BOOK REVIEW: Bradstreet Gate, by Robin Kirman

fbmreview

BOOK REVIEW: Bradstreet Gate, by Robin KirmanTitle: Bradstreet Gate by Robin Kirman
Published by Broadway Books
Published: April 5th 2016
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 336
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Blogging for Books
Goodreads

A tour de force about three friends affected by a campus murder, for readers of Donna Tartt, Meg Wolitzer, and Jeffrey Eugenides.

Georgia, Charlie and Alice each arrive at Harvard with hopeful visions of what the future will hold. But when, just before graduation, a classmate is found murdered on campus, they find themselves facing a cruel and unanticipated new reality. Moreover, a charismatic professor who has loomed large in their lives is suspected of the crime. Though his guilt or innocence remains uncertain, the unsettling questions raised by the case force the three friends to take a deeper look at their tangled relationship. Their bond has been defined by the secrets they’ve kept from one another—Charlie’s love and Alice’s envy, Georgia’s mysterious affair—and over the course of the next decade, as they grapple with the challenges of adulthood and witness the unraveling of a teacher's once-charmed life, they must reckon with their own deceits and shortcomings, each desperately in search of answers and the chance to be forgiven. A relentless, incisive, and keenly intelligent novel about promise, disappointment, and the often tenuous bonds of friendship, Bradstreet Gate is the auspicious debut of a tremendously talented new writer.

The copy on the back of Bradstreet Gate compares the novel to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. That’s really what drew me in to choose the book in the first place, and I felt surprised that I hadn’t heard about the book until I saw it as an option on Blogging for Books. The only comparisons I found to The Secret History were the simple fact that this novel revolves around a group of students attending Harvard (and what comes after) and that there is a death/murder of a student. Other than that, the comparison ceases to be relevant.

Bradstreet Gate is a character novel, and there is no blatant revelation over who killed Julie Patel. It could have been Storrow, it could have been Alice, and it could have been Charlie, but nothing is ever made quite clear and I found that entirely frustrating. Halfway through I thought it might have been Alice because of her stilted relationship to everyone else on campus, but as the novel progressed and Charlie became more and more successful with weird little hints and recollections of “what he did,” I have to wonder if Charlie was the one who did it. He was the little brother, the one his father “[looked] for ways to be rid of him.” Charlie had a strained relationship with his father, and his father always referred to his youngest son as “the judge.” Charlie’s the one who shows an interest in Georgia, who has a relationship with Storrow the professor, and he shows a passing interest in Julie Patel and later finds out she has a boyfriend. In his frustration over Storrow’s relationship with Georgia, Charlie could have very easily staged Julia’s murder to destroy Storrow, which did happen. On the other hand, Storrow had a military history and had the working knowledge to execute a flawless murder.

The writing was clean, but I found everything structural in the novel to be lacking clarity and cohesion. The characters lacked depth and resonance (as in I didn’t really feel anything at all towards any of them), the plot and pacing seemed jumpy, like one moment it was one day and years had passed in the next paragraph. I felt like I had to read the last several pages just to make sense of what happened and to see if I’d missed some important, revelatory detail. I didn’t. It just sort of ends, falls off, and nothing’s really resolved.

However, after reading the essay in the back of the book, there is some connection thematically to some of the content of the novel. Kirman writes that she had a charged friendship with a professor of hers as a student with whom she had a relationship ten years later, and it got me thinking of this novel in the sense that she is trying to come to terms with that relationship and the attraction students have to their instructors. At the beginning of the essay, she writes, “Why did people speak of falling in love? Why was the experience of romantic enchantment described as a fall?” In that context, and if that context was advertised with the book in the first place, I might have gone into reading the book differently. The essay in the back of was my favorite part about the book, and I’ll be thinking about some of the ideas she presented for quite a while.

“What George Eliot understood so well about young women – and intellectualism and naïveté and practical life and corporeal desire – can be revealed, also, by experience. Reality inevitably assaults our fantasies and brings the objects of our infatuation down to earth, whether we wish it to or not.”

“Possibly he was after the same idea that I’ve introduced here: the fall from grace accomplished by Eve, thanks to her wish to taste of wisdom reserved for God alone. Such a wish may not drive everyone who falls, head over heals, but I suspect it is present whenever some co-ed finds her pulse quickening as her dark, magnetic professor looks her way, and she begins to dream only about him, and to ignore the boys who sit beside her in the dining hall or stalk the showers of her dorm. Rules may discourage her from doing more than dreaming – they might try to rescue her from her own desires – but now and then she’s bound to fall. That’s just part of the story of being young, human, and hungry: tempted to seek knowledge beyond what is permitted, in the highest places and forms, and in the lowest, too.”

Book provided for an honest review by Blogging for Books.

BOOK REVIEW: Grayling’s Song, by Karen Cushman

fbmreview

BOOK REVIEW: Grayling’s Song, by Karen CushmanTitle: Grayling's Song by Karen Cushman
Published by Clarion Books
Published: June 7th 2016
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Pages: 224
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

It's time for Grayling to be a hero. Her mother, a wise woman has been turned into a tree by evil forces. Tangles and toadstools! Lacking confidence after years of being called "Feeble Wits" by her mother, Grayling heads off dubiously into the world in search of help, where she finds a weather witch, an aromatic enchantress, a cheese soothsayer, a slyly foolish apprentice, and a shape-shifting mouse named Pook! A fast-paced and funny coming-of-age odyssey from a Newbery medalist.

Grayling’s Song is a cute, light fantasy novel for middle grade readers. It reads like something you’d find in the children’s section years ago. The language is a little stiff sometimes and sounds old-fashioned, but I think it adds to the world Cushman creates. This book might not appeal to all readers because younger ones might not like or understand the phrasing and sentence structure, but it will appeal to readers who enjoy fantasy. It’s a great introduction to that high fantasy as it has a wide range of odd characters with magic and strange personalities.

Grayling doesn’t have very high self-esteem thanks to her mother constantly calling her “Feeble Wits.” When she goes on a quest to find her mother’s grimoire to free her from the curse of turning into a tree, Grayling doesn’t have much confidence in herself at all. As her journey progresses, she worries about being in charge, making mistakes, and taking responsibility for her actions and the fates of others because of her actions. As the days pass and she faces more and more of her fears, Grayling becomes stronger, both physically and emotionally.

This is a spoiler free review, so I won’t spoil the ending for you, but it’s clear by the end that this a story of learning to value your own strengths, learning to value the people with whom you surround yourself, and learning to accept when it is time to move on with your life, away from your parents and away from the people with whom you’ve grown, and embark on your own adventure.

I loved the cast of characters, especially Pook, the shapeshifting mouse. There is a lot of humor in this book that will appeal to younger readers, and there is a lot of insight into what a young person faces when growing up and leaving the nest. I also learned that cheese divination is called tyromancy!

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review!

BOOK REVIEW: Eleanor, by Jason Gurley

fbmreview

BOOK REVIEW: Eleanor, by Jason GurleyTitle: Eleanor by Jason Gurley
Published by Crown
Published: January 12th 2016
Genres: Magical Realism
Pages: 384
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads

Eleanor and Esmerelda are identical twins with a secret language all their own, inseparable until a terrible accident claims Esme’s life. Eleanor’s family is left in tatters: her mother retreats inward, seeking comfort in bottles; her father reluctantly abandons ship. Eleanor is forced to grow up more quickly than a child should, and becomes the target of her mother’s growing rage.   Years pass, and Eleanor’s painful reality begins to unravel in strange ways. The first time it happens, she walks through a school doorway, and finds herself in a cornfield, beneath wide blue skies. When she stumbles back into her own world, time has flown by without her. Again and again, against her will, she falls out of her world and into other, stranger ones, leaving behind empty rooms and worried loved ones.    One fateful day, Eleanor leaps from a cliff and is torn from her world altogether. She meets a mysterious stranger, Mea, who reveals to Eleanor the weight of her family’s loss. To save her broken parents, and rescue herself, Eleanor must learn how deep the well of her mother’s grief and her father’s heartbreak truly goes. Esmerelda’s death was not the only tragic loss in her family’s fragmented history, and unless Eleanor can master her strange new abilities, it may not be the last.

Eleanor opens with a woman named Eleanor, trapped in her home life as a mother and desiring to go swim in the ocean. At the end of the prologue, Eleanor, stripped to nakedness, walks into the ocean and never returns. Agnes, her daughter, feels the loss of her mother for the rest of her life. When she has twins, Agnes names one of her daughters Esmeralda while her husband names the second daughter Eleanor. It becomes obvious as the novel progresses that the children each parent names are their individual favorites. The young Eleanor beings to realize this after a horrific accident kills her twin sister. After her parents’ divorce, Eleanor stays with Agnes. Agnes, in her grief, falls into an alcoholic spiral as she cannot handle seeing Eleanor everyday because her surviving daughter is the exact image of Esmeralda and a reminder of her own mother’s death and disappearance.

Eleanor cannot live up to her mother’s expectations, and that knowledge affects her relationship with her mother and her father. As she ages, strange things begin happening to her. Eleanor falls out of time, disappearing into the space beyond time. Sometimes she is gone for seconds or minutes, sometimes she is gone for much longer. When she is in this space beyond (or between??) time, Eleanor meets an entity that we as readers know has been watching Eleanor for a long time. Eleanor is given the option to change everything, a decision with which she struggles but eventually accepts.

I won’t spoil it, but the option of a resent and the whispery, time-free monsters that human language cannot define is so similar atmospherically to Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. If you liked that novel, I totally recommend this one, and if you enjoy magical realism, I wholeheartedly recommend this one. It’s lyrical, magical, and a little bit heartbreaking. It’s a read that will keep you thinking about what happens and what could happen long after you read the final page.

BOOK REVIEW: The Garden Party and Other Stories, by Katherine Mansfield

fbmreview

BOOK REVIEW: The Garden Party and Other Stories, by Katherine MansfieldTitle: The Garden Party and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield
Published by Penguin, Penguin Classics
Published: 1922
Genres: Fiction, Classics
Pages: 159
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

Innovative, startlingly perceptive and aglow with colour, these fifteen stories were written towards the end of Katherine Mansfield's tragically short life. Many are set in the author's native New Zealand, others in England and the French Riviera. All are revelations of the unspoken, half-understood emotions that make up everyday experience - from the blackly comic 'The Daughters of the Late Colonel', and the short, sharp sketch 'Miss Brill', in which a lonely woman's precarious sense of self is brutally destroyed, to the vivid impressionistic evocation of family life in 'At the Bay'. 'All that I write,' Mansfield said, 'all that I am - is on the borders of the sea. It is a kind of playing.'

I am trying to be better at reading short stories, and I saw a blurb about Katherine Mansfield’s short stories on Alice’s blog, so I checked it out and thought I’d be interested too! I enjoyed all of the stories. Some stories fell flat for me, but I thought this was a very well-rounded collection. My favorites were “The Garden Party,” “The Daughters of the Late Colonel,” and “The Singing Lesson.”

Mansfield’s short stories read like impressionist paintings. I think they need to be looked at, examined, and mulled over for a bit before the meaning settles in. I finished the book about a couple weeks ago, and I’m still thinking about the stories.

In “The Garden Party,” the Sheridan family is in the midst of preparing for the titular garden party. During the set up of the party, the family finds out that their working class neighbor, Mr. Scott, has died. Laura, the daughter in charge of setting up the party, wonders if the party should be canceled out of respect for the death of their neighbor, but none of her family agrees and the party goes on. The story explores the differences between class and the awareness of class differences, the illusion created by the upper class to avoid dealing with certain realities, and the roles of life and death in day-to-day activities.

In “The Daughters of the Late Colonel,” two sisters are figuring out what to do with their lives after their father’s death. He was their only real relation as their mother died many years ago, and he was possibly one of the only stable men in their lives. The sisters have very little grasp on reality and how to exist in day-to-day life. This is shown through their inability to tell the cook how they want their fish cooked because they’re so used to decisions being made for them and their lives dictated by others. They are both so far removed from reality that when they try to think about what to do with their future, they forget what they are even speaking about in the middle of the conversation. It’s a terrible, haunting look at what happens when women aren’t allowed any agency over their own lives.

“The Singing Lesson” is about a teacher, Miss Meadows, who is engaged to a man five years younger than her. Basil, her fiancé, has written to her before the story begins calling off their engagement, and Miss Meadows enters the school that morning incredibly upset. Basil writes that their “marriage would be a mistake” and that he “love[s] her as much as it is possible for [him] to love any woman” because he is “not a marrying man.” The language in this convinces me that Basil is homosexual or confused about his sexuality and that he is doubting his convictions because he later sends Miss Meadows a telegram saying to disregard his letter and that he has “bought [a] hatstand,” again using language that symbolizes phallic imagery. It’s clear that Miss Meadows is unaware of her future husband’s sexuality, and her mood changes significantly when she receives that telegram because her future is secure again. The title itself evokes the symbolism of a bird in a cage, that women are pretty things to be caged and possessed, and that men ultimately control a woman’s fate and can change their minds at will with no repercussions to themselves. Both Basil and Miss Meadows are trapped by society’s expectations and both are forced to “sing out” what they’ve been taught.

I really enjoyed this collection, and I’m looking forward to reading more by her and by Modernist writers. If you enjoy Modernist and feminist writings, I think you’ll enjoy her work!

BOOK REVIEW: Passenger, by Alexandra Bracken

fbmreview

BOOK REVIEW: Passenger, by Alexandra BrackenTitle: Passenger by Alexandra Bracken
Series: Passenger #1
Published by Disney-Hyperion
Published: January 5th, 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 486
Format: eBook, Hardcover
Source: Netgalley, Library
Goodreads

Passage, n.i. A brief section of music composed of a series of notes and flourishes.ii. A journey by water; a voyage.iii. The transition from one place to another, across space and time.

In one devastating night, violin prodigy Etta Spencer loses everything she knows and loves. Thrust into an unfamiliar world by a stranger with a dangerous agenda, Etta is certain of only one thing: she has traveled not just miles but years from home. And she’s inherited a legacy she knows nothing about from a family whose existence she’s never heard of. Until now.

Nicholas Carter is content with his life at sea, free from the Ironwoods—a powerful family in the colonies—and the servitude he’s known at their hands. But with the arrival of an unusual passenger on his ship comes the insistent pull of the past that he can’t escape and the family that won’t let him go so easily. Now the Ironwoods are searching for a stolen object of untold value, one they believe only Etta, Nicholas’ passenger, can find. In order to protect her, he must ensure she brings it back to them— whether she wants to or not.

Together, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by the traveler who will do anything to keep the object out of the Ironwoods’ grasp. But as they get closer to the truth of their search, and the deadly game the Ironwoods are play­ing, treacherous forces threaten to sep­arate Etta not only from Nicholas but from her path home . . . forever.

We protect ourselves by playing the roles fit for the year we’re in.

Let’s just get this out of the way: I love time travel novels. I’m a huge sucker for them, and I always have been. Had this been released when about ten or fifteen years ago when I was at the age to which this is marketed (god, I’M SO OLD), I would have been all over this and would have given it a thousand and one stars. It still gets a solid rating from me, which comes as a positive thing after reading so many disappointing novels lately.

Etta, on the night of her big violin performance, is transported back in time onto a ship captained by Nicholas, a black pirate of sorts. Obviously there’s a romance brewing between the two, and even though it felt a little forced sometimes, I’m hoping it develops more in the next novel. It wasn’t necessarily an instant romance sort of thing, but the relationship seemed to progress quickly over a span of pages (even if those pages spanned several days). The romance progression felt typical for a YA novel, and that’s completely all right by me!

What I enjoyed most was the commentary on society then and now. Sophia, the other female time traveler whose original time is in the 1920s, says this really amazing thing to Etta about a hundred pages in:

So cling to your rights, your beliefs, your future – but know that none of them will help you here. You haven’t been forced to survive in the same way as the centuries of women who came before you. You know nothing of the impossibly small weapons we must use to carve out knowledge and power.

If I had read that ages ago, I think I would have shifted my thinking much earlier than it did, so I’m really pleased that Bracken is bringing to light the difficulties women have been facing for centuries to a young, modern audience. Not that her audience isn’t aware of it, but I’ve noticed lately in the classes I teach that some of the young women believe that they’ve always had the rights and advantages they have now, and I have to explain to them that within the last thirty or forty years we’ve progressed so much and that we still have so much to work for.

This is a super enjoyable romance-y time travel (with some logic!) novel that’s sure to appeal to fans of Sarah J. Maas, Susan Dennard, and Marissa Meyer.

I received a copy from Netgalley for my honest review.