Sunday, March 29, 2015

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

A Book to Sink Your Teeth Into (Unusual Childhood, Unusual Struggles)

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell is about a family struggling to keep their business and each other together after their mother passes away.  The twist is that mom was the star attraction at Swamplandia! a daring alligator wrestling show on a small island off the Florida coast.  Top off their grief and financial famine with some major competition on the mainland and their fight seems to pull them down to an alligator death roll.

I love this book! It was binge-worthy—difficult for me to set down.  The author entangles a smart and sophisticated writing style with bright, witty characters in a unique setting with an original plot. The 13-year-old narrator, Ava, drew me into their world of swimming with and wrestling alligators in a washed-up tourist trap where she’s hoping to fill her mother’s shoes.  In the meanwhile her sister is obsessed with ghosts, while her brother joins enemy forces, and the father leaves them to try and save it all.

This book was quirky and fun, and while one disturbing part burst my bubble of joy, other bubbles buoyed this book way up.  I thought it was a delicious treat that I think most readers would like to sink their teeth into.

Sharp, imaginative, captivating. 

Happy Reading,


This book met one of the 2015 Book Challenges:  Read a book set on an island.

What did you think of this book? Post a comment or mail:

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Oddly Alluring  (Young Adult Mystery)

You’ve probably seen the creepy cover of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.  It’s a black and white image of a spooky looking little girl who’s actually levitating off the ground.  It reminded me of A Dark Dividing by Sarah Rayne which had a double dose of disturbing girls on the cover, and was an eerie, suspenseful book.  I really liked it. But Miss Peregrine’s was nothing like A Dark Dividing and was equally as good in a completely different kind of way. 

This book is about sixteen-year-old Jacob who sets out on a journey of discovery after his grandfather dies under mysterious circumstances.  Before taking his last breath, Grandpa Portman sputters out some clues to his fatal injuries, clues that tie into stories, fairy tales that Grandpa had been telling Jacob since he was a small child.  Jacob determines to solve the enigma and eventually ends up on an island in Wales where he finds his way to Miss Peregrine’s home for peculiar children.

This book was like finding an unexpected treasure.  The writing was fresh, at times humorous, and it was an adventure into an “other worldly” (aka supernatural) place with an unexpected story. The most unique element of the book was the collection of vintage photos that were scattered throughout the pages and were part of the story.  I’ll admit that I did not particularly enjoy the ending, which didn’t tie things up as neatly as I like—consider the movie The Birds. Nevertheless, I really did enjoy the book.  And even though I may not be lured to the sequel ("Hollow City"), as the first book definitely is primed for, I still think it was worth reading.

Warning:  This book contains supernatural events. I failed to mention the that to someone I had recommended this book to.  She didn't finish it. Shame on me!  I should have known better.  See "Ocean" review. 

Still, I give it an oddly alluring thumbs-up.

Happy Reading,


This book is in the development stages of movie production with director Tim Burton.

This book met a few of the 2015 Book Challenges:  Read a book set in a foreign country; Read a book containing magic or supernatural events;  Read a book that has or will become a movie; Read a book set on an island.

What did you think of this book? Post a comment or mail:

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Lady In Gold by Anne-Marie O’Connor

The Austrian Mona Lisa (Art and History)

The Lady In Gold by Anne-Marie O’Connor is a fascinating account of a painting, the artist who created this masterpiece, and the family it belonged to.  It’s about the Nazi theft of the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I and the fight to get it back to the family years later.  History telling at its finest, this historical novel effortlessly moves along exploring the events and people who were involved in the journey of this extraordinary painting of a Viennese high-society woman elegantly wrapped in dazzling gold leaf on canvas by Gustav Klimt.

This book was informative and riveting.  I practically held my
Adele Bloch-Bauer II, ,1912
breath in horror and suspense almost the entire section on WWII. I found myself biting my nails as the fates of the family and friends of the Bloch-Bauers were revealed.  Knowing about the lives and times of the people in a painting as well as the owners brought art appreciation to the next level.  It created a deeper connection beyond aesthetical pleasure; it’s like watching a flat, one-dimensional image plump up, walk off the canvas, and whisper all her secrets to you.

While this book seems to have a cast of dozens, each one is a supporting character that stiches the whole tale together.  If you’re like me, you may want to take notes to keep track of everyone; it’s well worth the effort—especially when you take the time to look up Klimt’s paintings.

The Lady In Gold is a captivating, intelligent, important work.  I highly recommend it.

If you liked this book, you may also want to consider Portrait of Dr. Gachet by Cynthia Saltzman.  In this non-fiction book, Saltzman follows the hundred-year journey of one of Vincent van Gogh’s last paintings, the Portrait of Dr. Gachet as it changes ownership over the years until we reach the auction where it sold for a record-breaking price of $82.5 million in 1990. 

If you prefer to stick to historical fictions on artists and their works, check out the following books:  Frida by Barbara Mujica; I Am Madame X by Gioia Diliberto, Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland, and The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan.

On April 3, 2015, the movie Woman in Gold will be released starring Helen Mirren as Maria (Bloch-Bauer) Altmann, Adele’s niece, who fights to legally get the family’s Klimt paintings back.  While the movie is not based on the book, The Lady In Gold, it is, of course, based on the real legal battle to have Klimt’s masterpiece returned to the rightful owners.  I’m really looking forward to seeing the movie.  But I still recommend reading The Lady In Gold first as it divulges so much history and background that cannot be covered in a two-hour film.  In fact, the trial on which the movie is based takes up a very small portion of the book, The Lady In Gold

The Lady In Gold met several of my 2015 Book Challenges: Read an historical novel; Read a book about art; Read a book with a war setting.

Happy Reading,


What did you think of this book? Post a comment or email:

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Tracks by Robyn Davidson

Determination and Danger in a Desert (Memoir)

Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1,700 Miles of Australian Outback by Robyn Davidson is a memoir about one woman’s amazing nine-month journey with four camels across the inhospitable outback of Australia. What surprised me in this riveting account was the time and dedication it took just to prepare for this long and arduous adventure.  The process of learning, saving money, and preparing for such a mass undertaking took pure dogged determination and tireless work.  In a powerfully expressive narrative, Robyn relays the skills and tenacity that pull her through an extremely harsh environment where flies swarm by the thousands and scorpions, millipedes, and snakes slither around while she sleeps.  Along the way she reveals the eye-opening plight of the aborigines—their living conditions, racial hatred, health problems, and suppression. Both compassionate and tough-as-nails Robyn deals with sick camels, pesky journalists, as well as raging angry bull camels “in season” in a swift and efficient manner. She’s a rare breed that dared to dream, dared to take that first step, and dared to see it through to the end. 

Inspirational, informative, entertaining! 

I think this would make a great book club read, where you can discuss how she handled some of the obstacles, her personality, and what we can learn from her.

This book met several of my 2015 Book Challenges:   Read a memoir, Read a book from your local bookstore; Read a book set in a foreign country.

Happy Reading,


What did you think of this book? Post a comment or email:

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Log of the SS The Mrs Unguentine by Stanley Crawford

A Marriage Adrift at Sea (Marriage/Novella)

Log of the SS The Mrs Unguentine by Stanley Crawford. 

Ever want to get away from it all, get off the grid in a remote cabin in Alaska, or maybe retire and travel in an RV for years, or perhaps sail on the open sea, forever leave the hassles and complications of everyday life behind?  Well, this novella may make you think twice about such a dream. In the Log of the SS The Mrs Unguentine, a woman recounts her life at sea with her husband—a crazy, abusive alcoholic who rarely spoke to her.  Mrs Unguentine was literally trapped in her marriage out at sea for over forty years. It was more like a slow-moving nightmare for her.  Loneliness was her biggest complaint on a converted garbage barge where tending to her massive gardens was her duty and comfort, where her husband preferred to communicate via notes rather than talk, where time seemed to slowly eat at their sanity. 

I found this brief one-hundred-and-seven-page book to be thought-provoking, sad, and amusing. At times events blurred into a mirage of fantastical proportions, leaving me wondering as to what was real (their child, for instance), and what was pure madness or allegory (the ending). But mostly the book made me wonder what would it be like to be so unrestrained and captive at the same time.  The couple was free to walk around naked, free from social expectations, free to be creative. Yet they, or more like Mrs. Unguentine, were prisoners of isolation.  How many people would last one year, much less decades, alone with only their spouse and no other human contact? It leaves you with something to think about. The Log seemed like an experimental fusion in self-sufficiency and psychology. It was compelling and at times down-right bizarre.

This book met one of my 2015 Book Challenges: Read a novella.

Happy Reading,


What did you think of this book? Post a comment or email: