Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Swan Thieves (Elizabeth Kostova)

To be published January 12, 2010...

Elizabeth Kostova...does the author's name ring a bell? Unless you picked up her bestselling novel, "The Historian", it probably won't. "The Swan Thieves", to be published in January, is Kostova's only other published work. Unlike...oh, shall we say...James Patterson, she takes her time in crafting marvelously ingenious tales. It will probably take you awhile to get to the end of "The Swan Thieves". It should. The short chapters (all 106 of them) should be savored until you get to the wonderfully satisfying ending.

The story centers around Dr. Andrew Marlow, a psychiatrist, who is trying desperately to find a way to help his newest patient...the gifted artist, Robert Oliver. Oliver is placed under Marlow's care when he tries to stab a painting in a museum. Oliver will not speak, so it is up to Marlow to try to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Along the way, he interviews many people from Oliver's past, who, sometimes reluctantly, tell his story. Interspersed with present day, we are taken back in time to Paris to the late 1800s, where we are introduced to Olivier Vignot, an elderly painter, and his muse, Beatrice de Clerval, through a series of letters between them.

Kostova masterfully alternates between the two stories, until we come to the heartbreaking conclusion and the connection between them. This is not a book that you can't put down. Nor is it a book that you will breeze right through. But when the pieces come together, you will feel that you just read a very quality piece of literature.


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Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Happiness Project (Gretchen Rubin)

To be published 12/29/09...

Anyone who knows me well knows that I love a great self-help book. There are a plethora of these titles in any bookstore, and unfortunately, many of them are just too abstract for the everyday person. What makes The Happiness Project so wonderful is that anyone can relate. Who doesn't want to be happy?

One year, Gretchen Rubin decides to forego the specific New Year's resolutions that so many of us break by January 3rd. Eat right, exercise more, watch less TV, blah, blah, blah. Instead, she decides that she wants to become happier. To accomplish this, she decides on 12 specific areas where she would like to become happier in her life, and then sets mini-goals for herself each month. For example, the area to be happier in May is "Leisure". Rubin's goals in May are find more fun, take time to be silly, go off the path, and start a collection.

I found myself laughing, nodding my head with understanding, and "Ah-hah-ing" at almost every page. I found the month about contemplating the heavens to be most profound. To be happier, read memoirs of catastrophe?? Yes, if you want to be happy with and appreciate what you have, read the diaries of people who have just been diagnosed with cancer or survived a plane crash. Maybe the little things in life (Why isn't he going the speed limit?) won't bother you as much.

Journal writing is way too overwhelming for me to do each day. Rubin suggests a one-sentence journal, where you write one thing that happened that day that you never want to forget. It's the little things like these that make this book joyous to read and makes you think about starting your own happiness project. Don't worry, be _____.

This review can also be found on

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Her Fearful Symmetry (Audrey Niffenegger)

Audrey Niffenegger is not yet a household name, such as Grisham, Patterson, or Dan Brown. Yet she is making a huge name for herself in the movies, as her debut novel, "The Time Traveler's Wife", did well in theaters. I am not normally a fan of books being made into movies ("The DaVinci Code", anyone???), but "Her Fearful Symmetry" was made for one.

Haunting, tension-filled, this on a cold winter's night with a steaming cup of tea in your hand. It begins with the death of Elspeth Noblin in London. Before she died, she stipulated in her will that her American nieces, Julia and Valentina Poole, be asked to live in her flat for a year. In exchange, they would each receive a hefty trust. All bets would be off in Elspeth's twin, Edie, and her husband, Jack, set foot in the apartment. Why? One of the central mysteries in the novel is what happened between Elspeth and Edie.

Along the way, we meet Elspeth's neighbors in London...Robert, her young conquest; Martin, who is suffering from crippling OCD; and Marjilke, Martin's estranged wife. Highgate Cemetary, which is located right next to the flat, is its own character, as the plot turns quickly into a ghost story. What will the Poole sisters find in the flat? Will Elspeth ever be able to rest in peace? Those are the questions that will be answered very satisfyingly.

I would give "Her Fearful Symmetry" a 5 if not for the ending. Some questions remained unanswered. However, the story is pure knuckle-tension. Read it and weep.