I was pretty lucky in my August 2018 Book Of The Month selections, with 2 books I really loved and one that fell a bit flat for me (Goodbye, Paris), but I think would be more appealing to bigger fans of that chick lit genre.
In particular, The Air You Breathe by Frances De Pontes Peebles kind of came out of nowhere for me, and I ended up giving it 5 stars. I didn’t know what to expect from the novel and was initially a bit concerned by the incorporation of music and more specifically samba as a significant theme in the novel, but the story line and characters captivated me within 50 to 70 pages and then would not let go. I ended up loving it! Full reviews for all three books in the post.
Book Of The Month is a subscription service that sends you one hardcover book per month out of five selections for a low monthly subscription fee. You can add 2 more titles to your monthly delivery for $9.99 each, and the price overall is very cheap for full-size hardcovers.
Book Of The Month is not paying me to promote their service. I just love it so much that I’ve turned my monthly deliveries into a feature on my blog. I do encourage you to try it though, because if you like hardcovers it’s a great deal. You can use my referral link to sign up if you’re interested in trying it. You’ll get a discount and I’ll get a free book when you join. Win, win!
The Air You Breathe
Publication Date: August 21st 2018
Published By: Riverhead Books
Length In Hardcover: 464 pages
Goodreads Rating: 3.99
The story of an intense female friendship fueled by affection, envy and pride–and each woman’s fear that she would be nothing without the other.
Traveling from Brazil’s inland sugar plantations to the rowdy streets of Lapa in Rio de Janeiro, from Los Angeles during the Golden Age of Hollywood back to the irresistible drumbeat of home, The Air You Breathe unfurls a moving portrait of a lifelong friendship–its unparalleled rewards and lasting losses–and considers what we owe to the relationships that shape our lives.
The friendship at the center of the narrative. The Air You Breathe hinges on the relationship between two women – Graça and Dores – that meet each other as children and whose lives become inextricably intertwined. The relatability and complexity of this friendship reminded me of the relationship between Elena and Lila in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. Both stories represent a female friendship that is loving and passionate, complex but also competitive and hurtful in many ways at its core. In The Air You Breathe, Graça is the dominating, powerful apex of the relationship and Dores her faithful sidekick, but there are hints from the beginning that this power dynamic will eventually shift, and there is also an element of romance to this friendship that further complicates matters.
Two strong female characters. In the end, it’s really Dores and Graça that make the novel. Their characters are given exceptional depth in De Pontes Peebles’ writing. It’s a testament to how realistic and different the characterizations of these two girls are in the novel, that the reader switches from rooting for one to the other depending on the events of each chapter. Neither is the ‘heroine’ of this story – both are believably flawed and prone to missteps as much as triumphs. The author strikes the right balance between making her characters unlikable enough at times that they are supremely interesting, while not going too far as to make the reader stop caring about them. I definitely wanted to know where Dores and Graça’s lives were going until the very last pages of the book.
Samba and Brazil. I have to say that I’m not a huge fan of novels that have music as a theme within them. I do like music of course, but I’m no expert and I’m not into learning more about each genre of music or anything like that. When I first saw that samba was clearly going to have a significant role in this novel, I was a bit put off. However, the author’s use of music as a theme within her narrative grew on me and I came to love reading the beautiful lyrics to different songs that divided the chapters of the novel. The point was not for the reader to end up caring about samba themselves, but rather to understand the way in which samba mattered to the characters within the novel. I also really liked that the book was set in Brazil and gave glimpses into the historical reality of the country in the 1940s and 50s, both within rural and urban settings, impoverished and more affluent realities.
Takes a little to get into. If you had told me 20 or 40 pages into this book that I would end up giving it 5 stars, I wouldn’t believe you. I think the book started at around 3 stars for me and progressively crept up to 5 throughout its length. What really impressed me was the masterful way in which the author created such a complex, multi-dimensional novel. In addition to the primary plot line of the friendship between the two very distinctive protagonists, there are also a slew of supporting characters that each had at least some back story of their own, all with music and samba intertwined into the narrative. It did end up taking a good 50 to 70 pages, but I ended up realizing I was going to love this book, so I would tell others to give it at least that long before making up your mind.
With a captivating female friendship between two very different but equally strong women at its heart, this novel will transport you to Brazil and teach you about samba, all while exploring the true meaning of love and friendship.
by Naomi Novik
Publication Date: July 10th 2018
Published By: Del Rey
Length In Hardcover: 446 pages
Goodreads Rating: 4.33
Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father’s inability to collect his debts has left his family on the edge of poverty. Hardening her heart, the young woman sets out to claim what is owed and soon gains a reputation for being able to turn silver into gold.
When an ill-advised boast draws the attention of the king of the Staryk–grim fey creatures who seem more ice than flesh–Miryem’s fate will be forever altered. Set an impossible challenge by the nameless king, Miryem unwittingly spins a web that draws in a peasant girl, Wanda, and the unhappy daughter of a local lord who plots to wed his child to the dashing young tsar.
Many stories woven together. The genius of this novel is that it brings so many different elements of fairytales, myths and legends together in a seamless fabric that feels cohesive and convincing. The concept of turning silver into gold, derived from the tale of Rapunzel and Rumpelstiltskin, is reimagined as Miryem’s talent for earning money and then eventually morphs into an ability to actually physically turn silver into gold. The cottage from Hansel and Gretel even makes a cameo as as a mysteriously uninhabited house in the woods that provides its occupants with whatever they need. When you add to that the imaginative characters of the Staryk lords of winter and the fire demon pitted against them, there was a good mix of both familiar and more obscure myths to add magic and allure to this novel.
Strong female protagonists. There are three young women at the center of the story – all very different and yet very relatable in their own way: Miryem, the wily and determined daughter of moneylenders, Irina, the plain but tenacious daughter of a lord, and Wanda, the peasant girl wanting to provide stability for herself and her brothers. I gravitated most towards Miryem’s character. She definitely has a dominating presence in the novel compared to the other two women and I found her drive, intelligence and independence very compelling. Irina was slightly less interesting initially but becomes more captivating in the second half of the novel, as her portion of the story ramps up. I found Wanda to provide a good counterpoint through her impoverished reality and completely different life experiences, which gave her chapters a unique tone.
Winter setting. I ended up reading this novel between the end of August and early September, while summer was still very much in full swing. The story is set in a wonderful winter landscape, however. The cold and the winter season really are their own characters, who Miryem and the others are often struggling against. From the white enigmatic Staryk road that winds itself through the trees, to their kingdom of ice and frost, to the neverending winter that cloaks Miryem’s village and the woods around it, this is the kind of novel that should really be read with a cup of hot cocoa in one hand and a fuzzy blanket over your lap. If you’re thinking of reading Spinning Silver, I would wait until fall is in full swing or even until winter begins before doing so, to have the perfect setting.
Pace and confusing at times. This could easily have been a 5 star book for me, but unfortunately I found that the pace of the novel really dragged at times, particularly in the middle. Novik’s beautiful writing made up for this in part, but I still found myself wanting to skim to get to some actual action. There were inner monologues for some of the characters that felt overdone and repetitive, and in particular the chapters from the point of view of Wanda’s brother Stepon felt slower and less impactful than the other chapters. I love novels that have alternating narrators but I think Novik overdid it in this case. Having the different voices changing chapter to chapter did play into the ‘woven together’ theme of the book, but the narrator would sometimes change three times within a single chapter and without an introduction as to who was speaking in each portion of the text. It was overall needlessly confusing.
Set in a transporting winter landscape, Spinning Silver is the adult version of a fairytale with all the magic of the ones you’ll recall from your childhood but the depth and complexity given by adult characters written for grown-up readers.
Publication Date: August 7th 2018
Published By: Touchstone
Length In Hardcover: 288 pages
Goodreads Rating: 3.70
Grace has built a quiet life for herself in her small English village, repairing instruments. Her long-distance affair with David, a married man, is thrown into disarray when David saves the life of a woman in the Paris Metro. His resulting fame shines a light onto the real state of the relationships in his life.
Shattered, Grace hits rock bottom and abandons everything that has been important to her, including her dream of entering and winning the world’s most important violin-making competition. Filled with lovable, quirky characters, this poignant novel explores the realities of relationships and heartbreak and shows that when it comes to love, there’s more than one way to find happiness.
A perfectly fine novel. Goodbye, Paris was a relatively enjoyable novel, hence the 3 star rating. There were aspects of the novel I definitely didn’t like, but overall it’s not poorly executed and I can see how others (especially those who are bigger fans of the chick lit genre) could really like this title. The story line was cute and there were some interesting settings and elements that made the novel feel a bit more original, like the violin making shop and the incorporation of European cities like Paris and even relatively obscure Cremona. Harris’ writing is also above average, which adds a bit more quality to the novel overall.
Interesting supporting characters. I wasn’t a huge fan of the protagonist of the novel Grace (as you’ll see below), but I really enjoyed the two primary supporting characters that act as her sidekicks throughout the narrative. The first is her teenage employee/friend Nadia who kind of acts like the embodied voice of the reader as she vents her frustration with Grace’s terrible life decisions. Then there was also William, the elderly helpful customer of Grace’s store who turns into a friend and a bit of a lifesaver during some of Grace’s darker moments. Both Nadia and William have strong personalities and funny quirks that make their characters interesting, and also they generally are better functioning humans than Grace (which isn’t hard).
Hard to relate to protagonist. I had two really big issues with the novel that would put my personal rating of it at somewhere between 2.5 and 3.0 stars (rounded up to 3). The first is kind of a really big part of the book, since it’s the person on which the entire plot revolves – the protagonist, Grace. I couldn’t get over how naive and honestly stupid Grace seemed for the fist two thirds of the novel. She’s an absolutely terrible decision maker and her moral compass is really off, which is hard to watch as a reader and didn’t feel relatable for me. Characters that have weaknesses and failings can actually often be really compelling, but in this case Grace felt caricatured and I couldn’t muster up sympathy for her.
Superficial and cliche in parts. It wasn’t just Grace that felt one-dimensional in her portrayal – the affair at the center of the book also felt like it unfolded in a very obvious way, with nothing original or unexpected in that part of the story line. There was no subtlety to the emotions experienced by Grace throughout the affair, which is why I’ve cringed at comparisons being attempted between this novel and Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (my review here). I’m a huge fan of Honeyman’s debut and I can’t help but take these (incorrect) comparisons personally. Goodbye, Paris has absolutely nothing to do with the complexity of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine. Unlike Eleanor Oliphant, this novel is ‘completely fine’, but nothing more than that.
A predictable plot line and one-dimensional protagonist are salvaged by interesting supporting characters and more originality in the setting and other elements of the novel. A solid option for chick lit fans.
Have you read The Air You Breathe, Spinning Silver and Goodbye Paris? What did you think of them? Do you agree with my ratings? Let me know in the comments.
If you want to read my previous reviews for my Book Of The Month deliveries here are links to my March 2018, February 2018, January 2018, December 2017, November 2017, October 2017, September 2017, August 2017, July 2017, June 2017, May 2017, April 2017, March 2017, February 2017, and January 2017.
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