Thursday, August 8, 2013

Felicity Reads: Someday, Someday, Maybe

Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham

Someday, Someday, Maybe, a novel by actress Lauren Graham, is about a young aspiring actress in 1995 New York. I’ll admit that whenever I see that an actress (or other celebrity) has written a book, I’m immediately wary, so let me first say upfront that I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of this novel. The writing was decent, the characters felt very real, and the plot, if a little predictable at times, all held together. It took me a little while to warm up to the book, partially because it just wasn’t the type of thing I was in the mood to read (but there’s a waiting list at the library, so I had to take it when I could), and I spent a fair amount of time exasperated with main character Franny – but then, what early twenty-something trying to find herself doesn’t exasperate the people around her? By the end, though, I genuinely cared about Franny and her friends, partially because they seemed to actually learn and grow through the course of the novel.

Because the book is about an actress, I’m sure there’s speculation about which anecdotes were actually drawn from Graham’s life or the lives of her friends; while I tried not to assume anything about the veracity of specific characters or incidents, Graham’s experience in the field shone through in the way she portrayed auditions, agency meetings, and more. And I found myself begrudgingly charmed – and sometimes thinking “hey, that’s useful” – by some of the aphorisms and life lessons that Franny learned and tried to adopt in her quest for self-improvement.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Felicity Reads: Rose Under Fire

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women's concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that’s in store for her?

When I heard Elizabeth Wein was writing another World War II novel, I was excited but a little concerned, because Code Name Verity was so amazing and original that I was afraid a sequel would either be less surprising or seem derivative. Basically, I wasn't sure even such a talented writer could pull it off again. BUT SHE DID. I don't want to get into specifics, because I want to let you discover Rose and her story for yourself, but you should absolutely read this for another fascinating, moving look at young women in WWII. (And to check in on some of the characters from Code Name Verity!)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Felicity Reads: A Murder at Rosamund's Gate

A Murder at Rosamund's Gate by Susanna Calkins

For Lucy Campion, a seventeenth-century English chambermaid serving in the household of the local magistrate, life is an endless repetition of polishing pewter, emptying chamber pots, and dealing with other household chores until a fellow servant is ruthlessly killed, and someone close to Lucy falls under suspicion. Lucy can’t believe it, but in a time where the accused are presumed guilty until proven innocent, lawyers aren’t permitted to defend their clients, and—if the plague doesn't kill the suspect first—public executions draw a large crowd of spectators, Lucy knows she may never find out what really happened. Unless, that is, she can uncover the truth herself.

This debut novel is a solid traditional historical mystery set against the backdrop of religious turmoil, plague, and the Great Fire in 1665-66 London. The author has a Ph.D. in history, which is obvious both from the general accuracy of the time period in the novel* and the way the text is gently educational, sort of like an American Girl book for adults. (I mean that in a good way.) It's nice to find a traditional murder mystery that's not "cozy" but also not trying to be overly edgy or obsessed with its own clever structure. I eagerly await the next in the series, next year.

* I'm no expert, so I can't say exactly how accurate it is, but I'm reasonably well informed and few things stuck out at me as seeming wrong. (And in her notes at the end, Calkins explains why she made some of the changes she did, which I always appreciate.)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Felicity Reads: Slumber

Slumber by Tamara Blake

When I saw that this was about a girl working as a cleaning woman at a mysterious manor house, I was hoping it would have some Gothic elements, but instead, it's pretty much straight paranormal. This was a quick read and entertaining at times, but nothing particularly memorable, and the writing and characterization were mediocre at best. There was at least one giant plot hole that bothered me, though the rules of magic in this world were consistent, which is a point in its favor. This wasn't terrible, but there's nothing in it that would make me recommend you go out of your way to read it.

(I got my copy from Netgalley.)

Felicity Reads: If You Find Me

If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

This is the compelling story of what happens when two sisters who grew up in isolation with their disturbed mother in the woods are brought back to civilization. While I couldn't put this book down, I sort of wish it had been a little longer and slower - things seemed to be resolved too quickly and easily, and a longer book would have allowed Murdoch the space to flesh out some of the complexities of the situation. Regardless, it was a fascinating, memorable read.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Felicity Reads: The Waking Dark

Whoa. I . . . just . . . whoa.

I always tell people that Wasserman's previous book, The Book of Blood and Shadow, is like The Da Vinci Code except actually good. Well, this one is like Stephen King's Under the Dome, except better. It deals with some similar themes of power and religion and drugs and evil in an isolated small town, but the overall plot hangs together better in this one, and, more importantly to me, the depth of the characterization made me really care what happened to the teenagers at the center of the story. Wasserman does a great job of seeding the action with genuine character moments that make the horrors of the story resonate even more.

This book is not for the faint of heart, which is either a warning or an encouragement, depending on your tastes. A lot of terrible things happen, and Wasserman is pulling no punches here. There were a few times when I literally stopped, said "Did that just happen?", and reread a sentence or paragraph. But it never feels like bad or scary things are happening just for shock value - it's all earned and meaningful, never gratuitous. And the tone manages to be simultaneously bleak and hopeful, which is one of my favorite combinations.

(Disclaimer: I know Robin and she gave me an ARC, but I wouldn't say I liked something I didn't!)

Monday, July 8, 2013

Felicity Reads: Going Clear

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright

As someone who's interested in the history and sociology of religion, I found this thorough look at Scientology to be fascinating. Wright does a good job of remaining matter-of-fact and even-handed even in the face of ridiculous or alarming claims.