We Were Liars

we were liarsCadence Sinclair comes from the perfect family – beautiful and wealthy – with their own private island off Cape Cod.  Each summer the Sinclairs gather there, each family ensconced in their own lovely home.  Cadence and Johnny and Mirren (her cousins) and Gat (a friend) have been inseparable since they were small children.  They are the “Liars”.  Until the summer when Cadence is fifteen and is involved in a mysterious accident, leaving her with memory loss and debilitating migraines.  Over the course of the next two years Cadence struggles, through a haze of pain and pain killers, to understand what really happened that summer.  When she returns to the island for the summer of her seventeenth year Cadence finds that much has changed, but will she find out why?  And what really happened during that lost summer?

I loved the romance between Gat and Cadence, which had both moments of sadness and sweetness.  Cadence’s depression and frustration as she struggles to recall the lost summer, while dealing with her difficult and odd family, was poignant.  While the book addresses issues of class and wealth, the issues surrounding dysfunctional families and friendship are far more central to the story.

So, the ending.  I didn’t see it coming.  And it was horrible, shocking, and touching.  If someone asks me about it, I guess I’ll have to be a Liar…

Title: We Were Liars
Author: E. Lockhart
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult

Pages: 240
Publication: Delacorte Press, May 2014

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Chestnut Street

chestnut streetMaeve Binchy wrote a collection of short stories, tales from inside the lives of the people living on Chestnut Street in Dublin.  And in this, what will unfortunately most likely be her last published original work, those stories are collected.

It is difficult to review a short story collection, there is so much at the same time that there is so little.  So I’ll just mention a couple of my favorites.  Bucket, the window cleaner who goes everywhere on his bicycle and will do anything for his delinquent son.  Liberty, the frustrated girl whose parents are worried about everyone’s freedom but deny hers.  Dumpy Dolly and her perfect mother, who may not be so perfect after all.  Lillian with her kind heart, letting people step all over her, and with a fiancé that no one likes.  Nessa, whose American aunt may not be as cultured, well-off, or understanding as she seems.

What happens behind the closed doors of the homes on Chestnut Street is life, in all its beautiful ugliness.  Each story left me wanting more, a whole book that would tie all of these stories and all of these people together.  Because is as the case with so many short stories, it seems like someone forgot the ending.  Nevertheless, these are captivating glimpses into life for an array of interesting characters.

Author: Maeve Binchy
Genre: Fiction, Short Stories
Pages: 384
Publication: Knopf, April 2014

The Blazing World

 

blazing worldHarriet Burden, known as Harry to her friends, has lived in the shadow of her wealthy art-dealer husband for many years, her own art ignored and pushed aside.  When her husband dies, Harry decides to create her own masterpiece, Maskings.  She shows three different pieces of her artwork using three different men who will pose as the artists.  The plan is to reveal her deception, and to reveal the art world’s preference of male artists, once all three shows have taken place.  But when the final artist, Rune, refuses to acknowledge that she was the artist behind “his” work, the art world doubts the veracity of her masterpiece and her claims.

The Blazing World is told from various points of view collected after Harry’s death.  The story is told through Harry’s journal entries, industry articles, and interviews with her lover, children, and others.  This doesn’t detract from the continuity of the story, but allows it to flow nicely while providing alternating points of view.

Harry’s frustrations and convictions are all-encompassing for her, overwhelming her both personally and professionally, and are clearly documented throughout the story.  Unfortunately, while they were documented, often to the point of tedium, I never felt them.  The book is intelligent to a fault.  While I am not an uneducated person, I am also not an expert in philosophers or artists, nor do I want to have to be in order to enjoy a story.  Harry’s in-depth knowledge of these fields, and the constant references to them, and the overwhelming footnotes, detracted from the story.  A book full of knowledge, but without much heart.

Author: Siri Hustvedt
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 368
Publication: Simon & Schuster, March 2014

Graphic Novels

will & whitWill (Wilhelmina) is dealing with a lot.  Her parents died in a car accident last year and she’s developed a fear of the dark that she combats with a creative hobby – creating lamps out of nearly anything.  Living with her aunt, and helping her run an antique store, Will is looking forward to a summer of hanging out with her friends.  But when Hurricane Whit comes to town and causes a massive blackout, Will has to face her fears, and herself, without the aid of her lamps.

This is a far more “girly” graphic novel than any I have read previously, and would be a great way to introduce girls to the genre, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work for boys too.  Will’s struggles with her friends, her fears, and the loss of her parents are ones that can be universally understood and appreciated.  The illustrations are bold and flow seamlessly with the use of dark and light and shadows adding depth to the story.  Will’s story is one of courage and is full of heart, showing that there is always light to be found, even when it is darkest.

Title: Will & Whit
Author: Laura Lee Gulledge
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, Graphic Novel
Pages: 192
Publication: Amulet Paperbacks, May 2013

marchJohn Lewis is a Congressman and a key figure in the civil rights movement.  This graphic novel is the first in a planned trilogy telling the story of Congressman Lewis’s life.  The book begins with Lewis’s participation in the Edmund Pettus Bridge Crossing (the Bloody Sunday of the civil rights movement), but that story does not get completed in this installment.  Instead, it moves forward in time, using President Obama’s inauguration in 2009 as the framework for the story, Lewis looks back on his life, what it was like to live under segregation, and the journey that has led to this moment in history, sharing it with several young boys who are meeting the Congressman.  From his time as a child on the farm, to his meeting Martin Luther King, Jr.,  through to his use of nonviolent protest at department store lunch counters in Nashville, this graphic novel tells a moving story of the first part of this man’s personal history while never losing sight of the larger historical context.

Title: March: Book One
Author: John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell
Genre: Non-Fiction, Graphic Novel
Pages: 128
Publication: Top Shelf Productions, August 2013

The Reading Circle

Reading CircleLast year I reviewed the first book in this series, The Cherry Cola Book Club, which resulted in some healthy dialog with the author.  While I believe that Robert Kuehnle (pen name Ashton Lee) is a library supporter, and hopes to raise awareness of library funding issues with this series, my main issue with the book was his misrepresentation of public libraries.  I felt that his representation of underused public libraries perpetuated a dangerously erroneous stereotype when most public libraries are seeing increased usage in spite of reduced funding.  You can see that review, and the subsequent comments, here.

When Mr. Kuehnle sent me a message to let me know he would be releasing the next book in the series I decided to give it a read.  The issues that I personally found concerning in the first book were not as evident in the second installment in the series.  Maura Beth, the library director, and her supporters are busy with their lives and the continuation of their book club.  Much of the book is centered on the personal lives and romantic relationships of the various town members.  However, they continue to be concerned about future funding for the library as they were only given a year’s reprieve.  The crooked politicians in the town seem chiefly concerned about creating an industrial park bearing their names, and using the funds currently allocated to the library to do so.  Of course, the library is saved again, in an even more spectacular fashion.  Personally, the way that it happened made me a little nauseous, and isn’t something that I would do.  No matter how valuable I find public libraries to be, I need to be able to look at myself in the mirror each morning in spite of politics and behind-the-scenes wrangling.

If you liked the first book in the series, or like a quick read with small town characters, a little romance and a little literary focus, then this may be a series that you enjoy.  For me, it still feels a little stilted and false, but for a light book to take to the beach you could definitely do worse.

Title: The Reading Circle
Author: Ashton Lee
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 256
Publication: Kensington House, March 2014