BOOK REVIEW: The Italian Party, by Christina Lynch

BOOK REVIEW: The Italian Party, by Christina LynchTitle: The Italian Party by Christina Lynch
Published by St. Martin's Press
Published: March 20th 2018
Genres: Historical, Fiction
Pages: 336
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

A delicious and sharply funny page-turner about "innocent" Americans abroad in 1950s Siena, Italy. Newly married, Scottie and Michael are seduced by Tuscany's famous beauty. But the secrets they are keeping from each other force them beneath the splendid surface to a more complex view of ltaly, America and each other.

When Scottie's Italian teacher--a teenager with secrets of his own--disappears, her search for him leads her to discover other, darker truths about herself, her husband and her country. Michael's dedication to saving the world from communism crumbles as he begins to see that he is a pawn in a much different game. Driven apart by lies, Michael and Scottie must find their way through a maze of history, memory, hate and love to a new kind of complicated truth.

Half glamorous fun, half an examination of America's role in the world, and filled with sun-dappled pasta lunches, prosecco, charming spies and horse racing, The Italian Party is a smart pleasure.

As soon as I began reading The Italian Party, I was swept away to post-WWII Italy and enveloped in a domestic spy thriller that captivated me from the first page to the final sentence. Scottie and Michael are newlyweds moving to Siena, Italy, to start their new lives as husband and wife. Michael’s been sent to Italy to sell the Italians some American tractors to propel Italy to more “modern” industrialization, or so Scottie thinks. Scottie appears to be the perfect person to fulfill Michael’s want and need for a wife, or so Michael thinks. Each of them have secrets upon secrets of their own, and the book deftly explores and unravels these secrets as the story progresses.

Michael has been sent to Italy with orders from the CIA to stop the Communist candidate from winning an election. His Ford office in Siena is merely a cover for his actual work. Without spoiling too much of the novel itself, Lynch explores one facet of the post-WWII/Cold War fears of the rise of communism and the fears from America about that rise. Little struggles throughout the book, including the “favored” American dessert of a can of peaches topped with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry over delicious Italian gelato, showcased the “rightness” and “righteousness” of American idealism over anything else.

The Italian Party is probably going to end up on my favorites of the year list. I loved the secrets weaving themselves through Scottie and Michael’s marriage and life outside their marriage. I love the development of the characters from beginning to end, and I love how both of them choose to support each other after all of these secrets between them come to the surface. The 1950s were mostly a different time and place compared to now, but Lynch shows that even then, people struggled with and faced the same difficulties in a relationship that people do today. So much of this novel reflects the current time, and it’s eye-opening to see history begin to repeat itself.

Christina Lynch weaves in domestic life with a spy thriller incredibly well, and the pacing of the book was excellent. I loved how the chapters themselves were divided into small sections, and somehow that made it even easier to zip right through and enjoy this book. Lynch’s sparkling prose makes you feel as if you are a fly on the wall in Scottie and Michael’s life in Italy, and it’s the perfect spring escape.

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press for sending me a free copy to review; all opinions are my own!

BOOK REVIEW: Everless, by Sara Holland

BOOK REVIEW: Everless, by Sara HollandTitle: Everless by Sara Holland
Series: Everless #1
Published by HarperTeen
Published: January 2nd 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 336
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Book Sparks, Publisher
Goodreads

In the kingdom of Sempera, time is currency—extracted from blood, bound to iron, and consumed to add time to one’s own lifespan. The rich aristocracy, like the Gerlings, tax the poor to the hilt, extending their own lives by centuries.

No one resents the Gerlings more than Jules Ember. A decade ago, she and her father were servants at Everless, the Gerlings’ palatial estate, until a fateful accident forced them to flee in the dead of night. When Jules discovers that her father is dying, she knows that she must return to Everless to earn more time for him before she loses him forever.

But going back to Everless brings more danger—and temptation—than Jules could have ever imagined. Soon she’s caught in a tangle of violent secrets and finds her heart torn between two people she thought she’d never see again. Her decisions have the power to change her fate—and the fate of time itself.

everless - sarah holland, ig: fairy.bookmother
everless – sarah holland, ig: fairy.bookmother

How much time, I think, must there be among us? Centuries and centuries. Ten thousand years or more. And yet every single Gerling has as much as ten of the rest of us.

I went into Sara Holland’s Everless with a little bit of hesitation because it feels like a lot of YA fantasy in the recent years (at least stuff that gets a lot of traction) is just recycled bits of previous works, but Everless caught my attention because it involves a magical use of time. Anything to do with time, time manipulation, or time travel is right up my alley, especially if done well, and my friends, Everless surprised me! I love the concept of time as something to be traded and consumed, used as a bartering tool, and wielded as a power.

Jules once lived at the Everless estate, but she and her father had to escape the estate ten years prior to the main events of the story. She returns to the estate to find work when her father is dying in an effort to save him, and she doesn’t heed any of her father’s warnings about the place. But as she spends more time at Everless and as she reacquaints herself with the surroundings, Jules begins to remember and discover things about her past and her future that she never thought possible.

Sara Holland plays around with the common tropes found in YA fantasy and subverts them. I only guessed at one of the twists, but the others surprised me! Holland’s writing felt effortlessly engaging, and I didn’t want to put the book down while I read it. The only major issue I had with the book was the immense “info dump” at the beginning that took a while to uncoil and understand. Other than that, I felt that the tension was just right, the suspense just right, and the cliffhanger!!! just right. Everless is entirely refreshing, and if you enjoy reading YA fantasy, I think you’ll enjoy this!

Many thanks to BookSparks and HarperTeen for sending me a copy to review! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: A Moonless, Starless Sky, by Alexis Okeowo

BOOK REVIEW: A Moonless, Starless Sky, by Alexis OkeowoTitle: A Moonless, Starless Sky: Ordinary Women and Men Fighting Extremism in Africa by Alexis Okeowo
Published by Hachette Books
Published: October 3rd 2017
Genres: Cultural Studies
Pages: 256
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

In the tradition of Behind the Beautiful Forevers and Nothing to Envy, this is a masterful, humane work of literary journalism by New Yorker staff writer Alexis Okeowo--a vivid narrative of Africans, many of them women, who are courageously resisting their continent's wave of fundamentalism.

In A Moonless, Starless Sky Okeowo weaves together four narratives that form a powerful tapestry of modern Africa: a young couple, kidnap victims of Joseph Kony's LRA; a Mauritanian waging a lonely campaign against modern-day slavery; a women's basketball team flourishing amid war-torn Somalia; and a vigilante who takes up arms against the extremist group Boko Haram. This debut book by one of America's most acclaimed young journalists illuminates the inner lives of ordinary people doing the extraordinary--lives that are too often hidden, underreported, or ignored by the rest of the world.

Alexis Okeowo’s A Moonless, Starless Sky writes about the lives of four individuals in Nigeria, Somalia, Mauritania and Uganda who are resisting against the extremisms they each face. Okeowo, a first generation Nigerian-American, manages to deftly weave hope and inspiration in her solemn, yet conversational, exploration of the bravery and courage these four individuals face in abject terror.

The four narratives are about an LRA child soldier and the girl forced to marry him, a man and his fight against slavery in modern Mauritania, a group fighting Boko Haram, and a Somalian young woman’s struggle for the right to continue playing basketball. While each of the stories were eye-opening to read, the story about the Somalian young woman finding friendship, companionship, and fulfillment in playing basketball tugged at my heart-strings the most. To us here in the US, something so commonplace as playing basketball doesn’t register as a forbidden activity for anyone, but for her, it was a forbidden activity, because she is Muslim, because she is female. Her struggle to pursue her dreams resonated with me so much.

Okeowo writes the lives of each of these individuals with clarity, empathy, and respect; she writes their stories with unflinching insight to their struggles and triumphs. This book will certainly raise awareness to events happening beyond our media’s reach and inspire people to take action. It’s an absolute must read.

Many thanks to Hachette for sending me a copy of this book to review! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Madwoman Upstairs, by Catherine Lowell

BOOK REVIEW: The Madwoman Upstairs, by Catherine LowellTitle: The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell
Published by Touchstone
Published: November 22nd 2016
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 368
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

In Catherine Lowell’s smart and original debut novel—“an enjoyable academic romp that successfully combines romance and intrigue” (Publishers Weekly)—the only remaining descendant of the Brontë family embarks on a modern-day literary treasure hunt to find the family’s long-rumored secret estate, using only the clues her father left behind and the Brontës’ own novels.
Samantha Whipple is used to stirring up speculation wherever she goes. Since her eccentric father’s untimely death, she is the presumed heir to a long-rumored trove of diaries, paintings, letters, and early novel drafts passed down from the Brontë family—a hidden fortune never revealed to anyone outside of the family, but endlessly speculated about by Brontë scholars and fanatics. Samantha, however, has never seen this alleged estate and for all she knows, it’s just as fictional as Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights.
But everything changes when Samantha enrolls at Oxford University and long lost objects from the past begin rematerializing in her life, beginning with an old novel annotated in her father’s handwriting. With the help of a handsome but inscrutable professor, Samantha plunges into a vast literary mystery and an untold family legacy, one that can only be solved by decoding the clues hidden within the Brontës’ own works.
A fast-paced adventure from start to finish, The Madwoman Upstairs is a smart and original novel and a moving exploration of what happens when the greatest truth is, in fact, fiction.

 This was not an office. It was a small library, two stories high, with thin ladders and impractical balconies and an expensive ceiling featuring a gaggle of naked Greeks. It was the sort of library you’d marry a man for.

Catherine Lowell’s The Madwoman Upstairs has been on my radar for a while, and when BookSparks sent me a copy of this book and a lovely Penguin English Classics edition of Jane Eyre to celebrate Charlotte Brontë’s birthday, I was super excited to finally read it. I mean, how could I not? It’s about the last descendant of the Brontë family and the discoveries and revelations the main character has along the way.

The Madwoman Upstairs is literally a literary treat to me. In some ways, it reminded me of a light-hearted, quirky version of A.S. Byatt’s Possession, and I adored reading it. The narrator has such a great voice, and I thought Lowell captured the voice of a young, headstrong, stubborn woman thrown headfirst into a world she has been trying to avoid since her father’s death. But as it happens, it’s entirely difficult to leave the past in the past, and inevitably it will come back to you.

Generally, when one thinks of the Brontë family, one might think of Charlotte or Emily before thinking of Anne, so I liked the twist of Anne being more of the focus of this treasure hunt Samantha Whipple goes on after receiving a strange little bookmark from her father’s papers. The Madwoman Upstairs is very much a fun campus novel with twists of romantic comedy and literary intrigue, and it was an enjoyable read from start to finish!

I received a copy of this book from Book Sparks and the publisher for review. All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Into the Water, by Paula Hawkins

BOOK REVIEW: Into the Water, by Paula HawkinsTitle: Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
Published by Riverhead Books
Published: May 2nd 2017
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 386
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.
Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother's sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she'd never return.
With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, twisting, deeply satisfying read that hinges on the deceptiveness of emotion and memory, as well as the devastating ways that the past can reach a long arm into the present.
Beware a calm surface—you never know what lies beneath.

 Some say the women left something of themselves in the water; some say it retains some of their power, for ever since then it has drawn to its shores the unlucky, the desperate, the unhappy, the lost. They come here to swim with their sisters.

This summer I am participating in Book Sparks‘s Summer Reading Challenge, and the first book of the summer is Paula Hawkins’s Into the Water. I have been eagerly waiting to read this after reading The Girl on the Train last year, and I feel like she met my expectations with her sophomore novel. Into the Water is a slower-paced novel compared to the runaway feeling that I got while reading The Girl on the Train, and I think that the pace and atmosphere of each book fits the title. Into the Water unfolds slowly through multiple perspectives and all of the details float around until the final few chapters when everything comes together.

Into the Water‘s strength lies not in the driving force of the plot but in its undercurrent. The main plot revolves around the death of a single mother in a pool of water in which other women throughout the town’s history have also died. To me, the most interesting aspect of this novel is the history of that pool and the stories of the women who died there. I would have loved for the novel to revolve more around the histories of those women because their stories were nuanced, engaging, and compelling. I wanted to know more about the lives of those women and what led to their downfalls.

The major drawback for me in this novel are the narrators. I felt like there were too many narrators (eleven! I wrote the names down to keep track of them, and I’ve never felt like I’ve had to do that before), and that many narrators lead to a jumpy, sometimes jarring plot. I like stories with multiple perspectives, and I think eleven narrators can work if it’s a longer book or a longer series, but when a book is less than four-hundred pages, I find that eleven narrators eventually blur and lose their distinctions.

Overall, this is a solid read for me, and I breezed through it on a lovely spring day with my cat on my lap on our deck.

An advance reader’s copy was sent to me on behalf of Riverhead Books and Book Sparks for my honest opinion.