Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Roots of the Olive Tree

The Roots of the Olive Tree by Courtney Miller Santo
Review copy provided by Harper Collins via TLC Book Tours
Description from Goodreads:

Five generations of firstborn Keller women live in the same house on an olive grove in secluded northern California. Matriarch Anna is 112 and trying to be the oldest woman in the world-and succeeding heartily. Her daughter Bets, granddaughter Callie, great-granddaughter Deb, and great-great granddaughter Erin are also defying longevity norms. When a geneticist comes to study the women at the same time Erin announces she is pregnant with a firstborn boy, the Kellers′ roots are shaken wide open. Told in the third-person perspective of each of the women, the story and mystery of their existence is revealed in compulsive prose and compassionate drive.

My take:
Have you ever read a book where you thought, "I wish I knew these people. I want to talk to these people?" Well, I have and I want to know Anna from The Roots of the Olive Tree.  Anna is the matriarch of the Keller family and at 112 years old, she is still active both physically and mentally. I loved the way her life unfolded story by story. The reader is given the final product -- Anna at 112 years old - and she is such a great character. Feisty, wise, curious, Anna thinks she is set in her ways, but she is still interested in the world and in living. We are treated to small glimpses into her life - small pieces of the puzzle that come together to make the mature woman - which are interspersed within the current story. 

One of my favorite passages about Anna occurs pretty early in the book and, for me, set the tone for Anna for the remainder of the book:
All that the generations beneath her did not know worried Anna. She wanted to find someone who would listen to her. Really listen. The world hated old people. Even her own family thought they'd learned all they needed to know from Anna. She was no longer consulted, and she couldn't start a story without her daughter, or granddaughter, interrupting to finish it for her. They had no perspective, no understanding of how much still needed to be preserved. It would take a lifetime to tell them her secrets, and Anna had already lived two lifetimes. p.7
 Each generation of the Keller women is given her chance to tell her own life stories. Each woman is very different from the next, but they all have a strong family connection. A mother-daughter relationship may be strained, but the grandmother-granddaughter relationship fills any gaps. I loved the way this connection between generations is slowly developed so that the reader discovers the layers of relationship and understanding there is between these women.

This is a wonderful book about family, living life well, accepting people for who they are, loving, forgiving, adapting, continuing on. The common idea running through the story of living a long life and how that might be attained is fun, educational and inspirational. I don't know if there are any definite answers, but the story is wonderful and maybe just loving the life you live is an answer, but maybe not the answer.

The Roots of the Olive Tree is a book that I will be recommending to everyone who will listen to me. I loved the characters - especially Anna. I  also enjoyed reading about the olive trees, olive oil and all the lore surrounding them.

The thing I think I loved the most was the family story -  the family secrets that were kept, discovered, or revealed and the ordinary stories that became part of the family lore and ritual of bedtime stories.

 

About Courtney Miller Santo

Courtney Miller Santo grasped the importance of stories from listening to her great-grandmother, who lives in Northern California. She learned to write stories in the journalism program at Washington and Lee University and then discovered the limits of true stories working as a reporter in Virginia. She teaches creative writing at the University of Memphis, where she earned her MFA. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Los Angeles ReviewIrreantumSunstone, and Segullah. She lives in Tennessee with her husband, two children, and dog. Her most prized possession is a photo of five generations of the women in her own family.

You can find Courtney Miller Santo's website here.



Thursday, August 23, 2012

The White Devil

The White Devil by Justin Evans
review copy provided by Harper
Description from Goodreads:
 Sex, Death, and Boarding School

When seventeen-year-old Andrew Taylor is transplanted from his American high school to a British boarding school--the English, hypertraditional, all-boys Harrow School--he finds his past mistakes following him, with an added element of horror: visions of a pale, white-haired boy from Harrow's past. Either Andrew is losing his mind, or the house legend about his dormitory being haunted is true.

When one of his schoolmates dies mysteriously of a severe pulmonary illness, Andrew is blamed and spurned by nearly all his peers. In his loneliness and isolation, Andrew becomes obsessed with Lord Byron's story and the poet's status not only as a literary genius and infamous seducer but also as a student at the very different Harrow of two centuries ago--a place rife with violence, squalor, incurable diseases, and tormented love affairs.

When frightening and tragic events from that long-ago past start to recur in Harrow's present, and Andrew's haunting begins to seem all too real, he is forced to solve a two-hundred-year-old mystery that threatens the lives of his friends and his teachers--and, most terrifyingly, his own.


My Take:
I must state first thing that any book that deals extensively with Lord Byron will definitely be on my To Read List. A ghost story that involves Lord Byron in any way will be at the top of my To Read List. So, naturally, The White Devil was a book I just had to read.

There were so many things about this book that worked for me and only a few that kind of bugged me. I really think that what bothered me the most was the fact that the so-called experts on Lord Byron in the book kept saying that he was a spoiled rich kid. He was never really what we would consider rich -- he had a title and was able to trade on that and his fame and amazing looks to borrow money, but he was not rich.  Right after reading the book, I would also have said that I didn't like the ending very much. But after some reflection, I have to admit that the ending does work especially within the context of a Gothic novel. I had to think back on some of Mary Shelley's more obscure novellas and remember how dark and unhappy the endings were. 

The White Devil is an amazing, dark, haunting story that stayed with me long after I had finished reading it. It has everything a story about an extremely old, haunted, exclusive British boarding school needs. The atmosphere of the school as described in the book is almost palpable. The emotions run high and the story is very fast paced. I read it in just a day or two.  

There are many quotes of Byron's poetry -- which I love -- and I think it really worked in the story. Andrew is supposed to be a Lord Byron look alike and he is to play Byron in the school play, so we get to watch him discover Byron's poetry and learn a lot more about Byron's life than he had ever anticipated. The research into Byron's life is due to trying to figure out what exactly is going on at the school. I thought the ghost story plot line worked pretty well in the novel. It wasn't really what I was expecting, but it did surprise me at first and I guess that is a good thing. I enjoyed the descriptions of the extensive research involved in solving the mystery and I especially loved the development and growth of poet/housemaster Piers Fawkes' character throughout the book. 

I was very happy to see that the author quotes from "Darkness", one of my favorite Byron poems in the novel.

I had a dream, which was not all a dream
The bright sun was extinguished, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the external space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy Earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;

(Now that Byron has you in his grasp, you'll have to do a quick search to read the rest of the poem.Go read some Bryon.)






Friday, August 3, 2012

Miss Me When I'm Gone


  
Miss Me When I'm Gone by Emily Arsenault
review copy provided by William Morrow/Harper Collins
Description from Goodreads:
MISS ME WHEN I'M GONE is the story of the sudden death of Eliza, the author of Tammyland, a "honky-tonk" Eat, Pray, Love, and Jamie, the friend who finds in Eliza's next, unpublished manuscript a mystery that could lead to a killer.

A William Morrow Paperback Original
A brand new mystery from the author of the critically acclaimed Broken Teaglass and In Search of the Rose Notes

Gretchen Waters is most famous for her book Tammyland-a "honky-tonk Eat, Pray, Love," a memoir about her divorce and her admiration for Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, and Dolly Parton. When Gretchen dies falling on a set of stone steps outside of a library, everyone thinks it was an accident or a botched mugging. Jamie, Gretchen's best friend from college, certainly has no reason to suspect foul play. That is, until she becomes Gretchen's literary executor. Gretchen's latest manuscript is much darker than Tammyland-ostensibly about her favorite classic male country singers, it's really about a murder in her family that haunted her childhood. From beyond the grave, Gretchen's writing opens up a sinister new world, and suddenly, Gretchen's death seems suspicious-and then Jamie finds herself in danger as well..


My take:
I like a good mystery, and the premise of Miss Me When I'm Gone sounded really interesting.  But since I'm not really a fan of country music, I wasn't sure if I'd really like the book. While I'm not a fan of country music, I am very familiar with it - I did grow up in Oklahoma after all; so, I did know all the singers and the songs referenced and I had even seen many, if not all, of the specific performances discussed in the book. But, honestly, the country music subject didn't bother me -- it was really kind of fun and worked really well in this story.


I brought the book with me to the gym thinking I'd start it and if it didn't capture my interest, that was okay since I still got my workout. Well, the hour on the treadmill actually sped by and I just kept reading after I got home.  I was really caught up in the mystery - or mysteries. There are excerpts throughout the novel that are from the novel that Gretchen wrote as well as her research notes for her second novel that she didn't get to complete before she was killed. I found myself much more interested in the excerpts that were supposed to be from Tammyland, Gretchen's country-singer inspired book, than I thought I would be. The way author Emily Arsenault uses the Gretchen book and notes to help further her story was very well done and made the reading go quickly and I had fun gathering my own clues as I read the research notes and interviews. 


This is a mystery, obviously, but it is also a book about friendship, growing up, impending motherhood and a glimpse at how people and life can be so much more complicated that we might think. It is a very fast read and not too heavy. I read it in less than 24 hours because I just couldn't put it down. I would highly recommend this book.




 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling

Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling by Michael Boccacino
review copy provided by William Morrow/Harper Collins
Description from Goodreads:

Debut novelist Michael Boccacino invites readers into the world beyond the realm of the living in Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling, a Victorian gothic tale of the strange and supernatural. But all who enter this house must beware--for there is a price to pay for visitors who wish to save those they love. The story of a British governess and her young charges seduced by the otherworldly enticements of a mysterious mansion in the forest following the inexplicable death of the former nanny, this Tim Burton-like tale of dark fantasy is a bewitching treat for fans of horror and paranormal fiction, as well as readers who love creepy gothic tales and mysterious shadowy English manor houses. Not since Suzanna Clarke introduced Jonathan Strange to Mr. Norrell, and Neil Gaiman's Coraline crawled through a secret door into a twisted and sinister mirror world, has there been a journey as wondrously fantastic and terrifying as Charlotte Markham's adventures in the House of Darkling.

My take:
Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling was just as deliciously creepy and wonderfully Gothic as the cover description and blurbs state. I enjoyed every dark, creepy, haunting minute of reading this book.This was such an interesting book. I found it to be very Victorian Gothic but not really a horror story, although there is much that is disturbing and kind of startling in this laced-up Victorian village.


I can't really even begin to try to explain the story -- it would give too much away and might ruin the discovery for the potential reader. There is a very otherworldly feel to the book that just pulled me into the story - much like Coraline or any movie by Tim Burton. The basic premise is that Charlotte Markham has lost her husband and has taken the position of governess for the young sons of the widower, Mr. Darrow. When their nanny dies under mysterious and violent circumstances, she takes on that role as well - and then during the process of helping the boys deal with this new loss, finds herself in a very strange situation between the real world and another, shadow world that is somehow influencing the real one in some very negative ways. Any more explanation would just ruin things.


Suffice it to say, if you enjoy dark, Gothic tales of  the Victorian variety, this would be a great choice. I really loved this book -- despite - or because of some of the very creepy, disturbing events and ideas in it. This would make a great read for October - to set the mood for the month.