West of the Moon – Margi Preus

c781b2625125482596c71476977434f414f4141This is a really sweet story, inspired by a note in the author’s great –grandmother’s diary from when she emigrated to America from Norway. Her husband had asked her to take on a young woman from the ship as a maid, because she was young, and on her own. The author’s invented a back story for her, using Scandinavian fairy tales as the back drop. It works really well.

Astri’s father has gone off to America, leaving her and her sister Greta behind with their aunt. The aunt sells Astri to the local goatman, so Astri steals back to the house to find Greta, and they’re off to America. What makes this story is the weaving in of fairy tales, as Astri tries to use them as inspiration when their path grows rough. It’s a really lovely way to tell this story – very sweetly done.


P. S. from Paris – Marc Levy

b713009cc1f942f597344526f67434f414f4141Continuing this year’s apparent comfort reading theme, when I saw this book come up on the Prime Firsts list, I grabbed it. It was as pure escapist fun as the description implied.

Mia is a famous British actress who’s just completed a film with her husband. Just in time for the publicity junket, she finds out he’s been cheating on her. She flees to Paris, where her childhood best friend runs a restaurant.

Paul is an American novelist. His first novel, which he only published because friends sent if off to a publisher, was a wild success. He moved to Paris, figuring it was the best place to write more. He’s never written another book as successful, though oddly enough, his books do well in Korea. He’s in a sort of relationship with his Korean translator – the one time a year she comes to see him to translate his books. His best friends (the same ones that sent the original book out) , come to visit him, and enroll him in an online dating site to try to jolt him into changing his life.

You can pretty much see where this is going. There’s really nothing in the book that’s a surprise, but it was a very enjoyable read.

The Winter Sea – Susanna Kearsley

c645ca1522e66a1597775345a77434f414f4141Carrie McClelland has had success writing historical fiction – she likes to pick a time, place or event, and live for a time wherever that occurred to immerse herself in the world of her story. Her latest idea is set in the French Court, but is about the Scottish Stewart kings, when they were exiled there. She’s been living in Paris, but when her dear friend (and agent) invites her up to Scotland to meet her brand new baby, Carrie gets lost along the way. When she sees a man out walking his dog, she pulls over to ask directions, and while he helps, she notices the castle in the distance. The man kindly points her on her way, but she’s intrigued now, and finds out more about the castle before she leaves Scotland.

It turns out Slains Castle was central to the story of some of the interesting characters she’s been tracking in France, in the Scottish Court, and Carrie instinctively knows she’s found her way into a great story. Her apartment in Paris is packed up, and within a week, she’s installed in a cottage near Slains. And it turns out, the son of her landlord is the man with the dog that helped her with her directions as she first laid eyes on Slains.

A slight change in direction for the story is needed, and Carrie settles on a female character who she names after one of her ancestors, Sophia Paterson. Sophia did live in Scotland (Carrie herself is from Canada), but on the far side of the country. She has no connection to Slains. But as the story comes to Carrie (in the manner her stories usually do – in great writing fits like trances), the story that takes shape keeps running into real life details – details that Carrie is only able to uncover are true because she has local help researching things for her. Carrie is more and more convinced that she is uncovering actual memories from her distant ancestress.

This is a love story, both for Carrie, and for Sophia. And the ancestral memory bit could very easily go completely overboard, but it’s handled deftly enough that it actually works here. I very much enjoyed the story, and would happily read more from this author.

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

f82e8727238114f596938536877434f414f4141Theo and his mother were at the Met (well, I can’t remember if it was really called the Met in the book, but it was the Met) because Theo was suspended from school. On the way back from a meeting all about him, she decided to stop at the museum because they had a painting on display that she had seen in a book before, and wanted to see in person (the titular Goldfinch). Theo became distracted by a very pretty red head of his own age, and stayed behind when his mother went back for one last look. And that was when the bomb went off.

Theo tried to find his mother, but instead found the uncle of the pretty redhead, who handed him the Goldfinch painting, as well as his ring, with instructions to bring it to a specific address elsewhere in Manhattan. In shock, Theo manages to get out of the museum, and head home, hoping his mother will be waiting there for him. She’s not. In the days that follow, Theo’s bundled off by CPS, and the painting stays in their apartment, forgotten. He does bring the ring back, therefore meeting Hobie, the uncle’s business partner, and Pippa, the red headed girl, who did survive the bomb, but with grave injuries. By the time the apartment is packed up, Theo doesn’t know what to do about the painting – he’s afraid that people will think he stole it. That, and the bomb, will shape the rest of his life.

So that’s like the first three chapters of an enormous story (this was the first time I was ever really confused by a Kindle book – my percentage finished just wouldn’t go down – I finally had to look it up to realize how big a book this was). Reviews call it Dickensian (I hated the only Dickens I read – A Tale of Two Cities – so I can’t speak to that) – I will call it sprawling. I mean, the above two paragraphs are just the set up. Where it goes from there defies easy description. I can only say, it’s an amazing story, with a cast of fascinating characters.

It’s also a very hard story. I read all or most of six other books as breaks from this one. But in the end, it does boil down to what the author puts in the final pages, as if Theo is finishing off his journal entry for the day – it’s about love, and it’s about finding things outside of yourself to love, and what that will do in your life.

A final note – the day after I finished this, we were in VT, and it featured in one of the Jeopardy answers in that night’s episode. It definitely followed me around while I was reading it.

The Star of Kazan – Eva Ibbotson

e27b7fc264b7025597273366777434f414f4141Annika was found by Sigrid and Ellie in a church in the mountains while the two were on their annual weekend away from their job as maid and cook for three professors in Vienna. A note asked to take the baby to the nuns in Vienna. But the nuns were under quarantine, and by the time that was lifted, Annika had already enchanted the entire household, and so she stayed.

Annika’s happy in her home, and everyone in the neighborhood adores her as she grows up there. But any girl will dream of meeting her mother, and one day, that mother appeared. Annika was suddenly a member of a noble German family, and was whisked off her mother’s estate. Once there, it’s clear that things aren’t quite what they seem.

There are no real surprises in this story – it’s a tale you’ve heard before. But it’s also a loving tribute to Vienna, and to horses, and asks some interesting questions about who your family really is, or should be. It’s a nice little YA book – I’d give it to my nieces in a heartbeat.

Fool – Christopher Moore

265dea0e4ccc049593271465467434f414f4141Fool tells the story of King Lear from the point of view of his Fool. (A character that does exist in the play – one of the things I found myself looking up to verify if I was remembering things correctly. I believe I last read King Lear in 1997 or 1998.)

Moore’s decided to go with a very, very foulmouthed version of a fool, who’s pretty much sleeping with every female character in the play. (He said the genesis of this book is that he wanted to write about a true English Fool, and remembered the Fool in King Lear after the initial idea.) I really couldn’t decide if I liked him or not. He certainly had a clear-eyed view of the goings on between Lear and his daughters, but he was so generally unpleasant that I’m not sure if I was supposed to like him or not. (I really have to go with not.)

I was also really curious what he was going to do with the ending, because Cordelia was the Fool’s favorite princess (the only one he hadn’t slept with), and we all know what happens to her in the real play. He definitely went in a direction I wasn’t completely expecting with the ending, and again, I’m not sure I like it.

I don’t know – I normally like the funny tone of Moore’s books, but this one didn’t quite do it for me. It’s not that it was bad – I guess the best I can say is that it wasn’t really to my taste.

Her Fearful Symmetry – Audrey Niffenegger

bf18af069cc200b59354f585941434f414f4141Read for the RIP XI Reading Challenge.

Edie and Elspeth were twins, but something tore them apart. Edie moved to America, while Elspeth stayed in London. Edie ended up having twins of her own – Julia and Valentina. And when Elspeth dies, it’s Julia and Valentina she leaves her flat to – with the stipulation that they must live there for a year before they sell it, and their parents are not allowed to set foot there.

And so Julia and Valentina, who have never left the United States, find themselves in their flat in London, which backs onto Highgate Cemetery, where a number of notable Victorians (as well as their aunt) are buried. The girls have always done everything together – but this a new world, with neighbors like Robert, who does tours of the cemetery, and was Elspeth’s lover, and Martin, who composes crossword puzzles, but has such crippling OCD that he never leaves his flat.

I really liked Niffenegger’s previous book The Time Traveler’s Wife. It was a very much a slow burn, where bits and pieces of the story dribble in until you finally have the full picture. This book was very much like that, and there were parts I very much enjoyed, like the atmosphere in that flats, and the neighboring cemetery. And I liked Julia’s interactions with Martin – whose wife has just left him because she can no longer live the way he forces them to. He has an open invitation to join her in Amsterdam, if he can only leave the flat.

What I didn’t like was the end. I won’t go into it, because it makes no sense without the build up, but it was not the way that story should have ended, and it didn’t even really end. I found myself very grumpy at the end of it.