If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie

if-i-fal-if-i-die“A heartfelt and wondrous debut, by a supremely gifted and exciting new voice in fiction.

Will has never been to the outside, at least not since he can remember. And he has certainly never gotten to know anyone other than his mother, a fiercely loving yet wildly eccentric agoraphobe who drowns in panic at the thought of opening the front door. Their little world comprises only the rooms in their home, each named for various exotic locales and filled with Will’s art projects.

Soon the confines of his world close in on Will. Despite his mother’s protestations, Will ventures outside clad in a protective helmet and braces himself for danger. He eventually meets and befriends Jonah, a quiet boy who introduces Will to skateboarding. Will welcomes his new world with enthusiasm, his fears fading and his body hardening with each new bump, scrape, and fall. But life quickly gets complicated.

When a local boy goes missing, Will and Jonah want to uncover what happened. They embark on an extraordinary adventure that pulls Will far from the confines of his closed-off world and into the throes of early adulthood and the dangers that everyday life offers. If I Fall, if I Die is a remarkable debut full of dazzling prose, unforgettable characters, and a poignant and heartfelt depiction of coming of age.” – Goodreads

If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie is an exceptional novel.

When I learned this tale included an agoraphobic single mother and her tween son, I instantly felt a spark of connection and made haste to delve into its depths. Narrated alternately from Diane’s (the mother) and Will’s (the son) points of view, readers are given a full view of the family dynamics – or should I say family dysfunction – that take place in the Cardiel home. At times heartbreaking, and often humorous, Christie allows us to follow Will as he journeys from his den of overprotection (Inside) to learn and explore the vast and unknown Outside.

Added to Christie’s tale of mental illness, and a boy’s search for freedom and independence, is a mystery. I’m not sure what the purpose of its inclusion in this novel was; it did not add to the main story in any real way – in fact, in my opinion, it almost took away from it. Oh, it was a nice little mystery, I’ll give you that, but it would have done well in another novel, another day and time. Fortunately, its presence did not detract from the shining gem of Diane and Will’s main storyline.

Christie proved to be both knowledgeable and sympathetic when writing about Diane and her agoraphobia. He allowed us to truly see through Will’s eyes as he ventured into the Outside for the first few times, and he did so brilliantly. If this is the work he presents with a debut novel, then I am definitely anxious to see what Christie will bring us next. Go and get you some, y’all.

If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie: Read it today!

4 stars

Source: Lincoln City Libraries

Review: Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis by Alexis Coe

alice-freda-forever“In 1892, America was obsessed with a teenage murderess, but it wasn’t her crime that shocked the nation—it was her motivation. Nineteen-year-old Alice Mitchell had planned to pass as a man in order to marry her seventeen-year-old fiancée Freda Ward, but when their love letters were discovered, they were forbidden from ever speaking again.
Freda adjusted to this fate with an ease that stunned a heartbroken Alice. Her desperation grew with each unanswered letter—and her father’s razor soon went missing. On January 25, Alice publicly slashed her ex-fiancée’s throat. Her same-sex love was deemed insane by her father that very night, and medical experts agreed: This was a dangerous and incurable perversion. As the courtroom was expanded to accommodate national interest, Alice spent months in jail—including the night that three of her fellow prisoners were lynched (an event which captured the attention of journalist and civil rights activist Ida B. Wells). After a jury of “the finest men in Memphis” declared Alice insane, she was remanded to an asylum, where she died under mysterious circumstances just a few years later.
Alice + Freda Forever recounts this tragic, real-life love story with over 100 illustrated love letters, maps, artifacts, historical documents, newspaper articles, courtroom proceedings, and intimate, domestic scenes—painting a vivid picture of a sadly familiar world.” – Goodreads

In 1892 America, the country was scandalized by a murder in Memphis, Tennesee. Ironically, it wasn’t the murder itself that was so shocking to citizens as the motivation for it. Nineteen-year-old Alice Mitchell had brutally slashed the neck of seventeen-year-old Freda Ward after their plans for a life of love together had gone awry. Alice had planned to pass as a man so that she and Freda could be married, however, when Freda’s sister came upon their love letters and learned of their plans, the two young women were forbidden from ever speaking to each other again. Freda appeared to adjust to this fate with an ease that broke Alice’s heart, and as each desperate letter Alice sent went unanswered, she became more and more desperate and unhinged, until the fateful day – January 25, 1892 – of Freda’s murder.

Alice’s father declared her insane that very day, and his diagnosis was corroborated by both medical experts and Alice’s attorneys – her love for another woman of the same sex was a dangerous and incurable perversion. Alice spent months in jail as the courtroom was expanded to accommodate the national interest of private citizens and the frenzied media. A jury of “the finest men in Memphis” ultimately declared Alice insane and she was remanded to an asylum, where she remained for just a few years until her death under mysterious circumstances.

 Debut author and historian Alexis Coe stumbled upon this story years ago and after years of meticulous research was inspired to bring the narrative of this notorious case to life. Alice and Freda’s story is enhanced with Sally Klann’s illustrations of maps, letters, and sketches. While this is a non-fiction book, it read like a novel to me, and held my interest throughout.

Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis is at heart a tragic love story, but it is also a an eye-opening look at the moral evolution of the United States in terms of same-sex relationships – with same-sex marriage still outlawed in the majority of our fifty states, how far have we really come?

Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis by Alexis Coe: Read it today!

3 stars

Source: Personal Library

 

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Review: Vanessa and Her Sister: A Novel by Priya Parmar

vanessa-and-her-sister“For fans of The Paris Wife and Loving Frank comes a captivating novel that offers an intimate glimpse into the lives of Vanessa Bell, her sister Virginia Woolf, and the controversial and popular circle of intellectuals known as the Bloomsbury Group.

London, 1905: The city is alight with change, and the Stephen siblings are at the forefront. Vanessa, Virginia, Thoby, and Adrian are leaving behind their childhood home and taking a house in the leafy heart of avant-garde Bloomsbury. There they bring together a glittering circle of bright, outrageous artistic friends who will grow into legend and come to be known as the Bloomsbury Group. And at the center of this charmed circle are the devoted, gifted sisters: Vanessa, the painter, and Virginia, the writer.
Each member of the group will go on to earn fame and success, but so far Vanessa Bell has never sold a painting. Virginia Woolf’s book review has just been turned down by The Times. Lytton Strachey has not published anything. E. M. Forster has finished his first novel but does not like the title. Leonard Woolf is still a civil servant in Ceylon, and John Maynard Keynes is looking for a job. Together, this sparkling coterie of artists and intellectuals throw away convention and embrace the wild freedom of being young, single bohemians in London.
But the landscape shifts when Vanessa unexpectedly falls in love and her sister feels dangerously abandoned. Eerily possessive, charismatic, manipulative, and brilliant, Virginia has always lived in the shelter of Vanessa’s constant attention and encouragement. Without it, she careens toward self-destruction and madness. As tragedy and betrayal threaten to destroy the family, Vanessa must decide if it is finally time to protect her own happiness above all else.
The work of exciting young newcomer Priya Parmar, Vanessa and Her Sister exquisitely captures the champagne-heady days of prewar London and the extraordinary lives of sisters Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf.” – Publisher Summary

Vanessa and Her Sister: A Novel by Priya Parmar is a fictionalized version of the diary of Vanessa Stephen Bell, sister of Virginia Stephen Woolf. While Woolf was known for her writing, Vanessa was known more for being an artist. Both were members of the legendary Bloomsbury Group, which is represented marvelously in the novel. The tale is told via Vanessa’s diary as well as through telegraphed communications, mostly between Lytton Strachey and Leonard Wolf.

Most of us are aware of Virginia Woolf’s struggles with mental illness, and due to this I had expected a somewhat dark and heavy story. Surprisingly, I found that Vanessa, Virginia, and the rest of these Bloomsbury fellows provided much entertainment with their various personalities and quirks. Not to fear, however, there was plenty of focus on Virginia’s mental illness and Vanessa’s struggles in dealing with it. Both of the women’s parents, as well as their beloved elder brother Thoby, had passed and the brunt of the responsibility for the demanding Virginia was Vanessa’s alone.

While I did enjoy the story, particularly the character interaction, I still found the novel to be a bit… dry, I suppose. Certain scenes dragged on impossibly long, and there were far too many characters to keep track of for this aging woman’s mind. Vanessa and Her Sister is an obviously well-researched work that is worth taking the time to read if only for the chance to be a fly on the wall during the infamous salons of the Bloomsbury group. Go and get you some, y’all!

Vanessa and Her Sister: A Novel by Priya Parmar: Available at a bookseller near you on December 30, 2014!

3 stars

Source: Ballantine Books {via NetGalley}

 

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Review: Saving Grace by Jane Green

saving-grace“Grace and Ted Chapman are widely regarded as the perfect literary power couple. Ted is a successful novelist and Grace, his wife of twenty years, is beautiful, stylish, carefree, and a wonderful homemaker. But what no one sees, what is churning under the surface, is Ted’s rages. His mood swings. And the precarious house of cards that their lifestyle is built upon. When Ted’s longtime assistant and mainstay leaves, the house of cards begins to crumble and Grace, with dark secrets in her past, is most vulnerable. She finds herself in need of help but with no one to turn to…until the perfect new assistant shows up out of the blue.  To the rescue comes Beth, a competent young woman who can handle Ted and has the calm efficiency to weather the storms that threaten to engulf the Chapman household. Soon, though, it’s clear to Grace that Beth might be too good to be true. This new interloper might be the biggest threat of all, one that could cost Grace her marriage, her reputation, and even her sanity.  With everything at stake and no one to confide in, Grace must find a way to save herself before it is too late.
Powerful and riveting, Jane Green’s Saving Grace will have you on the edge of your seat as you follow Grace on her harrowing journey to rock bottom and back.” – Publisher Summary

Grace and Ted Chapman have been married for over twenty years. On the outside they are the perfect couple. At home, however, Grace walks on eggshells every moment. After growing up with an abusive and mentally ill mother, Grace is well-versed in the daily routine of living with her verbally abusive husband, who is a highly respected novelist. When Ted’s assistant, Ellen, leaves her position due to family commitments, things begin to fall apart even more. Luckily, the couple soon runs into the perfect replacement at a local charity ball: Beth McCarthy. The mousy young woman seems to be a Godsend, filling Ellen’s shoes and then some, putting Grace and Ted’s lives back into perfect order.

Grace can’t help but feel a niggling doubt in the back of her mind, however, when she thinks about Beth. She has no reason to doubt her (at first) but there just seems to be something… amiss. Strange things begin happening in Grace’s home and her life, things that she soon attributes to Beth’s involvement. Ted brushes off Grace’s concerns and soon begins to view her as unstable, convincing her to see a psychiatrist, who immediately labels her with a serious diagnosis and puts her on heavy medication. As Grace’s condition deteriorates from bad to worse, she is hardly able to notice as her life is being taken over by the manipulative Beth, and as the gullible Ted is sucked into Beth’s web of deceit. Soon Grace is running for her life as she races to escape before Beth and Ted can have her committed to a psychiatric facility against her will. It is truly a race against time as Grace searches for a safe haven where she can recuperate and make sense of the events that have caused her life to fall apart.

Saving Grace by Jane Green is the story of a woman’s journey to seize her life back from those who have conspired to steal it – some intentionally, some not. Green takes on the highly charged subject of mental illness, misdiagnosis, and overmedicating that is seems to be so prevalent in today’s world. Saving Grace has a bit of an autobiographical aspect to it, as Green herself was not so long ago misdiagnosed and overmedicated by an overzealous doctor. You can view a video of her discussing her trials below:

Saving Grace: A Novel by Jane Green will be available for purchase at a bookseller near you on December 30, 2014!

2 stars

Source: St. Martin’s Press {via NetGalley}

 

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Review: The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler

the-bookstore“A witty, sharply observed debut novel about a young woman who finds unexpected salvation while working in a quirky used bookstore in Manhattan.

Impressionable and idealistic, Esme Garland is a young British woman who finds herself studying art history in New York. She loves her apartment and is passionate about the city and her boyfriend; her future couldn’t look brighter. Until she finds out that she’s pregnant.

Esme’s boyfriend, Mitchell van Leuven, is old-money rich, handsome, successful, and irretrievably damaged. When he dumps Esme—just before she tries to tell him about the baby—she resolves to manage alone. She will keep the child and her scholarship, while finding a part-time job to make ends meet. But that is easier said than done, especially on a student visa.

The Owl is a shabby, second-hand bookstore on the Upper West Side, an all-day, all-night haven for a colorful crew of characters: handsome and taciturn guitar player Luke; Chester, who hyperventilates at the mention of Lolita; George, the owner, who lives on protein shakes and idealism; and a motley company of the timeless, the tactless, and the homeless. The Owl becomes a nexus of good in a difficult world for Esme—but will it be enough to sustain her? Even when Mitchell, repentant and charming, comes back on the scene?

A rousing celebration of books, of the shops where they are sold, and of the people who work, read, and live in them, The Bookstore is also a story about emotional discovery, the complex choices we all face, and the accidental inspirations that make a life worth the reading.” – Publisher Summary

When I received my copy of The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler, I was ready to delve into a magical, lyrical world of books, eccentric characters, and possibly even romance. After all, that’s what these kinds of books tend to offer, correct? Well, I got one of the things I wanted, anyway:

“The store is narrow, about ten feet across, with a central staircase leading to a mezzanine. There are books on both sides of the stairway, in ever more precarious piles, and it is a hardy customer who will pick her way carefully up the stairs to the dusty stacks beyond. Downstairs is a tumble of books that I sometimes surreptitiously straighten. There are sections labeled with old notices, but they flow into each other in an unstoppable tide, so that history is compromised by mythology leaking into it, mystery books get mixed up with religion, and the feminist section is continually outraged by the steady dribble of erotica from the shelves above. When books do manage to make it to shelves, instead of being in piles near their sections, they are shelved double deep and the attempts at alphabetization are sometimes noticeable, with “A”s and “Z”s serving as bookends to the jumble in the center.”

Totally sounds like my kind of place. And it is here where 23-year-old Esme Garland lands after a series of unexpected revelations. Esme is a British transplant to Manhattan, a scholarship student at Columbia. She is deep in the flush of new love with the affluent Professor Mitchell Van Leuven and life is fabulous and wonderful. Until Esme discovers that she is pregnant. On the day that she plans to tell Mitchell, he breaks their relationship off before she can share the unexpected news.

Broke, single and pregnant, Esme despairs at how she will raise a child on her own. Just at the right moment, she sees that her favorite bookstore, The Owl, is hiring. She is already a regular at the store, and now she is brought into the fold of the store’s family – George, Luke, Bruce and Mary, and even the homeless Dennis, Tee and DeeMo. Esme is now able to support herself and prepare for the baby, and at the same time her life becomes ever so much richer because of her co-workers and customers. Things are moving along swimmingly, until… Mitchell comes back, and Esme’s world is thrown into chaos once again.

All right, y’all, I’m going to come right out and admit that the only reason I finished this book is because I wanted to see the outcome of Esme’s pregnancy and that whole situation. There really isn’t much of a plot here other than a quasi-love story, and to be honest, the novel’s end is ultimately ambiguous and unsatisfying as a whole.

The whole Esme/Mitchell relationship was bizarre and somewhat convoluted. Esme appears to be a spineless man-pleaser whose true feelings for Mitchell never appear to be completely clear, and Mitchell… oh, Mitchell. Mitchell is just crazy. Seriously, Meyler has written into Mitchell’s character shades of some kind of mental illness or mental disorder (BPD, perhaps?). Suffice it to say, Mitchell has Issues.

In all, the actual bookstore, The Owl, saved the day. The interactions between Esme and her co-workers and customers, were what ultimately held my interest. The loving descriptions of the tomes and the store itself, the disposition and quirks of The Owl’s staff – this is what managed to capture my heart. If you are a lover of books and bookstores, it may just capture yours, as well.

The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler. Buy it, read it, love it.

3 stars

Source: Gallery/Threshold/Pocket {via NetGalley}

 

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Weekly Review: Sunday, March 16, 2014

clover-drops-crop-2

It’s the middle of March already, and tomorrow is Saint Patrick’s Day! Over the last week the clouds have disappeared and the sun has been out, and the little birdies have returned to the tree outside my bedroom window to greet me each morning when I wake. Ahhh, I just love Spring! I hope the rest of you are enjoying these days of nature’s renewal as well. We didn’t get a whole lot of school work done over the past week: for one, it was so nice out we were outside much of the time, and it was also Spring Break for the public schools and The Boy had friends over to the house on many days. That’s the beauty of homeschooling, though – it’s flexible like that; it allows us to take advantage of a beautiful day or a special visit here and there. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, y’all – I could never have made a better decision than I did when I made the decision to homeschool The Boy. Enough of my soapbox climbing, though – let’s get down to business. I did manage to fit in some reading during all my time in the sunshine this week:

What I read this week:

What I’m currently reading:

Posts from the week of March 9th:

Upcoming posts for the week of March 17th:

  • Review: Uganda Be Kidding Me by Chelsea Handler
  • …and more!

Y’all, please don’t judge – I’m not a proponent of marijuana usage at all, although I did take some time to read a short book about the use of medicinal marijuana for pain management. A close family member suffers from terrible, chronic pain and just cannot get the pain under control – I’ve been researching many options, although since medicinal marijuana is not legal in our state, this definitely is not one. One book you do need to head straight out and look for is Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick. Following a high school senior on his 18th birthday – which is also the day he has decided to end his life – this novel is absolutely breathtaking. Many a tear were shed, folks. In the three novels of his I have read, Quick has proven to have a sensitive and knowledgeable view of mental illness and the torment it wreaks on its victims. He is officially on my list of faves. A Killing at Cotton Hill by Terry Shames was a nice, easy read – a small-town mystery starring an ex-chief of police and a feisty lawyer who team up to solve a murder. The Book of Lost Fragrances by M.J. Rose, book #4 in Rose’s Reincarnationist series, moved a bit slowly but turned out to be rather mesmerizing. And let us not forget my dear, dear Chelsea Handler – while Uganda Be Kidding Me was not as fabulous as some of her previous books, it was still quite wonderful – as long as you can handle loud women with an inappropriate, crass, twisted sense of humor (which I totally can!). Check out any of these books, y’all and you’ll have yourself a good read for the next week. Go on, now. Off to the library you go!

What did you read this week?

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