Posts Tagged ‘Stephen King’

Book Reviews: Found legends, all the nonfiction, and a quiet SK story.

June 8, 2017

It’s been ages since I’ve posted book reviews! Since I’ve finally found my reading mojo, I have so many books stacked up to choose from! Rather than try to squeeze them all in, I’m going to pick and choose…

JaguarsJaguars Ripped my Flesh, by Tim Cahill. (1987, Vintage, 320 pages, eloan). It’s a catchy title, I have to admit. And a jaunty little adventure book, if you’re looking for very short stories into the wild. But don’t expect high-faluting, serious-minded forays into the jungles. The title is meant to be funny and ironic; a nod to when men’s magazines all went overboard with their tabloidy stories. Cahill argued then (and then demonstrated via his books) that what men really wanted to read were honest-to-god travel stories. No fanfare needed. Okay, so I’m not the intended audience, but still – meh. 2 of 5 stars. And that’s generous.

GirlFromEverywhereThe Girl from Everywhere, by Heidi Helig. (2016, Greenwillow Books, 464 pages, ebook). This was a deal of the day, and I’d been hearing good things from reliable YA crowds – the ones who read what I read. So I gave it a whirl. And it was decent – not phenomenal like the Daughters of Bone series I had just finished, and that probably didn’t help much – nothing was going to be “good” after finishing that. I can see how the voice here would draw people in and plenty would like Helig’s writing style and the flow of the story. The characters were interesting and well developed. The plot – a ship that can sail anywhere, anywhen if it can follow a map it’s never used before – is brilliant. For me, it was just lacking that oomph to make it special. 3 of 5 stars.

SeriouslySeriously, I’m Kidding, by Ellen DeGeneres (2011, Grand Central Publishing, 241 pages, used hardcover). I’m glad I read it – I love seeing how celebrity’s books translate from their physical world of acting to the medium where your ability to communicate in words (and negative spaces) rules the day. It’s an interesting shift. Ellen managed quite beautifully, as I’d suspected and hoped, but…her stories, while amusing, seemed surface-y to me, and were on the extremely short side. Each story took me about two minutes to read. Not exactly the in depth memoir I’d wanted. So I’m glad I tore through this one, but mostly for the experience of having done so. 2 of 5 stars.

FoundlingThe Foundling, by Paul Joseph Fronczak (2017, Howard Books, 368 pages, ebook). I bought this ebook on a whim after seeing it advertised and recognizing it from my TBR. It’s the story of a couple whose newborn was stolen from the hospital, and of another little boy who was abandoned half a country away, on the sidewalk in front of some stores. The FBI decides the toddler was that newborn, the family is reunited and all was well. Except all was not well, because that boy grows up and discovers not only his story, but that he was not the baby they thought he was. Genealogical mystery unraveling ensues. And you know me – I’m a huge genealogy nut! This book was so my jam. It was written well; well-paced, interesting, yes – a little whiny at times, but I thought Fronczak had good cause. I tore through it, wanting to know how it played out. Definitely worth the money I shelled out. If you’re into true crime, this is definitely worth your time and your dollars. I highly recommend. 4 of 5 stars.

AmiableAmiable with Big Teeth, by Claude McKay (2017, Penguin, 352, hardcover). I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for a fair review. One of my two bachelor degrees is in African American Studies, so I was beyond pleased when I found out I was selected to win the new novel based on the manuscript by Claude McKay found in 2012. McKay was instrumental in the Harlem Renaissance, one of the greatest periods of creativity this country has ever had the joy to behold. That’s not to say a lot of the pieces produced during that time were joyful in nature; many focused on the need for African Americans to rise up, become financially mobile, break free from the tyranny of social injustice, both here and abroad. Amiable is the story of the Harlemites in-the-know working to help liberate Ethiopia, after Mussolini has invaded. The book is a satire and fun is poked at the political machinations of the different factions, fighting over  a piece of the pie, and arguing loudly over the “right” way to fight for it. If you like The Sellout by Paul Beatty, or pieces from the post-Reconstruction era, this is what you want. 3 of 5.

GwendyGwendy’s Button Box, by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar (Cemetery Dance Publications, 175 pages, hardcover). I was a little wary as I started; I wasn’t a big fan of Stephen King’s Bill Hodges trilogy, and I haven’t read anything else by Richard Chizmar. But this, a Castle Rock novella, ended up being…well, if not exactly classic Stephen King, pretty close. From a world next door, if you like. It’s a quiet story, one filled with dread and a slow build to the finale. I’ll tell you how quiet it was – I could have read this at full dark and not been afraid. It’s the horror of what the human race will do to each other…with a little bit of magic thrown in. The ending was a bit anticlimatic – given events that happened at the start of the novel, I was expecting something a bit grander. But, I suppose it will do. I’m glad I read it. I’m not sorry I spent both my money and my time on it. But I can’t say the story changed me one way or another. 3 of 5 stars.

Challenge(s) accepted, 2017.

January 10, 2017

Everyone who knows me knows that the amount of reading I accomplish is directly linked to how healthy and stable my sanity quotient is. Now whether a healthy emotional outlook begets more reading, or more reading time brightens my perspective – that’s a chicken or egg question if ever I heard one! But I can say for sure that they’re related.

As I think about other challenges I have going on in other spheres of my life, and as other friends very purposefully on living better, stronger, healthier lives, I’ve been thinking about how I might be able to harness my reading for good. What reading challenges do I accept for this year? Can they make a difference?

Obviously I think they can. Very simply put, I think reading adventures let us practice our empathy systems, and prepare us for facing in “real” life the same challenges, situations, and characters we meet in the pages of the stories we explore. What we choose to read matters. Because I want as broad an experience as possible so that I can have as close to limitless opportunities to learn and grow as a person, I want to read big-big. I need to be mindful of that. Which is why I’ll be focusing first and foremost on two challenges meant to help me read more diversely. BookRiot’s READ HARDER challenge I’ve talked about before. It’s my third year participating in their challenge, and I love it more and more every year. It’s helped me get my reading diversification up to 25% by people of color, and that’s with an intense mindfulness about what I read; it’s why I go bananas when people say if they’re left to their own devices, they’ll read outside their comfort zone just fine.

I’ve also decided to join the 2017 Diverse Reads Books Challenge. I like that it’s more elastic than a concrete number of challenges offered by READ HARDER, and that it can grow (or shrink) with me as I read more (or less) this year. The trade-off is that I have to define it as I go along, and sometimes I need a little more direction than that if I’m swimming outside my lanes. (For those who think the same way, the co-hosts have posted a monthly theme to help you focus your story searches.) I also like that Diverse Reads asks that you not only consume stories, but review them, as well. If you’re gonna participate, go all out. Don’t “just” read without contributing. Lend your voice to the cause. Give back. And that, for me, is raising a few more questions. What will it mean for me, a CIS-gendered white woman, to review diverse books? Sure I qualify as #ownvoices for some of the categories – chronic illness, mental health – but I can’t say I’ve felt marginalized much in my life, and that makes me very, very privileged. So how do I walk that tightrope? I believe the point is that I try, and I do so very deferentially.

I will continue, though less fervently, my Great Stephen King Re-Read Challenge. I’ve gotten more than halfway through, towards what I think of his modern career (his adult life, when I came into the pack…somewhere around Insomnia) and not quite “post-modern” (when he un-retired). These are the books I’ve usually only read once, so it will be fun to revisit them.

I’ve decided to officially halt my read-through of presidential histories. Presidential history is – for me, right at this moment – incredibly painful and supportive of our most shameful selves. I literally just can’t right now, not when I could be giving my time to causes so much more worthy that need my time and support.

I am already looking forward to repeating #NonFicNov in November, because how else would I round out a reading year that gravitates so naturally towards fiction? All year I hoard non-fiction selections to binge on that month, and it’s a fantastic change of pace.

The last challenge that I’m tossing around possibly joining in a rather half-hearted fashion is the A-Z challenge on Litsy. With everything I have going on, I don’t really need another challenge. I’m like the kid burdened with so many extra-curriculars I’m gonna topple right over! On the other hand…I do read a lot, and so why not see if I can check off one more box? So I think this one might be a “if I get it done, great; if not, meh” kinda deal.

There you go: more challenges than I can shake a stick at! Now’s where I admit to the downside to such directional reading – having all of these challenges makes me want to stack up my reading in a hurry! So many challenges that I need to have more than “just” five books read!

And so off Katie disappeared, white-rabbiting her way through her 2017 reading lists, not to be seen for many, many months…

Five for Friday.

August 26, 2016

Ohmygosh what an overwhelming week! We have a new person at ThePlaceThatShallNotBeNamed, and she’s amazing and I adore her already, but training someone – it’s exhausting! And so I am more than ready to punch through my Friday and get to the weekend!

1. Music has been my salvation this week. When I come home and have no energy for anything, I’ve somehow found it in me to scoop a rum slushie and open iTunes. Then I belt out any song that strikes my fancy. Either sitting there or while I’m making dinner. Then Jeff comes home and looks at me strange. But not so strange that we didn’t have a music video night until WayTooLate on Wednesday. And then this morning I plugged in some really old mixtapes in the car on the way to work. Music is definitely the way to go.

2. If you haven’t watched Stranger Things, the Netflix series, you are missing out on the greatest TV show I’ve watched since West Wing. Not that it’s anything like West Wing. Except in it’s awesomeness. Everyone I know was telling me how much they loved it, and so Kim and I put on the first two episodes while I was on vacation. She mentioned that she had to sleep with the lights on. And I kinda looked at her funny, because – well, it wasn’t so scary. Creepy, but not scary. When we got home, I made Jeff watch the first two. And then the third. And I was still confused. Then we watched the fourth one after work and I decided Kim was WAY RIGHT and I couldn’t watch any more until the weekend when it was light out. But then I got nervous because everyone – they keep talking about it! Because of all the awesome! And so I sucked it up, Buttercup, and binged. And maybe got yelled at by the girls two nights in a row for screaming so often and so loud. Even Jeff screamed during the season finale, but that was maybe my fault. Anyway – GO WATCH IT. It watches like a book, and was cast by the greatest character caster in the history of casting. And it’s a complete homage to Stephen King’s It. Just trust me and watch it. You’ll fall in love.

3. Speaking of strange things, that child of mine still can’t keep her dang key on her. Now she’s carrying her purse (she settled on a phone case she had that also has a wallet type thing inside and a zippered pouch, all attached to a long string so she can wear it like a purse), but keeps taking her key out and forgetting it. Like in her dad’s car last night after the band meeting. So Gracie didn’t have her key this morning, but she said she had texted her dad and he would have the door unlocked. She texted him when we were on our way. And yet. I sat there for ten minutes, waiting for someone to open the door. Frustrated doesn’t begin to cover it. Yeah, Gracie tried to correct the problem so it wouldn’t be an issue, but you know what would have really solved it? Remembering her dang key.

4. And on the issue of wayward children, the Reward Board for the Xman worked so well you guys! Until his dad got frustrated and declared that he (not dangling – by “he” he meant both or either of them) didn’t have to follow rules that he (Jeff) didn’t like. And what’s the point of having a reward board if there is no rule-following to recognize? So I took the reward board and put it in the garage. The Xman was disappointed, but I told him why it had gone away. I spent all Friday night and Saturday morning making that thing, not to mention all the time I put into researching how to make it and what would even work before I had the concept decided. I am done throwing my effort and love into a colander. We’ll see what happens this weekend when I don’t say a blessed thing or make one single parenting move. Here’s hoping I have the strength to follow-through!

5. All of this traveling and all of these meetings for band and choir and tennis are going to kill us. I got home last night after getting Bee (Gracie decided last minute to stay at her dad’s. Again.) and grabbed take-out because we only had an hour at home before I had to dash out to a band meeting. Bee elected to stay home and clean her room and make her lunch. (No homework – yay!) Then Gracie and I didn’t get home until 7:30p. We both had to shower, then Bee had to shower, she hadn’t finished making her lunch, Jeff got back from Crossfit and had to shower and eat, and Gracie had to practice her drums for a half hour. It was a crazy night with a lot to pack into that last hour and a half before bedtime. But I bet we long for it during the three-hour concerts we have in our future. Being gone from 6:45a until 9:30p? Not looking forward to those for sure.

But still! FRIDAY! Huzzah! Even band meeting craziness and wayward children can’t harsh my buzz today!

Mini-Reviews: Unlikely heroes, goosebumps, and low men of all varieties..

April 28, 2016

Morning, all! It’s been a good reading week, thanks to Dewey’s 24-hour readathon! Let’s unpack the monster list of books I burned through, shall we?

Book118The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B, by Teresa Toten (2015, Delacorte Books, 291 pages, library hardcover). I’m a sucker for YA fiction about mental health, and wow did this one really ring a lot of my bells. The story is about Adam, a teenage OCD boy, who has his hands full with his weekly support group, falling in love for the first time, a mom who may need help herself, a remarried (and somewhat absent) dad, a little half-brother who adores him but may be more like Adam than he would wish, and finding friendship in the oddest of places. I liked the cultural and socio-economic diversity; characters flirted with stereotypes, but didn’t always fit them. The same with plot twists: what you thought was being broadcast didn’t always happen. The whodunit aspect wasn’t too overplayed, but kept the second half of the novel moving. And not everyone gets better. 4 of 5 stars.

Book117All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders (2016, Tor Books, 316 pages, library hardcover). Mix the apocalypse with a secret school of magic and rabbit holes filled with kids who can talk to animals… it sounded so promising, but I couldn’t get wrapped up in any of it. The writing was almost formal and a bit stilted – think British kids’ lit, a la Secret Garden – and I had a hard time connecting without any warmth to leech onto. 1 of 5 stars.

Book116Snowblind, by Christopher Golden (2014, St. Martin’s Press, 320 pages, paperback). I tried a few times to get into the story before it caught for me…and then I fell so deeply into it that I froze my behind off, even though it was 80+° outside! Seriously – I almost screamed several times and when Jeff asked how it was going, I “joked” (no really ha ha) about putting it in the freezer. Stephen King blurbed the book and it’s likened to King’s early works – for good reason. A classic horror story of a snowstorm that mysteriously killed more than a dozen people…only those killed somehow return during an eerily similar blizzard fifteen years later. The author did a good job balancing a townful of characters without sacrificing their individuality. The New Englandisms felt genuine. And I don’t care how big an area it covers – a blizzard creates a locked-room mystery, no matter what. Once I got 30 or so pages in, I couldn’t put it down and I couldn’t read it fast enough. You guys HAVE to read it! 5 of 5 stars.

Book115The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly, by Matt McCarthy (2015, Crown, 336 pages, paperback). I maybe broke down and bought this the night before the readathon because I worried that I didn’t have enough “lighthearted” reading to cleanse my palette. Yes, I’m the weirdo who finds reading about ER visits and death-defying surgeries “relaxing”. If you like tell-alls and behind-the-scenes glimpses and medical dramas, this book won’t disappoint. But don’t be squeamish about your protag making a mistake, because ours? Makes plenty. 3 of 5 stars.

Book114The Beach, by Alex Garland (1996, Riverhead Books, 448 pages, paperback). This book has been on my To Be Read list for a long time, and on my shelf since Christmas. Backpacking in Thailand isn’t normally my thing, but crazy islands are. I thought I’d be way more into this, and maybe I would have if I had’ve attacked it any other time than at the end of my readathon. It’s not that it’s all dark and twisty – that doesn’t happen until the very end – but the very idyllism and over-the-top Daffy just…nope. Nope nope nope. Couldn’t work for me. Couldn’t buy it, no matter how I tried. 1 of 5 stars.

Book113Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere, by Andre Aciman (2011, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 208 pages, paperback). This was one of the books included in my last Quarterly Box, and I was delighted because personal essays are my jam. Aciman didn’t quite get to Anne Fadiman level, but his lyricism was really a wonder to behold. His essays covered nearly all of Europe, it seemed, and were as varied as my mind on a particularly ADHD afternoon. Different wheres, different whens, and all with that soft, nostalgic gauziness of memory overlapping everything. Looking for a collection of essays for your Read Harder challenge? Look no further! 3 of 5 stars.

Book112Hearts in Atlantis, by Stephen King (1999, Scribner, 523 pages, paperback). This was the next book up on my Great Stephen King Re-Read Project, but I wasn’t too happy about it. I didn’t remember Hearts with any fondness, for all that the main novella had to do with the Dark Tower. The Low Men creep me out. Like, bad bad. …Maybe because I believe they really exist, but that’s neither here nor there. I ended up enjoying the re-read more than I thought, due in large part to how comforting King’s writing is. It’s like slipping on a favorite sweatshirt that still smells like home, or wrapping up in your favorite afghan and finally feeling warm. 4 of 5 stars.

Book111Burn, Baby, Burn, by Meg Medina (2016, Candlewick, 356 pages, hardcover). This was one of the books included in my last Young Adult Quarterly Box, and I was super excited to find it! It was a starred addition to my TBR – a story about two teens in Queens during the summer of Son of Sam and all those arsons? Yes, please! Our Latina protag, Nora, is worried her abusive brother and his hella-creepy best friend/dealer might be behind the arsons, she’s worried she and the new hottie at her deli job might be targeted as they make out in cars, she’s worried for her mama who just lost her job, and for her friend’s mom and her cohorts who are very active in the women’s rights movement. But for all that going on, I can’t say a single memorable thing happened. I loved the diversity of characters and class, and the family dynamics were incredibly interesting in their tiny little details that made them in ways the rest of the book didn’t. Otherwise…meh. I’m disappointed to say it was a take it or leave it story for me. 3 of 5 stars.

 

Mini-reviews: Dealing with grief, Jack Sparrow’s voice whispering in your ear, and trying to find the right voice.

March 23, 2016

It will surprise no one to learn that I did a fair bit of reading over Spring Break. Hey – there’s only so much bonding I can do with Netflix, dealing with bronchitis or nah. And the topics were flung far and wide…

Book85Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff (Riverhead Books, 2015, 400 pages, ebook). I am not a Lauren Groff fan. Yes, I know I’m going to dodge tomatoes for saying that. The woman’s got writing chops, they’re just not for me. And while I appreciated the premise of the book – the story of a marriage told from one perspective, and then surprise! the other spouse’s very different perspective – there’s just something about Groff’s voice that won’t let me connect. Fates was shortlisted for the Tournament of Books, though, so I had to give it a whirl. It was better than Arcadia and Monsters of Templeton, so I’ll at least peruse the next one. Maybe it’s just a matter of finding the right time to pair up. 2 of 5 stars.

Book84In Other Words, by Jhumpa Lahiri (Knopf, 2016, 233 pages, library hardcover). Lahiri is an author I really enjoy, one I will constantly pair with Khaled Hosseini in my mind because I’ve read their books in pairs since I discovered them. I read Interpreter of Maladies (my favorite) around the time I read Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Namesake right after I read The Kite Runner. I couldn’t have planned it better if I tried! I knew In Other Words was a love story of a different variety – still about family and the transcendental nature of generations, passion, and cultural pockets, but this time one rooted in words and writing. Lahiri fell deeply in love with the Italian language and moved her family to Italy to chase after her dreams and live fully immersed. In Other Words was her experimental mapping of her adventures and discoveries, one as intimate as any memoir though the doors into her feelings and musings looked a little less conventional. I enjoyed every page and envied the apparent ease with which she so easily shared how such a project unfolded. Definitely read if you enjoy Lahiri’s fiction or stories about the art of writing. 4 of 5 stars.

Book83Savvy, by Ingrid Law (Dial, 2008, 342 pages, borrowed). Corrie literally shoved this book into my hands and told me to read it because her reluctant reader had devoured this and the next in the series. It’s the story of a family who have all come into a secret special power when they turn 13. Just before Mibs turns 13 and is about to discover her “savvy”, her father has an accident and all seems lost. Okay, first – how do you read this book (disappointingly not about pirates) and not hear Jack Sparrow say the word “savvy” every time you read it? You can’t. Which is why you’re disappointed the book isn’t about pirates. The premise was cute enough, although I don’t think it’s the type that will capture my kiddos’ attention, and it wasn’t special enough for me to shout about from the rooftops. A decent read, just not anything that stands out. But if Captain Jack wants to rethink an appearance… 3 of 5 stars.

Book82The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, by Stephen King. (Scribner, 1999, 224 pages, paperback). This was next up on my Stephen King Re-Read Project and I was glad for it. I don’t think I’ve read it since it came out, which isn’t to say I didn’t like it. I like it just fine. It’s a good survivalist type book, a particular weakness of mine. The suspense and heartbreak and psychological wobbling of leaving a 9-year-old girl alone in the woods for days is a mighty fine pitch for King, and I applauded all over again how was able to keep it as straight-laced as he did. For a reader still afraid of the dark, it didn’t take special effects to make this story any scarier than it already was. It doesn’t hurt that the Red Sox are my happy place, too. 3 of 5 books.

Book81H Is for Hawk, by Helen MacDonald (Jonathan Cape, 2014, 320 pages, ebook). I’m going to buy multiple copies of this book. I wish I had my own copy the first time through so I could highlight and dog-ear and jot notes in the margins. A friend from my bookish community recommended the book to me after we gushed about lyrical passages in another book and Care was right – MacDonald’s writing is lush and gorgeous and the kind you want to roll around in. What I found even more meaningful was MacDonald’s unflinching examination of her grief after unexpectedly losing her father. I’m still reeling from the loss of my uncle and I found MacDonald’s use of falconry as a tool to process her grief something I could latch onto. I’m not a falconer and I don’t even have a lot of interest in the subject, but MacDonald created a window that helped shine a light on things I didn’t know I needed in just this particular way. I’ll recommend this book to anyone processing deep, unmoveable grief, but I’ll also recommend it to anyone who appreciates powerful storytelling of being called to a particular journey at a particular time in your life. 5 of 5 stars. 

Book80We Are the Ants, by Shaun David Hutchinson. (Simon Pulse, 2016, 455 pages, hardcover). This book has been on my bookshelf for awhile. Not terribly long, not like since-two-Christmases-ago type of long, but enough. It was part of the BookRiot YA box and my problem was that I didn’t think I would like it. I don’t do fantasy. I don’t do science fiction. A teenage boy who is being abducted by aliens and told he has to choose whether to let the world end on January 29 or press a button to save it? So not my thing. But everyone was saying how good it was and then they were comparing the book to something by A.S. King, and King is my type of thing. And I already had the book whether I wanted it or not. So I read the first few pages. And couldn’t stop. You guys – this book. This book is POWERFUL. This book is heartbreaking. Aside from the three chapters I gulped down when I cracked it open – because right before bed – I read this book in one day as the girls Netflixed and painted and did any number of things I didn’t notice because I was reading. I don’t remember a book that captures the particular hell of high school bullying as well as this, or one that handles depression and suicide in a way that didn’t sound trite or cliched or so, so carefully showed (rather than told) how to get through this hour. And this one. And this one. That there were good things that looked crappy and crappy things that stayed (but some that got a sliver better) and how sometimes things just were. That those can be the toughest things of all. And you guys – this book. This book’s ending didn’t suck! I mean, kind of because I wanted something tidy, but the ending fit perfectly for the story it was attached to. READ IT, you guys. It’s compulsive writing and deep, meaningful thoughts and themes every person navigates at some point in their life. It is amazing. 5 of 5 stars.

Book79The Little Friend, by Donna Tartt (Knopf, 2002, 555 pages, hardcover). This is one of the books I’ve had for two Christmases and one of the ones that inspired my participation in the #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks challenge. I had been holding off because Tartt makes me nervous – I loved the stuffing out of Goldfinch, but hated Secret History and I wasn’t sure which storyteller would show up. It was Goldfinch, mixed with Harper Lee, and okay, no it wasn’t warm, but it worked for me. Little Friend tells the story of a young boy who is found hanging from a tree on Mother’s Day and the secrets that are kept as years go by, only to be dug up by the boy’s sister years later when she decides to figure out who killed him. A southern-fried mystery that reads a lot faster than the heft suggests. 3 of 5 stars.

So there you go! If you’re not heading for your library or local bookstore to grab We Are the Ants, seriously – go. Do it. Report back. Because I needs to discuss it.

 

Mini-Reviews: Wizards,Yunior returns, and a girl from Boston.

March 3, 2016

It was a mostly bleh week of reading for me. I hit some juicy re-reads for my Stephen King project, and I’m devouring my current read, Come As You Are, but aside from that… But you don’t have to take my word for it.

Book69Wizard and Glass, by Stephen King (Viking Adult, 1997, 672 pages, ebook). Part of my Stephen King Re-Read Project and the fourth Dark Tower book, I couldn’t have been happier with this one. I used to dread the massive backstory of DT4, Tower-junkie that I was (am), but it grows on me with each re-read. (I almost said re-telling; how’s that for placing yourself inside a book?!) My only complaint is that I have such a hard time reconciling teenager Roland with adult Roland. I can see how they’re the same person. I just have a hard time seeing Roland innnn lurrrrrrrve as a grown-up. 5 of 5 stars.

Book70Bag of Bones, by Stephen King (Scribner, 1998, 516 pages, paperback). Another in the Stephen King Re-Read Project, and one I’d firmly place in my Top 10 list, to boot. I love Kyra Devore and still thoroughly enjoy the writerly main character, even if I have trouble picturing Mike Noonan as young as he’s supposed to be, and instead keep picturing a slightly younger Ralph Roberts. The cursed families thing works here, but for my money, King’s storytelling is always weakest when he tries to tackle race relations, and that’s a big part of this plot. Still. 5 of 5 stars.

Book71The Loudness, by Nick Courage (Sky Pony Press, 2015, 336 pages, library ebook). A post-apocalyptic tale of a literally heartless kid who deals with abandonment issues by trying to bust out of the government’s Green Zone towards an artists’ colony. This was way too sci-fi/futuristic for me. You know how picky I am about that stuff. 1 of 5 stars.

 

Book72Drown, by Junot Diaz (Riverhead, 1996, 208 pages, paperback). Technically, Yunior doesn’t return for these linked short stories, since this Yunior was published way before I met Yunior in The Short, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. For me, though, it felt like coming home to an old friend. Junot Diaz is one of my favorite living writers. Drown wasn’t nearly my favorite publication and I’ll still beg and plead with everyone to read it. 4 of 5 stars.

Book73Inside the O’Briens, by Lisa Genova (Gallery Books, 2015, 343 pages, library ebook). I willingly drowned myself in the language of home while reading this, even with the giant trigger warning I knew the book bore. Inside the O’Briens tells the story of a Boston cop, Joe O’Brien, who’s downward spiral through foggy memory, violent mood swings, and uncontrollable movements eventually land him with a diagnosis of Huntington’s Disease. The book struck close to home in a way I could mostly set aside, and as I said – I loved feeling like I was back home. That being said, I’ve always found Genova’s writing to be a bit soft. Like she pulls punches, perhaps. Or maybe just didn’t bring her sharpest, wittiest writing pencil. It was a distraction. 3 of 5 stars.

Book74The Truth Commission, by Susan Juby. (Viking Books, 2015, 309 pages, library ebook). The end-of-the-year paper – or, Truth Commission – submitted by the main character, it tells the story of Normandy and her two besties (a girl and a guy, natch) as the threesome learned that not all truths are created equal. Some Young Adult fiction translates better into the land of Grown-ups Reading, and this wasn’t one. It reminded me of The Perks of Being a Wallflower meets Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. 1 of 5 stars.

Book75Girl in the Dark, by Anna Lyndsey (Doubleday, 2015, 254 pages, library ebook). A memoir of a young woman incredibly allergic to all artificial and natural light, and how she manages to create a semblance of a “normal” life. I just can’t even with the imagining. I loved hearing about what caused setbacks, how Anna created diversions for herself, and especially learning there was a boyfriend (snuck into the narrative a surprising number of chapters in); I didn’t like how detached Anna’s voice sounded. The chapters were incredibly short, so I found it ideal for picking up and putting down, if you’re looking for that sort of book. A really good Little House type book for those who enjoy world-building. And how gorgeous is that cover?! 3 1/2 of 5 stars.

Book76The Boston Girl, by Anna Diament (Scribner, 2014, 320 pages, library ebook). This is an excellent example of how ridiculous I can be. I added Boston Girl to my TBR because I thought the premise sounded good. Obvious statement, right? But then the cover of the book started to bug me. The author’s last name started to bug (for no reason I can understand). The fact that I thought I should like it because it was about Boston even started to bug. I borrowed it from the library…and then avoided reading it. I finally forced myself to read it the second time I borrowed it – and enjoyed a perfectly nice story. Not anything to scream from the rooftops, mind, but a perfectly fine historical fiction that reminded me a lot of the fiction of Sarah Jio, and particularly Ann Hood’s The Obituary Writer. 3 of 5 very mocking (at me) stars.

Book77This Raging Light, by Estelle Laure (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2015, 288 pages, library ebook). Young Adult romance or rom-coms are usually a fairly safe bet for me. I enjoy reliving the falling-in-love scenario, even if I have to gloss over middle-of-the-road writing. Sometimes I’m rewarded with fantastic writing that couldn’t score higher marks if Shakespeare had penned it. Other times, well, not even smiling over the bubbly ohmygod there’smycrush! reminiscences can’t quite get me there. And this, the story of two girls abandoned by their flighty mom, as the older falls for her best friend’s twin was just too cliche. 1 of 5 stars.

Book78The Book of Lost Things, by Cynthia Voigt (Alred A. Knopf, 2013, 374 pages, hardcover). This is why I’m participating in Andi’s #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks challenge: I didn’t quite pre-order Voigt’s new book way back in 2013, but I did buy it and tuck it away for the girls for Christmas. Voigt’s Homecoming series is one of my favorites in all the books I’ve ever read, and I wanted to explore what else she’s written and support her new ventures. The girls didn’t vote for the book in any of our read-aloud selections, and it started to gather dust. I haven’t picked it up since. It’s long been forgotten. Until I decided to clear my shelves before I was allowed to buy so much as another page. I wasn’t disappointed by Max and his adventures in Lost Things. It’s not the Tillermans, but if you can let go of that, it’s okay. Max’s parents, theater troupe actors, head off on an adventure, and Max decides to have some of his own. His adventures, in fact, reminded me quite of the Shel Silverstein variety. Voigt was delightfully readable and struck the perfect chord between writing for children and the grown-ups reading to them. All around quite satisfactory. I’m rather embarrassed I waited. 3 of 5 stars.

So there you go! Nothing crazy exciting, but just you wait to see what I have to say next week about Come As You Are! I am busting a gut just thinking about my review!

Five for Friday.

February 19, 2016

Oof, it’s been a week.

1. You know it really, really has been a week when you have to make mimosas in the morning to make sure you get through your day. Fridays and mimosas should be the new peanut butter and jelly.

2. I don’t know about this Queen of the Night craze. Everyone – everyone – has been talking about Alexander Chee’s debut novel and it’s sold out of practically everywhere. I mean, even Amazon has sold out. The book’s supposed to be quite the big deal. I found a hardcover at B&N this weekend, but I wasn’t exactly enthused with the $28 price tag. Okay, yes, it’s more than 500 pages, but still! So I read the first few chapters yesterday, however many came with the free preview, and I’m still kinda meh. It’s reading much more like library loaner, not a book (e- or otherwise) that I need to shell out money for and read right! now! I heard the opera diva thing was just a topic, not an issue, but it still read to me like an opera-centric story. Go ahead and guess what I’m not a big fan of. We’ll see how this plays out.

3. I very nearly came home with a puppy last weekend. It seemed exactly like the right idea at the time, only Jeff wasn’t sure he was ready yet. So he killed the idea. I thought a 12-week-old lab puppy was exactly the right timing(!), and I think he’s crazy for passing up a slight crack in the I’m-a-one-dog-kinda-gal thing I have going. Even now, every time I go to sleep, I think how glad I am that I Jeff didn’t give in to the impulse. Sleep is delicious.

4. I’m looking for a really grabby book for reading on my phone at red lights and in store lines. I’ve been rummaging through Dark Tower 4 as part of my Stephen King re-read, but I’m kind of meh about that right now. Knowing Bag of Bones, one of my Top 10s, is next isn’t helping. Everything else I’ve been sampling has been okay, but not terrific. I need something super grabby so I won’t want to close the program and take my turn in or get impatient with traffic. It doesn’t help that I’ve read so many really good books lately. I’m convinced I have a spate of iffy books around the corner whenever I string together a bunch of good ones.

5. I’ve found a good routines for the mornings. Write my blog post, check in with my planner. Mark off days as “busy” for the month and then check in with the day and week ahead. Check in with my meal plan and blog ideas. Then read a few posts from blogs I follow and check the news for the day. It’s a nice routine and one that’s really been working for me lately. Except I fell off the routine wagon this week and have been bowing down to the Chaos Queen. Helter skelter has been my middle name this week, and I do not like it Sam-I-Am. Here’s hoping routine finds me again come Monday. Because GOD, JEB, chaos makes me cranky.

So there you go. A quick five things. What do you have going on today? Do I need to send over a batch of mimosas to share?

#15in31 challenge update: Week 2 and wow do I read a lot.

October 15, 2015

15in31

I have to admit: even my jaw dropped a little when I saw how many books I finished this past week. I guess between my speedreading superpowers and the fact that I’ve been getting in some reading before bedtime again and that Bee’s After Care program no longer lets the kids out early – even 15-20 minutes early – means I have more chunks of time to sit and get my books on. Which, hooray!

So what did I read this past week?

Book115. Texts from Jane Eyre, by Mallory Ortberg. (Henry Holt & Co., 2014, 226 pgs.) My partner in crime, Corrie, gave me this for my birthday and I’ve been meaning to read it, but somehow kept forgetting about it. It’s the perfect palette-cleanser after a long day at the office. Want to re-hash favorite scenes (or newly imagined scenes) between favorite literary characters as if they were texting from the next room? BOOM. Someone’s already done it for you. I liked how the scenes were short enough that I could sip from them while I was doing chores without throwing off my mad housekeeping skillz (snort) or keeping me from zipping through the book in an hour. Great, as long as you’re not expecting heft or a life-changing literary experience. 3 of 5 stars.

Book126. A Possible Life: A Novel in Five Parts, by Sebastian Faulks. (Henry Holt & Co., 2012, 304 pgs.) This has been on my TBR for awhile now, and I finally snagged an e-copy from my library. I know I’m not much of a short-story person, but when the stories are linked, usually I can sink deeper into them and enjoy myself. Also, these were set during WWII, Victorian England, a 19th century French village – some of my favorite settings! This should have been okay! Yeah – should have been. Turns out it wasn’t really. The plot(s) were fine, it’s just that I had a hard time connecting with the voice. I was ho-humming along, but not really, because I just didn’t care what happened to my characters. Something felt off. I was conscious of reading. It was well done, but Faulks is clearly not an author I can connect with. (Though I’m happy to report that at least the WWII story was my favorite, just as I had predicted. At least I was able to get that much out of it.) 2 of 5 stars.

Book137. What Can I Do When Everything’s on Fire?, by Antonio Lobo Antunes. (W.W. Norton & Co., 2008, 585 pgs.) This was another e-book I filched from the library, but I have to confess: I didn’t finish it. I got about 200 pages in and was still really struggling with the stream-of-consciousness. I never really fell into the narrator’s head, which can make it really difficult. I mean, this story has been compared endlessly to a Faulkner-esque babbling of mad genius, and for good reason. I just…meh. It wasn’t the fault of the translation – it was gorgeously done. In fact, I wasn’t even conscious, like you can be, that it had been written in another language. I wanted to like it – you know descending into madness is my wheelhouse – but if 200 pages hasn’t done it, the next 300 usually won’t. 2 of 5 stars.

Book148. Rose Madder, by Stephen King. (Viking, 1995, 480 pgs.) This was a re-read for my Stephen King Re-Read Project (things do look fancy when they’re all capitalized, yes?), and it’s in my Top 5 of King’s books, easily. I remember reading it when it first came out and delighting in every word. Okay, not every word – some of it is a bit trite – but the rest is so wonderfully King that you can’t help but overlook the few bumps. After all, there’s travellin’ and some allusions to a certain Dark Tower quest… 5 of 5 stars (and not just because I was so thankful for a good story after the other bombs!)

Book169. Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray. (Faber & Faber, 2010, 661 pgs.) Gracious, this was a huge book. And a lot was happening! It was one of the books included in my BookRiot Quarterly Box of Awesomeness that my sister gifted me for my birthday, which was rather cool because Skippy Dies has been on my To Read list just about since it came out. It’s a boarding school (Irish, not British)(but may as well have been) kind of book, with a goodish number of characters I had trouble keeping straight and all kinds of hijinks and plotlines afoot. I didn’t want to use the word “hijinks” though because it’s misleading: I heard the book was a slow-burn, but it’s not – nothing ever burns. I mean, sure, stuff happens. Plenty of stuff happens! Stuff with the kids, stuff with their teachers, stuff, stuff, stuff. And you’re reading the whole novel trying to figure out how – or maybe why? – our titular character dies in the prologue. But nothing ever caught fire for me. I wasn’t whipping pages trying to find out more; I was just trying to get through it all. There were a bunch of unnecessary plots, in my opinion, and a stronger editor may have helped. But really, it just didn’t do it for me. (Though I’ve been assured that his new book is much different. I’m hoping this is a Secret History/Goldfinch kind of divide for me, where i hate the first book, but love the second. 2 of 5 stars.

Book1510. None of the Above, by I.W. Gregorio. (Balzer & Bray, 2015, 352 pgs.) Ending on a high note! Woot! You know how many times I’ve commented that maybe I just didn’t like a book because it wasn’t the right time? Funny thing: my hold for this finally came through at the library. So I go to download it (it was an ebook) and the servers go down at the library! I mean, really?! I was so afraid my checkout process would time out or the hold wouldn’t still be held and gah! I NEEDED to read the book so bad by that point! A YA book dealing with the popular girl-next-door who finds out her senior year that she’s intersex? COME ON, SERVERS! Of course my problem was eventually solved and I started reading…only to find out I had actually started reading the story before. And forgot or something? I vaguely remembered thinking the writing was a bit too kitchy in the first chapter; a little too YA for me. But this time, this time I was able to push through with only a few winces and hooboy am I glad. This book was marvelous. We need more books like this. So many more! Gregorio – who’s a surgeon in addition to writing books – dealt with the subject with immeasurable grace and incredible realism. There were a myriad of reactions to Krissy’s unplanned reveal and so many consequences – and not all of them were terrific. Some broke my heart. And some made me smile as if Krissy was a real live person to root for. Gregorio showed rather than told, and asked questions and left a few unanswered. Because not all questions about identity and sexuality and just being a person even have answers, you know? My favorite part was the author’s note at the end that discussed why she used some terms – including hermaphrodite – and listed other books that could help or discussed similar topics and also a list of research material. Every library, every school, every reading list needs to include this book. 5 of 5 stars.

Whew! That’s a lot of reading. You can tell the weekends when I don’t have a house full of kids, can’t you? Heh. Now off I go – I have a few minutes before I’m needed anywhere and there’s this YA book about another difficult topic that I’m almost finished with…

A #24in48 Readathon Recap.

July 14, 2015

This past weekend, the lovely Rachel hosted a #24in48 reading marathon. The rules are simple: read your heart out over the course of the weekend. That’s it. That’s the rule. And the best thing about it (well, aside from all the reading) is that the rule is elastic. For instance, I include reading on Friday night because I view the “48” as the weekend, and my weekend starts on Friday after work. Also: mommying. Need to work that in there.

I did fairly well – I hit 18 hours. No, it’s not 24, and no, I didn’t get 6 books read like I did last time. I did learn a lot though. It was my first readathon with the new (hott) boyfriend around, and without my girls at the house this weekend, that means I was tag-teamed to help entertain the Xman quite a bit. I did warn Jeff that there was a readathon; next time I will have to be a bit firmer about blocking off time for Reading Only. But I still get Reading Ninja points for how I snuck so much in there. Here’s how it broke down:

Insomnia, by Stephen King. This is a re-read for me, and, surprisingly, it was an audiobook! I KNOW!! Audiobooks aren’t my thing. I have a hard time keeping track of what’s being said and so for new books, that can be an issue. Since this was a re-read (a re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-read might be closer to the truth, in fact), it worked wonderfully. It helped me knock out most of a book, and I advanced quite a bit on my Stephen King Re-Read project. I was able to listen to a good chunk in one ear Saturday morning when the three of us when for a four-mile hike at the park, and then off-and-on throughout the weekend as I completed housework and cleaned out part of my closet. (The closet is big and the project is everlasting. I’m beginning to suspect my closet is equivalent to the inside of Mary Poppins carpetbag.) Anyway, the book is still fantastic, the narrator was good, and the delivery actually worked really well for me. Good choice.

The Truth According To Us, by Annie Barrows. Kim bought this in hardcover because the author co-wrote one of our favorite of favorites, Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Or, as everyone really calls it, Potato Peel Pie. Seriously, I had to stop and think of the full title. I may not even be right. So I have this gigantic hardcover that I’m supposed to finish before Kim gets here in August and demands her book back. Problem was, I had a hard time getting into it. I dipped into the first few pages a few times during afternoons – I figured once I got hooked into the story, I wouldn’t care about working out my biceps holding the book up over my face before bed every night. Except…the story never caught me. I kept going, kept going, sure that Annie would find her rhythm. And the letters the main character wrote – those were good. Those were Potato Peel Pie. The problem was, traditional narrative kept popping up. And that was a huge mess. There was no rhythm at all, the book felt like it couldn’t decide which structure it wanted to follow, the narrative voices were disconnected – probably because the narration switched between characters, and not in a way that worked. It was disjointed and, frankly, needed a much better editor. What a disappointment. Still, it went down easy once I committed, and I knocked it out before my car maintenance appointment was even over. And now the beast is back on the shelf and a much lighter book resides on my nightstand. Thank god. 2 of 5 stars.

Ana of California, by Andi Teran. I was so skeptical about this book. A modern, Latina retelling of Anne of Green Gables?? How ambitious! And how liable to fail. You can’t retell Anne. It’s classic. It’s untouchable. And it’s not even out of fashion or out of place with wonky situations you can’t relate to. Leave it alone! …Except the buzz was good. So good and so everywhere. And the book went straight to paperback. And it was only $10. So I took a giant chance and grabbed it and started reading and…holy sheep, people! The writing is enchanting, the characters relatable, and the story stands on its own. There are enough nods to Anne that I can see why it has to be billed as a retelling: Ana’s an orphan, she goes to live with a single brother and sister on a farm, her new best friend lives close by, a boy calls her Curls, her hair is the bane of her existence, there’s a hair-fixing disaster… I get it. But it’s different enough that it’s Ana, not Anne, and that means everything to me. I can’t wait to finish it, but so far this is a 4 1/2, 5 star read. Which is why I was reading pages at the kitchen table, in the car, for hours at the pool, before bed and before work. I’m even skipping naps, people. My love for the story is serious. (Although Anne is still light years better. Ahem.)

I may not have hit the mark for 24 hours this weekend, but I did get a massive amount of reading done, and so much of it was filled with good writing and better stories. I can’t wait for the next #24in48!

Misery (Read-Along) Loves Company

June 24, 2015

Last month I devoured Misery for my Stephen King re-read project. For those who haven’t been playing along (and, um, maybe because I’ve been really bad about posting updates), I’ve been re-reading every book, novella, and short story King has written – in publication order. Why publication order? Well, because I seem to read and re-read my favorites over and over again and I wanted to make sure I read some of the books I’ve touched only once. Reading his published works in the order in which he shared them (and in a larger, though not perfect, sense, wrote them) has been fantastically interesting to watch themes, voice, and stylistic flair grow and develop.

Misery is about a third of the way through the list, although I still think of it as halfway (I forget to keep tacking on new books at the bottom of the list). It’s a book I was aware of when it came out, although mostly because of the movie tie-in. I wasn’t a King fan at the time – I wasn’t even a fan of Christopher Pikes or any gory, gruesome, scary stories. But it’s one of my favorites of his “early” works. I always remember that I adore it, but I forget how much until I’m zipping along through the story of our protagonist, novelist Paul Sheldon, and his captor, Number One Fan Annie Wilkes.

Before we go further, I need to warn you that my post is chockablock full of spoilers. If you don’t want to know what happens in the story: turn around, don’t drown!

As with most times when I read Misery, I was pulled in (I want to say literally; it always feels that way) by King’s trademark charm and folksy voice. It’s not quite at its deepest and truest, but it’s definitely there. It’s definitely one of the stories where King sounds most King-ish. I always remember (and promptly forget again) how god-awful the Misery Chastain stories are, and how delightfully cheesy that King throws in a meta bestselling author whose life is crumbling around him, and has his meta-self write romance novels! Delightfully awful ones! I cringed and skipped over the Misery story bits (because gawd) and instead skipped merrily through the will-he-or-won’t-he best his crazypants captor who is hellbent on making him do her bidding.

And that’s when the wheels came off the wagon for me and I realized a profound truth that is sort of uncomfortable and I don’t really think, but maybe:

I can’t blame Annie Wilkes.

Oh, sure, I can – and do! – blame her for the really crazy bits! I don’t condone killing babies or patients (or, um, family) when she was a nurse, or chopping off Paul’s foot or thumb. She’s obviously batshit crazy in a bad way.

But…can’t you see the glimmer of batshit crazy that you can sympathize with a little? No, no, no – sympathize is the wrong word. How about…that you could indulge in, too, if given half a chance? I mean, if I was given half a chance to stuff Stephen King away in my guest room and make him write for me, I can’t say I would pass up the opportunity.

Okay, okay, I probably would. But I would be really conflicted about it. I’m too much of an upstanding member of our stupid society to ever actually do it.

But I would want to. (And that is the truth.)

So for me, this read-through of Misery was a wonderful romp in which I purposefully rooted for the bad guy and sided with the wrong team. I had fun with it and found new windows and new angles from which to peer at a well-known story. I indulged my inner wicked temptations and pretended new stories of Roland and his ka-tet were rolling out of the typewriter and the Sox were on the TV every night for us to yell at together.

It’s good to escape. From madwomen who refuse to die, and from the soul-crushing reality that stealing celebrities for your own good is wrong. World without end, Amen.

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