We Are Not Ourselves

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
Published by Simon & Schuster on August 19th 2014
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 620
Goodreads

Born in 1941, Eileen Tumulty is raised by her Irish immigrant parents in Woodside, Queens, in an apartment where the mood swings between heartbreak and hilarity, depending on whether guests are over and how much alcohol has been consumed.

When Eileen meets Ed Leary, a scientist whose bearing is nothing like those of the men she grew up with, she thinks she's found the perfect partner to deliver her to the cosmopolitan world she longs to inhabit. They marry, and Eileen quickly discovers Ed doesn't aspire to the same, ever bigger, stakes in the American Dream.

Eileen encourages her husband to want more: a better job, better friends, a better house, but as years pass it becomes clear that his growing reluctance is part of a deeper psychological shift. An inescapable darkness enters their lives, and Eileen and Ed and their son Connell try desperately to hold together a semblance of the reality they have known, and to preserve, against long odds, an idea they have cherished of the future.

Through the Learys, novelist Matthew Thomas charts the story of the American Century, particularly the promise of domestic bliss and economic prosperity that captured hearts and minds after WWII. The result is a riveting and affecting work of art; one that reminds us that life is more than a tally of victories and defeats, that we live to love and be loved, and that we should tell each other so before the moment slips away.

We Are Not Ourselves was a very hard book to rate. On one hand I love the historical aspects of it, the writing made it come alive and the characters seemed incredibly real. On the other hand I really disliked the characters and the…plot? I’m hesitant to call it a plot because I feel like a plot inspires visions of a rollercoaster of emotions and the storyline was very linear.

When we first meet Eileen as a child, I feel bad for her but she seems like a strong person. She seems resigned to her fate but motivated to change it when she can. I know that they say you grow up to be like your parents, but I feel like she was so hyper aware of how her parents were and how much she didn’t want to be like them, that it was odd that she grew up to be like them. Maybe it was because she was so focused on her financial stability and outward appearances that she didn’t nurture her caring side, or maybe it’s just a sign of those times, but her attitude just didn’t sit right with me. Especially her interactions with her son. A big part of my dislike for this book was because of Eileen, and although that means I likely wouldn’t recommend the book, the fact that Thomas’ writing evoked such strong feelings from me means it was written well.

Like I said before, the plot wasn’t much of a plot. From the outset I kind of guessed what was going to happen. When Ed started to decline and Eileen basically out and out ignored it because she was too focused on everyone judging them on it, so she didn’t get Ed the help he needed, I wanted to reach into the book and shake her. I get that this is in a different time, so appearances mattered a lot more (or I assume they did), but her attitude around the whole situation just frustrated me. She spent the entire book being miserable, judgy, and snarky towards everyone when if she’d put caring for her family above everything else, she could have had a much better time. Which again, the fact that I got so annoyed at her as a character means the book was well written. Not every character has to be loveable.

So all in all, would I reread We Are Not Ourselves? No. Would I recommend it? Probably not. Do I still consider it a decent read? Begrudgingly.

She tried to imagine what it would feel like to have always been alone. She decided that being alone to begin with would be easier than being left alone. Everything would be easier than that.

“Don’t ever love anyone,” her mother said, picking the papers up and sliding them into the bureau drawer she’d kept her ring in. “All you’ll do is break your own heart.”

One StarOne StarOne Star

Glory Over Everything

Glory over Everything: Beyond The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
Published by Simon & Schuster on April 5th 2016
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 365
Goodreads

Jamie Pyke, son of both a slave and master of Tall Oakes, has a deadly secret that compels him to take a treacherous journey through the Underground Railroad.

Published in 2010, The Kitchen House became a grassroots bestseller. Fans connected so deeply to the book’s characters that the author, Kathleen Grissom, found herself being asked over and over “what happens next?” The wait is finally over.

This new, stand-alone novel opens in 1830, and Jamie, who fled from the Virginian plantation he once called home, is passing in Philadelphia society as a wealthy white silversmith. After many years of striving, Jamie has achieved acclaim and security, only to discover that his aristocratic lover Caroline is pregnant. Before he can reveal his real identity to her, he learns that his beloved servant Pan has been captured and sold into slavery in the South. Pan’s father, to whom Jamie owes a great debt, pleads for Jamie’s help, and Jamie agrees, knowing the journey will take him perilously close to Tall Oakes and the ruthless slave hunter who is still searching for him. Meanwhile, Caroline’s father learns and exposes Jamie’s secret, and Jamie loses his home, his business, and finally Caroline.

Heartbroken and with nothing to lose, Jamie embarks on a trip to a North Carolina plantation where Pan is being held with a former Tall Oakes slave named Sukey, who is intent on getting Pan to the Underground Railroad. Soon the three of them are running through the Great Dismal Swamp, the notoriously deadly hiding place for escaped slaves. Though they have help from those in the Underground Railroad, not all of them will make it out alive.

I picked up The Kitchen House a couple of years ago on a whim from the used bookstore. I love me a good historical fiction, and it DEFINITELY falls into that category. Fast forward to this year and when Simon & Schuster reached out asking if I’d like to read Kathleen Grissom’s newest novel, Glory Over Everything, I said heck yes!

I looked up a couple of reviews of The Kitchen House to re-familiarize myself with the story, but it turns out I didn’t need to. All I had to do was look at the cover and I could remember the plot, characters and feelings I had reading it. Since I read so much, this rarely happens. It’s a testament to Grissom’s writing.

I received Glory Over Everything during the week, and made sure to clear my schedule so I could start it on the weekend. All it took me was one afternoon. ONE AFTERNOON!!! I don’t remember the last time I flew through a book like that.

Although you don’t have to read The Kitchen House to understand Glory Over Everything, I suggest you do. It helps set a backstory for Jamie, and it helps immerse you in the story so much more. I was able to feel what Jamie was feeling easier, and understand why he did certain things. At times when he was thinking back to his plantation days, I felt like we were two friends reminiscing, because I had followed him on that journey as well.

The story is told mostly from two points of view: Pan and Jamie’s. Even though I’m not normally a fan of multi-viewpoints, it worked well. They were each distinctive viewpoints, and I like that Jamie’s started a little farther back than Pan’s, so it wasn’t really overlapping. They intertwined nicely.

Pan I liked, although I found him a little annoying. Mind you he is a child, and a pretty sheltered one at that, so I can understand. But I gave him a lot of side eye throughout the novel. Other than that, I found him cute and I got really super nervous anytime I thought something bad might happen to him.

Jamie I didn’t mind at all. His growth in character was a little sudden and didn’t feel 100% genuine for me, but overall it didn’t detract from my liking of him. It was interesting to have him as a little boy in The Kitchen House, and then see him as a man in Glory Over Everything. You can definitely see how the past has shaped who he is today.

Overall, I loved Glory Over Everything, just like I loved The Kitchen House. Actually, I might have liked it more. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, pick this one up.

 

The Taker

The Taker (The Taker, #1) by Alma Katsu
Published by Simon & Schuster on September 6th 2011
Genres: fantasy
Pages: 438
Goodreads

On the midnight shift at a hospital in rural St. Andrew, Maine, Dr. Luke Findley is expecting a quiet evening--until a mysterious woman, Lanore McIlvrae, arrives in his ER, escorted by police. Lanore is a murder suspect, and Luke is inexplicably drawn to her. As Lanny tells him her story, an impassioned account of love and betrayal that transcends time and mortality, she changes his life forever. At the turn of the nineteenth century, Lanny was consumed as a child by her love for the son of St. Andrew’s founder, and she will do anything to be with him forever, but the price she pays is steep--an immortal bond that chains her to a terrible fate.

I couldn’t put this book down. It was absolutely stunning and surpassed any and all of my expectations.

My favourite part about this entire novel is the narrative voice. I think Alma Katsu could write 300 pages about watching paint dry and it would still mesmerize me. The story line alone was fantastic, but when told the way it was, it easily took The Taker to the top of my recommendation list.

Narrative aside, I did love the plot as well. The cover copy gives you an inclination of what the story could be about, but I was still absolutely surprised ever time I turned the page. I finished the book satisfied, but I still want more at the same time! I want to see where the story goes and how the characters develop.

I would highly recommend The Taker to anyone. But I would suggest having a solid chunk of time set aside to read it, as it’s very unlikely you will be able to put it down.

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star