Thursday, September 25, 2014

"The Swallow" by Charis Cotter

Sometimes the Recommender comes across a book that is a complete surprise and such a gem that you just want to get everyone you know to read it. The Swallow by Charis Cotter is one of those books. I had the privilege of reading it through NetGalley (thank you, NetGalley!)  It is one of my favorite books of the year!
It begins in 1963 in Toronto, Canada. Two 12 year old girls are bemoaning their separate existences. Polly is part of a bustling family, her father is a minister, her mother is a do-gooder of the first order, filling the home with foster children to supplement Polly, her older sister and the horrors, her twin 8 year old brothers. She feels no one pays her any attention and the final straw is having to share her room with Susie, a baby. The only thing that keeps her going is her passion for ghost books and possibly meeting a ghost in person, some day.
Next door, lives Rose, whose family has moved to the house formerly owned by her grandmother only recently. Her parents work for her other grandfather's company and are seldom home, leaving her in the care of a crotchety housekeeper who retires to her basement room after preparing Rose's dinner, leaving her on her own to face the ghosts, yes, ghosts. Rose has seen them all her life. And the house she is now living in faces a cemetery, filled with them. They all seem to want something from her. Sometimes she feels invisible, almost like a ghost, herself, with no friends, and attending a new school where no one speaks to her.
One evening, having had enough of her family, Polly escapes to the attic to have some privacy and read her ghost stories. She hears singing. Could it be a ghost? But then, the ghost accuses her of being one. This event is what eventually brings Rose and Polly together in this captivating and at times poignant ghost story. Ms. Cotter is a gifted writer who makes you care about her characters and as the story unfolds with all its twists and turns and surprises it will keep you involved right to the end.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Road Less Traveled: "The Opera Ghost Unraveled" by Michelle Rodriguez

Exquisitely, sweepingly romantic and elegantly written, Ms. Rodriguiz's "Opera Ghost Unraveled" gives us an intimate look into Christine and Erik's growing attraction to one another. Sweet, innocent Christine, orphaned, and living in a small apartment, makes her way to the cemetery to visit her father's grave. She thanks him for sending her the Angel of Music who has helped her to become a brilliant singer. She confides that she has fallen in love with the angel and wants to be his, alone.
Back in her dressing room at the Opera House, she calls to her Angel who replies, he is always there. She begs to know more of his existence. He finally tells her his name is "Erik". And Erik it is, our Erik, hoping, daring to reach out to Christine and claim her but holding back, afraid to face the hurt and rejection he's always known.  He is hesitant, but is finally swayed by her entreaties and... one evening as she waits for him,  he presents himself  to her through the mirror, reaching out a gloved hand and drawing her into the darkness and into his world. A world that will force her to face her fears...and her innermost desires.
Ms. Rodriguiz's Erik is intensely alive, scarred both inside and out, driven to take a chance that maybe, just maybe, someone might see beyond the deformities and love the man behind the mask. Christine, too, comes to life on the page. She is enchanting, and though she is finding her way through the demands of falling in love with the Opera Ghost, she is up for the challenge.
Raoul, finding the girl he thought lost forever, and trying to win her back from Erik, is also believably real, as is the adorable, flighty Meg, trying to keep Christine's secrets but dying to share them with the corps of ballerinas.
Many authors have taken these characters and done wonderful things with the plots and storylines. Ms. Rodriguiz has done that, and much more, as she has given us an Erik and Christine who are human, complete with doubts and failings, fighting against society's conventions with love, loyalty and passion. Who could ask for more?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Leaving the Nest: "the Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt

I liked the Goldfinch. Mostly. This is not my usual 100% LOVED IT recommendation because the author, Ms. Tartt, may not have made the choices for her lead character that the Recommender would have liked. "Oh Nos" were yelled at the Kindle, and much worrying on behalf of the characters was done. But who is the Recommender compared to the Pulitzer Committee??? They seemed to like these choices. It is up to you whether you want to invest hours in these characters and see what all the fuss was about.
The opening was one of the most powerful and almost visually stunning beginnings of any book, ever. 13 year old Theo and his  smart and beautiful Mom, a former model and art lover and such a warm, true presence in both Theo's life and ours, the reader's, duck into the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a rainy day to take in an exhibit of Northern Masterpieces of the Golden Age. They are too early for a meeting with Theo's school principal... so they make their way around the exhibit, taking in Rembrandt's the Anatomy Lesson and then, Carel Fabritius’s  the Goldfinch, the title painting, and one of his mother's favorites.
Theo is taken with a girl who he's seen going round the exhibit with someone who seems to be her grandfather, and when his mother dashes back for another look, while Theo heads toward the gift shop to wait for her, keeping an eye open for the girl and then KABAMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM! Theo wakes up amidst the rubble of what had been an exhibition hall.
This is SUCH a believable scene and if you've ever spent any time at the Met you can picture the mayhem and destruction.
Everyone knows that Theo ends up with the title painting through circumstances you will have to read the book to get ALL the details. Unable to find his mother, wounded and alone he makes his way home, the meeting place if they are ever separated, and waits, and waits and... the book is about Theo's loss, his scramble to find a safe place, with the family of a rich friend and then with his father, who had walked out on the family a year or so earlier. What he goes through, where he ends up and with whom is all part of this journey. My favorite character, bad influence that he might be, is Boris, a Russian teen Theo meets at his new Las Vegas high school. Boris is left alone a lot by his father, a brutal mining engineer who travels the world dragging Boris with him. These two boys on the loose get up to all kinds of things, but often hope for something as innocent as a real home-cooked meal. So, in fact, yes, I am recommending "The Goldfinch" because it's something of an epic and the characters you meet along the way will make it worth your while.