Latest review: The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

By Ekta R. Garg

August 20, 2014

Rated: Bypass it

Four siblings try to escape their home circumstances by making radically different choices from one another. These choices force their lives to intersect, despite their best intentions otherwise, and the siblings ultimately understand that no matter how far away they go from home eventually they may have to return. Lisa Jewell brings to readers this plot in the somewhat insipid novel The House We Grew Up In.

Meg, Beth, and the twins, Rory and Rhys, live in a home with a whimsical mother and a father who exudes patience for their mother’s quaintness. But as she grows up, Meg realizes that what some call her mother’s quirk actually points to a serious problem. Her mother can’t let go of her physical possessions and finds ways to add to her growing collection. The house starts to get lost under cleaning supplies, newspapers, dinnerware, and dozens of other objects, and Meg finally admits the truth to herself even if her mother can’t: her mom, Lorelei, is a hoarder.

The hoarding becomes worse when tragedy occurs, and that tragedy causes a crack in the foundation of their family. As events start to unfold, the crack spreads and reaches the seams. Before long the seams widen and some of the family members leave home. One sibling turns into a compulsive cleaner; another moves out of the country. Without realizing it, however, they all continue to make life choices based on their experiences in the house. When another tragedy brings them back, they must work together to understand those experiences and decide who they will become in light of—and despite—them.

Author Lisa Jewell takes her time to develop the story and the characters. In true British fashion, the characters share dry wit and observations. Unfortunately the witty moments come few and far between. Jewell emphasizes the dramatic events, which readers may not mind in the beginning of the book. By the middle, however, fatigue may set in; readers won’t have much trouble guessing at the nature of the tragedies and their consequences. Jewell provides enough foreshadowing to take out much of the intrigue, and readers may decide to stick with the book only to see whether they guessed correctly. In most cases, they will have.

Lorelei’s hoarding offers an unusual backdrop for the story, and the story problem will interest readers for a short time. Because the point of view toggles between Lorelei and her children and other characters, however, readers will find themselves distracted after a certain point. Toward the end of the story, readers may feel like telling all of the characters to just get on with it already.

I suggest readers bypass The House We Grew Up In.

Latest review: The Young World by Chris Weitz

By Ekta R. Garg

August 13, 2014

Rated: Borrow it

When a cryptic illness kills all children and adults and leaves teens alive, the teens must find a way to survive in a post-social media world. For a handful of young adults, however, just surviving isn’t enough, and when they receive a small glimmer of hope about a cure they decide to abandon the last tentative hold they have on any stability to try to save the remaining world and themselves. YA author Chris Weitz challenges his readers with this premise in the sometimes-frenetic but ultimately enjoyable novel The Young World.

Jefferson (Jeff) plays second in command to his older brother, Washington, who acts as leader of the “tribe” of teenagers living in New York City’s Washington Square Park. The Sickness has taken everyone’s parents and younger siblings in a brutal fashion. No one knows what the Sickness is or where it came from; they only know that it only killed children and any adults who have reached the age of 18.

The story opens with Washington close to his 18th birthday, and right on cue he begins exhibiting symptoms of the Sickness. Jeff knows he can’t take his brother’s place, but the Washington Square Tribe vote him as their new leader. Bolstered by the confidence from (and secret love for) his childhood friend, Donna, Jeff steps into the role. His first responsibility becomes assessing a possibility everyone covets: a cure for the Sickness. In order to decide whether the cure can become a reality, however, Jeff must leave Washington Square.

He sets out with Donna and a few other friends, and they run into trouble right away. Other tribes inhabit various parts of the city, and not all tribes function according to the same “live and let live” philosophy that the Washington Square tribe encourages. Jeff and Donna must deal with constant threats to their lives and the lives of their friends while at the same time balancing their growing feelings for one another. The closer they get to the cure, the more dire the situation becomes—and no one knows the price they might have to pay for that cure or whether they even want to pay it.

Author Chris Weitz captures the proliferation of social media among young people with razor-sharp precision. The result comes in the form of witty, snarky internal and external dialogue that will have the book’s target audience as well as adults nodding along and smiling. The story alternates in first person between Jeff and Donna, and neither character holds back. Readers will become ensconced in the story, all the more because the explanation for the Sickness comes straight from our current times.

Readers may find the book’s pace a little exhausting. Weitz doesn’t allow for much breathing room between action sequences. The characters face one trial and have just enough time to turn around and move forward a few steps when the next trial barrels into them. About three-fourths of the way through the book, readers may feel themselves gasping.

Breakneck pace aside, Weitz certainly gives readers something to consider. I definitely recommend The Young World for those who enjoy dystopian fiction.

Newest review: The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

By Ekta R. Garg

August 6, 2014

Rated: Bookmark it!

When a princess runs away from home to escape an arranged marriage, she just wants to find a quiet place to live the rest of her life like a commoner. Her escape becomes the catalyst for a series of events that put the entire kingdom at risk, and she decides with great reluctance to try to help by reasserting her position. But her decision may have come too late, and she will have to deal with the consequences. Author Mary E. Pearson gives young adult readers this premise in the slow to start but ultimately satisfying novel The Kiss of Deception.

Lia resents the fact that she carries the burden of tradition. Despite having three brothers, Lia bears the title of First Daughter and must marry a man of her parents’ choosing to cement good relations between her father’s kingdom and the neighboring realm. She has lived her entire life with the knowledge that this will happen one day, and yet when the time comes Lia knows she just can’t go through with it. On her wedding day she engineers an escape with her confidante and lady-in-waiting, Pauline.

The girls head for Terravin, a town from Pauline’s childhood that holds fond memories for her. Once they arrive Lia insists that no one know of her true station, and the two become servers in an inn. The innkeeper takes them under her wing and allows them to stay in a cottage nearby. In time Lia and Pauline settle into a simple life as two friends with a fresh start.

But Lia doesn’t get the chance to enjoy a quiet life for long. Two mysterious young men arrive at the inn. Both of them have secrets, but neither of them seems eager to share those secrets. Since escaping a marriage of state, Lia has spent a lot of time thinking about what it would mean to marry for love. As the two young men begin competing for her attention, Lia wonders whether she could fall in love with one of them.

She also finds out that someone has sent an assassin her way. Lia ignores the information at first, but soon other events occur that convince her otherwise. She wants to forget her role as princess and First Daughter, but incidents drag her into the conflict between her father’s kingdom and the kingdom of the man she would have married. Life no longer seems so simple.

Author Mary E. Pearson begins The Kiss of Deception with a slow pace. The story takes time to gather speed, but once it does she will have readers strapped in and eager for the next turn. Her greatest accomplishment comes in a neat literary trick that she employs partway through the book. Readers will get to that point and want to start the book over right away to read it with greater understanding of what has occurred in the story thus far.

Pearson gives readers all of the good, old-fashioned elements of a fairy tale while transforming them into something relevant to today’s world. This first book in the Remnant Chronicles will receive a sequel next year, and given the fantastic end to The Kiss of Deception readers will do well to look for the next book. I highly recommend The Kiss of Deception to all readers of YA fiction.

Newest review: The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron

By Ekta R. Garg

July 30, 2014

Rated: Bookmark it!

A young woman in the present day on a quest to discover the origins of a painting crosses paths with a man on the same mission. A violin prodigy in Nazi Austria discovers that standing up for justice has dire consequences. The painting ties the two women together. Debut novelist Kristy Cambron brings to life a heartbreaking but important reality of World War II in the slightly cheesy but ultimately enjoyable book The Butterfly and the Violin.

Sera James owns her own art gallery in New York and throws herself into her work. Past heartaches spur her to focus on her most favorite conundrum: the origins of a particular painting. A copy hangs in her gallery, but Sera wants the original. More than a professional quest, for Sera obtaining this painting also represents a personal redemption. When she meets a business tycoon driven by the same goal, she wonders whether she can trust him. Ultimately, however, because of his resources and his own personal connection to the painting, Sera knows she’ll have to work with him if she ever wants to see the painting in person.

In 1942 Adele Von Bron’s immense talent as a violinist ensures that she enjoys life as the darling of her family and of Austria. But she can’t stomach the reality of the Nazi regime. Her sense of right and wrong doesn’t allow her to stand by and watch as Jews get murdered for the simple fact of their faith. She joins the underground network that smuggles Jews out of Vienna, but when she gets caught even her father’s military rank can’t save her from Auschwitz. When Adele reaches the camp, the full horror of Hitler’s reign descends on her life and she turns to her faith even as she begins to question it.

Author Kristy Cambron illuminates a lesser known fact about the Holocaust: works of art created in the concentration camps. Despite the horrors that occurred around them, prisoners managed to produce works in poetry, paintings, music, and more art forms. Cambron highlights this detail and offers readers a story that will keep them engaged.

The portions of Adele’s life, in particular, provide wonderful reading. Clearly Cambron has done her research on the subject. While she might be faulted on a minor note for the lack of authenticity in her dialogue between young people in German Austria—many of the exchanges sound American and not German—her story in those sections will compel readers to overlook the dialogue and move forward in the story.

The sections on Sera’s life feel somewhat less developed. Cambron sets a difficult task for herself in wanting to solve a mystery and give her heroine a romantic track that holds equal weight. For the most part the story progresses well, but occasionally parts of scenes feel bogged down by the traditional trappings of romance. Fortunately these scenes don’t dominate the book, allowing readers to glide back to the mystery of the painting. Cambron handles the mystery with expertise, and she gives readers a satisfying conclusion.

I recommend The Butterfly and the Violin for anyone who enjoys WWII historical fiction, and readers who enjoy romance with substance will also like this one.