Mini-reviews: No Book but the World by Leah Hager Cohen; We Were Liars by E. Lockhart; and The Rise & Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman

nobookbuttheworldTitle: No Book but the World
Author: Leah Hager Cohen
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Source: ARC from Library Thing
Number of pages: 320
First line: I have been too fond of stories

Goodreads blurb: At the edge of a woods, on the grounds of a defunct “free school,” Ava and her brother, Fred, shared a dreamy and seemingly idyllic childhood—a world defined largely by their imaginations and the presence of each other.

Decades later, then, when Ava learns that her brother is being held in a county jail for a shocking crime, she is frantic to piece together what actually happened. Fred has always been different, certainly impaired, never evaluated. Their parents frowned upon labels and diagnoses as much as they did formal instruction and societal constraints. Now, however, the parents are gone, the siblings grown apart, a boy is dead and Fred in jail, and Ava is forced to wonder: is it her job to save her brother? What is our obligation to those we love—and to those we find difficult to love? Convinced that she alone will be able to reach him and explain his innocence to the world, Ava endeavors to tell their enthralling story.

This book had so much potential! The writing is beautiful, the storyline incredibly interesting, and the characters real enough to break your heart. I was fully invested in Ava’s search for answers about her brother and what happened with the dead boy. Ava is an unusual woman, a product of her strange upbringing, and I was fascinated by the idea of how a person like that could ever fully integrate into normal society. Because her parents rejected society and especially organized education, her brother’s disability was never diagnosed or managed, and the ignorance on the part of her parents infuriated me. I even enjoyed the resolution – until the last few pages. And then the ending made me want to hurl the book across the room. I can’t explain why without giving a HUGE spoiler, so I’ll just leave it at that. The ending ruined it for me. I only gave it three stars because of how much I enjoyed it up until that point, but it was a close call between that and a two-star rating.

wewereliarsTitle: We Were Liars
Author: E. Lockhart
Genre: YA contemporary fiction, thrillers
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from my personal library
Number of pages: 240
First line: Welcome to the beautiful Sinclair family.

Goodreads blurb: A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

What can I say that won’t give too much away? Nothing. I devoured this book, and you should definitely read it.

riseandfallTitle: The Rise & Fall of Great Powers
Author: Tom Rachman
Genre: Contemporary fiction, literary fiction
Publisher: The Dial Press
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: ARC from the publisher
Number of pages: 400
First line: His pencil wavered above the sales ledger, dipping toward the page as his statements increased in vigor, the pencil tip skimming the pad, then pulling up like a stunt plane, only to plunge at moments of emphasis, producing a constellation of increasingly blunt dots around the lone entry for that morning, the sale of one used copy of Land Snails of Britain by A.G. Brunt-Coppell (price £3.50).

Goodreads blurb: Tooly Zylberberg, the American owner of an isolated bookshop in the Welsh countryside, conducts a life full of reading, but with few human beings. Books are safer than people, who might ask awkward questions about her life. She prefers never to mention the strange events of her youth, which mystify and worry her still.

Taken from home as a girl, Tooly found herself spirited away by a group of seductive outsiders, implicated in capers from Asia to Europe to the United States. But who were her abductors? Why did they take her? What did they really want? There was Humphrey, the curmudgeonly Russian with a passion for reading; there was the charming but tempestuous Sarah, who sowed chaos in her wake; and there was Venn, the charismatic leader whose worldview transformed Tooly forever. Until, quite suddenly, he disappeared.

Years later, Tooly believes she will never understand the true story of her own life. Then startling news arrives from a long-lost boyfriend in New York, raising old mysteries and propelling her on a quest around the world in search of answers.

When I read Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists, I enjoyed his writing style a lot, but didn’t love the book. I knew that I would watch for his next work, though, and I am so glad I remembered that when I was offered an ARC of his newest novel. The Rise & Fall of Great Powers is a delightful read, a book full of characters whom I will remember for ages, and a book full of the love of books and reading. In fact, before I forget, here are a couple passages I wanted to record:

“Books,” he said, “are like mushrooms. They grow when you are not looking. Books increase by rule of compound interest: one interest leads to another interest, and this compounds into third. Next, you have so much interest there is no space in closet.”

People kept their books, she thought, not because they were likely to read them again but because these objects contained the past – the texture of being oneself at a particular place, at a particular time, each volume a piece of one’s intellect, whether the work itself had been loved or despised or had induced a snooze on page forty.

The book jumps backward and forward in time, alternating between three time periods in Tooly’s life. It doesn’t run chronologically at all, and so it has a jarring effect at first. It took me a bit to get used to this, and then it just worked, because it vividly demonstrated the random fits and starts that made up Tooly’s nomadic life. She is almost a person outside of time, because so much of who she is is wrapped up in her past, and yet she doesn’t have a full picture or understanding of that past. As she starts to put the bits and pieces together, the reader begins to know more than she does, and so is perfectly positioned to observe as Tooly finally allows herself to realize the truth. I loved The Rise & Fall of Great Powers, and I have a feeling it will end up on my favorite books of 2014 list.

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11 Responses to Mini-reviews: No Book but the World by Leah Hager Cohen; We Were Liars by E. Lockhart; and The Rise & Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman

  1. Amy @ My Friend Amy says:

    I’m so glad you liked We Were Liars!

  2. BermudaOnion(Kathy)
    Twitter: bermudaonion

    I’ve been meaning to read We Were Liars ever since BEA when Booking Mama kept telling me I had to read it.

  3. Sandy
    Twitter: youvegottaread

    I loved We Were Liars…gave it 5 stars as well. It is a whole unreliable thing, so it is hard to talk about but the writing is so easy to read. It just flows and is very hard to put down. Also liked the whole coming-of-age and golden summer feel to the thing. I’m definitely going to add Rise and Fall to my list…off to see what the library offers.

  4. Pingback: The Sunday Salon – August 17, 2014 | BOOKS AND MOVIES

  5. JoAnn @Lakeside Musing
    Twitter: lakesidemusing

    I loved We Were Liars, too. Need to read Tom Rachman.

  6. Susan says:

    Yeah I wasn’t a big fan of Rachman’s Imperfectionists so I’ve been a bit apprehensive to pick up another of his. But it seems you liked the new one. Maybe it’s worth another look. thanks!