Blog Posts by lbanovz

Posted by lbanovz on 01/17/17
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It’s now January, and we’re in the throes of winter. As the grey firmly sets in outside, I cannot help but dream of palm trees and white, sandy beaches. Enchanted Islands by Alison Amend is exactly the sort of novel you need as the thermometer hovers in teens. Based on the remarkable memoirs of Frances Conway, Amend has crafted a lyrical story that traipses from Duluth, Minnesota to the golden coast of San Francisco and even further out to the mystical Galapagos Islands.
We follow Frances as she grows up in the Midwest with her best friend, Rosalie, before the two girls’ lives take startling different paths. Rosalie becomes a socialite, while Frances takes a job working for Navy Intelligence as secretary in California. One day, at the age of 50, in the midst of WWII, Frances finds herself assigned to a new mission: marry Ainslie Conway – one of the Navy’s intelligence officers – and move to the Galapagos as his wife to spy on the Germans. Which sounds crazy, except for the fact that it really happened: the real Frances did marry Ainslie and move to the Galapagos, all on orders from the U.S. Navy. A completely incongruous couple, Frances and Ainslie settle (somewhat) into their life together.
Granted, Amend has taken liberties with the historical accuracy of the story, but it makes for a compelling read. The meat of the story is really Frances and Rosalie’s relationship, but I loved that Amend allows the Galapagos a life of its own, making it a central character in and of itself. Readalikes include The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, a beautiful historical fiction about a strong women that centers around nature, and Modern Lovers by Emma Straub, for its depiction of fierce female friendship.
Posted by lbanovz on 08/11/16
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I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I have a weird fascination with art theft. Yes, you read that correctly. It seems I will devour any book that has even the smallest plot point centered around art thievery. Think Donna Tart’s 2013 smash hit, The Goldfinch, or The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes. Art theft even found its way into this year’s blockbuster The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney (which I also adored), and I didn’t even seek it out. The subject just seems to fall into my lap. So when I tell you that I purposefully stopped myself from breezing through The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, Dominic Smith’s newest title that centers around the theft of a painting, understand what a challenge it was for me.

Smith has beautifully crafted a story that is equal parts mystery and love story. The love story itself is not romantic in nature, but rather a tribute to a mother’s love and the love of art as a whole. Both the painting in question, titled “At the Edge of the Wood”, and the artist – Sara de Vos –  are fictitious, but Smith has borrowed pieces of the lives of real female masters from the Dutch Golden Age.

Nothing about the structure or plot is groundbreaking: we travel back and forth between 1950’s New York, 17th-century Amsterdam, and 21st-century Australia, with the painting and the haunting presence of Sara de Vos following us along the way. It’s the way Smith tells it, setting the atmosphere in lyrically beautiful detail, that makes you want to stop and savor each chapter as you creep closer and closer to the moment when everything is laid bare.

For fans of People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks and Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier.
Posted by lbanovz on 06/04/16
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Meet the spectacularly dysfunctional Plumb family. When Leo, the charming but wastrel eldest son, endangers his siblings’ chances of inheriting their share of the family trust (the titular “Nest” in question), all hell breaks loose. Because $2 million is a lot of money, even when split four ways. And the other Plumb children (artistic Bea, floundering Jack, and maternal Melody) were counting on that money to assuage some moderate-to-severe financial pains. Which wouldn’t be so bad, except no one – especially not Leo – has a plan B.

Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney has accomplished quite a feat, especially for a debut author: she has a way of taking unlikeable characters and making them sympathetic; even Leo, the persistent screw-up, finds a way into your heart by the end. I especially enjoyed the surprising side stories that Sweeney weaves throughout the main plot, taking her characters in a variety of directions but maintaining a coherency to the story as a whole. In many ways it reminded me of Carol Rifka Brunt’s 2012 hit Tell the Wolves I’m Home, which should be next on your list if you haven’t read it already.
Now I know I’m recommending a book you may have to wait a while to get your hands on, but trust me. It’s worth the wait. The Nest is a great summer read, with just enough emotional heft to make it a standout.
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