Ali Sparrow is an indebted student who lands a nannying job for a very wealthy London family. Though short on childcare experience, her topnotch grades inspire confidence in her new employers, the Skinners. Though initially out of place, Ali eventually forges a bond with the Skinner children, and she becomes more and more enmeshed in family life. So when, a couple years into their employ, the Skinners head into a tailspin of financial scandal, Ali is the fly-on-the-wall who sees everything unfold, and may be the only person to know the truth.What the Nanny Saw is a deeply engaging examination of class, wealth, and interpersonal dynamics. As the line between Ali’s professional and personal lives become increasingly muddy, the reader witnesses the origins of friendship, loyalty and love. The reader becomes another kind of observer as Ali is drawn deeply into the Skinner’s lives. Though she is only the nanny, is it possible she is actually becoming the new nucleus of this wealthy family’s orbit? The answer to this question, how it happens and what its consequences are, are the great fun of this book. Highly recommended.
Jim and Bob Burgess are brothers, as different as night and day, living mirror-image lives as attorneys in New York City. Having escaped a troubled upbringing in Maine, they are reluctantly drawn back to their home town to help their sister and nephew navigate legal troubles, during which time a domino effect of revelations and consequences nearly unhinges the already distant family. But what might destroy them, also has the power to redeem and heal if they allow it.Strout is remarkable storyteller, as is her ability to draw multifaceted, fully-formed characters. Told from the perspectives of various characters, both major and minor, it is the Burgesses we come to deeply know. It is their experiences and distinctive personalities, that drive this compelling and worthwhile book. While the Burgesses all seem to be firmly ensconced in the lives they’re carved for themselves, what Strout does convincingly is demonstrate that at any point in one’s life, there can be profound change, both good and bad. How we define ourselves and our existence can fundamentally shift, setting a new course in one’s life.
Reading any new nonfiction by Anne Lamott is like visiting an old friend. Introduced to her in Traveling Mercies, and getting to know her better in Bird By Bird, Plan B, and Operating Instructions, I found both someone I could relate to and learn from. She is someone who is a little further along life’s road than I am, and is willing to share some hard-earned love and wisdom. Lamott has a unique, often self-deprecating voice, one I delightedly recognize when I read her books. Here, in her newest, she doesn’t disappoint as she shares the journey into grandmotherhood.It’s easy to see one’s self in Lamott’s middle-aged angst. While relishing the fruits of her rich faith, fellowship, and career, one also still recognizes that the journey relational-maturity never ends. In Some Assembly Required, Sam, now a young adult, steps into a new role as a father, propelling Lamott into a grandmother role. And that might be all joy but for the challenges of relinquishing control.Lamott does a wonderful job of letting the reader take a peek into the crazy, wonderful love that grandparents have for their grandchildren. Also, she demonstrates how difficult it can be to let her child be a parent, learning as he goes, just as she did. She allows Sam to share some of his journey through interviews and emails, and in this way we get to know Sam better.Overall this is a lovely little book that I enjoyed very much. It isn’t her best, and if there is one weakness here, it is a necessary one. In her attempt to love and respect her adult son, her grandson’s mother, and that young woman’s extended family, there is a sense of holding back at times. Lamott simply cannot delve too deeply into the troubles that seem to plague this young couple. Instead she focuses on what is good and hopeful. This is appropriate, but something is lost there too. Like all of Lamott’s nonfiction, her story, just like her life and every life, is revealed to be a joyous and challenging work in progress.
In the wake of their mother’s death, two estranged adult siblings spend a week vacationing together with their respective families in the English countryside. Told from alternating perspectives, The Red House explores the personal isolation that buffers people in even the most intimate of relationships.Few of the interpersonal revelations in this story are particularly unique. Husbands and wives are disenchanted with each other; brothers and sisters are misunderstood and grieve lost intimacy. But perhaps these familial revelations aren’t so much the author’s point. What sets The Red House apart is Haddon’s stylistic approach. His story unfolds among the characters’ frequently alternating perspectives; shifting sometimes as often as three or four times per page. Confusing? Not really. This is where the author’s prodigious skills are exercised – Haddon successfully manages this literary “channel surfing”. Each character in the novel has his or her story and distinct voice, and the reader has a uniquely omniscient reading experience. Overall, I enjoyed this book: the setting, Haddon’s skillful writing, and his subtle yet universal familial themes.
Our story unfolds in an alternative American past. New England is an autonomous country unto itself that is controlled by the ominous and zealous Brotherhood. Three sisters living in this society – the Cahill sisters – have paranormal gifts they must try to hide from the community. To be recognized as witches by the Brotherhood would result in imprisonment or even death. However, due to occurrences in their community and their own missteps, the sisters’ attempts not to draw unwarranted attention begin to backfire. Forbidden romance, family secrets, and the lure of their own power begins to upset the sisters’ fragile homelife. Spotswood unfolds her story with wit and a brisk pace. And, I may be the only adult reader of YA that feels this way, but when I pick up paranormal YA fiction, I always look forward to an engaging romance. This is satisfyingly accomplished in Born Wicked. The attraction between Cate and Finn is fun and creative, and at times downright swoon-worthy. Overall, Born Wicked is pleasing escapist fiction. Spotswood created enough plot and enough character to keep me absorbed and looking forward to the next installment.
Jason Priestly is depressed. With a failed relationship, a bumbling career, and a generally directionless life, Jason is a man ready for something to believe in. So when Jason has a fleeting encounter with a nameless young woman, she becomes the unwitting object of Jason’s quest to rediscover hope. With only a packet of photographs to help him find her, he determines to find her, hoping she might be the love of his life. Charlotte Street is a slyly sweet and humorous story with undercurrents of genuine angst. Wallace explores what it means to face life’s disappointments and uncertainties. Chock full of likeable offbeat characters, and a palpable London setting, the story has a modern timelessness to it. Charlotte Street is not a romance per se. It is more like the hard but rewarding journey of self-discovery. Completely absorbed in his own problems, Jason is challenged to learn afresh what love and friendship are all about.At times the story gets a bit slow with confusing narrative and dialogue that interrupt the story’s flow, or by boggy side plots. Overall this is a book I’d recommend to someone looking for something light and funny but with glimmers of substance.
Molly Hagan is single-momming-it, having just been dumped by her husband. She is depressed, overwhelmed and almost broke. Surrounded by caring and concerned friends, a job opportunity presents itself and Molly's life begins on a whole new romantic course.This is a playful story about the pain of rejection, and second chances, with an enjoyable mix of word play, realistic struggles, friendship, the wonder of good therapy, with a few appealing recipes thrown in.Maybe not the most memorable literature you'll ever read, but it is heartfelt and sweet.
Prolific mystery author Elizabeth George's foray into young adult fiction finds telepathic high schooler Becca King running for her life. Accidently stranded in a small town on Washington State's Whidbey Island, the suddenly homeless Becca struggles both to survive and hide her true identity. Forced to trust the kindness of strangers, she finds herself embroiled in a police-investigation, but in this town everyone has something to hide and she isn't sure she can trust anyone.For an author who seems to enjoy moderate success in the adult mystery market, I found this book surprisingly weak. The plotting, structure, and writing disappointed. Little of the story was engaging; the inner tension that is essential to a mystery novel was almost nonexistent. Despite George's attempt to give her characters satisfying backstories, they nonetheless felt flat and were largely uninteresting. Two impressions I got reading the book: 1) the author was "dumbing down" her writing for a younger audience (there are no words for how much this bothers me), and 2) this story, which is the first in a series, was less about solving a crime than simply introducing characters that, hopefully, in future installments will be better fleshed out. Overall, this was a disappointing read and I can't recommend it. Just because someone is an accomplished author for adults doesn't mean they should write for the red-hot YA market. Publishers take note.
No One is Here Except All of Us by Ramona Ausubel is a lyrical and surprising book about the Holocaust. A strange woman washes up on the river-shore of an isolated Romanian village, and in the story of how she arrived there, simultaneously embodies the promise of future destruction and hope. Clinging to hope, the town decides to begin their history anew, reinventing their world item by item, relationship by relationship, ritual by ritual. In doing so, they willfully turn away not only from the violence of World War II but from its existence. But will it be enough? If an entire town pretends to be invisible, will it be? Told from alternating perspectives, but primarily through eyes of a young girl, this is an unusual and vivid story about identity and the defining power of narrative. What is the essence of self? What does it mean to be a survivor? What does it mean to move through the world continually stripped of one identity after another? Inspired by events in her own family history, these are the questions Ausubel asks over and over. This is a book that reframes the Holocaust story in a fresh and hauntingly visual way.
“Fated” is Alyson Noel’s first book in her latest YA paranormal series (Soulseeker). The story inhabits a southwestern landscape, drawing on Native American mythology as a jumping off point.Sixteen-year-old Daire Santos is the daughter of a Hollywood makeup artist, who has always lived a transient existence until disturbing circumstances compel her to live with her mysterious paternal grandmother. Here, Daire learns that there is more to her personal history than having been raised by a young, single mom; there are supernatural forces working in and through her, and through twin boys who respectively personify light and darkness. The fate of the entire world is at stake, necessitating Daire to stumblingly navigate her reluctant attraction to one twin while questing to destroy the other.Reading this book I just couldn’t get past a sense of boredom. Despite the appealing new adornments of Native American animism – coyote, raven, etc. – there isn’t enough literary refreshment to carry the reader past a slogging déjà vu. Aside from the sense that this has all been done before, there is also a hard-to-pinpoint choppiness in Noel’s writing that I’ve never been quite able to get past. I had to force my way through the book, and when it was over really wasn’t left with any desire to continue the series.As an adult reader of the genre, I love YA lit – but there comes a time when the genre’s sheer volume of new titles self-sabotages; more and more weak YA novels are being published in the hopes of grabbing the industry’s sales momentum, but the more poor YA books I read, the less I’m willing to take a chance and invest in a sale. It isn’t a problem I have with the authors per se, but rather the marketing machine behind them that compels writers to sacrifice quality for quantity. Note Noel’s Soulseeker sequence: the publisher is releasing a new series installment every six months. “Fated” feels less like an artful diversion than an attempt to make a quick buck.