Tag Archives: eowyn ivey

Best of 2016: Book Edition, Part 2

This year I’m in the unusual position of having already written posts about almost every book in my top 5. Sometimes it’s harder to write about books that I really love because I just want to say, “It’s sooooo good,” but I’m happy to have longer musings to offer. Here are my favorite books of 2016!

5. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

Dead Wake Cover

I feel like I’ve read a great deal about World War II and very little about World War I. Thankfully Erik Larson, the wizard of history writing, turned his attention to that era. Dead Wake follows the events leading up to the sinking of the Lusitania, one of the catalysts for the U.S. entering the war in Europe. This being Eric Larson, he gives the full scope of the event, from the ship’s passengers to military intelligence to the soldiers aboard the German submarine. I consider it one of his most fascinating works. (You can read my full review here.)

4. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

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As Gillian Flynn did in Gone Girl, Paula Hawkins plays with timelines and perspectives. The Girl on the Train follows Rachel, an alcoholic woman who becomes interested in a couple she sees from the train every day. Although this thriller is mainly focused on plot, I keenly felt Rachel’s loneliness and desperation. Other perspectives come from Anna, the new wife of Rachel’s ex, and Megan, the girl she watches from the train. I relished looking into these flawed women’s psyches. (You can read my book-to-film comparison here.)

3. To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

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Eowyn Ivey made us wait four years for her second novel, but this was worth the wait. To the Bright Edge of the World is another piece of exquisite historical fiction set in Alaska. While her first novel focused on quiet moments, this one has plenty of action as Colonel Allen Forrester leads an expedition up the Wolverine River. Yet their journey also contains simple moments of human connection. Back at the military barracks, his wife Sophie pursues an interest in photography that raises eyebrows with the other wives. A beautifully written, beautifully human novel with a hint of the uncanny. (You can read my full review here.)

2. Room by Emma Donoghue

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Room is a triumph of character voice. The story of a woman held captive in a single room is narrated by her five-year-old son Jack, who has never known the outside world. Even though I committed the cardinal sin of watching the movie first, I could appreciate what Emma Donoghue achieved with this novel. Jack has a distinctive way of speaking that reflects his age and bizarre upbringing. I wanted to jump through the page and hug him, but that’s not to say that the story is saccharine. As was mirrored in the film, Ma and Jack are perfectly imperfect.

1. Three-Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell

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Suzanne Rindell is my favorite new author on the literary fiction scene. Three-Martini Lunch deals with three characters searching for literary success in 1958 New York City. As in her first novel The Other Typist, Rindell explores the ways that we present ourselves to others and how small decisions shape our lives. The narrators range from Cliff, a deluded Greenwich Village hipster, to Miles, a black man coming to terms with his identity. Even as they made mistakes, I cared so much for these characters and hated to leave their world. I suspect this isn’t the last time Suzanne Rindell makes my list. (You can read my full review here.)

Thanks for joining me on this year-end review!

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Conversations on the Alaskan Frontier

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It’s been four years since The Snow Child was published, and I’ve been waiting impatiently for the next book by Eowyn Ivey. Now that I’ve read To the Bright Edge of the World, I can see why it took several years to write. She stays within her niche of magical realism on the Alaskan frontier, but the story is much more complex and probably required extensive research.

To the Bright Edge of the World contains three narrative threads. We have the diary of Colonel Allen Forrester as he leads an expedition up the uncharted Wolverine River and the diary of his wife back at the military barracks. Then there’s the frame narrative of Walt Forrester, the Colonel’s great-nephew, sending the documents to a young museum curator. Ivey creates an excellent juxtaposition between the modern world and the wilderness encountered by the expedition. There’s a sense of what has been lost, but the novel doesn’t take a despairing tone. In fact, Sophie Forrester’s interest in photography shows how technology can sometimes provide new ways to appreciate the natural world.

I enjoyed the novel because it covers a wide range of emotional experiences. The Colonel’s diary has adventure and drama, but also had smaller character moments between members of the expedition. Sophie’s story deals with the conflicting desires and expectations in the life of a female intellectual. As one would expect from Ivey, there are endlessly gorgeous descriptions of nature and musings on the human experience. I wouldn’t necessarily expect to be interested in glaciers or hummingbirds’ nests, but I am when she writes about them.

This post reminded me of my internship at Coffee House Press when I was privileged to interview Eowyn Ivey for their blog. I would encourage you to check it out because she gives such lovely, thoughtful answers, and in hindsight I’m pleased with my questions as well. After reading To the Bright Edge of the World, one of her answers jumped out at me. In response to a question about common advice for aspiring writers, she said, “Write because you love to read, because you want to make a contribution to this wonderful conversation that has been going on for thousands of years.” Her latest novel is a conversation in itself—between frontiersmen and Native culture, between past and present.

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The Intern Life for Me

Last week I finished an internship with Coffee House Press. One of my goals this year was to intern with a local literary press, and it was very satisfying to meet that goal. Of course, it meant that the last three months were extremely busy. I was an intern during the week and a bookseller on the weekends.

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Although the internship was unpaid, the local presses usually pay their interns in books. It was fun to pick out books to take home, and as my pile grew taller, I felt like this couldn’t possibly be allowed. I doubled and tripled up on a few titles that I thought might make good gifts. Despite that, I needed to create a Coffee House section on one of my shelves. It will be a long time before I can say that I have nothing to read.

I truly have no complaints about my internship experience. I was a web marketing intern, but after helping with a website transition, I was able to try editorial work as well. One of my favorite duties was working on the Coffee House blog. The highlight was interviewing Eowyn Ivey, the author of The Snow Child, via email. You may remember her from my best books of 2012. How often do you get to ask a new favorite author about her reading and writing habits? In my world, never! If you’re interested, here’s a link to the interview.

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I was sad to see my internship end. I hope to have much more involvement with the local literary scene in the future, but for now I’m planning to enjoy a much-needed break. That should mean more time for reading and getting creative. Until next time, Gentle Readers!

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Best of 2012: Book Edition, Part 2

These five books are so wonderful that most of them have already been mentioned on the blog. Still, they each deserve another moment in the sun. Here are my favorite books of 2012!

5. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl is not a thriller that you can enjoy and then forget about the next day. More likely you’ll to want to reread it searching for clues and tell all your friends. This story of a disappearing wife and her suspicious husband moves beyond the thriller genre to be an all-around stellar book. As I said in my original review, it’s part mystery, part thriller, part relationship drama. You may think you know where it’s going, but you’re probably wrong. There’s more to Gone Girl than meets the eye.

4. The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey

This is Eowyn Ivey’s first novel, and I can only hope it’s the first of many. (A synopsis can hardly do it justice, but I tried.) I have rarely seen such intricate, beautiful writing in contemporary fiction. It is a novel of juxtaposition: darkness and light, sweltering heat and bitter cold. From Mabel’s first description of the unsettling silence of the Alaskan wilderness, I felt immersed in her claustrophobic world. The Russian fairy tale influence infuses the story with magic. The Snow Child is lovely from start to finish, and I was sad to see it end.

3. Sweet Tooth, by Ian McEwan

If I were to write an English paper about Sweet Tooth, it would be challenging just to pick a topic. Should I write about its exploration of the relationship between reader and writer? Should I analyze the complex narrator Serena Frome? I got to do that a bit in my original review, but there’s so much more I could say. Ian McEwan lays his characters bare in a style that keeps me fascinated. In terms of quality, Sweet Tooth is right on par with Atonement. A few spy-versus-spy plot twists and a surprise ending are just icing on the cake.

2. The Prisoner of Heaven, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

When I compliment the beauty of Eowyn Ivey’s writing, the only rival on this list is Carlos Ruiz Zafón. The Prisoner of Heaven is a continuation of both The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game. I was a little nervous to read it since The Shadow of the Wind is one of my all-time favorites. As it turns out, I should have had more faith in this incredible writer. He wisely focuses The Prisoner of Heaven on Fermin, a colorful secondary character whose story is not fully revealed in Shadow. Barely scratched the surface might be a more accurate description. As Fermin tells his story with characteristic wit and wisdom, the reader learns how the characters of all three novels are connected. If you’ll pardon me the pun, I was in heaven.

1. The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

John Green has become one of my heroes. I’m revealing my bias when I say that it brings me so much joy to see him succeed as he has with The Fault in Our Stars. This book is proof that young adult novels can be both respected and beloved by more than just teenagers. Hazel is the truest of narrators — she just happens to be sixteen and have cancer. I often tell customers that this book has everything to offer:  laughter and tears, romance and tragedy. We don’t always want our fiction to savor so strongly of real life, but I think the best fiction usual does. If you haven’t already, please read my blog post about it. The Fault in Our Stars is worth your time, I promise.

The Fault in Our Stars

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Read More for Four: October Report

This month saw a slowing down in Read More for Four. It’s so easy to get distracted in a world of wireless internet and Netflix. Still, I can’t blame Parks and Recreation for my failings. I also learned an important lesson, which is that if I don’t write a book review within a day of finishing the book, it probably won’t happen. The Snow Child deserves its own post, but all it gets is a quick recap.

Early in the month I finished reading The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, a pioneer story inspired by a Russian fairy tale. In 1920 a middle-aged couple has left their East Coast life to homestead in Alaska. Jack and Mabel come to Alaska for a fresh start, but also to escape the disappointment of being childless. In a moment of playfulness, they sculpt a child out of snow. The next day a wild little girl emerges from the woods and changes their whole existence. It’s a story of resilience, friendship, and love that I warmly recommend.

Next came The Casual Vacancy, which took a lot of reading energy. I thought that I would cleanse my palette with a light young adult book, but instead I just read . . . nothing. Well, a fresh month means a fresh start. Luckily the zealousness of September means that I’m still on track to meet my goal! There are two exciting new releases coming this month, and I can’t wait to dive in.

Here’s a link to this month’s book review:  The Casual Vacancy.

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