“I Am Pilgrim” by Terry Hayes – A Book Review

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Loved. Loved. Loved.

I cannot stop telling everyone I know that THIS is the book that they MUST read this summer. Normally I avoid spy-thrillers; in my past experience they tend to be formulaic and predictable with mediocre writing. Terry Hayes’ “I Am Pilgrim” totally blew up those misconceptions. I won’t bother with a detailed summary (the book jacket does an excellent job of recapping), but basically the book follows the path of a retired super spy officer who finds himself being pulled back into the intelligence game. Trust me, you are not going to run into any cliches here; what you’ll find is a well executed story that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

While on the longer side, once you are in, you will FLY through this novel. Hayes does an excellent job of maintaining and building momentum, while keeping his pacing consistent and even. What I enjoyed most is that Hayes writes for the smart reader – the type of person who doesn’t want everything explained but enjoys well-thought out details. With each chapter, you almost feel like part of the story, tagging along on Pilgrim’s coattails as he races around the world.

Oh, and the characters! Pilgrim is by far one of the best protagonists I’ve encountered – clever, witty, self-deprecating, but all in a way that makes you wish you could go grab a drink together.

There is so much that I enjoyed about this novel but don’t want to give away…. Needless to say, friends- please go and pick up a copy ASAP so we can discuss. Also, if this does turn out to be a series – I CANNOT WAIT.

Available for purchase from Amazon.com.

Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood

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Where to start when it comes to how much I enjoyed Naomi Wood’s “Mrs. Hemingway“?

I have to admit, 2014 so far has been a little lackluster when it comes to titles that I’ve strongly enjoyed. Mrs. Hemingway was the first novel that really captured my attention and had me staying up late to finish it off. While it will undoubtedly garner comparisons to Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife, the two novels only overlap in the slightest. While McLain chose to focus on the narrative of Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley, in Wood’s book we spend time with all four Mrs. Hemingways- Hadley, Pauline (Fife), Martha and Mary.

The real strength of the novel is how Wood makes you feel for and about each wife. Each is given equal room to tell her story, and a unique clean voice. All of the women are equally sympathetic, and I couldn’t say I favored one wife over the other. I thoroughly enjoyed how Wood links together each of their sections with a delicate hand – the interlocking of their stories never felt forced, and the recurring themes and imagery were subtle and well-written.

Though Papa Hemingway obviously plays a rather substantial part, I appreciated that Wood stayed focused on the four very deserving and achieving women who often get hidden in his shadow.

This novel is currently available on Amazon.com (where I purchased my copy) in both hardcover and Kindle format.

xo The Book Bird 

The Traitor’s Wife by Allison Pataki – A Review

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Based on all of the quiet buzz that is happening around this novel (the movie rights were sold earlier this year), I had higher expectations. Allison Pataki’s “The Traitor’s Wife” is basically a B-rate piece of historical fiction.

My main beef with this book was that the plot plods along without much purpose, and I felt absolutely no urgency to finish it. Fortunately Pataki provides the reader with a decent protagonist, former-farm girl Clara Bell, who finds herself in the employ of the Shippen family follow the death of her last living relatives. It is there that she encounters the Shippen’s youngest daughter, Peggy, future wife of Benedict Arnold.

While the novel focuses on the relationship between Clara and Peggy (somewhat enjoyable/believable), it is somewhat embarrassingly short on actual history. The total number of conversations around politics, or scenes that explained Peggy’s motivations, could probably be counted on two hands in this lengthy novel.

An OK read for the beach, I found myself skimming more than absorbing. That said, this novel is available via the NYPL (both in physical and eReader formats) – definitely a book I would suggest borrowing vs. buying.

xo The Book Bird

The Appetites of Girls by Pamela Moses

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Over the weekend I got into the latest novel from Pamela Moses, “The Appetites of Girls.” I really enjoyed this coming-of-age novel that is told in character focused vignettes. Francesca, Opal, Setsu and Ruth each have their own well-written individual voices, but when combined create a story that is rich and enveloping. While Moses doesn’t visit any new themes per-se (food issues, first relationships, self-confidence, etc), The Appetites of Girls still feels fresh thanks to the characters she overlays these familiar plot lines with. Broken up into several “parts”, the novel maps out the girl’s lives from their pre-teen years to post-graduation from the prestigious Brown University where their stories intersect.

I don’t know what it is specifically that really resonated with me about this novel, but I really liked it. I suspect that it could be that a lot of the emotions and “life moments” are very relatable (how I miss my college years!). The fact that the writing is fresh and each story clips along with purpose also helped.

Overall, definitely recommend as a solid summer read (though don’t expect a fluffy “beach read”) and would recommend picking up!  Available for pre-order from Amazon.com and on shelves June 26th- just in time for reading in your favorite warm weather spot!

xo The Book Bird
Note: I received an advance copy for review via the publisher.

Keep Your Friends Close by Paula Daly – A Book Review

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Before I even start this review, can we just talk about the cover?? Um….

It might be a good idea to judge Paula Daly’s “Keep Your Friends Close” by its cover. Seriously, it goes to crazy town. And not the good crazy town of “Gone Girl,” but more like the half-baked realm of Lifetime. Honestly, this actually would have probably made for a better Lifetime movie than novel (though, I guarantee they already have a film with this exact plot).

Hard-working mother who is focused on success career loses track of her marriage, husband is seduced by her shady “best friend,” life falls to pieces, blah blah. How will she fight back to expose the truth and get her life back? You know the story, and you can probably figure out how it is going to play out. Though the plot may have been a little far-fetched, if Daly had focused on building out realistic characters and created any sense of urgency, the book would have been OK. Instead, what you get is soggy and so predictable that it’s really not much fun to read.

A few spoiler-related thoughts that you are going to have to highlight to read below:
- Who doesn’t know their best friend is crazy? Really? If you have no idea that your best friend has lied about her family, past and all kinds of very basic things, that really makes you a bad friend. 
- I don’t know why Natty fights to keep Sean. He’s really such a loser that she should be counting her blessings that her psychopath friend wants to take him off her hands. 

Launched in the UK before it hits US shelves, I’m curious to see what reviewers across the pond have to say. Available from pre-order from Amazon.com and on shelves in September 2014.

xo The Book Bird

Disclaimer: An advance copy of this book was provided to me for the purpose of review via the Publisher.

Close Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian

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Chris Bohjalian is one of my favorite authors, so I was particularly pleased when I was provided advance access to his new novel, “Close Eyes, Hold Hands.” Though the protagonist is a teenaged girl, don’t confuse this for YA literature.*

Emily Shepard is your average under-achieving suburban high-schooler, until the nuclear power plant in her town melts down. Compounding matters, her father, is being singled out as the individual directly at fault. The plot nicely combines a coming of age story with the semi-apocalyptic backdrop of nuclear disaster, in a format that is written for adults. There is adventure without any skimping on the character development. One of the things I enjoy most about Bohjalian as an author, is his ability to write his characters in a way that is believable. Emily comes to life on the pages; she is difficult, irrational and a character I liked spending time with.

Clocking in at a little under 300 pages, I don’t think I would have liked any more or less. While Emily, as the the protagonist, is front and center, it would have been nice for some of the other characters to be a little bit more fleshed out. Yet, at the same time it works– the story is being told from a somewhat self-centered teen, and life becomes very transient following the accident.

One random thought: As someone who does not have a scientific background (I still don’t understand the how microwaves work…), I struggled with understanding what a nuclear meltdown looks like and how it happens. I get that there was an explosion, radioactive fallout, etc but how does that happen? What are the mechanics? Spent some time on Wikipedia afterwards which was helpful, but an appendix or some type of illustration would be cool.

Available for pre-order from Amazon.com and on shelves July 8th.

xo The Book Bird

Disclaimer: I received an advance copy for the purpose of review via the publisher.

*In fact, based on some of the subject matter, I would definitely not recommend this to younger YA readers.

The Mirk and the Midnight

16055662As an avid fan of Nickerson’s first novel, “Strands of Bronze and Gold,” her sophomore follow-up “The Mirk and the Midnight Hour” was one of the novels I most highly anticipated this year. Set in the south at the start of the Civil War, its protagonist, the teenaged Violet Delancey, finds her world changing rapidly. Her father is off to war, and has left behind a new stepmother and sister, and a young cousin has also recently been deposited at the family farm. In addition, the arrival of mysterious group of travelers in town, coincides with the discovery of a Union soldier hidden in the woods.

What I enjoyed most: As with her previous novel, I found it very easy to get involved in this novel. Nickerson is a strong storyteller, and for the most part allows the reader to suspend disbelief.

Where I struggled: The language was not always consistent- the story will grab you, but occasionally you’ll be struck by the odd word here or there that just doesn’t sit right. Example: an old woman who uses the word “yup.” Eh… no. Some of the characters can be a bit too one dimensional. Some characters (like Violet) get a lot of love, whereas others rely too heavily on existing stereotypes (ex. Sunny… who is the WORST). Pacing was also off- I got bogged down in the middle of the novel, and in my opinion it took way too long to get to the meat of the story (around the 40% mark).

Overall, a fun read- though I have to admit “Strands” continues to be my favorite of the two. Looking forward to Nickerson’s third novel! “The Mirk and the Midnight Hour” is on shelves now and available for purchase from Amazon.com.

Side note: “The Mirk and the Midnight Hour” is an inventive re-telling of the legend of Tam Lin. I highly recommend doing a Google search for the original story AFTER you’ve finished the book as you will definitely be impressed with the imaginative way that Nickerson weaves aspects of the traditional into her novel.

xo The Book Bird