Hey Gang – happy spring!
You may have noticed a few changes. I’m redoing the website to reflect my new writing direction. I’m hoping to go for a fun, happy vibe. I’ve also switched up recommended reads. The monthly roundup is now called Barb’s Book Reviews. I thought that was more descriptive and to the point. I’ve got some other plans in the works as well, and will keep you posted.
Now to the reviews. We’ll start with the Good.
The Last Confession of Sylvia P by Lee Kravetz. Sylvia Plath has always fascinated me, not so much for her writing, but for the mystique that surrounds her and her death. By dying young, beautiful and tragically, she became much more than a great writer, she became a legend.
Kravetz book tells Plath’s tale from three points of view: Ruth, an unorthodox psychiatrist who treats Plath when she’s institutionalized, Boston Rhodes, a rival poet who resents Plath’s success and admiration, and Estee, a rare book dealer who is auctioning off a recently discovered handwritten draft of The Bell Jar. It is the mystery surrounding that manuscript – how did a handwritten draft end up stuffed in a Newton, Massachusetts attic? – that is at the core of the story. As each character recounts their history with Plath, the three storylines slowly merge and you discover that what first appears to be three random people are really three threads of a very tragic braid.
Kravetz’s writing is top-notch, as is his plotting. As a writer, I’m jealous of how seamlessly he wove the three storylines together. It takes a lot of skill.
Unfortunately the great writing is offset by Kravetz’s adoration for Sylvia Plath. Seen only through the eyes of the three protagonists, Plath is elevated to near saint-like status. Every character in the book (with the exception of her mother) sees Sylvia as beautiful, talented, unassuming, and flawless.
Then there’s Boston Rhodes, Plath’s rival. Poetry fans will immediately recognize the character as a thinly-veiled Anne Sexton. Under Kravetz’s pen, she’s a less-talented poet struggling to unseat the young genius. In other words, she plays Salieri to Plath’s Mozart. While Sexton was unstable and awful human being, she was an extremely talented poet. Yes, I know, Kravetz’s character wasn’t Sexton, she was fictional. Don’t get me started on that particular trend; I’m still getting over the Christie Affair.
Lastly, I cannot forgive Kravetz for giving Ted Hughes a complete pass. In his world, it’s the Sexton stand-in who’s the villain. Ted gets to feel a moment of guilt and move on.
My grade: B-. Well written, but annoyingly slanted and inaccurate. Available now.
Having heard great things about Genevieve Graham’s books, I had high expectations for this one. Alas, perhaps they were too high because this book didn’t hit with me. It’s not a bad book. In fact, it’s quite well written. But, for a story involving the great war and a gang war, gang war, the book was surprisingly slow. Characters and subplots were introduced only to fade away without a point. I was also disappointed that Graham chose to focus on the romance rather than on the (to me) the far more interesting story about the Bailey Brothers and the former friend turned enemy.
For all that, I will say Graham knows how to craft a sentence. Her setting descriptions were beautiful. I’m sad to say that this particular plot didn’t do justice to her language skills. Still, there was enough here that I’ll definitely try her again.
Grade: B. A pleasant weekend read. Available April 5.
And now on to the Great.
The Lost Book of Eleanor Dare by Kimberly Brock: In 1937, a farmer discovered a rock on the border of Virginia and North Carolina. On it was inscribed a message believed to be written by Eleanor Dare, and telling the fate of the Lost Colony of Roanoke. Thirteen more stones were discovered (and later revealed to be fake), but the original stone still raises questions.
Kimberly Brock has taken the stone’s legend and turned it into a Southern gothic about family secrets, loss, forgiveness and embracing your true self. If you’re a fan of our videocast, Off the Shelf, then you know I was dying to read this book. Thanks to Netgalley, I got the chance to read it early. Needless to say, I went in with super high expectations, and I was not disappointed.
Set in the final months of World War 2, The Lost Book of Eleanor Dare introduces us to Alice, a 20th century descendant of Eleanor Dare, and her 13-year-old daughter Penn, as they return to Alice’s childhood home. Family legend has it that on their 13th birthday, the female descendants of Eleanor gain the gift of vision. Haunted by guilt over her mother’s madness and death, Alice wants nothing more than to put an end to that legend once and for all. Meanwhile 13-year-old Penn wants to embrace her destiny.
This is not a fast-paced book. Rather, the plot unfolds like a hot summer day, slow and languid. Little by little, pieces of the truth – about Eleanor, about Alice, about her mother, and even about the stone itself – are revealed. I read the entire thing in two days.
Grade: A. Grab this book when it hits shelves April 12.
The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn: (Warning, gushing alert) I confess, I was lukewarm on Quinn’s last book, the Rose Code. I found it good, but not great as the Alice Network and the Huntress. So when I got an advanced read of The Diamond Eye, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Let’s just say I am back on the Kate Quinn bandwagon. The Diamond Eye couldn’t be more timely, as it’s about Mila Pavlichenko, a female Ukrainian sniper who, during World War 2, racked up over 300 confirmed kills. Quinn excels at creating gritty, strong heroines, and in the Diamond Eye, she succeeds in the impossible: making a killer not only likeable, but vulnerable and sympathetic. Mila is a mother fighting to make the world better for her son, an academic mourning her old life, and reluctant hero killing without a second thought. From the moment she steps on the page, you find yourself rooting for her.
And the research! I cannot enough about Quinn’s attention to detail, and yet, the book is not weighed down by long-winded expository passages. If anything, Quinn gives a master class on “Show not Tell” as she uses military and historic details to bring the battle scenes to life.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I loved this book.
Grade: A+. Go forth and buy your copy immediately.
Thanks to Netgalley and William Morrow for the advanced reads.