The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi

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Jessamy “Jess” Harrison is eight years old. Sensitive, whimsical, possessed of an extraordinary and powerful imagination, she spends hours writing haiku, reading Shakespeare, or simply hiding in the dark warmth of the airing cupboard. As the child of an English father and a Nigerian mother, Jess just can’t shake off the feeling of being alone wherever she goes, and the other kids in her class are wary of her tendency to succumb to terrified fits of screaming. Believing that a change from her English environment might be the perfect antidote to Jess’s alarming mood swings, her parents whisk her off to Nigeria for the first time where she meets her mother’s family–including her formidable grandfather.

Jess’s adjustment to Nigeria is only beginning when she encounters Titiola, or TillyTilly, a ragged little girl her own age. To Jess, it seems that, at last, she has found someone who will understand her. But gradually, TillyTilly’s visits become more disturbing, making Jess start to realize that she doesn’t know who TillyTilly is at all.
Helen Oyeyemi draws on Nigerian mythology to present a strikingly original variation on a classic literary theme: the existence of “doubles,” both real and spiritual, who play havoc with our perceptions and our lives. Lyrical, haunting, and compelling, “The Icarus Girl” is a story of twins and ghosts, of a little girl growing up between cultures and colors. It heralds the arrival of a remarkable new talent.

I am going to start at the beginning to make this easier. I bought this novel (and it is signed by the author) 11 years ago. I still have the receipt in the book from Housing Works. I bought it August 15, 2005.

It has been on my to-be-read piles all this time (along with other books I’ve had for years.)

Back when I bought it the synopsis sparked my interest, but for many reasons, procrastination and reading hundreds of other books instead, it fell to the back of the piles.

Recently I did a Top Ten Tuesday list for my friend’s blog, Lazy Book Lovers. That week’s theme was: Top Ten Tuesday! Books That Have Been On Your Shelf (Or TBR) From Before You Started Blogging That You STILL Haven’t Read Yet.

That made me finally read it. But I found I didn’t like it very much. Which is a heartbreaking disappointment. I feel like I should have read it when I first bought it. Sometimes reading a story at a certain point in your life brings out different feeling about it. I might have felt differently 11 years ago, but I will never really know.

To be honest I was expecting something more eerie and supernatural and I ended up bored. I would put it down for days, and now I am 4 books behind on my Goodreads goal.

The thing that made me want to push through and finish was guilt. This book has been collecting dust in my room for a little more than a decade so I felt I owed it something. If I didn’t have this guilt I would have given up sooner and moved on.

So my issues: Which might be somewhat spoiler-ish.

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The Secret Ways of Perfume by Cristina Caboni

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From Goodreads: From Florence to Paris, a scent like no other can take you unexpected places . . .

Ten-year-old Elena lives in Florence with her cold and distant perfumier grandmother. Only when enveloped in aromas does Elena feel at home, and she has nurtured a unique gift: the ability to decipher the ingredients of a perfume, and experience the feelings it evokes.

Years later, Elena’s talent leads her to the cobbled streets of Paris. There she rediscovers an old, secret family perfume recipe that no other perfumier has been able to replicate.

As Elena begins to open her heart to new adventures she meets a man who is guarding his own secrets. From France’s sun-drenched lavender fields to the ancient heart of Italy, together they will follow a path of secret scents, distant memories and new hopes . . .

From Penguin:

Scents evoke the memories that linger in our minds and our hearts in this evocative, romantic, international bestselling novel.

“Remember Elena, perfume is the truth. The only thing that really counts. Perfume never lies, perfume is what we are, it’s our true essence.”

Elena Rossini has a rare gift: She has the ability to decipher the ingredients of a perfume from its scent alone. Passed down through generations of her family, Elena’s ability delights as easily as it overwhelms, especially when she catches a scent in the air that evokes painful memories of her mother.

For so long, Elena has avoided the world that was her past. But when a betrayal destroys her dreams for the future, her best friend lures her from Florence to Paris. There, Elena finds that when she is wrapped in the essences of flowers, herbs, and spices, she doesn’t feel quite so alone.

Once again immersed in the ancient craft of perfumery, Elena searches for a celebrated family recipe that no perfumer has been able to replicate. And as she opens herself up to secret scents and distant memories, Elena discovers the very essence of the woman she could become…

I received an ARC from Penguin’s First to Read.

I like both of those covers. The one with the Eiffel Tower is the Hardcover edition and the woman in the field is the Kindle edition.

The story was a bit clichéd and formulaic (ha – a pun), but I still enjoyed it very much. Some parts were repetitive and dragged, but overall I liked the characters and the journeys they went on.

I was invested in the mystery about Elena’s ancestor, Beatrice, and her lost Perfect Perfume, and how it affected generations of the Rossini women. The outcome was plausible and satisfying.

There were a few things I nitpicked about. I would have liked Elena and her mother to reconcile sooner so that the epilogue could have taken place a few years into the future. But I have my own head cannon for that.

The descriptions about the perfumes themselves were divine and delightful. I would usually read while commuting and I swear I could smell people’s perfumes more acutely than usual because of the beautiful prose. It made me want to have my own personalized perfume. There was even one part of the story that took place in a bakery, and I swear I could smell pastries.

4 out 5 Perfect Perfumes.

The After Party by Anton DiSclafani

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From the nationally bestselling author of The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls comes a story of 1950s Texas socialites and the one irresistible, controversial woman at the bright, hot center of it all.

Fortier is the epitome of Texas glamour and the center of the 1950s Houston social scene. Tall, blonde, beautiful, and strong, she dominates the room and the gossip columns. Every man who sees her seems to want her; every woman just wants to be her. But this is a highly ordered world of garden clubs and debutante balls. The money may flow as freely as the oil, but the freedom and power all belong to the men. What happens when a woman of indecorous appetites and desires like Joan wants more? What does it do to her best friend?

Devoted to Joan since childhood, Cece Buchanan is either her chaperone or her partner in crime, depending on whom you ask. But as Joan’s radical behavior escalates, Cece’s perspective shifts—forcing one provocative choice to appear the only one there is.

A thrilling glimpse into the sphere of the rich and beautiful at a memorable moment in history, The After Party unfurls a story of friendship as obsessive, euphoric, consuming, and complicated as any romance.

The After Party was a fast read. I got through 100 pages in a day easily – which was a plus.

They story was entertaining in a Real Housewives of Houston way, only set in the 1950’s. The women take care of their families, go to social functions and gossip.

My thoughts on the two main women:
Cece, given her childhood and family life I get her attachment to Joan, but it crossed over into a self-distructive obsession.

The secret Joan withheld was easy to guess before it was revealed. While it was tragic I didn’t feel overly sorry for her. Perhaps because she was spoiled. I guess, though, that her decisions are more true to life. Not everyone gets to pick themselves up when they hit rock bottom. In a more inspirational story she would have achieved her dreams to “go where the ideas are.”

I loved the descriptions of the fashion of the day. DiSclafani painted a clear picture for my mind to imagine the glamor and elegance. I thought of fashion sketches and illustrations of the 1950’s.

Overall I was luke-warm about The After Party. I liked it well enough, especially that I finished it in 4 days, but it’s not added to the favorite list.

3 out 5 cocktails.

A Fine Imitation, by Amber Brock

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Set in the glamorous 1920s, A Fine Imitation is an intoxicating debut that sweeps readers into a privileged Manhattan socialite’s restless life and the affair with a mysterious painter that upends her world, flashing back to her years at Vassar and the friendship that brought her to the brink of ruin.

Vera Bellington has beauty, pedigree, and a penthouse at The Angelus—the most coveted address on Park Avenue. But behind the sparkling social whirl, Vera is living a life of quiet desperation. Her days are an unbroken loop of empty, champagne-soaked socializing, while her nights are silent and cold, spent waiting alone in her cavernous apartment for a husband who seldom comes home.

Then Emil Hallan arrives at The Angelus to paint a mural above its glittering subterranean pool. The handsome French artist moves into the building, shrouds his work in secrecy, and piques Vera’s curiosity, especially when the painter keeps dodging questions about his past. Is he the man he claims to be? Even as she finds herself increasingly drawn to Hallan’s warmth and passion, Vera can’t supress her suspicions. After all, she has plenty of secrets, too—and some of them involve art forgers like her bold, artistically talented former friend, Bea, who years ago, at Vassar, brought Vera to the brink of catastrophe and social exile.

When the dangerous mysteries of Emil’s past are revealed, Vera faces an impossible choice—whether to cling to her familiar world of privilege and propriety or to risk her future with the enigmatic man who has taken her heart. A Fine Imitation explores what happens when we realize that the life we’ve always led is not the life we want to have.

I received an ARC of A Fine Imitation through First to Read.

This is the first time I have enjoyed a book I received from First to Read. Though to be fair, this is only the fourth book I have received from them.

I got caught up in the mystery of the past and present. My predictions about were Emil were mostly correct, though the details were off.
I was complete correct about Vera’s husband, Arthur, and that gave me satisfaction. I felt a range of emotions for the characters.I certainly liked Vera and rooted her to be free. Her mother was cold. Bea was entertaining, but also lost and untamed.

The people in the building were amusing because they were exactly how one would expect high society to behave. It sort of reminded me of Downton Abbey (in New York City) meets Edward Scissorhands. Emil being like Scissorhands, the shiny new toy to amuse the tenants. Once they grew bored they question who he was, and their feelings quickly turned.

Overall I thought it was a good story. The pacing was steady, the jump back and forth in time was smooth, some of the prose was poetic, and the ending was not only plausible but what I was hoping for.

4 out of 5 murals.

Review of Dodgers by Bill Beverly

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Dodgers is a dark, unforgettable coming-of-age journey that recalls the very best of Richard Price, Denis Johnson, and J.D. Salinger. It is the story of a young LA gang member named East, who is sent by his uncle along with some other teenage boys—including East’s hothead younger brother—to kill a key witness hiding out in Wisconsin. The journey takes East out of a city he’s never left and into an America that is entirely alien to him, ultimately forcing him to grapple with his place in the world and decide what kind of man he wants to become.

Written in stark and unforgettable prose and featuring an array of surprising and memorable characters rendered with empathy and wit, Dodgers heralds the arrival of a major new voice in American fiction.

I received a digital ARC from First to Read.

The story moves really slow and I would put it down for days with no motivation to continue. My first problem was I never connected with the characters. My second issue was that I was so bored by the story. I expected an action packed road trip adventure. What I got was a story as mundane as watching the trees and flat plains outside your backseat window.

Just when something exciting would happen, it was short lived. Then it was back to the boring road trip. Blah, blah, blah. I was not much of a fan of the style of writing either.

The climax wasn’t even climatic. I began to skim the last 90 pages but even then I was so bored I gave up. Honestly I don’t know or care how it ends.

1 out 5 snores.

Book Reviews: Another Day and Every Day, by David Levithan

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The eagerly anticipated companion to David Levithan’s New York Times bestseller Every Day

In this enthralling companion to his New York Times bestseller Every Day, David Levithan (co-author of Will Grayson, Will Grayson with John Green) tells Rhiannon’s side of the story as she seeks to discover the truth about love and how it can change you.

Every day is the same for Rhiannon. She has accepted her life, convinced herself that she deserves her distant, temperamental boyfriend, Justin, even established guidelines by which to live: Don’t be too needy. Avoid upsetting him. Never get your hopes up.

Until the morning everything changes. Justin seems to see her, to want to be with her for the first time, and they share a perfect day—a perfect day Justin doesn’t remember the next morning. Confused, depressed, and desperate for another day as great as that one, Rhiannon starts questioning everything. Then, one day, a stranger tells her that the Justin she spent that day with, the one who made her feel like a real person . . . wasn’t Justin at all.

Picked this ARC up at Book Con which was part of Random House’s First In Line giveaway.

I was relieved to read in the author’s note that this is not a sequel to Every Day, which I had not read, but a companion or “twin”. It’s the same time period but another character’s first person perspective. Another Day can be read on it’s own or first. Although I am sure the author prefers both novels gain readership. 😉

I could not put Another Day down. I felt a lot of nostalgia about my teen years and connected with Rhiannon.
On one particular evening I was very emotional. I decided to read before bed as a way to escape, only it was Chapter 10. I ended up crying the whole night, but I was also relieved by the outcome.

Book jackets always say not to quote from the ARC and to check the final print, but I am going to quote it anyway. This line really got the tears to stream down my face:

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Eeny Meeny (Helen Grace #1) by M.J Arlidge

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The “dark, twisted, thought-provoking” (#1 New York Times bestseller Tami Hoag) international bestseller—first in the new series featuring Detective Helen Grace.

Two people are abducted, imprisoned, and left with a gun. As hunger and thirst set in, only one walks away alive.

It’s a game more twisted than any Detective Helen Grace has ever seen. If she hadn’t spoken with the shattered survivors herself, she almost wouldn’t believe them.

Helen is familiar with the dark sides of human nature, including her own, but this case—with its seemingly random victims—has her baffled. But as more people go missing, nothing will be more terrifying than when it all starts making sense….

This is one of the free books I picked up at Book Con this year.

It was ok for me. Crime thriller novels are not my usual genre. I’m not usually into the who-done-it and the catch the serial killer before he or she strikes again, unless it’s on TV. Sometimes the story went really dark, and the details were quite gross. I understand the theme of the novel and painting a whole picture for the reader, but it was almost like torture porn.

There were also the typical red herrings, one of which I guessed early on.

On to the positive aspects. I liked the short chapters from different characters’ persectives. Not only did it make it a fast read, it also gave a wider view of the psychological consequences. The trauma and PTSD the characters went through was well written. As for the villain’s motive, while not justifiable was understandable. I don’t have much experience reading crime thrillers so I have this unfair assumption that the villains are written to be sick and twisted for no reason. Knowing her reasons made the character more dimensional than just someone who kills to further the story of the protagonist/lead detective.

I also liked the way the female detectives worked together on the case.

Fans of crime novels will enjoy this series. I think for now I am one and done. Unless I pick up a free copy of the next book at a convention. There is a whole series planned. My copy has a conversation with M.J. Arlidge and he said when he first discussed Eeny Meeny with his publishers he also verbally pitched the first seven novels in the Helen Grace series to them. The next book, Pop Goes the Weasel, comes out October 6, 2015.

2.5 out of 5 locked rooms.