All Lit Up: March 2015.
March tapped me on the shoulder and when I turned to look it was already gone! Still, despite the whirlwind of busy days and capricious weather, I enjoyed several new books. March was all about fiction and there were quite a few tempting new releases to pick from!
I had the pleasure of reading an advanced copy Claire Fuller's debut novel Our Endless Numbered Days, and let me tell you, the wait for its release so I could recommend it was agonizing. Set in England during the late 70's, eight year old Peggy's survivalist father takes her deep into the wilderness and convinces her they are the only two people left alive on the planet. The story flashes back and forth between their struggle for survival and nine years later as Peggy attempts to readjust to life reunited with her mother. Plenty of questions are raised and the two timelines are fused seamlessly to deliver the shocking answers. It's marketed to a young adult audience, but it felt more like a book for adults that just happened to be written from a child's perspective. The details were so well crafted that I found myself wondering if it was based on a true story. Utterly gripping and believable, this book will leave you reeling!
I first picked up The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton purely based on the cover. The periwinkle background is overlaid with a gorgeous gold feather and has matching metallic wisps floating down the spine. The story blends history and tragedy with a whimsical hand that invokes a fairy tale feel. Spanning four generations, the past is narrated by Ava Lavender, a young girl inexplicably born with wings. Tragedy strikes the Lavender family again and again, but the magical happenings keep this story of lost loves from feeling too dark. Ultimately triumphant and uplifting with some surprisingly deep moments, this book was every bit as beautiful as its cover.
My next March read was Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy, a gritty coming-of-age story set in the hardscrabble mountains of North Carolina. This was an incredibly heavy and moving read. Jacob, the son of a meth-dealing kingpin, is resigned to his fate to follow in his father's footsteps, but lacks the depravity to truly fit into the cruel and violent world he's been brought up in. His one wish is to see his childhood sweetheart, Maggie, make it out and move on to better things. Right from the first chapter Jacob captured my interest and empathy. The settings and characters are so well crafted that they are instantly relatable, drawing you into their realities and struggles. With that being said, I had to "visit" this book. I'm usually a binge reader, going for hours at a time, but this was too heavy to stay immersed in for that long. All the same, definitely a worthwhile read!
Before I Go by Colleen Oakley is the story of a young woman who is diagnosed with terminal cancer and decides to spend her dying days looking for a replacement wife for the husband she'll leave behind. It looked like it would be a good read, but this one really fell flat for me. The cover design and description hinted at a lighthearted treatment of the serious plot line, but I wasn't really moved or amused by Daisy's quest. The story sort of awkwardly straddled that line between humor and depth when it might have been a better read if it had fully committed to one or the other. Daisy felt like a very young character and for the most part I just found myself frustrated with her decisions and the breakdown in communication with her husband. I will say the author did an excellent job of articulating the little idiosyncrasies and habits that become glaringly obvious (for better or worse) when you're in a relationship. Both Daisy and her husband Jack have very relatable quirks and tendencies, and Daisy's character remained a consistent and reliable narrator. It was a pleasant read, but not much more.
I’m a sucker for a good YA read and I have a special place in my heart for debut novels so to finish out my March reading I picked up new release We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach. The story follows four different high school students whose lives are irrevocably changed overnight. An asteroid is hurtling toward earth with a 60% chance of direct impact, and they’ve only got two months before time is up. Tommy Wallach masterfully explores the various mutations that take place when people are faced with their own mortality and each character takes a slightly different path towards establishing the significance of their existence with the time they have left. I enjoyed reading a plot line that revolved around dealing with a coming apocalypse as opposed to an attempt to prevent it. The story definitely makes use of some popular clichés, but the writing is so beautiful that the whole thing feels fresh. I found myself stopping to reread particularly well-crafted portions of the book, (it’s not every day an author uses the word “crepuscular”). Wallach is also a musician and has produced a companion album to We All Looked Up. I’d highly recommend both.