Tag Archives: anita shreve

THE STARS ARE FIRE by Anita Shreve

About 3/4 of the way through Anita Shreve’s latest novel, The Stars Are Fire, I lost my mind. I was listening the book on audio, without the print to go back and forth to, and I was at a point of such tension and suspense that I simply could not stop listening. The only problem is that I didn’t have the audio on my phone – only on CD – and I had no opportunity to listen to the CDs over the weekend. PANIC! How was I going to get my fix?

So here’s why I was so invested. The Stars Are Fire is about Grace, a woman in her early 20s, who is married to a gruff, unaffectionate man. The setting is Maine in 1947, and with two children and no means to support herself, Grace is trapped in her marriage. She knows that she is unhappy, but has little recourse. Then one fall, a massive fire spreads through the drought-stricken coast, and Grace’s house burns to the ground. She manages to escape and saves her children’s lives by escaping to the beach and shielding them in a boat. Gene, meanwhile, who was working further inland to prevent the fire’s spread, disappears after their town is destroyed.

With her husband gone and her house destroyed, Grace must figure out how to provide shelter and an income for her family. The Stars Are Fire is about Grace’s emerging independence and confidence, at a time when women had few freedoms. There is also the ever-present uncertainty surrounding Gene’s whereabouts and the possibility of his reappearance. Other characters come and go, some affecting Grace more than others, which bring additional dimensions to the story.

I’ve long been a fan of Shreve’s. She’s an expert storyteller with a gift for building suspense and keeping her reader interested. I HAD to know what happened to Grace, and was distracted and frustrated until I could find out.

The Stars Are Fire is not a perfect book. The end is a bit tidy, given all the buildup, and some key twists were unrealistic or too convenient. But who cares? This was a thoroughly immersive, engrossing book and I will not soon forget it.

As I mentioned, I listened to The Stars Are Fire on audio. I thought the narration by Suzanne Elise Freeman was just OK. Her delivery was a little robotic, and she made Grace harsher and more aggressive than I suspect Shreve intended. But again, I didn’t care! I just wanted to finish it. I just recommend also having the print version or ebook if you’re going to listen to this book on audio, because you will want it!

So, yes, recommended.

Giveaway: STELLA BAIN by Anita Shreve

Stella Bain by Anita Shreve
It has been a week since I last posted, and I don’t even have a review to post today. For some reason, my reading has stalled. I have been busy, with the holidays and a job search and my daughters in the Nutcracker, and haven’t had much time to read. I’ve also been working on the Facebook page for Bloggers Recommend, which is taking up some of my book-related time. (If you haven’t already, please subscribe to the Bloggers Recommend newsletter and follow the Facebook page. Lots of great book recommendations there from great bloggers.)

I have also had trouble getting into my next read. I picked up Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland a few months ago, read about 20 pages, and put it down. I have done the same with Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs, which hasn’t grabbed me either. I am listening to Caroline Leavitt’s Is This Tomorrow on audio, and have found myself picking up the paperback and reading that instead of a different book. I need a pageturner to help me keep reading front and center during this very distracting time of year. Any suggestions?

One I might bump up the TBR list is Stella Bain by Anita Shreve, an author I’ve long enjoyed. I was recently offered a review copy of Stella Bain, her latest novel. Her publicist describes it as “a spare and elegant historical novel set during World War I. When Stella, a nurse’s aid working near the front, is wounded on a French battlefield, a British surgeon takes her in. It is an epic story about love and the meaning of memory, set against the haunting backdrop of a war that destroyed an entire generation.” I’ve enjoyed Shreve’s contemporary fiction, and was intrigued by the historical setting. I am looking forward to reading it.

I was also offered a copy of Stella Bain to give away to an EDIWTB reader. If you’re interested in winning a copy, leave me a comment below and I will pick a name at random next Sunday, December 21. Good luck!

BODY SURFING by Anita Shreve

Shreve I picked up Body Surfing on audio at the library a few weeks ago because 1) I like Anita Shreve, and 2) I bought the hardcover at a used booksale earlier this year and I like to read the paper version along with the audio.

Body Surfing is about Sydney Sklar, a woman who divorced her first husband and lost her second to a brain aneurism, all before the young age of 29. She is spending her summer working as a tutor to Julie Edwards, a high school student, at Julie's family's beach house in New Hampshire (the same house that has been the setting of a few other of Anita Shreve's novels). When the book opens, Julie's two older brothers, Ben and Jeff, have arrived at the beach house for a visit, and the book is about the ramifications of that visit and the effect the brothers' relationship has on Sydney and, ultimately, the rest of the family.

Anita Shreve is a good storyteller. She's a precise writer, if a bit cold and unemotional. Body Surfing is told in short sections, many consisting of only a few paragraphs, and the book goes by very quickly. I liked Shreve's descriptions of the Edwards family – she conveys a lot about a character simply by describing their clothing and their mannerisms, a minimalistic style that contributes to the quick pace of the story.

Plotwise, it was a little weak. The whole book hinges on one decision by one person, which was motivated by a desire to hurt a second person. That motivation is ultimately not very convincing. I wish that Shreve had spent more time laying foundations for what happened, rather than just rushing through the whole sequence of developments at the same brisk pace that the whole book followed. In retrospect, there was so much in the book that was unrealistic or just not adequately addressed. Sydney, too, was a frustratingly passive character. "Body surfing" is a good description of how she lives her life, buffeted by the the actions and motivations of other characters and barely able to assert control over the direction in which she moves.

Good vacation read, for sure; but not great literary fiction. Perhaps that's like many Anita Shreve novels – it has been a while since I have read anything by her.

As for the audio – I know I complain about this a lot, but the narrator overanunciated, which always bugs me. But it wasn't bad, overall. I found that I liked the book much better – it went much more quickly and there was more momentum and tension. Oh – there are some INCREDIBLY cheesy and highly distracting musical interludes spread throughout the audio version, especially in moments of high tension. Not good.

Overall, a good read, not a great one. But fine if you're looking for something on the light side.

Guest Post: A CHANGE IN ALTITUDE by Anita Shreve

Thank you to guest-poster Nancy West for this review of A Change of Altitude by Anita Shreve.

Shreve On one level, A Change in Altitude by Anita Shreve is a travelogue, depicting what it’s like to live as an American in Kenya in the late 1970’s. As seen through the eyes of young newlywed Margaret, Kenya is magnificent and yet terrifying, irresistible but also abominable, with its gorgeous scenery and mesmerizing wildlife but also corruption, poverty and crime. On another level, A Change in Altitude can be interpreted as an allegory for the first year of marriage, which is just what Margaret and her physician husband, Patrick, are undertaking simultaneous with their year in Kenya. Welcome to a strange new life, in which romance and excitement contrast with miscommunications, disappointments, domestic stress and in their case tragedy. Does that describe Kenya? Marriage? Or both?

I spent two weeks as a tourist in Kenya more than a decade ago, and I was fascinated, wondering what it would be like to live there. Through Margaret’s eyes, we find out: mostly it’s often really difficult. Robbery and other forms of crime are a constant threat, and like a lot of Americans and Europeans, Margaret suffers from guilt regarding Colonialism. Their servants work hard and loyally for them, only to be separated from their families for months on end or to go home to deplorably poor conditions, as Margaret discovers when she escorts a friend’s nanny to her home in the slums of Nairobi after the nanny survives a violent attack.

Patrick and Margaret’s real problems begin with a tragic event. They join another couple for a challenging hike up Mt. Kenya, and one of the friends meets with a disastrous end that Margaret may or may not be indirectly to blame for. From there, things only seem to get worse for the couple: they return home to suffer the guilt of the accident along with the ongoing stress of living in such a complicated place. Adultery tempts both husband and wife; even their professional lives encounter obstacles specific to Kenya.

With its ongoing themes of culpability, resilience, and how we decide whom to forgive and when and for what, we see in Margaret and Patrick’s story how both life in Kenya and marriage are obstacle-strewn landscapes not easily – and perhaps not happily – survived.

TESTIMONY by Anita Shreve

 Testimony_lAt the beach last week, I read Testimony, by Anita Shreve.  It's a typical Shreve best-seller – compelling and well-written. Testimony is about a sex scandal at a prep school in New England involving three male students, an underage girl, and a video. The book unfolds in chapters that rotate among several perspective- the students, the headmaster, several of the parents, even a reporter who covered the story. Some chapters are told in first person, some in second, and some in third, which makes the book more interesting.

So. It's a good read – perfect for the beach. But ultimately, it's kind of an empty read. It's a page-turner, but ultimately not a very memorable book. There are some questions raised about parenthood – who is to blame when kids exercise bad judgment? what happens when a parent's bad judgment has a negative impact on a child? I certainly fell sorry for these characters and the tragic role the scandal played in their lives. And the girl at the center of it all was definitely infuriating and unsympathetic – though was she a victim, or a manipulator?

I did like the way the book was told from many perspectives, with facts revealed slowly and masterfully over time by different voices, combining to make a complete story.

I am late to the Testimony party – there are a lot of good blog reviews out there of this book. Heather at Book Addiction felt the same way as I did about Testimony:

I will say that I have read several of Anita Shreve’s books, and Testimonyis by far the most fast-paced and exciting of the ones I’ve read.  While I was reading the book, I was completely caught up in the story, quickly turning pages because I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next.  But now that it’s been a week or so since I’ve finished the book, I’m feeling kind of 'meh' about it.  None of the characters are overly memorable and even the story itself… it was good.  Nothing amazing.  I don’t know, I guess I was hoping for more."

Jill from Breaking the Spine said, "Shreve does a masterful job at drawing out the story, releasing details piece by piece, building intrigue as she outlines what led up to that night and its painful aftermath."

Serena from Savvy Verse and Wit said, "As always, Shreve has outdone herself in this novel, weaving a series of disjointed testimonies into a coherent and heart-wrenching story of love, loss, responsibility, and adolescence. I've often wondered if Shreve has ever tried her hand at poetry because the language she creates on the page paints a vivid image, and those images often conjure deeper meanings and emotions for the reader."