Manhatten Beach by Jennifer Egan

Covering a wide range of content, Egan delivers a remarkable story with a sophisticated writing style.

3/5 stars.
ebook, 448 pages.
September 8, 2017 to September 17, 2017.

As a first-time reader of Jennifer Egan, I am grateful to Netgalley and the publisher for giving me a perfect opportunity to finally read her. Covering a wide range of content, Egan delivers a remarkable story with a sophisticated writing style.

Following the end of the Great Depression in Brooklyn, Anna is twelve years old when her father Eddie, takes her on a business venture to the wealthy home of Dexter Styles. After making a strong impression with her tomboy antics, Styles agrees to hire her father. It was then that Eddie decided to stop taking his Anna on business ventures. At home, Anna’s mother is in constant care of her younger sister, Lydia, an invalid who is bed and chair bound. Eddie’s decision to work for Styles was driven by his need to provide for his disabled child but also motivated as a way to put distance between them. Eddie loves Lydia but also sees her as his own failing. Anna is independent and strong after years of helping her mother and sister and she does not take the news well when her father informs her that she can longer come to work with him. A few years later, when Anna is only fourteen, Eddie disappears and never returns.

Jump forward to the beginning of WWII and Anna is working in the Navy docks, along with many other women to help manage the war efforts. She is headstrong and one of the few women who are unmarried. She dreams of being a diver, a position not yet open to women, and is determined to find a way to get there. One evening when her friend takes her out to one of the clubs in town that many of the soliders visits, Anna spots Dexter Styles across the bar and discovers that he is the owner. Driven by a need to know more about the disappearance of her father all those years ago, she introduces herself under a fake name. The introduction unfolds a dark story that brings up dirty secrets, desires, deceit and danger.

The history, both the setting, the working women during the war, and with Anna, her family and her diving, are what drew me into this book. Sadly, I had to draw back as the story became unfocused and convoluted with other the intertwining stories and histories. It was not that these parts of the story were not interesting or engaging is that I felt shuffled around far too often while reading this book and the ending felt messy and disjointed. For a book that had such a strong start, the ending left me with a sigh of discontent.

It is clear that this book was meticulously well researched and that a lot of effort was placed into the historical content and overall, the writing style is sophisticated and engaging but it missed the mark on the rhythm of the story.

This book has not put me off Jennifer Egan in the slightest, it actually has driven me to take a look and consider reading her highly acclaimed and award-winning novel,  A Visit From The Goon Squad. It is apparent that Egan has talent and that a novel following such a highly prized book prior is always hard to achieve.

If you have read A Visit From The Good Squad and are hoping for something of the same calibre, this book may not be what you are hoping for. However, the rich historical content is definitely worth picking this book up for. The book is due to be published on October 3, 2017.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

The historical scenes in this book are outstanding.

3/5 stars.
ebook, 432 pages.
Read from January 1, 2017 to February 8, 2017.

This should have been published yesterday, my apologies. This novel showed up on my radar as it has recently won the Giller Prize and was also nominated for the Booker Prize. Once I read the premise, I was excited to see what this historical-fiction would hold.

Marie (Li-Ling) is a first generation Canadian who is unfolding the story of two different generations of her family.  Her family, originally from China, lived through the Mao Cultural Revolutions and the following generation was there for the Tiananmen Square protests. When her estranged older cousin Ai-Ming comes to live with after escaping the aftermath of the protests in China, Marie starts to learn more about her father, Kai, and her Uncle Sparrow who is Ai-Ming’s father, through a series of notebooks. Sparrow and Kai were both accomplished musicians, with Sparrow being genius composer.  The two of them shared an immensely close bond. Kai moved to Canada and started a family while Sparrow remained in China and gave up composing. In secret, Kai went to visit his friend and never returned after taking his own life. The notebook also details countless other family members and their tragic stories in China during these tumultuous times in history.

If the description of this novel seems convoluted, it’s because the plot line is too. The storyline jumps around a lot and it is hard to keep track of the numerous family members in the story.  There are also extensive conversations about music and composers, which I imagine would be great if you were familiar with them, but as I am not, I found parts of this novel to be extremely dry.  I felt very frustrated with this novel. On one part, the historical aspects and scenes of this story are outstanding. Thein creates some phenomenal imagery and at times I felt as I deeply immersed in the story. There are also some very memorable characters and relationships in the book but you had to wade through a family tree to get to ones that mattered. I do not feel that this story was told as well as it could have been. The notebook concept was not delivered very well and at times I felt confused and bored by what I was reading, which is a reflection of how long this novel too me. The story and concept of this novel are award-winning however, the writing is not.

I can say that there were times I considered putting this book down, however there are some golden scenes in this book that made up for it, the ending especially. This book is still worth reading and I would recommend it to history buffs or historical fiction fans.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

This debut novel explores the story of the family leading up to the murders and the idea of whether or not Lizzie did indeed commit the murders.

He was still bleeding.” I yelled, “Someone’s killed Father.”

4/5 stars.
324 pages, ebook.
Read from April 7, 2017 to April 8, 2017.

Thanks to Netgalley for this ARC and for fueling my crime and murder intrigue!  I would like to point out that I technically finished this book in one sitting whilst on a 14-hour flight that crossed over between two different days. Yeah, high-fives for me!

Everyone knows the story, or at least the song: “Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41.” On August 4, 1892 in Fall River Massachusetts, Lizzie Borden was charged with murdering her father and step-mother with an axe. Lizzie was later acquitted of the murder, despite the majority of people believing she was guilty, because basically it was thought that women could not be capable of committing such a brutal act. Narrated from many perspectives, this debut novel explores the story of the family leading up to the murders and the idea of whether or not Lizzie did indeed commit the murders.

Toying with the idea that Lizzie was spoiled and functioning at a child-like capacity (it was easy to forget that she is actually a grown woman), the novel reflects on how her sister Emma has been trying to escape the family home and getaway from Lizzie since the passing of their mother. Their overbearing father, Andrew, always favoured Lizzie and did little to spare Emma any responsibilities after the passing of their mother, even though he has since married a plump woman named Abby.  The home was tense and unhappy. Even the maid, Bridget, is saving every spare coin she had to getaway from the argumentative and strange family.  However trouble is brewing on the horizon and someone has it in for Andrew Borden. With an intense climax and twisted ending, this book will not fail inquisitive minds.

Schmidt is the queen of acute and sensory descriptions. There are few books that can describe blood and vomit in such an uncanny way.  If you are at all squeamish, this book may be a bit unsettling for you but don’t let that stop you. I promise it is worth it. The book is intensely visual and the author has an immense talent in bringing her words alive.  The characters, especially Lizzie, are curious, disruptive, complicated and disturbing and the plot adds a new twist to an old story.

I expect to see a lot from this author in the future as this novel is a killer debut! Ha, see what I did there? Bad joke… yeah. Anyway! If you are at all interested in true-crime, historical-fiction, murder, or just curious characters with great visuals then add this book to your to-read list ASAP and pick up a copy this summer when it comes out in August.