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Book review: Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

14 Mar

In Audrey Niffenegger’s novel, Her Fearful Symmetry, Julia and Valentina Poole, two strange and precocious twenty-year old twins, find their world tipped sideways on the morning they receive a thick envelope from London: their aunt Elspeth, their mother’s own twin sister, has passed away and left them a flat. The conditions of the inheritance? They must both live there for one year before selling, and their parents are not allowed across the threshold.

Bordering the real-life Highgate Cemetary – home to the earthly remains of Christina Rossetti, George Eliot, and Karl Marx, to name a few – the flat is the perfect would-be launching pad for the twins, if either were inclined to launch. Instead, Julia and Valentina become increasingly involved with the lives of the people around them, including Robert, Elspeth’s grief-stricken, long-time love and Martin, an obsessive-compulsive crossword setter who lives upstairs. The twins also discover that the most elusive and devastating person in London may very well live, in a manner of speaking, in their own flat.

Where Niffenegger previously bent time in her best-selling novel, The Time Traveler’s Wife, here she bends space to the same great success. Her writing is as skilled as ever, but it’s her ability to weave an inventive and intriguing  plot with compelling characters, flawless atmosphere and perfect tone that makes her such an amazing talent, and this such an excellent book.

Her Fearful Symmetry is a gripping – one might even say haunting – read.

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This book was published by Scribner in September 2009. For more information, visit the author’s websiteThink about buying this book from an independent bookstore, otherwise maybe I will haunt you, because I’m an IndieBound affiliate. As always, happy reading.

FTC Disclosure: This review was based on my own copy of this book.



Book review: The Radleys by Matt Haig

25 Jan

Rowan and Clara Radley don’t know they’re vampires. Their parents, Helen and Peter, have kept the family secret for seventeen years, abstaining from their old, instinctual practices and raising their children as if human blood is not a part of their natural diet.

And everything is fine, until Clara decides to become a vegetarian, forsaking the meat that keeps her base desires at bay, until one moment, at a high school party, when she commits a devastating and life-changing act.

As funny as it is clever, The Radleys is fast-paced, heartfelt, and unique.  The darkness here is lighter than in Haig’s fantastic previous novel, The Dead Father’s Club, but his talent for rummaging around in the shade shines through nevertheless.

A quick read, but a worthwhile one, The Radleys shows just how intimate and complex – how bloody – the hidden corridors of the human heart can be.

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This book was published by Free Press in December in 2010. For more information, visit the author’s hilarious website. If your natural instinct is to purchase this book from an independent bookstore, as an affiliate of IndieBound who makes no money whatsoever from this gig but continues nonetheless, I encourage you fulfill that urge here. As always, happy reading.

FTC Disclosure: This review was based on a copy of the book that I received from the publisher.

(Something less than two) Book reviews: One Day by David Nicholls and The Space Between Tress by Katie Williams

10 Aug

This is what happens when you have a full time job: things get busy. You read two books in five days and they’re both fabulous, and you want to review them, you do, but you don’t have time because there are these things called paychecks and responsibilities that take up all the damn time in the world, and also (hey there!) precedence.

Loyal, patient readers, I tore through both One Day by David Nicholls and The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams, and not only because reading is my favorite mental break but because they were excellent.

Nicholls wrote an amusing, humorous, bright and sad novel that reminds me of Nick Hornby with a less distinctive style but just as much wit. The formulaic ending was, nonetheless, surprising; one that left me aching and recommending this book to anyone who’d like to get lost in the lives of two charming, interesting people before the summer ends.
Williams penned an equally engaging book, though her subject matter was much darker, more disturbing, and spot-on for readers, YA or otherwise, looking for a breath of fresh air unpopulated by vampires.

Oh, that I could create more time! But let’s face it: I’d just end up reading more.

What have you been reading? Any books you’ve been unable to put down?

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For more information about One Day, which was published by Vintage Comtemporaries in June 2010, visit, featuring some excellent YouTube “episodes” that exactly match the emotional tone of the book. To purchase this book in support of independent bookstores (which you well should), click here.

For more information about The Space Between Trees, published by Chronicle Books in June 2010, hop on over here, where you can get a free download the first seventeen pages of this gripping and excellent novel. You can also check out the author’s website here. Lastly, to purchase this book in support of independent bookstores (which you should do, again), click here.

Happy reading!

FTC Disclosure: The review of One Day was based on a copy of the book I won in a giveaway from the publisher. The review of The Space Between Trees was based on a copy of the book I borrowed from the public library.

Book review: The News Where You Are by Catherine O’Flynn

2 Aug

I’m tempted to say that any reader with even a modest familiarity with the mystery genre and half an eye will see right through the thin secrecy of The News Where You Are by Catherine O’Flynn, but I’d better not. I wouldn’t want to offend those hermits who have never heard of Agatha Christie, nor the half-eyed. (In fact, if you are reading with only half an eye, I commend you.)

Thankfully, the mystery is beside the point. The best part of this novel, published in July 2010, is the subtle, urbane way O’Flynn examines and contrasts the dreary exterior atmosphere of Birmingham, England, with the melancholy interior atmosphere of her characters.

The News Where You Are tells the story of Frank Allcroft, an awkward yet well-meaning local TV news presenter, whose preoccupation with the abandoned of the world colors his daily life. His main focus is delving deeper into the mystery of his predecessor, Phil Smethway’s freak death, but as he uncovers clues from several sources, he’s unsure what to do with his discoveries. Increasingly, he spends more and more time on his hobby, finding the next of kin of people who die alone in his city, prompting his affable wife Andrea to tell him, “Don’t turn weird, Frank. Don’t get all obsessed.” Additionally gripped by a strong need to understand and witness the demolition of his father’s “uncompromising, thuggish-looking” post-war architecture, Frank’s attention is turned more often to the past than the present.

If this all sounds oppressive and depressing, it’s surprisingly not. O’Flynn’s success in painting Frank with a light touch is deft and talented. Frank’s loving and playful conversations with Andrea are often humorous; his mindfulness in each moment with his pre-teen daughter, Mo, rings touching and true. Even his often-frustrating visits with his mother, a morose woman who chose to move into an assisted living center before the age of 70 to wait out her death, reveal him to be, at his core, a tender man.

O’Flynn’s talent for the soft and subtle was part of the brilliance of 2007’s What Was Lost, a fascinating and poignant story about a missing young girl. My love for that novel (and it was love) was the reason I picked up this one. However much The News Where You Are did not quite live up to my great expectations, O’Flynn is still at work here, still soft and subtle in only the best way, still spinning sensitive stories even those who’ve never heard of Agatha Christie (and, of course, the half-eyed) can truly appreciate.

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This book was published by Holt Paperbacks in July 2010. Visit here to read an interview with the author. If you’d like to purchase this book, why not support independent booksellers? Follow the link below, and happy reading.

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FTC Disclosure: This review was based on my own copy of this book.

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