What Has Become of You by Jan Elizabeth Watson – a Review

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High-school teacher Vera Lundy is a character you will pity. A forty-something woman, she is clearly book smart but lacking in confidence and good judgment. Having recently moved out of her mother’s home, she has accepted a temporary position at a prestigious all girls school in Maine where she is to teach English literature. It is there that she first meets Jensen Willard. Somewhat of an introverted misfit, it is only when Vera assigns journal writing assignments that it becomes clear that all is not as it seems. When a series of shocking murders occur, Vera finds herself more involved than she would have ever expected.

I debated over whether to give Jan Elizabeth Watson’s “What Has Become of You,” 3 or 3.5 stars. Watson does a wonderful job of portraying characters who you don’t quite love, but feel invested in. The premise she sets up is intriguing, and I wish she would have done more with her characters. Part coming of age novel (oddly enough more so for Vera than anyone else), part thriller- not deciding to firmly be one of the other is where the book’s biggest flaw lies. (And personally, I would have preferred the latter).

Overall, a good read for those that like novels like Kimberly McCreight’s “Reconstructing Amelia” and enjoy tales of menacing, plotting private school girls. Available for pre-order from Amazon.com  and on shelves May 1.

xo The Book Bird

Disclaimer: I received an advance copy for the purpose of review courtesy of the publisher.

“A Circle of Wives” by Alice LaPlante, a Review

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3.5 out of 5 stars.

Having just read an advance copy of Jennifer Murphy’s “I Love You More” I was curious to see how Alice LaPlante would approach her novel, “A Circle of Wives,” about three women who all discover they’ve been “married” to the same, recently deceased man. (Side note, men with multiple wives… maybe these two novels should be treated as cautionary tales; in both the husband is no longer in the land of the living.) Both books focus on unraveling the mystery of the husband’s death, though LaPlante takes a different path than Murphy- choosing to narrate her novel from the perspective of each individual wife, and the young, junior detective assigned to the murder case.

What struck me as funny about both “A Circle of Wives” and “I Love You More,” is that each novel was less about the relationship between husband and wife, and more about the inter-dynamics of “the other women.” LaPlante paints believeable scenarios and encounters that pull the reader in. I did not think I was going to like her naive detective, but found that she was a character that grew on me by the end of the novel. I also appreciate that she gets her own story arc and satisfying resolution.

All of the female characters in LaPlante’s novel get equal treatment and attention. Though initially I feared that the cast was a little stereotypical (the “hippie wife”, the “first” wife, etc), I was pleasantly surprised at how they developed. If anyone gets the short-end of the stick, it’s Dr. John Taylor, who is at the center of this circle of wives. Though we get a good idea of who he was, or at least how he portrayed himself, he’s never quite fully in focus.

Overall, I really enjoyed “A Circles of Wives”- though would love to one day read a novel with this premise told from the man’s POV. (Seriously, I would love to know what makes someone think it’s a good idea to take on three wives…)

I got my copy of “A Circle of Wives” from the NY Public Library, where it is currently on shelves, or you can purchase yours from Amazon.com.

xo The Book Bird 

After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman, A Review

Hi Friends- sorry we’ve been a little slow with the updates so far this year. Life has been crazier than usual, and we’re a little off pace. Sad face. Just wrapped up Laura Lippman’s latest, “After I’m Gone.” Neither here nor there, it was not my favorite Lippman novel. “After I’m Gone” focuses on the mysterious disappearance of a suburban husband and the impact it has on the lives of those he has left behind. Told from the perspective of his wife, daughters and mistress (to name a few), time goes back and forth from the present to the 1970s. Evenly paced with smooth writing, the plot never really seems to build to a crescendo, but yet maintains a steady momentum forward.

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While I enjoyed the novel, it was definitely the weakest work of Lippman’s that I’ve read. Her female characters were reasonably well-developed and fleshed out, her male characters get no love. Felix, Sandy, and all of the men in the Brewer women’s lives are boring and totally flat. Side note: I don’t know how she does it, but somehow Lippman creates characters I can’t stand, yet I’m fascinated and can’t stop reading (ex. Michelle… man…).

Those who are fans of her previous work will most likely pick this one up- my recommendation is to grab it from the library.

A solid 3 out of 5 stars.

Available for purchase from Amazon.

xo The Book Bird 

“Savage Girl” by Jean Zimmerman – A Review

17987214 Jean Zimmerman’s “Savage Girl” has so much going for it, right from the get-go:

1) It’s set in New York City during the Gilded Age, my absolute favorite setting for novels in NYC.
2) The cover art is FIERCE. I mean look at Savage Girl.
3) Our narrator is delightfully unreliable, incredibly wealthy, and has a family that can only be kindly described as eccentric.

Weighing in at a solid 400+ pages, Savage Girl is a little slow to start, but soon you’ll be flying through it. From the silver mines of the west, to the debutante dance halls of the east, what sounds like a re-telling of the “Pygmalion” story quickly turns into a fast-paced mystery. While on a cross-country trip with his “old money” family, Hugo Delegate, Harvard student and current drop out, encounters Savage Girl—a teenaged girl, “raised by wolves” and barely domesticated. The Delegate Family, with intentions that cannot necessarily be described as selfless, bring Savage Girl into their world of luxury and excess. But far from being the docile pet  they expect, it soon becomes clear that Savage Girl, whose name is Bronwyn, actually may have her own agenda. In addition, it appears she seems to leave a trail of bodies wherever she goes… As Hugo finds himself becoming more involved, dare I say, obsessed, with his “sister” Bronwyn, it also becomes clear that he may also not be what he seems.

The highlight of this novel has to be Zimmerman’s characters. They are beautifully fleshed out and vividly fill the pages. Hugo is self-interested, a little bit whiny, and makes for a fun narrator as the reader is never quite sure what to believe. Bronwyn is surprising, strong, and quite believable, despite her outlandish origin story.

My only complaint is that I felt like the ending was a bit rushed- we spend roughly 350 pages on a wonderful adventure, only to have everything be wrapped up and tied with a bow in the last 50. Don’t get me wrong- the ending is satisfying, but it did not feel like it had the same depth and richness as the rest of the novel. I’m sure people will be of divided opinion re: the epilogue, and I’m eager to hear the discussion.

Available for pre-order on Amazon, and on shelves March 6th.

xo The Book Bird 

Disclaimer: I received an advance copy of this book via the publisher for review.

The Quick by Lauren Owen – A Review

18050175This is one of those novels where you’re not quite sure where it’s going… and when you get there, it can be hit or miss as to whether you like the destination you’ve arrived at. Fortunately, I really enjoyed where we wound up. Part Gothic novel, part supernatural mystery, The Quick begins with a familiar proposition – two children and a British estate that has seen better days. Charlotte and her younger brother, James, who we meet at an early age, lead a solitary existence following the death of their mother. Their father, is also an absent figure, preferring to avoid his children, thus leaving them to spend their days exploring the grounds of their formidable home. It is only when James heads off to school (Oxford, obviously), and later London, that things start to diverge from the usual Gothic novel formula.

I don’t want to divulge any more- to do so would ruin the sneaky little plot twist that turns this book topsy turvy. Needless to say, you are either going to love it, or have a “WTF” moment.

Other thoughts on this novel: a little bit long and slow in places, it would be easy to put this one down until you get through the first third or so, however it is totally worth sticking with it.  Owen’s writing also conveys a wonderful fog-enshrouded atmosphere that I stayed with me throughout the book. Unlike some period pieces, she is consistent and you never get an accidental glimpse of the 20th century through language or description of the scene at hand. A definite must for anyone who likes something a little spooky and Victorian. Anyway, that is enough for me– you’ll just have to read it yourselves!

Available for pre-order on Amazon, and on shelves June 17, 2014.

xo The Book Bird

Disclaimer: An advance copy of this book was provided for review by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

A Dark, Mysterious Tale for Fall- Dark Angel by Sally Beauman

18467338 Where to start– this is definitely one of the books I’ve enjoyed most this year. A truly epic novel, Dark Angel weaves together the story of a tragedy that happened one faithful evening that will touch the lives of all of those present. Told from varying perspectives (all of which are beautifully distinct and unique), the novel takes the reader back to 1910, where a wealthy family and their friends and joined to celebrate the historic passing of a comet. What happens next will reverberate for decades as the characters’ lives intersect with one another, and is recounted to the reader via a nice combination of journal entries, recollection and third person narrative. (I am so over first person lately.)

Unlike other novels from the same genre, Dark Angel’s plot is zippy and never lulls, is very nicely paced and, in my mind, the perfect length. Clocking in at over 700 pages, it may seem daunting at first, but the hours flew by. The twists and turns were very believable, and never did I pause to question the direction the book went. The one thing I would note, is that like the title might suggest, some sections are dark, and can be a little much for the faint of heart.

Constance. Oh, Constance. She has to be one of the most wicked, brilliant, tortured characters I have ever met. Devious, manipulative, yet desperate to be loved, she is one of the most memorable characters I have encountered in a long time.

If you love getting lost in saga type novels (think more an edgier, modern Forsyte Saga, less a Dynasty/Dallas type scene), then this one is most definitely for you. While the novel focuses on the lasting effect that one night can have, I appreciated that there was less melodrama and more mystery in the plot. Just make sure you’re sitting somewhere comfy when you start, because it’s going to be a while before you get up again.

Available from Amazon.com– seriously, the Kindle price makes this book a steal! You have no excuse not to pick it up immediately.

xo The Book Bird

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher via NetGalley.