Archive for the ‘Bookishness’ Category

Book reviews: Tillermans, war-riddled America (that isn’t CNN), and writing advice.

May 18, 2017

I started out this morning happy to blog because somehow, some way this past week I diddled the lock (in the great Steve King parlance) that was holding my reading habits hostage. I read a whopping ten books in the past two weeks (!!!), so I feel fully returned to former glory. Only time will tell if I can stay this engaged (please, baby jeebus), but I hope so.

Of course, because I tend to expect things to fall this way lately, my morning fell apart when I heard the news about Chris Cornell. He was always a favorite of mine, the top-rated singer on my List of Five Twenty if we were judging by voices only. (Um, everyone has a Voices-Only list, right?) Music was always, even this spring, the one thing that could soothe me, and to lose such a favorite at such a time really throws me for a loop. He’ll be missed. And not just because his voice was fine AF.

And so, I’m choosing to focus on reading and reviews because music right now is a basket of nope. Good thing it’s Book Review Thursday.

DreamsOfGodsMonstersDreams of Gods and Monsters, by Laini Taylor (Daughters of Smoke and Bone series #3) (2014, Little, Brown & Company, 613 pages, ebook). This isn’t going to be a full review, because I have several friends reading it right now and I don’t want to color their experience. I will say this: of the trilogy, this was the weakest novel. The story pacing was all over the place. Taylor finally pulled it together for most of the third-quarter, finding some snap and sass and her sense of timing, but the last big reveal? I have a sense she was trying to find a larger But what’s it all for? but it seemed tacked on, undeveloped, and unnecessary. I’ll flesh out my review after everyone I know has had a turn, so for now: Novel: 3 1/2 of 5 stars, Series: 5 of 5 stars.

YearofYesThe Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person, by Shonda Rhimes (2015, Simon & Schuster, 311 pages, ebook). To state it simply: I enjoyed this book an awful lot for not liking it at all. I wanted to like it. I wanted it to be a grown woman’s oasis of advice, an introvert’s survival guide, a way to feel like we were in our pajamas in front of Thursday night TV every time we had to drag ourselves off the couch and out the garage. And Shonda did have me turning pages…the problem is that I was looking for her point. I liked the premise: you have to say yes to everything that comes your way in the course of a year, no take-backs, no changesies. I wanted the book to be more engaging, and I don’t think Rhimes walked the fine line between gossipy revelation and Introverts Survival Guide as she’d hoped. Like I said, I kept turning pages, because Rhimes is charming even if you can see through her game, but I’m glad the book was a deal of the day, because if I’d paid more than a couple bucks, I’d be annoyed. At least I can say YES! I read that trendy coffee table book and read people based on their own reactions. 2 of 5 stars.

HomecomingHomecoming, Dicey’s Song, and A Solitary Blue, by Cynthia Voigt. These are all re-reads for me; battered, beat-up paperbacks (though not my originals; those were lost to my mom’s attic years ago). They’re my favorite books of the series: Homecoming, the original book in which Dicey leads her three younger siblings from suburban Connecticut to Providence, Rhode Island, then down to the Eastern Shores of Maryland, searching for the meaning of (and a literal) family; Dicey’s Song, the second book of the series, which picks up where Homecoming left off, as everyone figures out their new roles and start to put down roots; and the third book, A Solitary Blue, a wonderful optional stand-alone that looks at the backstory of Dicey’s friend Jeff, who was abandoned by his mom first as a boy of 7, and then again at a critical juncture in his adolescence, that was almost his undoing. I could – and sometimes do – reread these three books every year, and I’m not surprised I returned to them during a time I was looking for reassurance. They’re 5-star re-reads, each and every time.

WritingLifeThe Writing Life, by Annie Dillard (1989, HarperCollins, 113 pages, paperback). This was a find from the used book store found its way to me at Christmas. I finally stayed awake long enough at bedtime to make my way through. It was a lot more philosophical than I expected; the first few chapters I had to divine what I thought the parable might be, and how it related to writing. The style itself wasn’t quite my favorite, either, so the entire experience was a little off-putting. That being said, any words of wisdom about writing can be put to good use, and it’s short enough that I knocked it out in an hour, so I can’t wish away the experience. I just probably won’t ever revisit the matter. 2 of 5 stars.

BlindsidedBlindsided, by Priscilla Cummings (2010, Dutton Books, 240 pages, eloan). I borrowed this based on BookRiot’s recent Buy, Borrow, Bypass column, with Blindsided getting a hard Buy. It’s built for the middle-grade audience, about a girl growing up as an only child on her parents’ goat/dairy farm, as she slowly loses vision due to mysterious medical reasons. Natalie is sent to a special school to learn how to be a blind person navigating a world built for the sighted. Though she (and her parents) initially resist, the heart-warming story inevitably comes around with Natalie’s change of heart. And just like it sounds, the story was a bit too schmarmy for me. I’m sure it’s a better sell for the tween and early teen set, much as the Lurlene McDaniels stories were for my generation. There’s something about the worst-has-come-to-pass stories that are just what you need right then – if only to overshadow all the trivial embarrassments you’re forced to ensure day in and day out. But for me, it felt like the backstory of WHY was glossed over, rushed, and too two-dimensional. I wish more time had been spent mounting evidence, building worry, delving into what-if as Natalie (and her parents) dealt (or not-dealt) with what was happening. Instead, the story centered around Natalie learning practicalities and building a new corps of support. Ultimately, framing the story this way felt like ableism as fashion accessory that was too hard to stomach. 1 of 5 stars.

AmericanWarAmerican War, by Omar El Akkad (2017, Knopf Publishing, 352 pages, eloan). A brilliant debut novel imagines America’s second civil war, with some plague, some mid-apocalypse, and heavily cinematic language telling the story thrown in there for good measure. The borders are reimagined (don’t worry, there are maps), the threats are all too possible, the scenarios familiar – the resource-rich South has seceded because petroleum has been outlawed (climate change is a background kickstarter for the plot), and tempers are hot all around. El Akkad does a beautiful job of making the story both fresh and relevant and somehow new despite the politics of it happening every day in every headline. This is going to be one of the it books of the year. 4 of 5 stars.

Okay, folks – there are others I haven’t gotten to, but I’ll have to append them to next week’s bounty. Let’s not enjoy all the spoils the first week back!

My Little Free Library: The before.

May 9, 2017

Waaaaay back at Christmas, my sister gifted me with a Little Free Library kit. Well, she gave the gift to me – the name of the gift – because they were slightly back-ordered. So my kit arrived sometime in March – still long enough ago that it should be up and operational by now.

The problem is, I was ignoring it for the longest time because I was going through the darkest depression this spring and it was all I could do to act “normal”, get through my day, go to work, take care of the family… you get the idea. So the Little Free Library sat in its box, waiting.

A few weeks, I started thinking about it. It came out of its box and I checked out all of the books (the kit Kim ordered came with a bunch of free books), and looked at the design. I started thinking about where I wanted to put it. I mean, I knew where I wanted to plant my LFL: at the entrance to our neighborhood park. It would get a lot of traffic as everyone walked by, plus it would be visible from the streets – the entrance is at the elbow of two roads, so twice the visibility. And it would motivate me to get back to running again – if I have to check it out regularly to make sure there are books there and everything is copacetic, it’s something I can do as I go for a run. (If I go the long way, it’ll be the one mile marker. How smart am I?!) The only problem was: How do we get permission to put a semi-permanent structure on public land?

I called 2342 different offices in my rather large city. I wasn’t sure who would be in charge of the project. I spoke to about a dozen people, some of them twice as I got re-routed, and they were all sympathetic and trying to be helpful, but no one seemed to be in charge of either selling me a permit or saying it was okay to just go do. I was relaying the story to a guy at work, someone who’s had about a gazillion jobs in the past few years. He’s wicked bright, like scary bright, and he mentioned that he used to be a contractor back in his youth. He asked if I got along with my neighbors, how many of them liked the park, if I thought the LFL would be vandalized or if they’d complain about it being there. No? My neighbors are awesome. And even if no one used it, or even particularly liked it, I can’t see them calling the city. So, this guy said, I should just do it. No one is going to know unless someone complains.

Huh.

It’s an idea. One I rather like. I tried to do it the proper way, but that didn’t seem to be going anywhere. Now I’ll do it this way. And so, with a plan in mind, now I have to execute. And that means prepping my LFL box.

I’m thinking of painting the LFL box as if it’s a Tardis. (And not just because I wish the dang thing were bigger on the inside to hold all the books at once!)(But maybe.) I can buy Tardis blue paint (everyone was kind enough to send me the Pantone number) and then created the details at the top and on the sides and back (which I should have taken a picture of). It will be spectacular!

As you can see, we have a number of books ready for deployment. The free books that came with the kit are mostly younger kids books, which is perfect! The girls get books for their ages that they won’t necessarily want to keep when they’re done, and I have lots of grown-up books that I can donate after reading, so younger kids is definitely the area we wouldn’t naturally be able to fill. There are board books about Mickey Mouse, younger readers about the Avengers, two boxed book sets that are Cars themed, two big Disney themed 5-minute stories type books, two activity books by Don’t Let the Pigeon, and a bunch of bunny-themed easy readers. A good haul, even if there are duplicates, that means there are more for everyone! The haul for the grown-ups includes Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society, You, Shatter, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, Everybody Sees the Ants, Ella Minnow Pea, The Eyre Affair, Pride and Prejudice, The Kite Runner, The Girl on the Train, The Red Tent, The Girl at the Bottom of the Well, August Moon, Everything for a Dog, Swiss Family Robinson, Gutsy Girl, and Everlast. Not a bad start!

So! We’ll get to painting this weekend. Then we’ll figure out how to attach the kit to a post. Then we’ll get that sucker planted into the ground. I have some favors to call in because I’m sure not digging a post hole in this clay soil! Ha!

Stand by for the rest of the story! I’m sure it will be an adventure and a half!

Book Reviews: The ones with gangs and nostalgia, hidden worlds and top-tiered societies.

April 13, 2017

You guys, I think I busted through my slump! Let’s hope it’s not temporary. And let’s see if I can squeeze in all the books from this week…

MisterMonkeyMister Monkey, by Francine Prose (2016, Harper, 304 pages, e-loan). There were so many monkey-themed books in this year’s Tournament of Books, I just couldn’t take it. And monkeys – not my favorite. They bug, they annoy, they’re frickin’ creepy! But Mister Monkey is more about nostalgia about a children’s show expressed by those involved in and touched by the show – former actors, audience members, and even the author of the book the musical was based on. It’s supposed to be funny, but the humor seemed aimed at an audience a few clicks left of where my funny bone is located. The longing ache for bygone times hit the mark with me far better than the jokes. But even the desperate attempts to reconcile an irretrievable past with their sad present tense didn’t jive all that well with me. It was a meh book to the nth degree. 2 of 5 stars.

ShatterShatter, by Michael Robotham (2008, Sphere, 352 pages, paperback). I grabbed this at a used book store, though I can’t remember when, and it was a total “eh” kind of buy. A mystery/thriller about a psychology wunder-professor who helps the police solve a suicide that could have been a murder. But how does someone make a naked woman jump off a bridge when she’s terrified and doesn’t want to? So that was the premise. I like thrillers when the voice is right and the plot isn’t too cookie cutter and the characters are developed and aren’t plastic pieces moved about the game board. Shatter had a good plot, a good mystery, that was what made me grab the book in the first place. The characters were well drawn; the main ones were quirky enough to feel original and fresh, and the background characters knew when to speak up and flesh out a scene and when to pipe down to keep the scene from getting overwhelmed. The pacing was perfect, too. So even though it wasn’t a WOW THIS BOOK! kind of experience, it was still enough to make me knock out the book in a few sittings, rather than just leave it for 10 pages here or there. 3 of 5 stars.

LadyAlminaLady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey, by Fiona Carnarvon (2011, Broadway Books, 310 pages, paperback). I was thrilled to find this at the Book Barn in Connecticut over the summer (or was it the Fall for Uncle Timmy’s wedding – did we even go to the Book Barn then?). In any case, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The writing was engaging, even if the editing could have been a lot tighter. The history was clearly laid out, with enough gossip to keep it entertaining. If you enjoy historical pieces, or biographies of the upper class Brits from a certain time, this is right up your alley. You’ll especially enjoy it if you at all liked Downtown Abbey, but even if you’re one of the handful of people who didn’t watch it, and you still enjoy British history, you’ll enjoy this. 3 of 5 stars. (I’d have ranked it higher but I wasn’t kidding about the loose editing – it bugged.)

DaughterOfSmokeAndBoneDaughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor (2011, Little,Brown, 422 pages, ebook). This book has been on my TBR quite possibly since it was released 6 years ago. I never could find it (now I know why) and so on my TBR it stayed. Then it was a Deal of the Day and I snagged it, thinking that even if I didn’t like it, I was only out $2. I finally had a break in my reading rotation, and OH MY GOD, YOU GUYS!!! I was immediately sucked in, even though the characters casually strolling through Prague quickly took a spin from quirky novel to fantasy novel, which usually I’m mostly averse to. But because the world was so 3D – I mean, I really felt I was there, seeing every detail, every background character, every everything – I was okay with the blue hair and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo-esque characterization of Karou, our main character. She was badass. And her chimerea family added an American Gods/Magic: The Gathering-esque quality on top of everything else. But the storytelling was of the highest caliber, to the point where it killed me to put it down. I was mad I had gone 6 years without knowing what I was missing out on, but then I realized that the entire trilogy is out and so I can fly through it without waiting! WIN! I am so heavily invested in Karou – I don’t know why she isn’t as big as Katniss, honestly. 5 of 5 stars.

WeEatOurOwnWe Eat Our Own, by Kea Wilson (2016, Scribner, 320 pages, eloan). It’s always tough to read something after you finish a book that will be in your top 10 for the year. I tried to go total opposite – We Eat Our Own is about a horror film crew shooting in the middle of the South American jungle, when everything goes awry. The small town may or may not be entirely involved in trafficking drugs and protecting their own, and our nameless main character may not survive. Not because the town is creepy and vampiric and focused only on protecting their own, but because the main character is a soul-less a-hole himself, without a single redeeming characteristic. It was hard to read simply because I didn’t want him to survive. Hmph. 1 of 5 stars.

See? A pretty good week! I’m nearly through with another good book – Always Running – about a man’s life in L.A. and Chicago gangs, and how he tries to get his son to break the cycle. I AM SO GLAD READING ISN’T BROKEN ANY MORE!! Stay tuned for many happy updates.

A late-breaking 6th bullet for Friday.

April 7, 2017

One more thing…

6 This trailer for Netflix’s upcoming adaptation of Anne of Green Gables has been released. I think it’s going to be just as I hoped: entirely different, enjoyable, but separate. Like how the Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice will always be the “real” one, but I enjoy the Kiera Knightly version from time to time. Go check out the Anne trailer and let me know what you think. (Like how they could have cast a better Gilbert…)

Book Reviews: Pushing through the TrumpSlump.

April 6, 2017

It’s been forever since I’ve done some reviews – mostly because I haven’t been reading as much lately. It’s hard to find motivation when you’re this depressed about the Big Things (like HeWhoShouldNotBePresident) going on.  But I’m at least doing better enough right now to try, so here we go:

EllaMinnowPeaElla Minnow Pea, by Mark Dunn (2001, MacAdam/Cage Publishing, 205 pages, paperback). I found this at my used book store and cackled madly as I set it aside for Christmas this past year. It’s one of my reading twinner’s favorite books; in fact, when pressed (by reading surveys) for her favorite epistolary novel, this is it. [Mine is Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – don’t even have to think about it.] So I was excited to finally have time to read it, which I did in one sitting, in my doctor’s waiting room one afternoon. It was…well…disappointing. I didn’t latch on, like I assumed I would. The basic premise: a letter falls from the status of the town’s founder, who happens to be the person who invented the pangram “The quick red fox jumps over the lazy brown dog,” which clearly means that letter is banished from use. In the criminal sense. There’s an unlikely, insipid romance thrown in, and more letters are banned as they, too, fall. I thought the writing was thin and the characters without value or redemption. It’s the worst when you want so desperately to like something and kind find a single piece to grab on to. 1 1/2 of 5 stars.

StoriesIOnlyTellStories I Only Tell My Friends, Rob Lowe (2011, Henry Holt & Co., 320 pages, hardcover). Another fun used book store find; I think I only grabbed it because it was a buck or two and so if it wasn’t my thing (celebrity bios usually aren’t), then I could just bring it back and not really have missed anything. But it was good. I got sucked in as soon as I started reading. The blurb promises that it’s never salacious, just revelatory, but it lied! Or, at least, I thought so. The writing is fun to read, easily-get-at-able, and it goes down quickly, so it’s easy to forgive Lowe’s occasional grandstanding and fake modesty. You had to know what you were picking up when you grabbed a Rob Lowe tell-all. I mean, come on. So if that’s your thing, this is definitely for you. If you’ve enjoyed Rob in anything he’s been in, or you just want a good picture of Hollywood in the 80s, this is a good read. Even if you run into a copy and need some quick, easy entertainment, it’s worth a shot. It’s never boring, but not life-changing either. 3 of 5 stars.

BlackWaveThe Black Wave, by Michelle Tea (2016, City Lights Publishers, 176 pages, ebook). I borrowed this from the library because it was part of the Tournament of Books longlist (and then final brackets!), but had high expectations after I read it was about a druggie writer who holes up and cleans up in San Francisco when it’s revealed the world will end in a year. Apocalyptic fiction for the win! Except not. This novel was kind of a hot mess. Because the protag is also kind of (but not really) the author in a honey-leave-that-to-Dave-Eggers kind of way. I couldn’t quite tell which way was up at times, and while I know it was druggy and trippy and kind of on purpose, that really isn’t my cuppa tea. It can work at times, under some circumstances, but it’s like Tea didn’t have an structure or form there for all the deviations and freestylin’ that was going on. So: nope. This isn’t BYOStructureAndMeaning. 2 of 5 stars.

HighDiveHigh Dive, by Jonathan Lee (2016, Knopf, 336 pages, ebook). Another library loan taken up for the Tournament of Books. This was one of the better books in the finals; a tale of an assassination attempt on Margaret Thatcher via a bomb planted in the Grand Hotel in Brighton, where she was to stay. I loved the characterization; everyone was drawn so well. Dan’s backstory with the IRA was compelling, Freya’s bemoaning of her life less so, but her dad’s life at the hotel made up for it. I love how Lee took what could have been a political thriller and used it to deconstruct who and why – a character study – of people on the brink of these “high dives”, these huge, momentous points of action in our life. Are they dives? Were they pushed? Could they get back down the ladder or was it swarming with kids waiting for their own turns? It did drag in places, but not for long. 3 of 5 stars.

GriefGrief Is the Thing with Feathers, by Max Porter (2016, Faber & Faber, 114 pages, ebook). Another library loan for the Tournament of Books. This was a delightfully twisted and grim(m) fairy tale type of story, one that focuses on children (check), whose mother has died at a young age (check), and is then raised by Crow, a trickster figure. It was…a dark story. Crow gave me the heebie jeebies. I’ll take Mary Poppins, thanks! But it was gorgeously written, exposing all the different steps forward and back the sons, the dad, and even Crow, take in questioning whether you can “simply” move-on after a loved one has died. WICKED TRIGGER WARNINGS if grief is a thing. Uh…obviously. It’ll either be your cuppa tea, or it won’t. It will either help immensely after you’ve lost, or it won’t. But I have to say that it was a well-told tale. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.

So there you have it. Right now I’m reading a pretty good crime thriller, and also flying through Daughters of Smoke and Bone, which I’m kind of mad no one told me about before. It’s kind of like American Gods meets Dark Tower meets Magic: The Gathering. But way better than that because that sounds so odd and particular! We’ll see if I can think of a better analogy before I have to review it.

Book reviews: Dithering romances, quickly approaching apocalyptic events, and different approaches to abandonment issues.

March 9, 2017

Morning, all! It was a decent haul of Books Finished this week, so let’s see what’s in our queue to discuss. (Yes, I’m rushing because: The 2017 Tournament of Books has begun!)

DearMrKnightlyDear Mr. Knightly, by Katherine Reay (2014, Center Point, 399 pages, ebook). This was a Deal of the Day purchase, which makes me feel slightly better when I think I only spent two dollars on it. Because my review basically goes: Nope. Our narrator has a rather unfortunate lot in life and to hide from it all, she fashions herself after the heroines of Jane Austen’s (and everyone else’s) novels. And in a rather remarkable coincidence, a benefactor offers to pay for our little narrator to attend a prestigious journalism graduate school in exchange for Sam writing to him of her experiences. And that could all be written off as wish fulfillment (it’s fiction; hello), if any of it were at all believable. But narrator Sam spouts off nothing but book quotes at the most inconvenient times, is supposed to be drowning in street cred (having grown up in the foster system), but has a meltdown over having to live in a crappy apartment when she matriculates out, runs into caricature after caricature (a black street kid who speaks only in ebonics, whom she befriends after challenging him to a race)… You guys, it was DNF kind of bad. Not a dang thing worked. Not even the cover art. 1 of 5 stars.

LearningToSwearInAmericaLearning to Swear in America, by Katie Kennedy (2016, Bloomsbury, 346 pages, ebook). This was a Deal of the Day that worked a lot better than Dear Mr. Knightly, thankfully. It was already on my official TBR when I saw the deal come up, and at a convenient window in my reading schedule. An asteroid is hurtling towards Earth and is threatening to destroy half the planet (“only” half) in 17 days. Russian prodigy Yuri Strelnikov, 17-years-old, is “loaned” to the U.S. to help destroy the asteroid. What we get is a wonderfully quirky and gifted novel about finding our people and place to fit in, only here it’s with a backdrop of doom and global destruction. The characters were unique and allowed to be multi-faceted. Not one felt boxed-in or tied to a certain, predictable trajectory. The book was never, ever about the science – or even the apocalypse. Except as handy plot machine. Definitely worth full paperback price and entertaining enough to keep you busy during an airplane ride. I’d say between 3 1/2-to-4 of 5 stars.

DaredevilsDaredevils, by Shawn Vestal (2016, Penguin Press, 320 pages, ebook). I was caught after reading the first chapter and plunked down full price for this story about a 15-year-old Mormon who is caught sneaking out to be with her “gentile” boyfriend…and so is sold into a polygamous marriage. The rest of the synopsis promises the book is about Loretta’s break for freedom, and so I spent a good deal of the time I was reading waiting for Loretta’s escape. Most of the story, however, focused on getting her ready for her break. She worked through her parents abandonment of her, of her boyfriend’s abandonment (for lo and behold, guess who shows up in disguise?) of the plan to help her run away, even her abandonment of herself because what if she’s too tied to her “family” and life to dare to take that first step? Once Loretta and her family reunite with the other half the book’s focus – teenage Jason, Loretta’s husband’s nephew, who has no idea at first that his uncle is living such an alternative lifestyle – things start to pick up. It was a fascinating read for me, well balanced in looking at the “what ifs” from all angles. Because it was all the “but…”s that I loved the most – those moments when Vestal let the characters take pause and get caught up in doubt and examination of the shades of gray. Because every life has those. Even every horrible situation has something about it (usually) that will make you stop and give pause, even if just for a moment. Jason’s ties to his land, his memories of his grandfather. Loretta’s ties to the innocent children who will be abandoned of all hope if she leaves. And then there’s the whole trip of the Eval Knieval character. When are you abandoning an ideal, and when are you cutting your losses and walking towards something new and better? Such a well-shaded examination. 4 of 5 stars.

EileenEileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh (2015, Penguin Press, 272 pages, ebook). Oh, the Deals of the Day are my bread and butter these days! This was another one that lived on my TBR until I patiently (er, um, coincidentally) picked it up as the deal skittered across my desk. It’s interesting because it also plays with themes of abandonment and desires that live in dark, secret places. But whereas Daredevils seemed to live them out in the light (hiding them in the open of the desert air), Eileen was definitely about dark, winter, claustrophobic places, like small-town Boston prisons for boys in the 1960s. Eileen promised a crime by the long-suffering daughter of an abusive, delusional alcoholic. And I spent most of the novel waiting for that to play out, too. Here, though, the plot kept moving, and you didn’t realize that most of the book had gone by and you were still waiting for what you thought was the flashpoint. With Daredevils, it was light that hazy, heavy moment before the giant crack of thunder, when everyone was looking at each other, daring each other to make the first move. It’s reactionary. Eileen is more of an intense character study, as we watch one woman unravel, constantly reevaluating why as we get fed morsels of information. It’s wickedly delightful, I’m almost embarrassed to say. 4 1/2 of 5 stars.

So there you go! A good harvest of books for you guys to choose from. Just stay away from Knightly and no one will get hurt.

Book Reviews: Re-reads, Romances, Biblical throwbacks, and YA nerdpurr romances.

March 2, 2017

It’s been a while since we’ve done this! I’ve been busy hosting the plague and SuperTummyBug 2017 and also a wicked reading slump that certainly doesn’t help. I feel like my books are split 1/3 towards re-reads (which I usually don’t review again), 1/3 towards books so bad I can’t finish, and 1/3 towards books that are actually worth mentioning. Add to the smaller numbers of a slump and…well, you see why I haven’t been popping around for my usual Thursday soiree. But let’s pick it up again, shall we?

Far to Go, by Gina Ferris (1993, Silhouette Special Edition, 193 pages, paperback). I had to hunt down this used edition through Amazon Market (love the way they connect independent sellers) because I remembered reading the Family Found series one summer while I was in…what? Junior high? Early high school? Which maybe explains why I remember liking this book so much more the first time around. Yes, the premise is cute – seven siblings orphaned when they were young and now reunited a book at a time as their love story is told – but the writing is simplistic. I vacillate back and forth between thinking it’s simplistic in an annoying hey, try harder way and an encouraging hey, I could write books! sort of way. All in all, the book did its job in that it distracted me from the Trump Administration for another day or two. But it did kill my desire to read the last book in the series, even if it’s sitting on my shelf waiting patiently for its turn. 2 1/2 of 5 stars.

The Lost Time Accidents, by John Wray (2016, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 512 pages, eloan). I found this one on the long list to this year’s Tournament of Books and since I was out of free reading material I could read on my phone in line and at red lights…well, I gave it a whirl. Even though it mentions both saloons and time travel in the summary, two things I loathe in a story. No Westerns. Super picky about my sci-fi. Everyone knows that. I thought maybe this room in Manhattan where the narrator was stuck, unmoored from time, the one that was jampacked with all sorts of trinkets and gizmos, inventions and gadgets, curiosities and all manner of things from all manner of ages – I thought that surely would be enough to win me over because that sounds like my idea of heaven right there, getting to explore an apartment like that! Unfortunately, as interesting as the device was, the narrator was of the Stuffy Old White Man variety and I just couldn’t. Also because my brain kept thinking how plausible the unmoored-from-time ploy really was, and, well, I came pretty close to calling for a straightjacket. So the plot wasn’t for me. The characters weren’t for me (the ones who weren’t the sounded so preposterous that I kept being reminded that I was reading). And the writing… I could see that the writing could appeal to some people. It wasn’t bad writing. It just wasn’t custom-ordered for me. And, well, that’s a problem because I was the one reading it. Yep, not for me. But, hey – I got more than just the “Nope” review I originally wrote. 1 of 5 stars.

Fine. Fine. Fine. Fine. Fine., by Diane Williams (2016, McSweeney’s, 131 pages, eloan). Another find from the Tournament of Books longlist, and one I almost skipped because I don’t do short stories. Short stories make me get invested. I get a bite of cheesecake, melt at how good it tastes, or intrigued at a new flavor, and go to investigate more with a second bite, only to discover…there’s no more dang cheesecake. I’d rather forgo altogether than resent everything that’s now left unresolved. And I don’t know what made me change my stance and give Fine a chance – I hadn’t heard a single word about either the collection or its author. But I did and…wow. Someone described the stories as “hammering like a nail gun” (I may be paraphrasing a bit) and I wondered how, but it’s because they’re so short that they wallop you and you’re catching your breath at what just happened before the numb wears off and you’re all OH MY GOD. They’re disturbing and poignant and funny and dry and all more than a little bit off. But that’s okay, because I’m pretty off-center myself. Maybe that’s why with more than 400 ratings on Goodreads the collection still rates at less than 2.75 stars whereas I’ve adopted it as a cult-favorite? I recognize that it’s not going to be for everyone, but with stories as short as just a few pages each, why not dash through a few and see if you find them as dazzling as I did? 5 of 5 stars.

Here I Am, by Jonathan Safran Foer (2016, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 571 pages, library loan). This was one of the books on my personal Most Anticipated of 2016 list. Foer isn’t quite as prolific as fans would like, and while Everything Is Illuminated was…a bit different for me…Foer’s other book, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – the one I read firstabout a very young boy reconciling his grief over the loss of his father in the 9/11 attacks is one of my favorite books about 9/11 that I’ve read. It’s one of my favorite books about the loss of a parent told from the perspective of a young child. It’s incredibly vulnerable and walks the fine line of letting a kid be a kid as he processes all of these incredibly big life moments (moments we all were processing as adults), without losing the connection with the adult audience. Naturally I wanted more of that! But this…oof. This was a Nope review if ever there was one. It’s a biblical parable about how we juggle multi-tasking our incredibly numerous and demanding rolls without losing sight of who we are. Except. You know. In a What would Abraham do? sort of way. BECAUSE SO APPLICABLE TO MY LIFE. Yeah, no. Or, rather, Nope. 1 of 5 stars.

The Last of August, by Brittany Cavallaro (2017, Katherine Tegan Books, 336 pages, ebook). I actually bought the first book in the series, A Study in Charlotte, because it was the deal of the day and because I loved the stuffing out of it when I read it last year. The re-read held up incredibly well, thanks to the incredibly characters drawn by Cavallaro. The believable and refreshing new spin on the Sherlock Holmes saga – which, really, I didn’t think was even possible – was still fun, even when I knew whodunnit. I liked the romance. The chemistry. The timewarp back to early college days. But that was my happy re-reading of Study. That was all in prep for this month’s release of the second book in the series, Last of August. I was nearly cartwheeling with joy that the next book was out so quickly; I am not used to authors of my favorite series being so obliging. And while I loved that August still celebrated the geektastic smarts of overachievers everywhere, it felt like something was missing. Maybe because the second book felt like it had to create some tension between Holmes and Watson after the first book ended so happily? The old bring-them-together then smash-them-apart trick? Perhaps. I definitely wasn’t digging the tension. The easy cameradie and witty foil of the two playing off each other was what made the first book click. I don’t think it was burnout of reading the books practically back-to-back. It was just…eh. Something. Something elusive. Something I hope I figure out – and Cavallaro figures out – before the third book. Because this was a promising series I was excited to make my nerdtastic daughter read. It’s still good, it’s just not great. And with all of the available Holmes spinoffs, you have to be great to be worthy of being singled out. 3 of 5 stars.

Book Reviews: The ones with all the comfort and cheese.

February 2, 2017

It hasn’t been the red-letteringest day in reading for me. I’ve only puttered through a few books, and those I did get through haven’t been what I’d consider top shelf reads. Still, some weeks are like that, I suppose. Especially when current events are what they are and you feel like you need a lot of comfort food just to make it through. I’ve been going through this phase where I can’t read enough romance novels. Bodice-ripping, dumb-as-dirt romances. Talk about hiding in the middle of a world where you can forget all your worries!

One for the Money, by Janet Evanovich (1994, 320 pages, ebook). Don’t you hate when books were published so long ago that you have a hard time turning up any decent publishing information? I mean, am I missing the obvious? Was I absent the day they taught that real-world know-how in school? In any case, yes, I’ve finally joined the Evanovich picnic. I made a trade with a new friend, in which I promised to read this in exchange for her reading the Flavia de Luce mystery. I have to say, my lollipop seems a bit fuzzy – the writing wasn’t that crisp, the plot a bit stale, and the characters a bit muddled. Much more of a book I would have preferred to borrow, rather than buy, except for promises made. I suppose when you’re raised on Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, every other mystery seems a bit lacking, but this one went out of its way to be average. It’s like the Bridget Jones of the mystery world. Plain, ordinary, and appeals to everyone else a lot more than it does me. Lord, how I’ve spoiled myself. 2 1/2 of 5 stars.

Hardworking Man, by Gina Ferris (1993, Silhouette, 283 pages, paperback). Here’s where I’m going to contradict myself, because even though the writing left a lot to be desired in this book, I still enjoyed it far more than I maybe should have. It’s the second in the “Family Found” series – seven brothers and sisters who were separated as children, and reconnected one book at a time. This isn’t the strongest of the series, and the heroine – detective Cassie Browning – was far too quick to cry and weep when being touted as strong and tough. But even a neat-and-tidy romance with character flaws is better than real-world politics right now, so it was a winner for me. 3 of 5 stars.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (2008, Dial Press, 274 pages, ebook). I accidentally read this. Yes, okay, how does that happen, you ask? Because it was the Deal of the Day and so I bought it in case I needed it as an option, and then I read just the “first few” letters, and, well…I couldn’t stop. So I did a quick re-read and I loved it just as much as I ever have. Sad things that happen still almost move me to tears, and I still remember when one particularly frustrating plot point made me beat my book against the steering wheel of the car the first time I read the book over several lunch breaks. Juliet Ashton – writer and war correspondent who enjoys a bit of fame from covering World War II adventures in London – happens into post-war correspondence of a different nature with Guernsey neighbors who happen to make up the titular society. Her unfolding friendships with the Potato Peel Pie Society still delight me, and none more than Kit. How is it that we’re made to care so much for a child who never gets to utter a single sentence? I try to puzzle it out every single time. Maybe that’s why I end up “accidentally” re-reading it so many times. I think I’m pushing 20 by now… 5 of 5 stars.

Moonglow, by Michael Chabon (2016, Harper, 430 pages, eloan). I read this for the Tournament of Books, against my will. I’m not a Chabon fan. His style doesn’t offend, I don’t get worked up and advocate against any of his books; I just don’t care for them. And there are so many stories to read, I just can’t see taking up any time with ones we know aren’t going to move us. Obviously, an exception was made so I could follow along with the TOB debate with a fully informed opinion. And I have to say – of all the Chabons I’ve read, this one might be my favorite. It helps that the premise itself is charming: Chabon traveled to visit his dying grandfather and heard so many stories never before been told. His life boiled down to these tales, a life collapsed into one week, that’s what we got here, albeit wildly fictionalized. And it worked. Not enough to make me a convert, but enough for me to be pleasantly surprised. This year’s TOB pile is overrun by horrible sports novels and monkey tales, so were Moonglow to win, I can’t say I’d be disappointed. I’ll take wartime shenanigans almost every time. Especially the ones suddenly confessed on one’s deathbed. 3 of 5 stars.

That’s it for me! I’m finishing up The Nix (so I can get it to Care as part of our book swap), and then I get to start Version Control (her part of said swap). Hopefully this book rut will be long gone in the rearview mirror come this time next week.

Five for Friday.

January 27, 2017

Are we sure it’s Friday? Because it feels like Tuesday. I keep expecting everyone to come in the door and laugh at me. So let’s get through our list real quick before it gets canceled!

1 I pretty much killed it with #Diverseathon this week! I read all three March graphic novels (and you should, too!), which are now being donated to Bee’s classroom (she said she felt like Willy Wonka, but with books, since she gets to end her book report with that news); I read Fish in Exile, which really wasn’t my thing, but the point is to read diversely, not things you’d usually read; and Rani Patel in Full Effect, which was painfully thin in some places (you could tell it was written by a psychologist whose day job is therapy, not writing fiction), but absolutely slayed at giving kids on the edges a place to see themselves represented. I counted more than a dozen groups that could claim representation in that book, from native Hawaaians, to Indian immmigants, to females with body dysmorphia, girls into hardcore rap, victims of sexual abuse, victims of physical abuse by family members (so, um, also: trigger warning). It was a powerful week, and I’m glad I saw Andi‘s post about it!

tearswecantstop

2 To cap off #Diverseathon, look at what I got in the mail yesterday! My sister bought two copies, one for me, and one for Andi the next time I see her. (My sister was hella impressed with how fired up Andi is and everything she’s doing for the Resistance.) The book was published by a friend of my sister’s friend, so she gifted them to us. Tears We Cannot Stop is the truth of black America, one every single person in this country should read. So that people feel heard, and so that we the privileged can listen better. The book is blurbed by Toni Morrison and Stephen King, and has been retweeted or amplified in some way by Beyonce, Isabel Wilkerson, and JJ Abrams. So don’t say it doesn’t apply to you or you can’t find a way in. It’s important. Find time and read with an open mind. Be honest about how you can stand up and make things better.

3 I’m back on the Great Chair Hunt. We thought we had a winner a few years ago – the chair from Target with the big cushiony bottom and back. But the legs wobble. No matter how tight you turn the screws, they come loose a few minutes later. The sound of the wobbling drives. me. bonkers. So that chair, which had been in Gracie’s room, has moved to the front room. (Hey! Seating!) Now I’m on the hunt again. Something cheap, something small (I have a lot of things stuffed into my bedroom and I need to be able to move around it when I get out of bed), and something comfy. The wooden kitchen chair isn’t gonna cut it much longer.

4 I think a Parks & Rec marathon is in my weekend outlook! Since rediscovering my crafty self, I’ve been neglecting the baby blanket I’m working on. And I’m pretty sure that baby is coming whether his blanket is finished or not. So I need to park my booty on the couch for a solid length of time and make pretty things happen!

5 I went to bed last night at 7p and slept all. night. long. It was glorious! Sleep, glorious sleep! I took a quick catnap at 5p, ran a bath to warm myself up, almost fell asleep while reading in the tub, and still was nodding off on the couch later when I moved myself to the living room. I’m not sure what was going on, but I was absolutely knackered. Thankfully, the girls’ Stepmom and Dad came to the rescue and offered to keep them for the night. They were running late because of Camp Gladiator, and the idea of staying up until after 8p seemed impossible. I hate being so wishy-washy with the girls’ schedules, but I’m trying to be better about knowing that a day or two off schedule is okay. We’re just rollin’ with everything now. Or trying to, at least!

So that’s it. Yes, kind of a slow week for me. But we need one of those every once in awhile, don’t we?

Mini-Reviews: The ones with all the diverse authors/characters/themes…

January 26, 2017

This week I’m participating in #Diverseathon, where I try to focus my reading on as many diverse authors, characters, and themes as I can because We NEED To Read Diverse Books. Why? Because our country is threatening to tumble backwards about 300 years if we don’t. Because it’s important to be that my children are exposed to as many different experiences and beliefs as possible. Because I want to live a multi-faceted life, as well. And because too much of any one thing just sounds boring.

This week, my reading life has been anything but boring!

hiddenfiguresHidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly (2016, William Morrow, 346 pages, e-loan). This satisfies my “Read a book about technology” challenge for READ HARDER, and paired well with Rocket Girls. I’ve always been a sucker for space exploration, ever since I was little and got for Christmas a book about mythology and constellations. I loved that even the stars had stories behind them. Then I won the citywide science fair in 6th grade with a report on the constellations. Exploring the constellations outside of paper has never been high on my list, but making sure those who did help us get that done got the proper credit, smashing glass ceilings and fences designed to keep us “in our places”, that is high on my list. So as much as I loved Rocket Girls, reading about these incredible women responsible for the science of the new frontier written by an author of color was important to me. #OwnVoices are so important. I am dying to see the movie, to see how well it was adapted, because the book scratched so many of my itches. 5 of 5 stars.

speakgigantularSpeak Gigantular, by Irenosen Okojie (2016, Jacaranda, 206 pages, digital). I picked this blistering set of erotic short stories for my micropress READ HARDER challenge (though it could also pass for the debut challenge), even though I’m not a short-story person. Erotic stories, though, very much my thing, especially when I’m both trying to stay awake and reward my way through the day. I’d read Okojie again, though her stories were uneven enough for her to land on pre-order status quite yet. There’s a lot of promise and I hope she continues to mature as she finds her voice. I like that Okojie wasn’t locked in to one lens; her narrators had as much fluidity in taking on different roles as did the  “back-up” characters. It spoke well of how highly the author placed a premium on representing different viewpoints and starting places. I highly recommend, as long as you’re open-minded for more than cis-het romances. (Don’t dream too big; I just don’t want it to come out of nowhere.) Strong 3 1/2 of 5 stars.

assocofsmallbombsThe Association of Small Bombs, by Karan Mahajan (2016, Viking Books, 288 pages, e-loan). This was a big week for READ HARDER challenges – this checked off “Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey.” I almost plunked it down in the “5,000 miles away from your location” category, but that seems broader, and I might need broad later. And so many characters spirit about. Truly, dazzling characterizations are where Mahajan excels; I haven’t felt this immersed and invested since I first found Khalad Hosseini’s kite runner of Kabul. Go! Read! Get sucked in by the guilt and narrative threads of everyone affected by the “small” and “inconsequential” car bomb, flash back and forth as you experience everything firsthand there with victims, the terrorists, and all sorts of shaded complexities as coping mechanisms and perspectives change. The language, the pace of the story as it unfolded…I loved everything. 5 of 5 stars.

luckyboyLucky Boy, by Shanthi Sekaran (2017, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 480 pages, digital). Yes, you guessed it, another READ HARDER challenge; this time the “…by an immigrant or with a central immigration theme” one. Soli is an undocumented worker, who smuggled herself into the country on top of a train after the man her parents hired to sneak her across two-timed them, demanding Soli rescue herself. Adaptability and choosing the lesser of two less-haunting evils are themes Soli returns to throughout after she falls in love with a fellow hideaway and gets pregnant before turning up on her cousin’s doorstep in California. Soli’s baby is pulled from her arms after she gets caught and hauled off to a detention center, and the titular child is adopted by a couple whose lives we’ve been following in parallel chapters, watching their marriage and their lives fall apart because they can’t conceive. HUGE triggers for adoption and immigration (documented or not). It’s hard to say whether I felt more for Soli’s story because I’ve single-mommed my way through so much of my grown-up life, or if it’s because so much of the story focuses on her life. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking Kavya and her husband have it “easier” because their immigration is sanctioned, their pregnancy issues a path they’ve chosen. But the truth is that there is no “easy” anything. Everyone loses. And the shades of gray that Sekaran uses to color in the story are brilliantly shaded. It was never an easy read, but gorgeously and hauntingly explored. So many good books this week! 5 of 5 stars.

marchMarch: Books 1-3, by Congressman John Lewis (2015, Top Shelf Productions, 564 pages, paperback). These graphic novel adaptations have been everything to our little rebel alliance at Casa de Katie. The three of us all read them during this past weekend’s readathon. It was just what we needed to break up the prose, especially considering Team Tangerine had just accused Congressman Lewis of being all talk and no action. We read his story of the Civil Rights Movement as a small act of honor, and we’ll be donating the books to Bee’s classroom. They’re smartly penned, holding my attention while at the same time still get-at-able for the 5th grade set; that sounds easy, but it’s not. The illustrations layered action and informed the story with nuance, as appropriate. Every reading list should boast these titles. They’re truly classics for all ages. 4 of 5 stars.