BOOK REVIEW: Warlight

WARLIGHT
Michael Ondaatje

In a narrative as mysterious as memory itself – at once both shadowed and luminous – Warlight is a vivid, thrilling novel of violence and love, intrigue and desire. It is 1945, and London is still reeling from the Blitz and years of war. 14-year-old Nathaniel and his sister, Rachel, are apparently abandoned by their parents, left in the care of an enigmatic figure named The Moth. They suspect he might be a criminal, and grow both more convinced and less concerned as they get to know his eccentric crew of friends: men and women with a shared history, all of whom seem determined now to protect, and educate (in rather unusual ways) Rachel and Nathaniel. But are they really what and who they claim to be? A dozen years later, Nathaniel begins to uncover all he didn’t know or understand in that time, and it is this journey – through reality, recollection, and imagination – that is told in this novel.


The narrator writes “When you attempt a memoir, I am told, you need to be in an orphan state. So what is missing in you, and the things you have grown cautious and hesitant about, will come almost casually towards you. ‘A memoir is the last inheritance,’ you realize, so that during this time you must learn how and where to look.” This is a story about missing things: missing parents, missing pieces of a story, missing persons who leave or are left. And a good, good story at that. I only wish I’d saved it for a weekend read to allow for less interruptions in my reading. There are multiple time periods, subtle POV shifts, and many characters that are all best kept track of in a concentrated space of time. — Jen Payne

BOOK REVIEW: A Map of Days

A Map of Days
by Ransom Riggs

Having defeated the monstrous threat that nearly destroyed the peculiar world, Jacob Portman is back where his story began, in Florida. Except now Miss Peregrine, Emma, and their peculiar friends are with him, and doing their best to blend in. But carefree days of beach visits and normalling lessons are soon interrupted by a discovery….Now, the stakes are higher than ever as Jacob and his friends are thrust into the untamed landscape of American peculiardom….New wonders, and dangers, await in this brilliant next chapter for Miss Peregrine’s peculiar children.


I savored the idea of this book from the moment I heard about it until I finally opened the Amazon box—and it was worth every anticipatory moment! This series of books sets me right down in my own loop—circa 1970s, when reading was pure, delicious childhood pleasure and the adventuring kids were The Boxcar Children, and Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy in Narnia. I devoured the first three books and A MAP OF DAYS, too, which picks up seamlessly from the third and whoosh! whisks us right back into the lives of our favorite Peculiars. Despite a darkness that hits maybe a little too close to home sometimes (we live in dark days too, after all), I LOVED this book as much as the others, especially the new collection of oddball photos! Fair warning: you’ll realize about 2/3 of the way in that you’re going to finish the book soon and you’ll have to wait (again) for the next in the series to magically appear! Pace yourself.  — Jen Payne

BOOK REVIEW: The Course of Love

The Course of Love: A Novel
by Alain de Botton

We all know the headiness and excitement of the early days of love. But what comes after? In Edinburgh, a couple, Rabih and Kirsten, fall in love. They get married, they have children—but no long-term relationship is as simple as “happily ever after.” The Course of Love explores what happens after the birth of love, what it takes to maintain, and what happens to our original ideals under the pressures of an average existence. We see, along with Rabih and Kirsten, the first flush of infatuation, the effortlessness of falling into romantic love, and the course of life thereafter. Interwoven with their story and its challenges is an overlay of philosophy—an annotation and a guide to what we are reading.


This should be required reading. For everyone. Period. — Jen Payne

BOOK REVIEW: The Obituary Writer

The Obituary Writer
by Ann Hood

On the day John F. Kennedy is inaugurated, Claire, an uncompromising young wife and mother obsessed with the glamour of Jackie O, struggles over the decision of whether to stay in a loveless marriage or follow the man she loves and whose baby she may be carrying. Decades earlier, in 1919, Vivien Lowe, an obituary writer, is searching for her lover who disappeared in the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. By telling the stories of the dead, Vivien not only helps others cope with their grief but also begins to understand the devastation of her own terrible loss. The surprising connection between Claire and Vivien will change the life of one of them in unexpected and extraordinary ways. Part literary mystery and part love story, The Obituary Writer examines expectations of marriage and love, the roles of wives and mothers, and the emotions of grief, regret, and hope.


I enjoyed this story. It wasn’t particularly edifying, but I think that’s why I liked it. An easy read to sink into when everything else is spinning. Comfort food in the form of a book. Again. Of course.— Jen Payne

BOOK REVIEW: Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen

Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen
by Susan Gregg Gilmore

It’s the early 1970s. The town of Ringgold, Georgia, has a population of 1,923, one traffic light, one Dairy Queen, and one Catherine Grace Cline. The daughter of Ringgold’s third-generation Baptist preacher, Catherine Grace is quick-witted, more than a little stubborn, and dying to escape her small-town life. As a series of extraordinary events alter her perspective and sweeping changes come to Ringgold itself Catherine Grace begins to wonder if her place in the world may actually be, against all odds, right where she began.


This book felt like comfort food – good narrative, interesting characters, classic coming-of-age story. That Dairy Queen and Dilly Bars served as touchstones for the main character – and for the reader – was a sweet addition. When all else fails, or seems to fail, there are places we can go to remind us of home and family and love. Comfort, indeed. My favorite character was Eddie Franklin, behind-the-counter guru serving up unexpected wisdom…with a twist and some chocolate dip. — Jen Payne

BOOK REVIEW: The Immortalists

Immoirtalists

The Immortalists
by Chloe Benjamin

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes. The prophecies inform their next five decades. A sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists probes the line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion, this world and the next. It is a deeply moving testament to the power of story, the nature of belief, and the unrelenting pull of familial bonds.


While a bit predictable, the premise of this book is interesting, and you are certainly set-up for a good story from the very early pages. It wanders off a few times, puts you in some compromising positions with the characters, and trips on itself here and there, but overall it offered a new take on an old question and several distinct answers. — Jen Payne

BOOK REVIEW: Georgia

Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O’Keeffe
by Dawn Tripp

A novel about the life of American master painter Georgia O’Keeffe, her love story with photographer Alfred Stieglitz, and her quest to come of age as a woman. In this novel of a couple, and of passion, betrayal, and art, Georgia comes alive as never before. By the writer whose work Edna O’Brien called “shimmering, audacious.”

Georgia O’Keeffe is a young woman, painting and teaching art in Texas, when she travels to New York to meet Alfred Stieglitz, the married gallery owner of 291, modern art promoter, and photographer. Their instantaneous attraction and powerful hunger for each other draw her into his world of art, sex, and passion, and she becomes his mistress and his muse. As their relationship develops, so does Georgia’s place in the art world, but she becomes trapped in her role as the subject of Stieglitz’s infamous nude photographs of her; the critics cannot envision her as her own being. As her own artistic fervor begins to push the boundaries of her life, we see Georgia transform into the powerfully independent woman she is known as today.


The vibrant cover of this novel and its promise to bring O’Keeffe’s quest to become an independent artist vividly to life drew me in, and I was excited to open to the first page. But for some reason, my initial excitement turned slowly to ennui, flipping page by page as if I’d lost something. The story of O’Keeffe is fascinating, but I guess I just expected more than Stieglitz, Stieglitz, Stieglitz. A good-enough read which, if nothing else, leaves me wanting to read more about the artist and her creative efforts. — Jen Payne