Book Review: Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

 

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

I picked up a copy of Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld during my BEA Book Club speed dating session. It wasn’t pitched at my table but its cover caught my eye when I checked out the other offerings. After skimming the book jacket, I was intrigued by the idea of twin sisters who had ESP, extrasensory perception. Turns out Curtis Sittenfeld has a couple of best sellers under her belt: Prep and American Wife.  But first let’s talk about Sisterland.

At a young age, twin sisters Vi and Kate discover they have ESP, or “senses” as their family calls it. Kate spends most of her life suppressing her senses while Violet embraces her visions and eventually becomes a professional psychic. Kate, on the other hand, has tried to be as normal as possible: she’s become a stay at home mother of two young kids. After St. Louis is rocked by a small earthquake in the middle of the night, Vi has a premonition that St. Louis will soon be hit by a larger, more disastrous earthquake. While Vi welcomes the media storm that follows her premonition, Kate desperately tries to avoid anything that will upset her “normal” life.

While the earthquake prediction is the catalyst for the novel, the relationship between the twin sisters is its main focus. The sisters and their family countdown to the big earthquake and flashbacks are interspersed throughout the novel. We learn why Kate refuses to accept her gifts, but is continually drawn back by her sister.

As a work at home/stay at home mom myself, Sittenfeld’s portrayal of Kate’s stay at home mom life is spot on. The relationships between the characters are so realistic, I can see myself having the same conversations with my husband that Kate has with hers. Vi and Kate argue and make-up like most siblings do.

Everything about the novel seemed perfect: the characters, their relationships, even the premise. Sisterland just fell flat for me. I kept waiting for something to happen. Even earthquake day felt anti-climatic. The entire novel was a huge plateau. Prior to reading it, I saw a lot of buzz for it but purposely avoided reading any reviews or blurbs so I could form my own opinion. The story lines felt measured and unemotional. I didn’t love or hate any of the characters. I wasn’t rooting for anyone. The only reason I read the novel in one sitting (and losing lots of sleep!) was because I kept hoping something would happen.

Plus the last 50 or so pages. Oh, how one major event at the end bugged me. It’s a big spoiler so I won’t reveal it. This event came almost out of the blue for me. There was very little lead up to what happened, but it became a pivotal event in Kate’s life. It seemed to be sprinkled in enough to justify a plot twist.

Sittenfeld lightly touches on race in St. Louis, but to me it seems more like an afterthought.  Maybe it’s because there’s only one African American character in the novel and everyone else is white, as evidenced by the two white girls on the cover.

Overall I was rather disappointed by Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld. It had all the elements of a good story but there was no sparkle for me. I did return to read reviews of the book by Gayle of Everyday I Read the Book and Jennifer from The Relentless Reader. One loved it and the other felt the same way as me. (You’ll have to read them to find out who is who.)

Sittenfeld is coming to DC for an author Q&A, so I hope to make it. Maybe she’ll enlighten me about the choices she made in her novel.

Did you read the novel? What did you think?

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld will be released tomorrow, June 25. This post contains affiliate links.

Book Review: The Curiosity by Stephen P. Kiernan

The Curiosity by Stephen P Kiernan

The Curiosity by Stephen P Kiernan

I confess that I’m a sucker for good book blurbs. Sometimes it’s the  ones that claim that if I “like X author or Y book then I’ll just love this book” that bugs me. I don’t like to be pegged by the genres or authors I read but I guess that’s the best way to discover new books. It just feels too presumptuous, you know? The blurb on The Curiosity by Stephen P. Kiernan claimed that his novel was “Michael Crichton meets The Time Traveler’s Wife.” As a reader who enjoys older Crichton books and absolutely loved The Time Traveler’s Wife, I just had to read The Curiosity. 

The Curiosity is a novel masquerading as a love story that explores how life becomes a laboratory experiment when today’s technological advances allows scientists to play God.

In the novel,  scientist Kate Philo and her team discover a man’s body frozen in the deep Arctic ice. She works for Erastus Carthage, a larger than life zealous scientist who believes he can bring small frozen creatures “back to life.” Carthage and his team have successfully reanimated frozen sea life such as plankton, krill, and shrimp but the discovery of a frozen human elevates the experiment to a new level: The Lazurus Project. Eventually Jeremiah Rice, a judge circa 1906, is reanimated. Amid the protests of fundamentalists and the Carthage’s investors, Jeremiah’s humanity become secondary. Kate feels a bond and responsibility to Jeremiah that goes beyond a professional connection.

The book is told from different characters’ viewpoints, alternating from chapter to chapter. When authors choose this device, I actually prefer it this way. Sometimes when the voice or point of view changes within a chapter, it’s hard for me to follow the story. The chapter header lets me know right away which character’s shoes I’ll be walking in.

The Curiosity is a not just a page turner, but offers plenty food for thought. Does a reanimated person have equal rights to the non-reanimated? When will Jeremiah be considered a person as opposed to a science experiment? Science and technology is evolving exponentially but can our ethics keep up? That’s the theme our author explores in this novel masquerading as a love story. Or in classic Michael Crichton theme: what happens when human beings play God? Thankfully Kiernan doesn’t jump right into disasters of epic proportions like Crichton was prone to. The Curiosity is much subtler.

Kiernan also offers his opinions on how our world has changed in the hundred years since Jeremiah fell overboard his ship in the ArcticOcean. One scene that stuck with me was how Jeremiah anticipated eating an orange he purchased at a modern day supermarket. Oranges were a rare treat in his time.  While his mouth watered as he peeled the precious fruit,  his taste buds were disappointed.  To him, modern day oranges were bland and dull. Have we lost the our true selves in the search for faster and more abundant production?

I absolutely loved The Curiosity by Stephen P. Kiernan. Any novel that entertains me and makes me think is a winner. The Curiosity will be released July 18, but you can pre-order it now.

I guess the book blurb was right.

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Don’t hurt me when I say this: The Ocean at the End of the Lane is the first Neil Gaiman book I’ve read.  I had no idea what I was missing! His other well-loved novels are long and seemed a bit intimidating, like American Gods, but I think I need to reconsider.

I pretty much read The Ocean at the End of the Lane in one sitting, except when it got a little too creepy for me. That’s because everyone in my family went to bed early so it was just me in a largely quiet, dark apartment. I had to set it down and take a bathroom break.

I’ll share the publisher’s description of the book because I can’t do it justice:

It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond the world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and menace unleashed – within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it.

His only defense is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is an ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang.

I truly felt transported the entire time I was reading the novel. The narrator’s memories feel fresh and new as he re-lived them for the reader. Even though it’s a short novel at only 192 pages, it’s packed with non-stop action and creepy stuff. Creepy in a good way. One genre that I don’t read enough of but love is modern fantasy like Gaiman’s novel. I guess I have his entire backlist to visit now.

I’m not going to give away too much, so pre-order The Ocean at the End of the Lane. You won’t be disappointed.

I received a review copy of the book. This post contains affiliate links.

Book Review: The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison

Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison

Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison

Every good book has a point of no return. It’s when the story becomes so engrossing, when the characters start living and breathing in your imagination, and when you can see their pain as well as your best friend’s longing. Last night I reached the point of no return for The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison. It was 1AM, but I kept reading. I could not stop until I was sure that my new friends, the novel’s characters, ached no more. Or ached less.

In The Banks of Certain Rivers, our narrator and protagonist Neil Kazenzakis is trying  to return to his normal life after a tragic accident left his wife “profoundly disabled” (according to the book description-I don’t want to give any spoilers about the accident). He’s popular high school physics teacher as well as coach for the girls cross country track team. He’s also secretly seeing his elderly mother-in-law’s home care nurse. On the surface it looks like everything is under control, but slowly Neil’s life starts to unravel. A video of him assaulting a student appears on YouTube and threatens his job, his reputation, and worse yet, his ability to provide care for his wife.

As Harrison introduces each pivotal character in his novel, he offers readers little tidbits of Neil’s past so we can learn how he becomes the person the we currently see.  The transitions to Neil’s past are triggered by a stray cat, seeing student in the hallway, and even a bottle of whisky. Some novels quickly jerk you into the past and then back to the present, but not here. It feels natural and gentle, just as if I were in Neil’s shoes.

While the story of the YouTube video and Neil’s secret relationship with Lauren intensifies our protagonist’s story, it’s the relationships between the characters that draw you in. The father-son dynamic is honest and, at times, raw. Neil’s best friend Alan keeps him on the straight path. The two would do anything for each other. Relationships with old friends are prodded and poked, hoping to revive them. Neil’s emails to his wife reveal secrets yet he keeps secrets from her as well.

The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison is beautifully written and will capture your heart. It’s currently available on as an ebook on Kindle . It’s free to borrow for Prime members.

For more about Jon Harrison, visit his website.

I received a copy of this book for review. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: The Best of Us by Pekkanan

The Best of Us by Sarah Pekkanen

The Best of Us by Sarah Pekkanen

Rarely am I able to finish a book in one sitting. Not since I had kids anyway. Over the weekend, I found myself in bed by 10PM which is incredibly early for. However, my brain wouldn’t turn off so I picked up The Best of Us by the newest book by Sarah Pekkanen. I’ve read some of her previous books and knew I would enjoy her newest. I read the entire novel in a few hours. I couldn’t put it down until I knew how it ended.

In The Best of Us, three women and their husbands are offered a dream vacation: an all inclusive trip to Jamaica courtesy of an old college friend who struck gold with his dot com business. Tina is a tired stay at home mother of four (!) who needs a break but feels guilty for leaving her children for a week. Allie, who has been the rock for everyone around her, holds a secret that upsets her balanced sensibilities. Then there’s Savannah who exudes sensuality and confidence but her separation from her husband has affected more than even she realizes. They’re all excited to help Dwight, now a millionaire, celebrate his birthday in style. While everyone seems to return to their easy friendship from their college days, Dwight’s wife Pauline feels like an outsider. The trip is supposed to be relaxing and fun, but old feelings resurface and new wounds are inflicted. Everything builds as a hurricane barrels towards Jamaica and the four couples must make peace with not just their circle of friends but themselves.

Reading this novel reminds me of the dynamics of my circle of college friends. Pekkanen portrays characters that are real and complex. Even Allie, who was so annoyingly perfect at first, until we learn that she has secrets and fears just like everyone else. I wanted to hate Savannah but was able to empathize with her. It was also fun to imagine myself in their shoes. Who wouldn’t want a no-strings attached all inclusive Jamaican vacation with all the ‘tinis I can drink? Not to mention an in house gourmet shelf and massages on the beach?

I was in a major reading rut recently, and The Best of Us got me out of my rut.

A little anecdote for you: I met Sarah a few years ago at a children’s theatre show. I had just finished reading The Opposite of Me and there she was sitting next to me while we waited for the play to begin. Not sure if i would seem stalkerish, I asked “Are you the Sarah Pekkanen that wrote The Opposite of Me?” Her face lit up and we chatted for a bit. Whew!  Small world, right?

A few months later I ran into her at Book Expo America. I’ve been following her on Facebook ever since. If you’re not following Sarah Pekkanen on Facebook, you’re missing out on some funny stuff. She’s currently on her book tour, so visit her website for details.

I received a review copy of the book via NetGalley.

 

 

Book Review: A Plain Scandal by Amanda Flower

A Plain Scandal by Amanda Flower Cover

A Plain Scandal by Amanda Flower Cover

When I received a pitch for an Amish murder mystery book, I was very intrigued. I knew that there were Amish romance novels out there, but a murder mystery? I love cozy mysteries and decided to read A Plain Scandal: An Appleseed Creek Mystery by Amanda Flower so I could tell you all about it, dear readers. I had no idea what to expect when I began reading.

Let me tell you, dear readers, I practically ignored my husband Saturday night to find out whodunit. Don’t let the Amish setting deter you for this book.

In A Plain Scandal, our sleuth is Chloe Humphrey who is clearly not Amish. She recently moved to Ohio’s Amish country to take an IT job at the local college. How un-Amish is that?  Chloe is friends with Timothy and Becky Troyer, siblings who decided to leave their Amish religion after their rumspringa, a time when Amish youth are allowed to experience “English” life.  Becky is Chloe’s roommate and also her guide to Amish culture. Chloe also has a massive crush on Becky’s older brother Timothy, but isn’t sure how to approach him because of his Amish background.

In the midst of the small college town life, Chloe and Becky discover that several Amish teenage girls have been assaulted and their hair cut short. Amish girls are not allowed to cut their hair. While Chloe tries to track down the person(s) responsible, she discovers a body (like any cozy sleuth should). Sleuthing is challenging for Chloe, since most Amish will not speak to outsiders.

Usually when I read cozy mysteries, I don’t try to figure out the killer. I’m just there for the ride.  I read them for the characters, the relationships between the characters and the setting. Cozies are how I relax. (Cozies are murder mysteries in which the sleuth is usually a woman and there isn’t a lot of blood or gore.)

First of all, A Plain Scandal is very well written. I’ve read plenty of cozies where the premise is so contrived I could not buy into it. Not the case with Amanda Flower’s writing. Chloe was the perfect character for readers who are unfamiliar with Amish culture/religion. Like me. It’s all new to Chloe’s eyes as well, so I learned with her. It was a very natural fit.  From an outsider’s point of view, I felt that Flower present Amish culture in a very respectful manner.

My favorite character in the book is Becky. Becky discovered cooking shows during her rumspringa and has embraced them wholeheartedly. She is so excited about cooking new to her foods: manicotti, Mexican, even Paula Deen.

If you like cozy mysteries, I highly recommend A Plain Scandal: An Appleseed Creek Mystery by Amanda Flower. It’s the second book in the series and I can’t wait to get my hands on the first book, A Plain Death.

What did you read this weekend?

I received  an ARC of the book in order to review it. All opinions are my own.