a 50/50 chance of enjoying it.

Nora is a writer who lives in a small flat by herself where she works, drinks coffee and generally just… exists, and pretty successfully too. One day she checks her email and discovers an invitation to a hen weekend (bachelorette weekend for us Americans) of her best friend from school, Clare, who she hasn’t seen in 10 years. Curiosity gets the better of her and Nora agrees to go as long as her current best friend, Nina, tags along.

Clare was beautiful, popular and cruel in school. She was the queen bee who manipulated and orchestrated to get what she wanted. Nora, who was more awkward and introverted back then, is hoping Clare has changed in their years apart.

The weekend of the hen party arrives and so do the guests – driving up a bumpy dirt road to a creepy glass house in the middle of the woods that has no cell service. Here we already know, someone is going to die! Woot! You know at least one person is going to be murdered in a dark grisly fashion when a book puts all the characters together in the woods with no cell service – it just wouldn’t be right otherwise.

The other attendees at the hen weekend are a small mixed group. Tom, a gay male friend in the theater business. Flo, the very intense, slightly crazy and extremely controlling current best friend of Clare. Another friend who we don’t need to name because she disappears quickly from the plot when she misses her baby too much to stay. And of course Nora, Nina and Clare herself. Overall, a typical gathering of stereotypes thrown together for this one weekend of pre-wedding intrigue and murder.

So the stage is set – the guests have arrived, the creepy house beckons and the woods are waiting. Clare rolls up last to her hen weekend and immediately informs Nora that she’s marrying Nora’s ex-boyfriend (whom Nora is still in love with) and we’re off! Love, betrayal, lies and the slow unfurling of their past.

The guests play games, drink and as they get to know each other, the menacing hints begin. Footsteps in the snow, the main phone line being cut, a door flying open in the wind while they’re all sleeping. Is someone or something in the woods with them? Is someone or something in the house with them?

“in a dark, dark wood” kept me turning the pages even when about two-thirds through, I was pretty sure I knew who killed who and why. I quite enjoyed the book despite it’s slightly predictable cast of characters, setting and plot twists. It’s definitely a fun novel for fans of light thrillers, murder mysteries and anything with a little old school love and betrayal-by-my-former-best-friend in it.

Less irritating than “Gone Girl” but not nearly as good as “Girl on the Train” – “in a dark, dark wood” will keep you happily entranced for an evening or two, but it won’t make you hide behind your couch with an ax when someone rings your doorbell.

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

“Perdu reflected that is was a common misconception that booksellers looked after books. They look after people.”

I admit, it sends me into a slightly irrational rage when people say they want good “summer reading” or “beach reading” because the connotations of that are that they only want light, fluffy books that won’t make them use those braincells that they’re about to fry by laying in the sun all day drinking tequila and red bull. Inevitably from June to August when I suggest a wonderfully moving or intense book I recently enjoyed, I am immediately rebuffed with exclamations of “too serious!” “too long!” “that looks heavy…” and other nonsense that makes me just wish summer was over so that ‘summer reading’ would be over too.

That said, “The Little Paris Bookshop” is probably the perfect ‘summer beach read.’ It’s sweet and straight forward, engaging without being difficult – this little adventure follows Monsieur Perdu in his floating bookstore barge on a quest to figure out what happened with the love of his life all those years ago. She disappeared from his life, leaving behind only a letter that he has never been able to make himself open.

Perdu fancies himself a literary apothecary, subscribing books for what ails people – whether its loneliness, fear or self-doubt. He finds the books that will build them up, give them hope, confidence and a lust for life again. He finds the books they need to heal, but cannot find the book that will heal himself.

One day Perdu is forced to open the letter and learns that the ending of their relationship was not what he thought. Full of fresh grief and guilt – he flees by picking up anchor and traveling on his floating bookstore for the south of France.

In his travels Perdu picks up passengers, trades books for food/assistance, makes new friends and finally begins to heal.

An adorable story about a floating bookshop, the power of the written word and how far a little bit of love can spread – “The Little Paris Bookshop” is a delightful gem of a novel from start to finish, whether it’s read on a beach or not.

Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Z

Rachel’s life is a mess. Her ex-husband is now married to the woman he had an affair with, she lost her job, is constantly drunk and is pretending to commute to work in London each morning to hide the shambles of her life from her flatmate. Rachel is struggling with the absence of everything she previously treasured; her house, her husband, her career. One of her only bright moments each day is when she gets a peek at the life of what she believes is a happily married couple through the train window.

Every day her train stops at her old neighborhood and she glimpses a couple, who she names Jess and Jason in her head, as they drink coffee and have breakfast on their deck. She begins to feel like she has a connection to them, making up the background of their life together in her imagination. They seem beautiful, happy and she admires them from afar through her despair and drunken haze.

Then one day Rachel sees something that throws everything she thought she knew about the couple into doubt. As she goes to the police with what she thought she saw, her life becomes irreversibly entangled in theirs. The deeper Rachel goes, the more people whose sordid pasts become unveiled.

“Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins is a page tuner with unreliable narrators, shifting perspectives and awful characters who perpetuate great cruelty as their entwined histories are revealed. Though we can’t help but feel deep pity for Rachel; her lying, meddling and drunken blackouts cause frustration as we try to figure out what really happened.

It becomes obvious we cannot trust any character in this book as secrets are divulged one by one, changing the story as we thought we knew it thus far. As we stumble deeper and deeper into betrayal, lies and possibly murder; we can only wonder, is anyone ever who they seem to be?

The Martian by Andy Weir

2Q== “I can’t wait till I have grandchildren. When I was younger, I had to walk to the rim of a crater. Uphill! In an EVA suit! On Mars, ya little shit! Ya hear me? Mars!” 

Mark Watney is a wise cracking, insanely intelligent and tenacious astronaut. He is abandoned on Mars, presumed dead by his team after a dust storm clobbers him with a piece of equipment and the team is forced to leave the planet to save themselves. He wakes up bleeding, but miraculously alive, and makes it back to the HAB (the NASA martian habitat) and realizes that he has to find a way to live for four years until the next team arrives. With no way to communicate, dwindling food stores, cramped quarters not designed for long term living and constant technical complications, Watney faces some pretty extreme challenges. But armed with a great sense of humor, wits and a lot of ingenuity, Watney finds a way to survive.

Whether it’s mixing his own poop into martian dirt or creating water from hydrogen and oxygen (without blowing himself up!) to grow potatoes or taking a cross mars trip in a contraption where he can’t stand up without putting a space suit on, Watney has a new adventure every day. His escapades are told through his space logs, which vary from highly detailed accounts of endurance to his complaints about the 70s TV shows and disco music left behind by the his teammates when they had to leave him behind.

Though his story can be a little technical at times, it doesn’t go beyond comprehension. The nerdy aspects of this book only add to it’s charm. Watney’s struggles to stay alive on Mars are hilarious and intoxicating. You’ll want to curl up in bed, call in sick to work and pretend to be isolated on a planet yourself just to enjoy this book at your leisure. It doesn’t matter if you’re usually a lover of fantasy, biographies, young adult or fiction, Watney’s exploits will appeal to anyone in need of a good book. “The Martian” is an adventure that will let you escape your daily tribulations here on earth to experience a new undertaking completely out of this world, with quite a few laughs thrown in for good measure.

All the Bright Places

  “I learned that there is good in this world, if you look hard enough for it. I learned that not everyone is disappointing, including me, and that a 1,257 bump in the ground can feel higher than a bell tower if you’re standing next to the right person.”

Theodore Finch and Violet Markey meet on the ledge of the bell tower at their school. Theodore is the sometimes strange, charming and erratic young man that often does weird things or gets into trouble at school. Violet is a popular, easygoing girl who recently lost her sister in a car accident. When they climb down off the ledge together, everyone assumes Violet is the hero – she must have saved Theodore. But in truth she was up there for her own reasons and they saved each other.

In the days that follow, Theodore reaches out to Violet and partners with her on a project where they must discover the wonders of their home state. Though hesitant at first, Violet agrees to partner with Theodore. They set out on adventures to explore places neither of them ever never knew existed. As they get to know each other, Theodore slowly helps her heal. Violet starts to write again, drive again and talk to her parents about her sister. She stops letting herself hide in the shadow of her sisters memory and begins, slowly, to live fully despite her loss.

The pairing of Violet and Theodore is uplifting and sweet in the beginning. We watch Violet heal, but as much as Theodore wants to get better, he can’t. He begins to feel the edges of what he calls being “asleep” come back to him. Those periods in his life where he fights not to disappear into his head, not lose himself for months at a time. Though at one point we get a hint of his illness when a counselor tries to speak to him about being bi-polar, he erases the counselor’s messages on his family’s answering machine and runs away.

“All the Bright Places” by Jennifer Niven is a story about loss, love, mental illness and suicide. It explores how anyone can be struggling with these issues, whether they’re the well liked cheerleader with great grades, or the school “freak” as some bullies call Theodore.

Violet and Theodore learn together that struggling with suicide doesn’t always have a definitive reason or easy cure to a happy ending. And though we wish it could be true, sometimes love is not enough.

The Strange Library by Murakami

Last night I eagerly climbed into bed and cracked open The Strange Library by Murakami. Freshly released, much anticipated – I couldn’t wait to delve into it.

15 minutes later I was done. It was over. What? WHAT?

Not that it was bad, I enjoyed the short romp into one of Murakami’s worlds… I just wish there was more! I wanted more! Why wasn’t there more?

The Strange Library is a compact, but beautiful, little story. It has intriguing illustrations incorporated into the book as the story progresses, something I haven’t seen before in Murakami’s works and which adds a whole new perspective to the story you’re enjoying. In this tale, we go on an adventure with a young man who just wanted to check out some books. (Don’t we all?) It begins as he enters the city library and returns a few volumes. The woman at the front desk tells him to go to room 107 in the basement. Suspicious, but wanting new books, he goes to room 107 and there he meets a large, angry, man. The man asks him what he wants and the boy tells him the first thing that pops into his head – he is interested in books on tax collection in the Ottoman Empire. Three large dusty tomes are fetched and the boy is instructed that he must go to the reading room to read these books. To get to the reading room he follows the large man through a labyrinth, down many dark hallways, stairways, and eventually – into a cell. Suddenly the boy finds himself locked away and in grave danger. He must read all the books he was given or he won’t be allowed to go home. The mysteriousness of his adventure continues, though I don’t want to ruin it for you. There is an odd accomplice in a sheep suit, a beautiful girl and a daring attempt at escape. There is even delicious donuts and a brave pet starling.

As always, Murakami’s writing is lovely. He’s imaginative, mystical and unique. Nothing ever quite makes sense in his stories but we don’t mind, we’re just along for the ride.

When you pick up The Strange Library, turn those pages slowly and savor it while it lasts. It’s a short but sweet escape into a library of darkness, danger, books and possibly, love. We couldn’t ask for anything more.