Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Man Booker Short List!


I have read one of these books, and loved it. Now on to the others!!

Have you read any of the six?

Below, find the full shortlist, linked to NPR's reviews of the works and interviews with their authors, where possible.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The book was better.


I'm sure you have seen this illustration before on movie-versus-book discussions. With the sudden influx of movies based on books, I feel that I have to stress again how much richer and more satisfying reading a book is over seeing the movie adaptation.

When you read, you are creating your own movie. Your brain is more engaged and invested in a book. It is a very active process, combining the words you are seeing, processing, and understanding to create a full-color, vivid, on-demand movie in your mind. You are director and producer. You are in charge of makeup and costumes. You choose the locations and scenes. All of this in a split second.

That's why reading makes you smarter. Not only are you able to learn new words, but you are also engaging so much of your brain in sequential, systematic, and parallel ways - many times all at once!

There will never be a better movie-maker than your own imagination.

Some books to try instead of the movie:

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
One of my top 10 books, the story presents a challenge to the screen because it is primarily internal monologue. While the film and television series are true to the dystopian nature of the story, it is impossible to capture the parallel thoughts and feelings of the protagonist and the other handmaids as told in the double narrative-style of the book.

The Giver by Lois Lowry
Another one of my faves, this is the first book in a quartet. While the film adaptation, again, presents the general idea of the book, the fact that one character was given a much bigger part in the film (Streep's characterization of the Chief Elder) in order cash in on her star power doesn't sit well with me. The book is about exploring feelings, making decisions, and actions bringing consequences.

The Lost Weekend by Charles R. Jackson
The film version was highly acclaimed, nominated for seven Academy Awards and winning four. What is missing here, however, is the raw and visceral pull of alcohol on the main character. It consumes him, drives his behavior, and pulls the reader in opposing directions of disgust and sympathy for him. Thought of as the seminal American novel on addiction, this desperation cannot be captured on film. That, coupled with homosexual overtones, makes this 1944 novel a must-read.

These are just three of my pics for you. Let me know of other books-into-films you have experienced, and what your impression on the comparison was.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Anne's Pick for my next read: WOW!

The other day, I turned you on to Anne Bogel's "What Should I Read Next" podcast, as well as her blog, Modern Mrs. Darcy. In looking through her book lists, I happened upon an intriguing proposition: The perfect summer reading for every Myers-Briggs personality type.

Thank goodness, there is a quick series of questions available to determine your type. Mine turned out to be E(xtroverted), N(tuition), T(hinking), P(erceiving). With that in mind, the recommended book for me by Bogel is:
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn HugoSummary:
From Taylor Jenkins Reid comes an unforgettable and sweeping novel about one classic film actress’s relentless rise to the top—the risks she took, the loves she lost, and the long-held secrets the public could never imagine.

There's more to the synopsis than that, but I don't like those long ones because, to me, it gives too much of the book away.

Rest assured, I WILL be reading this one!

Take a quick trip to the list linked above and let me know what your recommended book is!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Literary Matchmaking and Anne Bogel

Modern Mrs. Darcy

In my search for a new book-centric podcast when my beloved Books on the Nightstand ended its run, I came across What Should I Read Next, a podcast by Anne Bogel.

While still reeling from the end of BotN, Anne immediately caught my attention with her literary matchmaking. On the podcast, she talks with a reader, asking what they are currently reading, three books they love, and one book that didn't grab them.

See what I mean??! Brilliant!

With this, she then recommends three books to them. Almost always, each of the books discussed is new to me. I love hearing about the books, why they love them, why they didn't like them, and why Anne chooses the books she does for them. There is even a follow-up podcast (episode 46) in which she revisits seven of these readers to find out how well she did in her matchmaking picks.

Next time you are in the midst of your commute, or are sitting outside in the sun and breeze, pop in your earbuds and listen to a few of these. Be warned, though! Your TBR will more than likely grow.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

Summary:

Fourteen-year-old Alma Singer is trying to find a cure for her mother's loneliness. Believing she might discover it in an old book her mother is lovingly translating, she sets out in search of its author. Across New York an old man called Leo Gursky is trying to survive a little bit longer. He spends his days dreaming of the lost love who, sixty years ago in Poland, inspired him to write a book. And although he doesn't know it yet, that book also survived: crossing oceans and generations, and changing lives...

My take: 3 looks

Okay, this is weird.

My sorority sister Laura just texted me about a week ago and recommended a movie: The Words. It has Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Jeremy Irons, and Dennis Quaid, among others. I watched it last night. The night before finishing this book by the pool.

The storylines turned out to be the same. The same.

How weird and serendipitous is that? Almost scary, in a cosmic way.

If I tell you any more, I will give away spoilers. However, I will say that there is a young girl trying to find the story of a woman and the author who loved her. Was she the reason for this book, which goes on to win accolades? Is there a father/son relationship that can be healed? Will her mother find happiness with anyone after the death of her father?

I admit that I didn't give this book its fair recompense. Subjugated as a "pool book", I put it aside only when I was by the pool. With that, it has taken me far longer to read it than others. Because of that, I had to occasionally go back and familiarize myself with situations and characters. However, I never lost sight of the overall story. With that said, I was not as deeply entrenched in the text as I could have been.

I recommend this one, along with the recommendation that you then watch "The Words", and let me know how intrigued you are at the similarities in the premises.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Question: Do you think about past reads?

At seemingly odd times, a bit of text, a scene, or a character from a past read will pop into my mind. From books that made very little obvious impact on me suddenly prove themselves buried deep into my psyche, much like that lone Narcissus papyraceus that pops up in the center of my lawn each spring.

The first book that haunted me a little, but in a positive way, was Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End. I am not a huge science fiction book fan, so this is not a genre that I read very often. However, this book drew me right in. Based on an alien invasion, the "haunting" scene is where a human is trying to explain to the "Overlords" our need for sleep. It is a concept that is completely foreign to them.  
Image result for jennifer weiner then came youAnother scene in my memory is from Jennifer Weiner's book Then Came You. Weiner is an author that I do not read enough of. Her characters are always so likable, real, and the situations are familiar and completely relatable.

This "haunting" is a scene in which an adult child of long-divorced parents realizes how different the much-younger new wife relates to her father than her mother ever did. With this, she comes to understand that what her mother and father needed were very different when they married than when they divorced. It was an epiphany borne of seeing her father's wife lean into him with her body language, giving the impression that he was truly holding her up. Her mother had grown into a very independent woman and no longer needed a man in that way. Resentment for his new marriage dissipated, and the story truly turned a corner.

There are more, but this is already longer than I wanted it to be. What are some of your "hauntings"?

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Question - A New Feature


I am going to ramp up the blog a bit by posting a few more personal entries, observations, and book news. All of this in addition to my regular book reviews. To start this new journey of blogdom, I introduce a new feature to the blog: The Question.

I didn't know this, but there is apparently a comic book character named ... you guessed it - The Question. Like most comic book characters, this one has gone through lots of changes, most of which I can't follow, and am not really interested in. Sorry, not sorry.

I will make this a monthly feature, and will get started on it right away. Maybe even tomorrow.

Ooh! I feel some excitement tingles!!


Sunday, July 16, 2017

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles



Summary:

A Gentleman in Moscow immerses us in an elegantly drawn era with the story of Count Alexander Rostov. When, in 1922, he is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the count is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him a doorway into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

My take: 5 looks

A delightful book! So beautifully written, and such a nice combination of historical events, figures, and characters. I was truly sad to see it end, and yet so satisfied in its ending. I felt intimately familiar with The Metropol, which is a character unto itself. Who can resist the luxury of this famous bastion of Russian history, forging ground with its warm water and telephones in the rooms? Dining at night by candlelight in the prestigious Boyarsky Hall and slipping into the Art Nouveau Shalyapin bar for a nightcap before retiring to your room.

The author in Suite 217 with the Bolshoi in the backgroundEven today, they offer breakfast with musical accompaniment. I can imagine that Towles immersed himself in the glamour of 20th century Russia. Here is a photograph of the author in his Metropol suite, with the Bolshoi Theatre in the background.

Apart from the hotel, our protagonist, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, is a gentleman of gentlemen. Educated, well-traveled, speaking several languages, and presenting the patience and fortitude of the nobility, he is a delightful sort with the highest of morals, even if they are sometimes apt to bend just a little.

By his side is a host of colorful characters which go in and out of the story. It is a wonderful adventure through decades of Russian change, seen through the eyes of a man exiled in luxury.

Read this for the beautiful location. Read it for the wonderful characters. Read it for the beautiful writing. For goodness sake, just read it.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen

Summary:

A vivid and compelling novel about a woman who becomes entangled in an affair with Edgar Allan Poe—at the same time she becomes the unwilling confidante of his much-younger wife.

My take: 4 looks

I was initially disappointed in this one, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much I enjoyed it.

To get my initial thorn out of the way: I wanted the main character, Fanny Osgood, to be more Scarlett O'Hara and less Melanie Wilkes. Once, in a scene involving Fanny, at the height of decorum, I thought of the quote by Scarlett about Melanie, "...silly little fool who can't open her mouth except to say 'yes' or 'no' and raise a passel of mealy-mouthed brats just like her."

However, I realize after reflecting on the story, characters, and writing that I was completely wrong. Fanny is acting exactly how she was raised, to be respectful, kind, and acquiescing. The fact that Virginia is emboldened in both word and deed is eventually explained by Poe by explaining that she stayed as a child.

The tension between Poe and Fanny was evident, as was Virginia's increasing awareness of their relationship. While I admit that I did want Fanny to be a little more free to allow herself these illicit feelings, the time and culture did not permit that she act on her feelings. Her concern for Virginia was yet another testament to her character.

And speaking of characters! What a wonderfully colorful collection of REAL historical figures in this story! When historical fiction drives a reader to do more reading and research, there is no greater compliment to an author. I loved reading about Griswold's penchant for hand adornments, Fuller's growing friendship and trust with Fanny, Bartlett's interest in Southern colloquialisms, and Ellet's drive to ruin anyone who wronged her.

The fact that these were real people has driven me straight to historical references to learn more.

All-in-all, when my friend Kerri recommended this book to me, she did me a favor!

Recommended.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Ill Will by Dan Chaon

Summary:

Two sensational unsolved crimes—one in the past, another in the present—are linked by one man’s memory and self-deception in this chilling novel of literary suspense from National Book Award finalist Dan Chaon.

My take: 3 looks

Dan Chaon's "Await Your Reply" sits with me still. It is one of those books that I will think of every now and again for years and years to come. Because of that, I leapt at the opportunity to get an ARC of his latest from LibraryThing.

The writing style is marvelous, as we have come to expect from Chaon. Going back and forth in time, using columns on the page to present various perspectives in the same timeline and various timelines from the same person, and presenting different points of view ... all of this added to the intrigue, breakdown of collected evidence, and confusion of our various characters. The book is full of unreliable narrators, wild goose chases, and misread assumptions. Like a mystery at its best, page after page of reading brings little solid fact.

It is so beautifully written that the ending was all the more disappointing to me. There was no explanation, no resolution, no reconciliation, no redemption. While I am sure that was part of the point, perhaps to be more like reality than a novel, I expected a more nuanced ending from an author of Chaon's caliber. There were so many avenues left unexplored that I feel there could be a series here, although I don't think that is the author's intention. In all, I was left disappointed.

Not recommended.

Thanks to LibraryThing and Random House for an advance reader's copy in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Murderer's Daughters by Randy Susan Meyers

Summary:

Lulu and Merry’s childhood was never ideal, but on the day before Lulu’s tenth birthday their father drives them into a nightmare. He’s always hungered for the love of the girl’s self-obsessed mother; after she throws him out, their troubles turn deadly.

My take: 3.5 looks

When your father kills your mother, tries to kill your younger sister, and himself, how does a 10-year-old girl handle the shock waves that reverberate through her life, especially now that she is all that her recovering sister has?

Dad is in jail, in serious denial of what he has done to his daughters. Meanwhile, years go by while family members shun the "murder girls", orphanage children torment them, and a wealthy family finally takes them in out of pity.

It is an easy and compelling read, perfect for those afternoons by the pool. While it is a bit formulaic and predictable, it is not high art, and the story, characters, and conclusions were all satisfying.

Recommended.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Behold the Reading Slump

I have been in a serious reading slump lately. Work is busy, yes. I am traveling more, yes. There are family events happening, yes. However, none of that has ever stopped me from reading before.

But, ALAS! It has! I looked over the blog and found that I had a slump in 2013, then again in 2015. So, it stands to reason that, after the cursory two years, it is time for another one.

I have tried to read "The Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett, "Mrs. Poe" by Lynn Cullen, "I'm Thinking of Ending Things" by Iain Reid, "Beartown" by Fredrik Backman, and I never finished the tome "4321" by Paul Auster.

So, I am going to read as I feel like it. There is a reason my brain wants to take a reading break, and I am not going to fight my subconscious by entertaining the myriad of articles on how to overcome a reading slump.

Embrace the slump!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Women against Abortion by Karissa Haugeberg

Summary:

Women from remarkably diverse religious, social, and political backgrounds made up the rank-and-file of anti-abortion activism. Empowered by—yet in many cases scared of—the changes wrought by feminism, they founded grassroots groups, developed now-familiar strategies and tactics, and gave voice to the movement's moral and political dimensions.

My take: 2.5 looks

Well-written, but a bit on the dry side. There are lots of facts, accounts, and supporting info, but nothing that ever draws a reader in and makes her (or him) a member of the debate. Would have been perfect for a research paper, but to read a compelling account of the trajectory and growth of the movement was missing here. If I were writing this, I would have treated each chapter as a stage in am embryo's cycle, moving it along and growing it with the anti-abortion movement. Include more word-pictures to make it real to any reader. That was missing, for me.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Summary:

“Are you happy with your life?”

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”


My take: 2.5 looks

There was a great deal of hubbub surrounding this novel upon its release. It was on library waiting lists all over, and I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. After reading it, I highly recommend Crouch's publicist.

It took me less than 24 hours to read it. That should be seen as a testament more to simple, easy-to-follow writing than an intriguing story.

As a matter of fact, this story, of parallel dimensions, is not a new one at all. From Kate Atkinson's "Life After Life" and Katherine Webb's "The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August", where lives are replayed over and over; or alternate realities like Stephen King's "11/22/63"; or even films like "Sliding doors" and "Groundhog Day"... my point? It's been done before, and it's been done better.

Jason, our protagonist, at one point becomes so narrowly focused on "love" that it is almost like watching a 16-year-old boy try to get his girl.

"He knew he shouldn't open the door, but..."

"He new he shouldn't leave Amanda, but..."

This irritating dependency on feeling rather than thinking, or irrationality versus rationality,... I didn't buy it coming from a physicist. If the book had been longer, or written at a more complicated reading level than about 6th grade, I would not have wasted my time finishing it. As it was, I knew I could blow right through it and mark it from my TBR.

Not recommended.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Cellar by Natasha Preston

Summary:
 Nothing ever happens in the town of Long Thorpe – that is, until sixteen-year-old Summer Robinson disappears without a trace. No family or police investigation can track her down. Spending months inside the cellar of her kidnapper with several other girls, Summer learns of Colin’s abusive past, and his thoughts of his victims being his family…his perfect, pure flowers. But flowers can’t survive long cut off from the sun, and time is running out….

My take: 1 look

Ugh. I had high hopes for this one based on a review I read. However, I know now that the review must have been from a middle-school-girl. 

It has been a few months, but I recently read "The Butterfly Garden" by Dot Hutchison, which is a story along these same lines. Abducted girls who are deemed "perfect", kept by a seemingly normal older man, and the latest addition is very young. When I got to the part where he names them after flowers and eventually has sex with them, I stopped. There was nothing compelling that I could read, especially at 347 pages, that would interest, intrigue, or captivate me that I had not seen a thousand times. It's practically every third "Criminal Minds" episode.

So, skip this one. Read "Girl with a Dragon Tattoo" instead. It's better written, more visceral, and you will be more apt to read the series than anything you will find here.

Not recommended.