Review: The Heart’s Invisible Furies by @john_boyne

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Cyril Avery is not a real Avery or at least that’s what his adoptive parents tell him. And he never will be. But if he isn’t a real Avery, then who is he? Born out of wedlock to a teenage girl cast out from her rural Irish community and adopted by a well-to-do if eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun, Cyril is adrift in the world, anchored only tenuously by his heartfelt friendship with the infinitely more glamourous and dangerous Julian Woodbead. At the mercy of fortune and coincidence, he will spend a lifetime coming to know himself and where he came from – and over his three score years and ten, will struggle to discover an identity, a home, a country and much more.

After many recommendations from blogger friends (and especially from Renee), I finally sat down and read one of the most popular books this past year. And no, I didn’t read it all in a sitting, but I could have. It’s THAT good.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies was a beautiful, funny, sad, poignant and ultimately inspiring saga that tells the story of Cyril Avery, a young Irish boy who’s adopted by Maude and Charles -a very peculiar couple-. After getting to know her birth mother and her circumstances, we get to see him grow up, make friends, fall in love and find out who he really is. This book spans many years and is set in Dublin, Amsterdam and New York…

This is one of those books that I wish I hadn’t known anything before I read it, so I will be brief today. This is an absolute gem of a novel. It’s hilarious at times (seriously, the dialogues were witty and laugh out loud funny) and it will also make you cry. After all, aren’t those the best stories? Plus, there are lot of fun coincidences that made it even more enjoyable.

This was not a short book, but I flew through it like it was. It’s one of the most captivating sagas I’ve ever read and I would recommend it to absolutely everyone. Cyril Avery isn’t perfect and he behaves in a selfish way more than once, but I felt like I was inside his head and I could totally understand why he did those things.

In the end, crime fiction and mysteries are my favorite type of books, but John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies made me forget about those for two uforgettable days.

Doubleday, 2017

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Review: The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor

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In 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy little English village and looking for any taste of excitement they can get. The chalk men are their secret code; little chalk stick figures they leave for each other as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them right to a dismembered body, and nothing will ever be the same. In 2016, Eddie is fully grown, and thinks he’s put his past behind him. But then he gets a letter in the mail, containing a single chalk stick figure. When it turns out his other friends got the same messages, they think it could be a prank… until one of them turns up dead. That’s when Eddie realizes that saving himself means finally figuring out what really happened all those years ago. Expertly alternating between flashbacks and the present day, The Chalk Man is the very best kind of suspense novel, one where every character is wonderfully fleshed out and compelling, where every mystery has a satisfying payoff, and where the twists will shock even the savviest reader.

The Chalk Man has been one of the most talked about books in the last few months. Everyone was reading it and writing about it. Some raved about it, others were a bit disappointed. It seemed to be quite a polemic book, but still, I couldn’t wait to dive into it because of the comparisons to IT, Stranger Things and Stand By Me (I’m a big fan of those three). So I finally sat down one morning and read it from beginning to end.

The Chalk Man was a truly addictive read for me. I didn’t think about anything else while I got to know about the kids and the chalk figures: I read it compulsively, trying to guess what had happened all those years ago. I liked the atmosphere, the 80s flashbacks and wanted to know what was going on in the present, too. I didn’t love the characters that much, but that was okay because I was really enjoying the story. Sometimes that happens.

However, when I got to the ending, I realized I didn’t feel as satisfied as I had hoped. I liked the book enough and thought it was well-written, it had great ideas and enjoyed some aspects that I can’t really mention now because of spoilers. But the main mystery ended up being a major disappointment. I usually love this kind of “tragic endings” but I didn’t care much about this one.

I liked CJ Tudor’s writing and the way she kept me guessing until the very end. It’s obvious that she loves the 80s and all that “retro nostalgia”, and I really appreciate that. This was a great debut novel, but I think the mystery lacked a bit of that “memorable” feeling I look for when reading this type of books. Also, Nicky’s character was kind of underused and I wanted to know more about her (despite her obvious similarities to IT’s Beverly).

Overall, I enjoyed The Chalk Man and would recommend it if you enjoy mysteries and coming of age stories. At the same time, I can’t really say it I will remember it forever.

Netgalley, Michael Joseph, 2018

Review: The Road to Bittersweet by Donna Everhart @wordstogobuy @KensingtonBooks

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Set in the Carolinas in the 1940s, The Road to Bittersweet is a beautifully written, evocative account of a young woman reckoning not just with the unforgiving landscape, but with the rocky emotional terrain that leads from innocence to wisdom. For fourteen-year-old Wallis Ann Stamper and her family, life in the Appalachian Mountains is simple and satisfying, though not for the tenderhearted. While her older sister, Laci—a mute, musically gifted savant—is constantly watched over and protected, Wallis Ann is as practical and sturdy as her name. When the Tuckasegee River bursts its banks, forcing them to flee in the middle of the night, those qualities save her life…

The Road to Bittersweet came exactly at the right moment for me. This past month has been a bit difficult because of work stuff and I tried to keep myself busy, so I didn’t read as much as I usually do. However, I loved this book from the moment I started it, and even though it took me almost a week to finish it, I must say I adored every page. I had a feeling it would eventually drag a little because of the slow pace, but the truth is that it kept me engaged the whole time. I highly recommend it.

The Education of Dixie Dupree was one of my favorite books last year and I was excited to dive into Donna Everhart’s new novel. That being said, I was instantly surprised when I started reading it because although both books are set in the southern United States, in my humble opinion, they have nothing else in common. Dixie Dupree was a tougher read, dealing with darker themes and featuring a more cynical perspective. On the other hand, The Road to Bittersweet had more of an “epic” feeling and I think it was much more hopeful and innocent in some ways.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a happy book. It’s actually so dramatic that for the first 50%, I kept wondering how could anyone endure so many tragedies and still be willing to go on. I loved the Stamper family and wanted them to be happy, but Donna Everhart kept making that particular goal less clear with every page. So I guess the title fits perfectly, since this novel truly felt like a journey. The Road to Bittwesweet tells us all about Wallis Ann’s coming of age (although not your usual one by any means) and how families never give up, even under the worst of circumstances.

The book was emotional (I cried when something terrible happened) but it never felt overly sentimental, I think it portrayed everything in a very realistic way and I loved the writing. As for the characters, Wallis Ann was amazing, I loved everything about her and I could understand her jealousy and insecurities as well. She was fourteen years old, after all. She was the main protagonist of the story, but it was nice to read about Laci, Seph, the parents, and Clayton too.

All in all, this was such a beautiful book that I would recommend it to all those looking for a different kind of historical read, one that deals with a family’s struggle to live happily ever after. I removed part of the blurb because I feel it reveals way too much and it’s better to read it without knowing some things.

Edelweiss, Kensington, 2017

Review: The Secrets on Chicory Lane by @RaymondBenson @skyhorsepub

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Sixty-one-year-old Shelby Truman, a romance novelist, has received a request to visit her childhood friend, Eddie, who is on Death Row. Though mentally ill, Eddie is scheduled to be executed for the disturbing, brutal murders of his wife and unborn child. As Shelby travels home to Texas for the unnerving reunion, she steps back into memories of her past, recalling her five-decade-long relationship with Eddie in order to understand what led the beautiful but troubled boy who lived across the street to become a murderer. Shelby and Eddie used to visit an abandoned fallout shelter in his backyard, their “secret hiding place” where they could escape Eddie’s abusive father, enjoy innocent playtime, and, later, adolescent explorations. As they grow increasingly close, a tragedy occurs one July fourth, an event that sets in motion a lifelong struggle against an Evil–with a capital “E”–that has corrupted their all-American neighborhood. With only a few days left for Eddie to live, Shelby braces herself for a reunion that promises to shed light on the traumatic events that transpired on her street, changing everything Shelby thought she knew about the boy on Chicory Lane.

I don’t know what I expected from The Secrets on Chicory Lane but it was definitely not what I got. And I don’t really know how to describe this book. Is it a mystery? Not really. But it’s definitely suspenseful. And it’s also sad and memorable and it won’t leave anyone indifferent.

I admit I wasn’t sure I would like it when I started reading. The writing was not what I expected and at first, I didn’t feel I’d enjoy the novel’s structure. This was a weird one. The narration was told entirely from Shelby’s point of view, only she tells us her life story instead of focusing on the present matters. I thought the present would be important, but it was not. Yes, we know that Shelby is traveling to Texas, but what actually matters are her thoughts, as she recalls her relationship with Eddie during five decades, from the time when they were kids until the last time she saw him during the trial.

While I didn’t think much of it during the first chapter, as soon as I started reading about Eddie and Shelby’s relationship, I was hooked. Theirs was one unforgettable tale and I was so immersed in their story that I almost didn’t want to finish the book. Shelby was a character that grew on me as I got to know her better. I definitely thought she made some mistakes (who hasn’t?) but she was a good person overall. Eddie… truthfully, I didn’t like him from the very first moment he was introduced, but I felt sad for him anyway.

As much as I liked The Secrets On Chicory Lane, I can’t say I was surprised by how the story progressed. I thought I knew what had happened and eventually, I was right. It was still heartbreaking and it definitely made me feel uneasy, but I believe it was the right way to finish the story.

This is not a happy book by any means and it touches several themes that make it a tough read sometimes. This book makes you reflect on how childhood experiences can affect our life paths, and how easily things could’ve been different.

Netgalley, Skyhorse Publishing, 2017

 

Review: Hum If You Don’t Know The Words by @BiancaM_author @PutnamBooks

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Life under Apartheid has created a secure future for Robin Conrad, a ten-year-old white girl living with her parents in 1970s Johannesburg. In the same nation but worlds apart, Beauty Mbali, a Xhosa woman in a rural village in the Bantu homeland of the Transkei, struggles to raise her children alone after her husband’s death. Both lives have been built upon the division of race, and their meeting should never have occurred . . . until the Soweto Uprising, in which a protest by black students ignites racial conflict, alters the fault lines on which their society is built, and shatters their worlds when Robin’s parents are left dead and Beauty’s daughter goes missing. After Robin is sent to live with her loving but irresponsible aunt, Beauty is hired to care for Robin while continuing the search for her daughter. In Beauty, Robin finds the security and family that she craves, and the two forge an inextricable bond through their deep personal losses. But Robin knows that if Beauty finds her daughter, Robin could lose her new caretaker forever, so she makes a desperate decision with devastating consequences. Her quest to make amends and find redemption is a journey of self-discovery in which she learns the harsh truths of the society that once promised her protection.

It’s already October but I’ve found another favorite. Hum If You Don’t Know The Words will definitely make my Best Of 2017 list and it’s already one of those books I know I will keep recommending to everyone. I devoured this beautiful novel in less than two days and I highlighted many quotes and dialogues, which is always a great sign. I haven’t felt this way since I read The Trouble With Goats and Sheep, which, incidentally, has a similar main character, which must be part of the reason why I love them both.

I was recommended this book by two of my favorite bloggers, Renee and Susie. Like them, I was attracted to this story because of the comparisons to two of my favorites: The Help & The Secret Life of Bees. And yes, I can see the resemblance, especially when it comes to female friendship and racism (although the stories are obviously really different). I’m happy to say that Hum If You Don’t Know The Words deeply moved me and left a lasting impression too. I won’t forget about this novel.

This is the story of two women: Robin Conrad, a nine-year-old white girl, and Beauty Mbali, a black woman searching for her daughter. These two characters have apparently nothing in common, but their lives will connect in a wonderful way. Most of the reviews I read praised Beauty’s narration and I agree that hers was a heartbreaking and engaging story. I admired her courage and determination. But I also fell in love with Robin’s perspective (and I admit I totally didn’t see that first “twist” coming). I get that she acted too mature for her age, but I’ve realized I don’t mind that when reading fiction, as long as it helps with the story. And yes, I’m fully aware that the last part of the story wasn’t realistic at all, but I was enjoying the book so much that it didn’t even bother me. I deeply enjoyed reading about Robin’s relationship with Cat, her aunt Edith (whom, despite her flaws, I really liked!), and, of course, Beauty and her Jewish neighbour.

What I liked the most about Hum If You Don’t Know The Words was that both women showed us two different perspectives of the same world. By following Beauty’s journey, we learn about students protests and racial conflicts and we also get a glimpse of how the world used to treat black women. Beauty’s difficult relationship with her daughter Nomsa was also key in understanding how everything worked back then. How could she possibly come to terms with her daughter’s decisions? On the other hand, Robin’s story was more focused on grief, innocence and it shed light on a different kind of prejudice as well: homosexuality in the 70s South Africa.

One thing that I found extremely interesting was the portrayal of Robin’s parents. They were clearly racists but the author didn’t try to turn them into “villains”; in fact, they were really good with Robin -especially her father-. Like with Lightning Men, I find it so shocking that people could behave that way and discrimination wasn’t even unusual. Even Edith, who clearly prides herself on being modern and tolerant, has a very disturbing scene that made me feel quite ashamed.

As you can see, I could talk about this book for ages, but I don’t want to spoil the experience for you. Hum If You Don’t Know The Words is a wonderful exploration of grief, loss, tolerance, friendship and family and it helped me learn a lot about the Apartheid and South Africa. I wish all books I read made me feel this way.

P.S; Not that it’s important, but this is probably also my favorite book title of the year.

P.S 2: I was so happy when Rodriguez was mentioned! I love him and the fact that he was so popular in South Africa.

Netgalley, G. P. Putnam’s Sons , 2017