The Absolutist by John Boyne – Book Review

The Absolutist by John Boyne
Published by Other Press

It is 1919 and Tristan has survived WWI – at least bodily.

“I may not be buried in a French field but I linger there. My spirit does, anyway. I think I’m just breathing, that’s all. And there’s a difference between breathing and being alive.” -p. 137

Now that he is physically safe and has had some time regain his bearings in life outside of war, Tristan is on a mission to meet with the sister of a man he once served with. Ostensibly he wishes to return to her the letters she sent Will while he was enlisted, but in reality there is more to it than that; Tristan has a secret that he can no longer keep entirely to himself.

I actually believe that it is better not to know too much about The Absolutist going into it. Tristan’s story unfolds gradually, alternating between his trip to see Will’s sister and his time in training and on the battlefield. The Absolutist is about Tristan and Will’s relationship, the horrors of war, and the attempt to recover mentally from what one sees in war.

Boyne’s writing is beautiful, and he drags the reader immediately into Tristan’s world and life. The Absolutist is mesmerizing and difficult to put down, the reader can feel Tristan’s pain and the secret he harbors almost bodily, but Boyne still manages to keep The Absolutist from turning into  a morass of sorrow and pain.

The Absolutist is an absolutely beautiful, painful, and moving novel of war and humanity and I very highly recommend it.

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Agoraphobics in Love

Agoraphobics in Love: A Short Story by Lisa Tucker
Published by Simon & Schuster

Losing both of her parents at once caused Emily to retreat inwards – both into herself and into her house. When the thought of leaving home becomes unbearable, she finds solace in an online board for agoraphobics, where she meets Jules, a former ad director who lives within driving distance – if it weren’t for the fact that neither of them is willing to get in the car and drive.

Agoraphobics in Love is a lovely short story. Tucker manages fantastic characterization and a perfect story arc in the 50 pages of her narrative. Emily and Jules are both engaging and easy to relate to, even for readers without agoraphobia. I found myself wanting more than anything for their pseudo-love affair to work out.

If Tucker can do this with 50 pages, I’m very much looking forward to what she will do in a novel.

Tucker’s short story – which includes the first four chapters of her new book, The Winters in Bloom – is available now as an ebook for only $0.99. Buy it from your preferred ebook retailer.

About The Winters in Bloom, coming September 13 from Simon & Schuster:

Together for over a decade, Kyra and David Winter are happier than they ever thought they could be. They have a comfortable home, stable careers, and a young son, Michael, who they love more than anything. Yet because of their complicated histories, Kyra and David have always feared that this domestic bliss couldn’t last – that the life they created was destined to be disrupted. And on one perfectly ordinary summer day, it is: Michael disappears from his own backyard. The only question is whose past has finally caught up with them: David feels sure that Michael was taken by his troubled ex-wife, while Kyra believes the kidnapper must be someone from her estranged family, someone she betrayed years ago.

As the Winters embark on a journey of time and memory to find Michael, they will be forced to admit these suspicions, revealing secrets about themselves they’ve always kept hidden. But they will also have a chance to discover that it’s not too late to have the family they’ve dreamed of; that even if the world is full of risks, as long as they have hope, the future can bloom.

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Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close – Book Review

Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close
Published by Knopf, an imprint of Random House

The post-college years can be a relationship minefield. You begin to drift away from the friends who marry and have children significantly before – or after – you do; finding new friends and lovers becomes more difficult as you are no longer routinely thrown together in school with people in a similar age bracket and with similar interests. It is this limbo in which Isabella, Mary, and Lauren are firmly stuck. They are out of college and on their own: in nice apartments in Chicago and crummy shoebox ‘apartments’ in New York; in good relationships and dating idiots who cannot spell their names correctly; in nice, stable jobs and the worst of the worst waitressing jobs. In the middle of all this, they are scraping up cash for bridesmaids dresses, wedding shower presents, wedding presents, and baby shower presents, as it seems that everyone they know seems to be moving into that settled state of coupledom and familydom.

Girls in White Dresses is less a cohesive narrative than a collection of anecdotes about Isabella, Mary, Lauren, and their friends as they attempt to navigate young adulthoood. Rather than causing the readers to feel disconnected from her characters, though, Close’s structure lent her story a sense of universality. No matter what your post-college path or choices, it is likely that you will identify with one or more of the girls’ stories. Many of the vignettes in Girls in White Dresses are laugh out loud funny, as is this scene at a bridal shower when the bride’s mother’s friends all begin singing My Favorite Things:

They kept singing and started swaying back and forth. Abby was standing unfortunately close to the woman who’d started the singing, and the woman wrapped her arm around Abby’s shoulders, forced her to move in time with the music, and looked at her with an encouraging smile until Abby started to sing along with her. A few of the women were snapping their fingers. Lauren looked at Isabella and Mary and said, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me, right?” -p. 171

Others, however, are poignant and thoughtful, as when Lauren and Isabella discuss a recently-divorced friend who has elected to keep her married name:

“Why wouldn’t she go back to Beth Bauer?” she asked Lauren. “She doesn’t have any kids. It’s so weird.”
“I don’t know,” Lauren said. “Maybe she’s afraid no one will remember who she is.”
“Maybe,” Isabella said. The thought left her uneasy. -p. 249

Close’s humor and grace is intensified by her lovely and engaging prose, creating in Girls in White Dresses a book that readers will be hard-pressed to put down.

Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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The First Husband by Laura Dave – Book Review

The First Husband by Laura Dave
Published by Viking Adult, an imprint of Penguin

Annie Adams seems to be in a pretty good place: her job as a travel writer sends her all over the world, she has an adorable dog, and she and her live-in boyfriend Nick have been together for five years. Everything seems to be going well – until Nick tells her that they need to have a break, that he might have feelings for a girl he grew up with. After a fair amount of time wallowing in self-pity over the break-up of what she thought was a very steady relationship, Annie puts on her most magical yellow dress, and heads out on the town for a drink and meets charming, thoughtful Griffin, a chef from Massachusetts in LA temporarily. By the end of their three month whirlwind romance, Griffin is proposing and Annie is moving with him to Massachusetts as his wife. Once there, however, she wonders if her marriage is simply a rebound, and if she really belongs in this new life. And, if not, does she still belong in her old life either?

Annie Adams is an immediately relateable character. How often do we ignore the warning signs that our life is no longer what it used to be, surprised to suddenly find that everything has fallen apart? Annie’s life had been relying largely on inertia when Nick introduced his friction. How many of us, when faced with a life-wrenching change, have thrown ourselves immediately into something different, without immediate thought to whether or not it is right for us? And again, how many of us would eventually question that decision, based solely on the fact that it did come after such a drastic change? Is this real? Is it just a rebound? These are the questions that guide Annie’s life in The First Husband, and they do so in an incredibly realistic manner. Nick and Griffin were somewhat less fully fleshed out, but The First Husband takes place so much in Annie’s head, that this seemed like a reasonable choice: Annie is questioning how much she really knows either man, so why should the reader know them any better?

Dave has succeeded in writing a book that is incredibly life-like and that readers can relate to whether or not they have ever been in the exact same situation. Recommended.

Join the conversation July 14th

Laura Dave will be joining the SheKnows Book Club to discuss The First Husband on Thursday, July 14th. All are invited and welcome to participate on the SheKnows message boards.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound.*

Source: Author
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love by Andrew Shaffer – Book Review

Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love by Andrew Shaffer
Published by Harper Perennial, an imprint of Harper Collins

If philosophers are the wisest among us, and even by their very name called lovers of wisdom, then surely they should excel at romantic relationships, n’est pas? Alas, that seems not to be the case, as Andrew Shaffer clearly shows in “Great Philsophers Who Failed at Love.”

Thirty-seven philosophers, including greats such as Socrates, Plato, Kant, Locke, and Sartre, have their love lives chronicled in “Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love.” Their stories range from merely an excessive number of marriages and divorces, to legal adoption of one’s younger lover, to the accidental murder by strangling of one’s spouse.

“Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love”  was supremely well executed. Each philosopher has a chapter between two and four pages long, where their contributions to the world of philosophy, along with their scandalous love life, is chronicled. Shaffer walks at least two fine lines: providing the reader with enough information on each philosopher’s contributions that their inclusion makes sense, but not overwhelming the narrative with philosophical detail which not all readers may understand; and providing an informative narrative which is funny, but not to the point of being ridiculous. In both cases, Shaffer achieved exactly the right balance.

A fascinating book. although I’m surprised that Shaffer’s wife didn’t turn around and leave when he mentioned on their honeymoon his proposed topic. Highly recommended for those interested in philosophy, history, and human nature.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via
Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

Source: Publisher.
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