The Nightingale

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I’ve had a lucky streak with the past ten or so books I’ve read, and I’m getting used to saying, “this is one of the best books I’ve ever read,” but really – The Nightingale really is one of the best books I’ve ever read.  It has everything the perfect story needs – love, war, intrigue, action, all wrapped up in a nice little package with a WWII bow.

The Nightingale is the story of two sisters living in Nazi-occupied France during WWII, both on their own challenging path.  Let me clarify, I have no interest in war history (fiction or non), and this book doesn’t conflict with that.  It is a love story, through and through.  Vianne is a young woman living with her husband and  young daughter, when her husband is called to fight in the war that has just broken out.  She is left to fend for herself against hunger, cold, trauma, loss and the violence that occurs in her small home at the hands of the Nazis.  At the same time, her rebellious 18-year-old sister fights in other, more direct ways, finally finding an outlet for her patriotism, her anger, and her relentlessly brave spirit.

I read this one on the Kindle, and had to painstakingly watch the “percentage read” climb much too quickly, dreading the finish of this amazing book.  The ending was so incredibly strong, taking me on a jarring emotional journey and leaving me crying in Starbucks.  Sometimes books can have a strong crescendo, then fall flat – that was definitely not the case with The Nightingale.

While this book is fiction, it is a mirror to the myriad stories that fill our history books.  At times the book is shocking and hard to stomach, but is a witness to the atrocities people endured during the war.  We all have the images of people suffering in concentration camps burned into our psyches; we’ve seen the photos, heard the recounted tales. The Nightingale shines a crucial light on an often untold story of war: the women.  She breathes life into the memory of these unsung heroes just long enough for us to fall in love with them, champion them, and finally, celebrate them as the impossibly brave war heroes they were.

Buy this book, read it, then gift it.  It is a time-capsule of human tenacity, courage, and boundless love.



Devil in the White City

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Devil in the White City

I kept seeing this book in every bookstore I went to, taunting me almost, so I finally picked it up in a bookstore in New York (which turned out to be quite fitting; more on that later).

Devil in the White City is a historical novel, with threads of drama woven throughout, which inspired in me a newfound love of historical nonfiction.

It’s the story of the World’s Fair in Chicago in the late 1800’s.  The author has an amazing ability to build suspense, and I found myself deeply caring about the outcome of the architects, bankers, builders, and every single person involved in the creation of the World’s Fair, something I knew nothing about before, and cared even less.

At the same time the historical relic was being constructed, we learn about a serial killer who was busy kidnapping and murdering women in the Chicago area, in a seemingly parallel timeline to the fair’s construction.  The women who came from all over the world to see the fair would simply disappear, being stowed away in the “World’s Fair Hotel,” in which the killer had also constructed a gas chamber and crematorium.

This writer knows how to hook you, and build that suspense.  Even though you know with 100% certainty that the Fair was built, the author actually makes you question if it will get done.  He creates rich images to accompany the names and faces, fostering a connection to a piece of US history many people know very little about.

The story of the serial killer almost reads as a separate novel entirely.  Many times I found myself more interested in that part of the story, but then it would switch back over to the World’s Fair and I’d be once again hooked.  One of the best parts is you can’t quite tell if the book is entirely non-fiction, but I refused to Google anything until I finished the book, to avoid spoilers.

One of my favorite parts of the book was learning about Frederick Olmsted, the landscape designer responsible for the World’s Fair as well as, conveniently for me, Central Park in New York.  It was wonderful walking through the park for hours, having a new, rich understanding of exactly what Olmsted was thinking as he built the most beautiful, long-standing park in the world (he claimed the park wouldn’t reach it’s true potential for 40 years after it was built, due to the foliage growing in as intended).

This was an incredibly fast read; I finished it before I even left New York.  It sits on my shelf at home now, a shiny reminder of that brief period in the late 1800’s where a city came together to out Eiffel Eiffel, and show the world just how grand America could be.

world fair


One Hundred Years of Solitude

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one hundred years of solitude



“Thinking that it would console him, she took a piece of charcoal and erased the innumerable loves that he still owed her for, and she voluntarily brought up her own most solitary sadnesses so as not to leave him alone in his weeping.”

What an adventure this book was. It took me a full year to get through it, because halfway through I got so confused as to who the characters were, I just had to put it down.  Still, the writing called me back.  Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a true master of language, knowing how to paint rich landscapes with words, and I can never stay away for long.  This is the kind of book you will find yourself reading aloud many times, and even putting the book down in shock, due to its sheer poetic genius.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is the story of one family, told over many generations within a span of a hundred years.  The only complaint I have, the only thing I’d change, is the character names.  For some reason, Marquez decided to give each family member virtually the same name.  After three generations of Arcadios and Aurelianos, it’s nearly impossible to keep them straight, and a tiny part of the romance is lost.  I’ve included a chart below which shows the sheer ridiculousness of it.  The fact that a detailed family tree exists on the internet, to me, is proof of the absurdity of it.  I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to go through with myriad highlighters just to keep the characters straight.


OHYS Family Tree
Also note: the “17 Aurelianos” also had the same name –  characters with their own detailed lives.

That unfortunate tibdbit aside, if you can accept the fact that you don’t have to know everyone’s exact position in the family line, or which Aureliano is which, the story itself is full of gorgeous imagery the likes of which I’ve never seen in another author.  Marquez has a method of storytelling that skirts the boundary of real and make believe.  The selected quote above is a good example of this:  “Thinking that it would console him, she took a piece of charcoal and erased the innumerable loves that he still owed her for.”  Marquez means to imply that she literally took a piece of charcoal, and erased the figurative debt of love.  Things that don’t really make sense suddenly take on a very real existence:  Ghosts wander the streets and have conversations with townsfolk; It rains flowers for days, until the streets are so thick with the blooms no one can leave the house; and when someone dies the trail of blood winds down the street and into the kitchen of the victim’s mother as she cooks the family dinner.

This writing style is called “Magic realism,” and is also found in such writers as Jeanette Winterson, Toni Morrison and Frida Kahlo.  Marquez is the master, in part because, “In Mexico,” he says, “surrealism runs through the streets. Surrealism comes from the reality of Latin America.”

Marquez’s writing certainly has all the workings of being based in magic.  His work comes from an era where authors had to rely on the art of words, avoiding the tricks today’s writers tend to use (Palahnuik comes to mind, with his intentional misuse of words).  Marquez’s explosive imagination, dedication to his art, and sheer talent have made him one of the most loved writers in Mexico, and worldwide.   Simply put, if Marquez were a painter, One Hundred Years of Solitude would be his Sistine Chapel.


Read it here for free!


Kindle Fire

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My love bought me the gift of literature for Christmas, in the form of a Kindle Fire.  When these things first came out I was very skeptical, certain they’d replace the unparalleled smell, texture, and aesthetic beauty of books on shelves.  I still kind of feel that way.  However, as life changes so do our priorities, and with us moving onto a boat in October it quickly became clear my 400 books weren’t coming with me.

So I have a Kindle now. I haven’t used it yet, as I’m halfway through One Hundred Years of Solitude (which is amazing, btw), and I have about five paperbacks left to finish, then it’s e-books all the way. I’m excited to choose my first book and see how I like it.

I will miss my books.  They are packed up in storage for now.  Throughout this move (and all the ones that came before), I am reminded again how important books are to me. They are the thing I would save from a burning building, if it was possible to carry entire bookshelves out through engulfing flames.  Someday, when we have a house again, or maybe just one perfect room full of love and literature, I’ll line the walls with my books and use the Kindle for travel purposes only.  Until then, I’m grateful to have the world of words at my fingertips.

I Know This Much is True

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I know this much is true

I Know This Much is True is part of the Oprah Book Club, and fits right in with its peers  The Help, a Million Little Piecesand She’s Come Undonealso by Wally Lamb.  These books are easy to devour, though aren’t very thought-provoking.  I Know This Much is True is a 912-page tome which keeps you entertained for about 600 of those pages; it is desperately craving the attention of a ruthless editor.

The topic is interesting enough, and the theme has so much potential, but somehow you’re still left feeling like you’re skimming the surface of a book that should knock you to the floor.  It’s like watching the movie 8 mile: It doesn’t change your life; at the end you’re not sure if you’d rather have your two hours back; and you wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, but you’re glad you can check it off your list.

If you need a book to distract you late into the night, pick this one up.  However, if you want to be changed in the way only a good book can, save your 900-word capacity for something with a little more passion.

Stardust (contains spoilers)

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What a delightful book.  As often as I quote Neil Gaiman, and as enchanted as I am by him, this is admittedly the first book I’ve read by him – and what a treat it was.  Stardust is a true fairy tale, as memorable and captivating as Sleeping Beauty or The Princess Bride.  There are fairies and magic, talking animals and humans imbued with mystical powers; it has everything a lasting, unforgettable fairy tale should.  The icing on the cake is Gaiman’s use of adult themes (and language), elevating this from a children’s story to a classic adult fantasy novel.

This quote, describing the moment a star fell from the sky, perfectly captures the playful beauty of his story-telling.

First the light in the sky was no bigger than the moon, then it seemed larger, infinitely larger, and the whole grove trembled and quivered and every creature held its breath and the fireflies glowed brighter than they had ever glowed in their lives, each one convinced that this at last was love, but to no avail…

And then—

There was a cracking sound, sharp as a shot, and the light that had filled the grove was gone. Or almost gone. There was a dim glow pulsing from the middle of the hazel thicket, as if a tiny cloud of stars were glimmering there.

And there was a voice, a high clear, female voice, which said, “Ow,” and then, very quietly, it said “Fuck,” and then it said “Ow,” once more.

And then it said nothing at all, and there was silence in the glade.

Stardust is an uncomplicated, lyrically rich story.  It won’t take long to read it, but every page is full of colorful characters and achingly beautiful imagery.  Read it, then give it away; this book is a gift to be shared.

Next on my list for Gaiman is American Gods.

House of Leaves

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What can be said about House of Leaves?  I knew nothing about this book when my friend bought it for me, except that she told me not to go flipping through it, and “this is not for you.”

Oh, how my imagination soared.

Would it be like The Never Ending Story, sucking me into a world where the lines between fiction and reality were blurred?  Was it even fiction?  I paid careful mind not to “cheat” with this one: not looking it up on Wiki beforehand, not Google-imaging it, no reviews, nothing – I went in completely open.

I won’t spoil the story here.  I will only say that it’s a horror story, and one hell of a ride.  The whole time I was reading it, I hated it, but I couldn’t put it down.  When it was finally over, I was so grateful to be able to read a “normal book again,” yet it somehow keeps reaching out for me long after I’d put it down.

This book was written as an experiment, and I can bet nothing like it has been created since.  While part of me thinks that’s is a good thing, as I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, the other part of me wants to send it to all my friends for Christmas.

Once you’ve read this book, you belong to a special club of people who won’t quite know what to say to each other, except to acknowledge the shared journey with wide eyes and nodding heads.

Indeed, this book is not for you.  It’s for no one, or perhaps everyone.