— May 3, 2017

AllAtSea

“So now I am afraid that by writing this story, I will make it untrue. Chapter headings and syntax and punctuation will elbow all my tears and grief out of the way, until the catastrophe has been reduced to just another piece of work, and my memories of what happened have been replaced by this printed version, creating a safe distance between myself and the horror.”

As an outsider to Decca Aitkenhead’s personal life, I cannot say for certain if she accomplished what she had originally set out to with this story. But what I can say after reading her memoir, All At Sea, is that it felt like an honest approach to storytelling.

There’s a candor within her writing that grips you. It’s lyrical, descriptive, and heartfelt all in one fell swoop. Decca tells the tale of a relationship with less than idyllic beginnings that transforms into an almost fairy tale. Unfortunately, her story lacks that happy ending in which the two lovers grow old together. But life doesn’t always work out as neatly as we envision it.

The book begins with the tragic event of Decca’s losing her partner, Tony, in a drowning incident where he in turn, saves their oldest sons life. She’s able to pull you in as a reader from the start, if not by her lovely style of writing, but by your need to know what the next part of her life unfolds.

Of course she doesn’t start directly there. We get the full picture of Decca’s life before Tony. And her life pre-Tony is just as intriguing as her life with Tony, or towards the end of the novel, post-Tony.

Decca talks about losing her mother at such a young age that she couldn’t quite understand the impact this death would have on her life. And this definitely explain why she takes the aftermath of Tony’s death so hard. Of course, losing the man/woman you love would be difficult on anyone no matter the circumstances. But one really feels an overwhelming for Decca because she’s not quite used to learning how to grieve. And how to grieve while remaining a mother and sole provider to your children, only seems to magnify your empathy as a reader.

But in the face of all the sadness this story stirs up, you also get a sense of the love & devotion that Decca and Tony shared with one another and with their children.

As someone who really doesn’t read nonfiction or anything closely resembling reality, I was so glad I strayed from my comfort zone with All At Sea. This is a touching, real life story that doesn’t come across as melodramatic or a publicity stunt of any kind. This is a realistic portrayal of redemption, loss, and enduring love between everyday, ordinary people. And in a way, that makes even lovelier story that deserves every one of those ★ ★ ★ ★, this lowly reader gave it. I would recommend if you want a little bit of inspirational, heartfelt nonfiction.

Until next time my fellow readers!

Courtney Lynn

— April 29, 2017

Bell-Jar

“Only I wasn’t steering anything, not even myself. I just bumped from my hotel to work and to parties and from parties to my hotel and back to work like a numb trolleybus. I guess I should have been excited the way most of the other girls were, but I couldn’t get myself to react. (I felt very still and very empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.)”

Isn’t that all some people ever do though? They just function daily, fulfilling their responsibilities, but not really living or learning to live outside the mundane? They want to appreciate the finer things in life, they want fulfillment and enjoyment, but something holds them back and keeps them from ever attaining that level of “happy,” they should reach.

I certainly have felt this way many times before, and in reading it written somewhere else by someone who felt similar, made me come to realize that I am not alone.

Like Esther Greenwood, Sylvia Plath suffered from a mental illness, as have many others who are lesser known. And it’s obvious that in writing this novel, Plath drew on her own experiences with her mental disorder, just as I have in reading this novel.

There’s something that borders on fascination and terror whenever you to read about a woman’s descent into madness though, when you, yourself have gone through a similar experience without any sort of point of reference. Of course, my case isn’t quite as drastic as Esther Greenwood, but I found myself relating to the character in more ways than I expected to, even knowing the premise of the story.

And maybe that is part of the point that Plath’s trying to make. Is that people who suffer from certain degrees of psychological disorders are everyday ordinary people. They can mask it well, until it becomes too much to bear. And unlike those who don’t suffer from mental instability, they reach a breaking point that classifies them as “different,” than the rest of those non-sufferers.

Esther Greenwood’s character fascinated me really. I felt she was quite ordinary and ‘sane,’ throughout the first half of the novel. She’s a well educated girl, who has to be intelligent to win various scholarships that enable her to put herself through college. But she’s also an introvert, thrust into a world full of extroverts. And I could see based on her interactions with other people and the types of relationships she had been forced to endure, why someone like her might be pushed to the brink of insanity. While I believe there is some concrete evidence that genetics too, plays a significant role in determining mental illness, that’s not really touched upon in an obvious way in the novel; so in Esther’s case it really becomes apparent that she’s held a lot in regarding the way she really feels about certain people, and as a result it drains on her.

The writing itself was descriptive and crisp. The scenes were written out in longer intervals, and had some real continuity at the start. But then as Esther’s thoughts becomes more jumbled and unclear, they sections are shorter, and the continuity from each part of the novel gets a little lost. But this didn’t bother me because it’s a realistic depiction. I felt this even increased the pacing of the story, and made you want to keep going in order to see what was going to happen next.

The ending was ultimately hopeful, in spite of all signs pointing to it ending in tragedy. Of course, there’s a lot of ambiguity with it being told in the 1st person and with Esther unsure of what her future will hold by the end of the novel. But again it’s fitting.

I gave this a ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ rating. I think everyone young woman who struggles throughout their early 20s should pick this up and give it a go. Honestly, it might surprise you how you might connect with the character of Esther Greenwood, even if you are mentally healthy.

Anyway, that’s all she wrote folks! Until next time & happy reading all!

Courtney Lynn

— April 21, 2017

April21BlogTitle

*closes eyes & begins in elderly Rose voice* “It’s been 84 years…”

Ok, maybe not quite THAT long. But still, it has been quite some time since I decided to mash up the keys on my keyboard, or even, dare I say it, pick up a book.

*flinches as the dramatic gasps ensue*

Again, ok, maybe it’s not altogether that dramatic. But life has a tendency of being more complicated then we ever care to admit.

Long story short, I have been severely depressed the last several months. It’s definitely not easy. Especially when I think about all the joy that reading & writing used to bring me. To face that realization that the things you love most hold no meaning to you. It’s definitely terrifying. Not only that, but other sorts of illnesses that come with old(er) age, make me worry for what my future will entail.

When I do sit down to write, the words just don’t come to me so easily, and the typos are more frequent. When I speak and cannot find the right word or stutter something incoherently, I find my heart racing and my mind searching constantly for the right meaning. And in order to remember tasks, I have to write them down.

Any time I mention it to anyone, they say it’s just a part of life. That I’m stressed, I’m overworked, or not sleeping enough. Those could all be plausible explanations. Or they could be farce, and it could be something else. Something darker, and more heartbreaking.

Anyway, I have decided that I need to know either way what is the cause of my unusual behavior. So I’m going to see a specialist. I hope it all ends up being silly, and the result of me being a hypochondriac. But you never really know. It’s also hard to gauge whenever you don’t feel like yourself.

But all of that worrying aside, this is supposed to be a rather cheerful post! I’m announcing my comeback to this blog! To the world of reading! Yay!

*signals for round of applause*

*most likely hears crickets*

Ok. I know I haven’t been missed THAT much. But right now, in this moment, it feels like I’m bowing to my own audience, cheering myself on. I have to be that person for myself, first and foremost, because other people can only do so much.

While I don’t know what I might dive into first upon this return, I do know that in writing this, I already do a feel a bit like my “old,” yet younger self. (Ok, terrible joke, I know. ;))

Anyway, this weeks “Fresh Start Friday,” is of a personal nature. But here’s to hoping next week’s will incorporate a new read!

Happy Reading All! I hope you all find a little bit of something that brings you joy!

~Lynn

— October 8, 2016

“We all have demons inside us, voices that whisper we’re no good, that if we don’t make this promotion or ace that exam we’ll reveal to the world exactly what kind of worthless sacks of skin and sinew we really are.”

The Woman in Cabin 10 was my first “chilling,” read to kick off the fall/Halloween season. And much to my (pleasant) surprise it delivered in a lot of ways.

A birthday gift from one of my aunt’s who shares in my ardent love of books, I felt both excited and apprehensive to start this one. After all, it can be a bit daunting whenever a close family member or friend recommends a book to you. What if you don’t like it? You’re calling their judgment of not only the book itself, but also of you as an individual. And I wanted my aunt to believe that she knew me well enough to recommend a book I’d enjoy.

But it wasn’t just that she shipped me this book (along with Ruth Ware’s premiere novel, A Dark, Dark Wood) for my birthday. She had some reasoning and rational behind it. She saw my potential as a writer in Ware’s style of writing. Not to mention that, but she had high praise for her methods of utilizing plot twists and turns.

So after several passionate exchanges via texting, I found myself infected by her enthusiasm for this book. And going into it, my expectations were higher than they usually are anytime someone recommends a book to me.

(Seriously though, it’s nothing personal, I’m just very particular & hard to read…haha, get it? Ok, terribly pun Lynn, moving right along to the purpose of this review)

But as I read the first 30 or 40 pages or so, I found my enthusiasm dwindling, soon followed by dread. I wasn’t going to like this nearly as much as I had wanted to. And then I was going to have to explain this to my aunt who went to the trouble to buy me the book and ship it off to me for my birthday.

The transitions that take us through the beginning are definitely disorienting. The Prologue starts off with a future event once our protagonist, Lo Blacklock finds herself aboard the cruise ship. And then we’re transported back to the present where she awakens one night to find an intruder inside her apartment. Following this rather creepy incident, we are once grounded in the direction that the linear plot will take us, only to be soon taken off course again as Ware includes an array of emails, newspaper headlines, etc., that depict the possible outcome of our protagonist’s fate at the end of the novel.

However, in spite of the confusion one feels at the start, we are soon immersed in Lo’s (mostly drunken/hungover/half medicated) misadventures on the new, luxury cruise line when she witnesses an event that can only be explained by her. And how inconvenient it all is, given she’s set up to be an unreliable narrator.

You want to believe her, since as the reader, you are perhaps the only other person involved who has seen the event through her (no doubt, bleary from overindulgence) gaze. You want to believe that she’s not a crazy person, who (as it is mentioned several times) also happens to take antidepressants. Because tons of people do, and they aren’t crazy. So why should Lo be any different?

But when all logic fails, you cannot help but begin to doubt the validity of Lo’s eyewitness account. And suddenly you, too, fall prey to the increasing paranoia that takes hold of her mind as everyone aboard the ship becomes a suspect in some way or another.

The Woman in Cabin 10 is a mostly satisfying read. It starts off going in a few different directions that makes it confusing, but perhaps this is just an attempt for us to feel as mentally off kilter as Lo feels following the break in. There were also a few parts where it lost some of its momentum, and I felt I could put it down and walk away for a bit. However, there’s an annoying part of my brain that always tries to figure things out before the character’s do, so that was motivation enough for me to keep forging ahead.

Once the big reveal of the “whodunit,” slowly began to unravel, I felt I couldn’t put it down. There were so many twists and turns towards the end of the story, the last 100 pages flew by so quickly. However, there were a few “seriously?” moments whenever Lo made some mistakes that could have been avoided. But then again, I’m sure you could claim lack of proper nutrition and sleep deprivation acted as the main culprits for her not always thinking with 100% clarity.

All in all, I gave this book ★ ★ ★ ★. I really connected with Lo as a character in a lot of ways, and found it easy to sympathize with her in a lot of the situations. Not only that, but the bits of quotes about female solidarity sprinkled through the text that were then accentuated by certain actions, made me also really enjoy this read. I mean, who isn’t all about lady love & women helping women?

Not only was it Lo’s character & the few offerings of feminism that made me enjoy this story, but it was also how atmospheric Ware made it out to be. There were some truly creepy moments that got your heart pounding, and made you grip the edges of the book a little tighter than you normally would.

I would definitely recommend it, if you’re looking for a slightly “chilling,” read (and literally, they are cold for 98% of the story, it is a Scandinavian cruise for goodness sake) for your “fall haul,” or “spooktober,” reading list, this is one you should consider.

Anyone else read The Woman in Cabin 10? What about In A Dark, Dark Wood? Did you like one better than the other? 

And what are some other “spooky,” or “chilling,” fall reads you’d recommend?

Until next time, happy reading ladies & gents!

Courtney Lynn

— October 2, 2016

artofracinginrainreview

“To live every day as if  it had been stolen from death, that is how I would like to live. To feel the joy of life, as Eve felt the joy of life. To separate oneself from the burden, the angst, the anguish that we all encounter every day. To say I am alive, I am wonderful, I am. I am. That is something to aspire to. When I am a person, that is how I want to live my life.”

Such deep and meaningful words that come to us a pivotal point in the novel from our narrator, Enzo. A self-proclaimed philosopher dog that feels more human than canine, Enzo’s story begins at the end of his life. While a deeply sad (and what often feels like an obligatory passage in all books that feature a dog) moment in any dog owner’s life, the reader is left with the sense that Enzo’s life was very full & fulfilled.artofracinginrain

And so, we travel back to the beginning of Enzo’s tale. It starts from the time he was a puppy running around on a farm in Spangle, Washington. And given how dreadful the alpha who bred him was to him, the reader feels one of those “love at first sights,” moments whenever Denny, our narrator’s owner, swoops in and picks him out of all the others. And in Enzo’s eyes, Denny is his savior. And as we see all throughout the novel, Denny is an all good, Marty Stu type.

Literally, the man can do no wrong. However, everyone else is out to get him. To ruin him, and all the great he can do in this world. And perhaps, that’s just a dog’s devotion to his master. But at times, it felt rather irritating as it was often repeated throughout the course of the novel.

But back to the plot. Their life together starts out in an apartment, and Denny’s career as a race car driver is just beginning. It’s an idyllic set up, really. They develop a routine together that involves long walks, and watching crucial races together. And this is how Enzo becomes so privy to the world of race car driving, and how he is able to craft so many racing metaphors that tie into what’s happening in his life with Denny.

And then things change whenever Eve stumbles into their lives one night. Another absolutely perfect character that Stein presents to us, but in Denny’s eyes only. I mean even after she murmurs something about “the fields being fertile,” in the middle of their one night stand together, Denny responds urgently with some equally cheesy line. Then that’s it. She becomes a permanent fixture in their lives.

Enzo, of course, isn’t thrilled with Eve’s presence, and she likewise isn’t too keen on him at the start. Which is understandable. Stein shows us that the world can be divided into two types of dog people. Those who love them, and those who don’t. Eve falls into the latter category, at least in the beginning of the novel. But as their story progress and tragedy befalls the family, the two of them come to understand and lean on one another in tender, heartfelt ways.

The Art of Racing in the Rain is essentially a novel that depicts domestic tension and marital strife seen through the eyes of a dog. Stein’s decision to use this limited point of view can be rather frustrating at times as Enzo is a constant observer, yet rather helpless to act upon anything he witnesses happen to his family. The reader can feel this tension build as the plot unfolds.

But the limited point of view wasn’t the only point against this story in my eyes. I feel like some of the character’s were only half developed. Denny was the typical good all, hero who supposedly sacrificed so much of his career (even though he was mostly an absent figure in his family’s life), and looked to be praised for it. Meanwhile Eve was portrayed as the irrational, mercurial woman who was barely hanging on every time her husband left her alone. Stein could have developed the character’s more, but to me they felt flat. And perhaps, this comes with the territory of choosing a dog to narrate a story.

In spite of these short comings, I found The Art of Racing in the Rain a relatively enjoyable read. It’s well written, although nothing extremely profound. It has the type of heart and soul that anyone who has every owned a dog can understand. And for that, I give it a fair ★ ★ ★ rating.

Anyone else out there read this tail (spelling mistake intentional, I assure you)? Or any others involving narrator dogs? As a proud doggie Mama, I’m always open to recs that relate to our four legged friends.

On another note, it’s now October, and so concludes my September reading list. I managed to tackle 3 out of the 7 books I set out to read. And while I wish I could have done more, there is some satisfaction in knowing I’ve done better than previous months this year. 

Stay tuned for the reads that will fall (ok, lame ass, overused pun, yes I know) this month.

Until then, happy reading friends!

Courtney Lynn

— September 17, 2016

circlingthesunreview

“I felt close to tears and hollow, as if I’d lived all of this before, many times over, with different words laid out for the same horrible crimes, for being a woman, and daring to think I could be free.” –p. 322

Circling the Sun is a fast paced, thrilling tale of one woman’s desire to blaze her own trails. circlingthesuncoverSet against the backdrop of Colonial British East Africa (more specifically Kenya), we are introduced to Beryl Clutterbuck (later Markham’s), and her unconventional way of life that spans from her childhood throughout most of her young adult years.

The novel takes off (quite literally) with an adult Beryl, climbing into an airplane (or aeroplane as she refers to it in the novel) and mentally preparing for her first flight across the Atlantic. Halfway through Beryl’s opening internal monologue she is presented with an immense challenge as her engine stalls shortly after she loses sight of land, and the possibility that she might soon plummet to her death in the icy waters becomes apparent.

Then the story switches gears as she recalls her home in Kenya, and immediately the hands (or as artfully written in the novel, the plane propellers) of time are turned back to when she was a child working on her father’s horse farm, and hunting with her friend Kibii, a member of the Kipsigis tribe she grows up alongside.

The next 300+ pages are a whirlwind of adventure, heartbreak, scandal, failure, and self-rediscovery that comprise up only a portion of Beryl’s most intriguing life. And it feels like Paula McLain writes about a real woman who did more in her first 30 years of life, than most people do in a lifetime.

From the moment she decides she’s going to be an arap (or warrior), in spite of the fact that her childhood friend, Kibii, tells her that there are no women warriors, the reader gets a sense that Beryl’s rather formidable. And this strength and insistence that she can do everything “like a man,” is proven time and time again. Yet, her progressive attitudes that McLain airs throughout the book, do not sit well with her contemporaries, and Beryl is confronted with a great deal of backlash as a result.

Even with all the challenges she faces, Beryl remains tenacious and true to who she is and what it is she wants out of her life. Oftentimes, many people, including some of Beryl’s closest allies, make the comment “you’d be the first (or only) woman to…” and she responds with a frank, “someone has to be the first.” It’s not really surprising to learn that she then did become the first woman to do many of the things she set out to do during her life.

Aside from developing Beryl’s “character,” Paula McLain also takes great care to bring the beauty of the African landscape to life with her vivid writing style. Her ability to describe the places transports you as a reader, and makes you feel as though you’re right there, experiencing the same things that Beryl experiences. Not only that, but her knowledge of horses and horse training, makes you feel as though you’re talking to an expert.

Because of that, McLain doesn’t take great care in explaining the anatomy, breeds, or principles of training, so if you have little knowledge of horses you might feel a bit disorienting at times. However, you mostly can figure out what is happening or what she means based on the context clues that she presents in the character’s movements and actions around them.

Along with her vividly descriptive prose, McLain presents us with several quotable moments that speak to one’s need to define one’s self and one’s worth. She also talks about entrapment (particularly for women at the time), and how there’s a constant desire for freedom or independence. The above quote is one that I felt fit the overall tone and experience that this novel evokes. Again it was hard to choose ‘that one quote to quote it all,’ so you can find some of my other favorites here.

My only real “criticism,” of this books is that it focuses mostly on the tightly knit community of British colonists that fall into Beryl’s social sphere. There is some mention of those in the Kipsigi tribe, but the particular focus is on Beryl’s childhood friend Kibii (later called Ruta). I suppose it can be reasoned however, that more social barriers popped up between the two communities as Beryl grew up, as McLain alludes to on several occasions. But having spent so much time in Africa, it is rather curious that her only experiences with “the Natives,” are through mere mentions or through her relationship with Kibii/Ruta.

All in all, I’d give this story a ★ ★ ★ ★ rating. It’s a beautifully written tale of a real life pioneering woman, who accomplished a great deal, but probably deserved more recognition than she received in the history books. After reading this, I felt like I wanted to know more of Beryl Markham’s life. But that’s the trouble of reading about real people, you won’t ever know the full truth of the depths of what they felt and experienced. Even so, Circling the Sun, does a great job at giving us a peek into the life of Beryl Markham’s life, and it deserves to be read and recognized.

Anyone else read this book and feel incredibly moved by it? Feel free to share your thoughts!

Happy Reading!

Courtney Lynn

— September 11, 2016

shadowofthewindreview

“…those who really love, love in silence, with deeds and not with words.” —pg. 264

shadowofthewindcover

Let me open this review by saying that I knew whenever I finished this book, I would have my work cut out for me in trying to write a half decent review.
I mean, how does one find the words to describe a story that is so beautifully written with a complex plot that makes you think about life’s universal themes? I almost want to just place a copy in everyone’s hands and say, “Go read this,” because I feel that reading this is is the only way to understand how incredible it really is.
 At it’s core, The Shadow of the Wind, is a coming of age tale for our protagonist, Daniel, whose story intersects with the mysterious (and later discovered to be tragic), life of his idol and author, Julián Carax.
What starts out as an exciting trip to the Cemetery of Forgotten books for 10 year old Daniel, soon spirals into a quest for uncovering the truth about a virtually unknown author whose books are being systematically destroyed. And along the way, Daniel becomes aware of the harsh realities of the world he lives in and can’t escape, even through books.
Carlos Ruiz Zafón creates a host of colorful character’s, both sympathetic as well as dark and twisted. He flushes out backstories in a masterful way that makes the reader feel as though they are being transported throughout time and space many times throughout his novel. His pacing is exquisite, and everything in this story felt as though it had a purpose to be revealed. Not to mention, his ability to harness language and write a novel full of poignant quotations that speak about love, longing, & loss just leaves you in awe.
In trying to select the “one quote, to quote it all,” for this book (see above under the pictures) proved to be extremely challenging. Zafón writes so many times about the power that books can have in a person’s life as well as the impact that people themselves can have on these stories based on their own perceptions and personal experiences. But to me, the idea of love being shown rather than told, was a more impactful theme I saw throughout the course of this novel. (More quotable moments from The Shadow of the Wind can be found here).
Daniel’s story begins with him believing he knows what love is, only for his idea of it to shift and mature throughout his life’s story. We see it in his thoughts and in his external relationships. Not only is Daniel’s story the only one that is affected by love, but we see a number of character’s life change due to the love or loss they experience.
Aside from the mysterious disappearance from Carax’s novels in the book and “pains of growing up,” we bear witness too, The Shadow of the Wind also hints at the tense political atmosphere that existed in Spain at the time. While it’s not the major focus of this text, it definitely leaves a mark on certain character’s and is an event worth mentioning.
I must admit, I remain mostly ignorant on what the conflict entailed, as this book does not exist to serve the purpose of educating the reader on it, but rather assumes the reader already has some knowledge of it. Even so, I didn’t feel like this book was any less enjoyable, or that I couldn’t walk away completely contented with what I had just read.
With that being said, I give The Shadow of the Wind a ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ rating. For those of you who know me well, you know I rarely give out this high of a rating, so that should tell you something about how amazing this book really is.
Also, I feel the need to give a quick shout out and my deepest thanks to my friend Emma, from Belgium, because it weren’t for her recommending this book to me, I wouldn’t know the greatness that was this book. And I wouldn’t be sitting here, writing this post either. So many thanks & much love to you my dear for the book rec!
If anyone has read this book, and has any additional thoughts to add, or simply wants to shoot me a message to discuss it, feel free to do so! I love talking about fantastic reads with fellow book lovers. 

And I know it’s a superficial question but…anyone digging the new review format? Yay? Nay? Or indifferent to it?

Anyway, if you’ve made it down this far to this incredibly jumbled post, I thank you for your never ending support & dedication to this little blog. It may not be much, but it has enabled me to become (a bit) more disciplined with this whole reading & writing thing. Plus, it is kind of fun. Even if only like a handful of you read it, seriously though, I am eternally grateful.

Happy reading & until next time! 

Courtney Lynn

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