Friday, December 16, 2016

Well, what did I expect?

You know what they say: hindsight is 20/20.

The Delta Zeta Collegiate ladies had the grandly marvelous idea to have a book group, and we are getting started in January. Molly, lead book group instigator, chose "Where'd You Go Bernadette" by Maria Semple as our first book.

I had already read this one, but it was the summer of 2014. I remembered how clever and witty it was, so I looked forward to a re-read. I usually take books off of my iPad when I finish them, to avoid cluttering the library, so I sat down to reload it. Once it was reloaded, I went straight to the highlights and notes to refresh my memory.

There were none.

Egad!

I sat and thought for a moment. Well, of course there were none. I had deleted the copy that contained my additions. When I reloaded the book, I reloaded the unread version and not the one I had marked. Without copying the file from my iPad to the computer, they would never be there. All of the notes on all of the books I had read on my iPad were gone.

Oddly, I wasn't that upset. After all, what was I thinking? My notes would "ghost" to the hard drive? What a cotton-headed-ninny-muggings! So, now I am hedging my bets and writing them in pen on paper.

Live and learn!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

2017 Reading List of the Edgewater Ladies Book Club

Image result for reading listMy friend Ashley belongs to a book group which sets their entire year's reading list at once.  There are pros and cons to this, for sure, but I love that she shares the list with me. Here is the 2017 planned reading list:

JAN      Thunderstruck by Erik Larson

FEB      The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg 

MAR    America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

APR      The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

MAY     Stoned: Jewelry Obsession & How Desire Shapes the World by Aja Raden

JUN     One Second After by William Forstchen

JUL      The Lady in Gold by Anne Marie O’Connor

AUG     The Doll House by Fiona Davis

SEP      Girl at War by Sara Novic

OCT      A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

NOV     Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick

DEC     Great American Eccentrics by C. Sifakis  

Overall, it's a little heavy on non-fiction for my taste, but a very good list. I have added a few of these to my TBR. Let me know what you think of the list, and what you think of creating an entire year's list at once.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Foiled Again: Public Library Board Appointment

While I am not surprised, I am very disappointed.

I asked the executive assistant to Arab's mayor to send me a list of the City Council-appointed public library board members. I expected a vacancy toward the end of the year, and made my interest known to all city council members, as well as the mayor, in June. I received a reply from one of the members, letting me know that others had also shown interest.

While I find that highly unlikely, I did not question him.

When I received the list, I was shocked to find that a young man had been appointed just yesterday, to fill a seat left vacant by a resignation.

Very interesting, since this young man ran for city council in the last election and lost. This looks awfully like a concession prize.

I wrote an email to each council member, asking what their criteria for appointment was, considering there were several interested parties. I know that I was never contacted.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

Summary:

Carolyn's not so different from the other people around her. She likes guacamole and cigarettes and steak. She knows how to use a phone. Clothes are a bit tricky, but everyone says nice things about her outfit with the Christmas sweater over the gold bicycle shorts. 

After all, she was a normal American herself once.  

That was a long time ago, of course. Before her parents died. Before she and the others were taken in by the man they called Father.

My take: 5 looks

I think I have hit my favorite genre, a genre I call Science Fiction Horror. I would put Daniel O'Malley's Chequey series in this category, as well. Humans vs nonhumans with a touch of needing to cover your eyes every now and again.

Carolyn seems like a normal young lady on the surface, as do her siblings. However, once you start to unravel the ties of the relationships with her "family", you see that there is something very other-worldly going on here. Father, Steve, Erwin, and the twelve librarians all have quite interesting histories. Histories that have prepared them for this moment of convergence.

"Library" had me from the very first page. It was gripping, taut, and very well crafted. As the pieces started to come together at the end, I found myself wanting more pages, simply so I could enjoy it longer. I will now search for others by this author.

Recommended.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Stiletto by Daniel O'Malley

Stiletto (The Checquy Files, #2)Summary:

When secret organizations are forced to merge after years of enmity and bloodshed, only one person has the fearsome powers—and the bureaucratic finesse—to get the job done. Facing her greatest challenge yet, Rook Myfanwy Thomas must broker a deal between two bitter adversaries:
 
The Checquy—the centuries-old covert British organization that protects society from supernatural
threats, and…
The Grafters—a centuries-old supernatural threat.
 
But as bizarre attacks sweep London, threatening to sabotage negotiations, old hatreds flare. Surrounded by spies, only the Rook and two women, who absolutely hate each other, can seek out the culprits before they trigger a devastating otherworldly war.
 
My take: 5 looks and a CAT CALL

When I saw that Daniel O'Malley had released a sequel to "The Rook", I immediately downloaded it and moved it to the top of my TBR.

The first in the series introduced us to the secret government organization tasked with protecting the general population from things of which they are completely ignorant. Kind of like "Men in Black". With a kick-ass woman as the lead, I devoured the more-than-600-page book in just a few days.

This one was no different. Again led by strong women, this is a must-read for every fan of science fiction, fantasy, and feminism. It is a roller coaster of a story, well-written, and cleverly full of twists and turns.

Some highlights:
  • I am absolutely appalled to have you here, but I am also extremely well mannered and so I shall conceal that fact from you.
  • "But I hate her," protested Odette. "Oh, I'm sure you think you do," said Marcel cheerfully, "but you're still young. It takes decades to really hate someone."
  • The color could perhaps have been descried as sky blue, but it was the blue of a sky that would drive even the cheeriest and most tuneful of novice nuns to slash her wrists. It was a blue that had given up.
See? Wicked good! Highly recommended.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Book Podcast Crisis Part 4: Adventures With Words

Adventures With Words
The next bookish podcast Ann and Michael of Books on the Nightstand recommended is Adventures with Words. This is a monthly podcast of books, sprinkled with reviews of film, tv, theater, and music. Hosted by Kate and Rob, it is based in the UK.

Looking at the description of their latest download, dated November 14, I am trepidatious. "It’s been an ‘interesting’ week in the world so Rob and Kate pick out some of the books they turn to for their comfort reads." Even though this is a British-based podcast, to have such a strong reference to the US Presidential election, and in a negative way, is off-putting for me. However, after listening, while both hosts are obviously liberal, they do restrain themselves from making political comments.

In choosing her first comfort read, Kate chooses ... a radio program. I forwarded through ten minutes of her talking about this daily 15-minute UK radio soap opera. To Rob's credit, he did choose a book, "Young Bond Strike Lightning" by Steve Cole. He gave a nice, succinct summary, as well as why he considers it a comfort read.

When it was time for Kate to talk about her next pick (would it actually be a book this time??), I felt my shoulders tense as she went on and on about buying the entire set of "The Murder Most Unladylike Mystery Series" by Robin Stevens. Can't stand the voice with her vocal fry.

Can't do this one.

When a friend sends a book...

So, I found lots of reading buddies in my coworkers at Bentley Systems. David is going to GIFT me a signed Ann Patchett that his wife found at a thrift store, Gilda carted me all over Chester County, Pennsylvania to visit book stores, and Jim told me that I HAD to read a particular book that he loves.

Great, right?

Well, Jim sent me the book, "The Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett. Amazon delivered yesterday. I thought I was going to have to get my wheelbarrow to get it in the house.

I even took pics!

I love a nice, thick read, but this one is really stout! As a matter of fact, it was not made into a television movie. It was not made into a theatrical release. It was made into a miniseries! That's commitment!

Here is the summary:
Everything readers expect from Follett is here: intrigue, fast-paced action, and passionate romance. But what makes The Pillars of the Earth extraordinary is the time—the twelfth century; the place—feudal England; and the subject—the building of a glorious cathedral. Follett has re-created the crude, flamboyant England of the Middle Ages in every detail. The vast forests, the walled towns, the castles, and the monasteries become a familiar landscape. Against this richly imagined and intricately interwoven backdrop, filled with the ravages of war and the rhythms of daily life, the master storyteller draws the reader irresistibly into the intertwined lives of his characters—into their dreams, their labors, and their loves: Tom, the master builder; Aliena, the ravishingly beautiful noblewoman; Philip, the prior of Kingsbridge; Jack, the artist in stone; and Ellen, the woman of the forest who casts a terrifying curse. From humble stonemason to imperious monarch, each character is brought vividly to life.

The building of the cathedral, with the almost eerie artistry of the unschooled stonemasons, is the center of the drama. Around the site of the construction, Follett weaves a story of betrayal, revenge, and love, which begins with the public hanging of an innocent man and ends with the humiliation of a king.

At once a sensuous and endearing love story and an epic that shines with the fierce spirit of a passionate age, The Pillars of the Earth is without a doubt Ken Follett's masterpiece.

Thanks, Jim! This is the next one on my list!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Book Podcast Crisis Part 3: Literary Disco


Literary Disco is hosted by three people (one woman and two men) who are "good friends who also happen to be huge book nerds." They are all writers, with one recently on the NYTimes best seller list.

This podcast is actually pretty fun! Of course, my luck prevails. You see, the last time they posted a podcast was in July with the hosts discussing summer reads.

<sigh>

Looking at the podcast history, it seems that the usual rate is once per month, so the fact that there has not been another in several months means that something is up. So, I go to the Facebook page. There is a post in July, then one in October promising a new post soon, then a repost of an article on author Dan Brown on November 1.

I think it's safe to say that I can cross this one off my list.

Monday, November 14, 2016

West Chester, Pennsylvania Bookstores

This is my reading friend Gilda. I asked her if she wanted to accompany me to Baldwin's Book Barn, and not only did she want to go, she also offered to DRIVE!! For this girl who hates to drive, that was a dream come true.

Coworker Meghan had told me about the book barn, and said that it was quite the destination. She was correct!

The book barn is an old converted dairy barn. It was converted to a book store in the 1940s, and floor-by-floor was transformed into the 5-level treat that it is now. It is quite well laid out, with clear maps available when you enter, as well as laminated maps at each of the stairs, and posted randomly on the ends of bookcases.

There are no new books here. They have thousands of used books, maps, and prints. In the lobby you will also find antiquarian, rare, and fine books. The website (link above) boasts that the barn is "stuffed to the rafters with a treasure trove of 300,000 used and rare books", and they are correct. Reminding me of local used books emporium, Booklegger, I found myself struggling to find something to purchase.

You see, old, dusty, and musty books are not really my thing. Because of the nature of the building, it is quite the visual treat, but impossible to keep a constant temperature, and book-killing moisture out of the air. However, I found a hardcover Haiku book which I bought because I simply could not leave empty handed.

I do heartily recommend a visit when you are in the area, if only for the experience. Choose a cool day so you will get to feel the soothing comfort of the woodstove, and give the cat a scratch when you happen upon him heaped in a cozy corner chair.

On our way back into the office, Gilda asked me if I wanted to pop into Wellington's Books, a locally owned independent bookseller very close to Bentley's location. YES! What incredible fun this treat of a book seller was. It reminded me quite a bit of Shop Around the Corner the movie "You've Got Mail", and I had to snap a photo.

The selections were grand, prices reasonable, and had the perfect combination of books, bookish items, and gifts for the reader. All-in-all, this was a very successful afternoon for my new friend and me!

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison

Summary:

Near an isolated mansion lies a beautiful garden.

In this garden grow luscious flowers, shady trees…and a collection of precious “butterflies”—young women who have been kidnapped and intricately tattooed to resemble their namesakes. Overseeing it all is the Gardener, a brutal, twisted man obsessed with capturing and preserving his lovely specimens.

When the garden is discovered, a survivor is brought in for questioning. FBI agents Victor Hanoverian and Brandon Eddison are tasked with piecing together one of the most stomach-churning cases of their careers. But the girl, known only as Maya, proves to be a puzzle herself.

As her story twists and turns, slowly shedding light on life in the Butterfly Garden, Maya reveals old grudges, new saviors, and horrific tales of a man who’d go to any length to hold beauty captive. But the more she shares, the more the agents have to wonder what she’s still hiding.


My take: 4 looks

As investigators delve gently into the experiences of Maya in what is known as The Butterfly Garden, a picture of a nirvana prison emerges. The Gardner is gentle and benevolent toward his perfect "butterflies", as long as each does as he asks. Unfortunately, his son Avery is not as gentle. At this point, it is worth note that there are numerous rapes and some torture scenes, but they are not overly described, and I did not find them outside the realm of the nature of the story.

Told in a narrative of flashbacks, investigators are not sure what role Maya played in the structure of this hellish Eden. She seems different from the others who were rescued, and they seem to turn to her as a mother figure. As her history emerges, woven in and out of her descriptions of her years at The Garden, a tragic, lonely, and eventually hardened young lady is born.

A very fast-paced and compelling thriller, I was hooked until almost the end. Without spoiling anything, the introduction of a surprise "guest" of The Garden at the end was both confusing and unnecessary. The story would have been purer, simpler, and scarier without this manufactured twist from the author. With this, this novel cannot be awarded a full 5 looks.

Recommended.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Book Podcast Crisis Part 2: All The Books

All the Books logo featured
BookRiot is a GREAT site for bibliophiles, so I have high hopes for this one!

Liberty Hardy and Rebecca Schinsky host All The Books book podcast. They are on Episode 79, which is clocked in at 36 minutes.

With just a touch of opening comments, the hosts jump right into book-talk. I was impressed! The first book discussed was Pull Me Under by Kelly Luce. Not only did I learn what it was about, but also why Rebecca loved it so much, commenting on the writing.

The second book was nicely segued into as the other host presented her first pick for the week, Virgin and Other Stories by April Ayers Lawson. Again, the host talked about the collection of short stories, as well as the undercurrents of the stories, and how they all come together to show the dark sides that all humans possess. A very nice commentary on the basics, with just enough to make the listening want more.

All said, fifteen books are discussed. If you visit the website of the podcast, you will find a link to each book, as well as a list of the books being read by each host, and books released in the current week.

The rapport of the hosts is good, and they do an excellent job of not going down rabbit holes and keeping the focus on books. Because I am a newbie, I couldn't tell with voice belong with which woman. However, one of them speaks in a breathless, almost whining voice that did not play well on my computer speakers. The content of her talk was more compelling than the downfall of her speech, so I am going to overlook it, for now.

All-in-all, this is a thumbs-up!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Book Podcast Crisis Part 1: The Readers

My Favorite book-conversation podcast, Books on the Nightstand, ended their several-year-run in July of this year.

Unfortunately, I had been listening only about six months, so I felt particularly disappointed they were ending, as well as robbed that I hadn't experienced more of them in the earlier years. The hosts were good enough to recommend a few other podcasts, which I decided to give a try. I was mostly left wanting.

Here is the problem: I don't care about the hosts' private lives. I don't care about their struggles, time constraints, or what their cat did last night. I don't want to know about their politics, a bumper sticker they saw, or what their kids are wearing for Halloween. I want to hear about books, authors, book events, and all things bookish. That's hard to find!

In an effort to spare you the pain, I am going to give you my take on several of the more popular bookish podcasts. Let me hear from you on your likes and dislikes!

The Readers podcast is up to episode 161 and is hosted by Simon and Thomas. Here is the summary of their Halloween episode: Thomas and Simon have a chat about what scares them, with a few spooky tales along the way, and which books they would recommend for other people to read as well as sharing the books that they would like to be reading this Halloween…

And therein lies the problem. I don't care what scares Simon and Thomas. I don't want to hear spooky tales. I do, however, want to know which books they would recommend for Halloween. In a podcast that is 45 minutes in length, there is not enough return on my investment of listening through rambling to get to the bookishness.

Here is another thing I didn't like: Thomas mentioned the novel "American Psycho". At the mention, Simon said, "Oooh, that's not scary, that's just vile." There are certainly books for which I didn't care, however, I would prefer not to have negative commentary to this extent. Especially about a book that is a violent commentary on how capitalism can create a monster. That alone garners a look.

So, I crossed this one off.

Next up: All The Books

Friday, October 28, 2016

Eveningland by Michael Knight

Image result for eveningland michael knightSummary:

Grappling with dramas both epic and personal, from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to the “unspeakable misgivings of contentment,” Eveningland captures with crystalline poeticism and perfect authenticity of place the ways in which ordinary life astounds us with its complexity. A teenaged girl with a taste for violence holds a burglar hostage in her house on New Year’s Eve; a middle aged couple examines the intricacies of their marriage as they prepare to throw a party; and a real estate mogul in the throes of grief buys up all the property on an island only to be accused of madness by his daughters. These stories, told with economy and precision, infused with humor and pathos, excavate brilliantly the latent desires and motivations that drive life forward.

Eveningland is a luminous collection from “a writer of the first rank.”

My take: 2 looks

I really, really wanted to like this book. An entire book of short stories from my home state was so compelling that I downloaded it immediately. The first story was engaging and I was enjoying it ... until the end. Then the second, third, fourth ... I began to see a pattern. The stories proved to be compelling and drew me in, but the endings of almost all of the stories in this collection were so abrupt as to be disappointing. There was so much more to be investigated, more story to be told, additional nuances to be explored. To be left flat at the end of each story left me feeling that the author had reached his word quota and had to end the story suddenly.

This one is not recommended. However, if you are looking for an excellent book of short stories, I recommend "The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu.

Many thanks to NetGalley for a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A New High for a Jodi Picoult Fangirl

Eeeeeek! So, this happened today!

Let me start from the beginning.

I have been traveling to the Bentley headquarters office in Exton, Pennsylvania quite often lately. Exton is about 35 miles outside Philadelphia, so there are a lot of opportunities in that area that I would not normally experience in Arab, Alabama.

Jodi Picoult making an appearance to sign copies of her latest book is one of them. A book that I had just read because I got an Advance Reader's Copy (ARC) in the summer. And where was Ms. Picoult going to sign these books? Not B&N in Center City Philly. Not in some hoity-toity private home on the Main Line. No! She was going to be in MY HOTEL in Exton!!

Unfortunately, I am in meetings all day, every day. There is no way I could sneak out; and, I even dangled a little bone in front of my boss, giving him the opportunity to say, "Yes, Carmen! Sneak out at some point and take advantage of this one-in-a-lifetime opportunity." No go.

I had talked about the event with the hotel staff since I arrived, and they knew how star-struck, fangirl I was. When I returned to the hotel after dinner on the evening of the event, there was a personalized signed copy, waiting for me with my name on a sticky note on the cover.

And I return to the beginning:

Eeeeeek!

Marchon is the front desk manager, and he was the one responsible for getting this signed copy for me. And he refused to let me pay him for the book.

I don't know what else to say other than I am now a fangirl of both Jodi Picoult AND Marshon at Hilton Garden Inn in Exton, Pennsylvania. Oh, and Eeeeeek!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

Summary:

Mr. and Mrs. Fang called it art.

Their children called it mischief.

Performance artists Caleb and Camille Fang dedicated themselves to making great art. But when an artist’s work lies in subverting normality, it can be difficult to raise well-adjusted children. Just ask Buster and Annie Fang. For as long as they can remember, they starred (unwillingly) in their parents’ madcap pieces. But now that they are grown up, the chaos of their childhood has made it difficult to cope with life outside the fishbowl of their parents’ strange world.

When the lives they’ve built come crashing down, brother and sister have nowhere to go but home, where they discover that Caleb and Camille are planning one last performance -– their magnum opus -– whether the kids agree to participate or not. Soon, ambition breeds conflict, bringing the Fangs to face the difficult decision about what’s ultimately more important: their family or their art.
  

My take: 3 looks

I am not sure at all how I feel about this book. Well, I should be clear and say the "story" ... the "subject matter" ... the "outcome". The book was well-written. It has to be well-written to elicit this much emotion from the reader.

Caleb and Camille Fang are completely committed to their art, so much so that when they have two children, they are called "A" and "B", for Annie and Buster. Unfortunately for the two children, the art in this case is performance art.

Now, I didn't know much about performance art other than the examples of an artist eating his own feces, and an artist being crucified to the back of a Volkswagen. In the book, the art is best when it is forced on an unsuspecting public, making them a part of the piece, enhancing it with their reactions.

When Annie moves away to begin her own career, and then Buster does the same, the Fangs must make due with an abbreviated team, and it's just not the same.

The main slant of this book is the relationships between family members, expectations of parents for their children, and the long term effects of making children a part of an adult world. In the end, I was hurt and hopeful, sad and angry.

It's a short book, opened my eyes to the intricacies of performance art and its purpose, spurred me to research a few real-life artists, and made me think of the story long after I read the last page. Recommended.

Monday, October 3, 2016

LibraryThing Posts new Early Reviewer Books

If you are not a member of LibraryThing, you are missing out!

They just published their list of Early Reviewer - available books. Available in both hard copy and e-book, there are over 2800 books available representing 102 titles. You can't beat that! It's first-come-first-served, but you will not be disappointed if you are chosen. Last month, The LT Early Reviewer program allowed me a copy of Jodi Picoult's latest novel great small things, set to be released October 11.

This month, I chose three books:

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel
Summary:
Vowing to discover the fate of her missing cousin, a woman returns to her family’s Kansas estate where she spent one haunting summer as a teen, and where she discovered the dark heart of the Roanoke clan that left her no choice but to run.

Feminist Perspectives on Orange Is the New Black: Thirteen Critical Essays by







Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney

The Girl BeforeSummary:

In the tradition of The Girl on the Train, The Silent Wife, and Gone Girl comes an enthralling psychological thriller that spins one woman’s seemingly good fortune, and another woman’s mysterious fate, through a kaleidoscope of duplicity, death, and deception.

My take: 5 looks

Mind. Blown.

Loved this one! The characters were almost caricatures of individual personality traits, and yet, they were also completely believable. Told from the perspective of two women in a "then" and "now" mode, the intrigue, suspense, and nail-biting increase with each chapter. As the two start to intersect, make sure your seat belt is fastened and your table-tray is in an upright position. You are in for a bumpy ride.

In addition to the characters, the house where most of the action occurs also serves as a real and imposing character in the narrative. It seems to be alive at some points, leaving the reader to wonder if it is a benevolent or malevolent structure.

The idea that architecture can change a person is an interesting theme in the book, and I like the light hand that Delaney uses to illustrate how this may be possible. Background music in the grocery store and shopping malls to set your shopping mood? That's only the beginning.

Thank goodness Ron Howard has already acquired the rights for a movie.

This rollercoaster ride of a book is available January 24th 2017 by Ballantine Books.

Thanks to NetGalley for a copy of this ARC in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Banned Books Week: Entirely New List

I just realized that the top challenged books in 2015 contains no duplicates from the list last year. That amazes me! I have read only two of the 2014 list. I need to get busy!!
 
Top Ten Challenged Books Lists by Year: 2014
 
1)      The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: “depictions of bullying”
 
2)      Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
Reasons: gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint. Additional reasons: “politically, racially, and socially offensive,” “graphic depictions”
 
3)      And Tango Makes Three, Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
Reasons: Anti-family, homosexuality, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “promotes the homosexual agenda”
 
4)      The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “contains controversial issues”
 
5)      It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
Reasons: Nudity, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group. Additional reasons: “alleges it child pornography”
 
6)      Saga, by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Reasons: Anti-Family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group. Additional reasons:
 
7)      The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited to age group, violence
 
8)      The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “date rape and masturbation”
 
9)      A Stolen Life, Jaycee Dugard
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group
 
10)  Drama, by Raina Telgemeier
Reasons: sexually explicit

Monday, September 26, 2016

Banned Books Week, Y'all!!



Well, Captain Underpants didn't make the list this year, but there are quite a few LGBT on this time. I don't know if that's good because it means that there is more diversity in today's books, or if it's bad because they are being challenged. I am going to stick with it's a good thing!

I have read three of the following. Let me know how many you have read!

The top ten most frequently challenged books of 2015 are:

  1. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  2. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James
    Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and other (“poorly written,” “concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it”).
  3. I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
    Reasons: Inaccurate, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, and unsuited for age group.
  4. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin
    Reasons: Anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”).
  5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
    Reasons: Offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“profanity and atheism”).
  6. The Holy Bible
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint.
  7. Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
    Reasons: Violence and other (“graphic images”).
  8. Habibi, by Craig Thompson
    Reasons: Nudity, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  9. Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, and violence.
  10. Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan
    Reasons: Homosexuality and other (“condones public displays of affection”).

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch

Summary:

Once a celebrated writer, M's greatest success came with a suspense novel based on a real-life disappearance. The book was called The Reckoning, and it told the story of Jan Landzaat, a history teacher who went missing one winter after his brief affair with Laura, his stunning pupil. Jan was last seen at the holiday cottage where Laura was staying with her new boyfriend. Upon publication, M.'s novel was a bestseller, one that marked his international breakthrough.

That was years ago, and now M.'s career is almost over as he fades increasingly into obscurity. But not when it comes to his bizarre, seemingly timid neighbor who keeps a close eye on him. Why?

From various perspectives, Herman Koch tells the dark tale of a writer in decline, a teenage couple in love, a missing teacher, and a single book that entwines all of their fates. Thanks to The Reckoning, supposedly a work of fiction, everyone seems to be linked forever, until something unexpected spins the "story" off its rails.

My take: 3 looks

Beautifully written, with finely crafted sentences that almost made me want to highlight the hardcover, first American edition. Not quite as mesmerizing as I found "The Dinner", "Dear Mr. M" is told in several sweeping sections, each giving voice to a different character. The fibers of the tapestry weave together pretty quickly, but we are left with the question of who did what to whom until the very last few pages.

A number of twists and turns, red herrings, and overly long sections made parts feel as if Koch was rambling, especially Laura's section, but this is no reason to overlook the book as a whole. I was overall satisfied with the ending, albeit after a bit of suspending belief. That's why I gave this one 3 looks instead of 4. However, it is recommended.

Many thanks to BloggingForBooks for a copy of this in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, September 19, 2016

small great things by Jodi Picoult

Summary:

Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years' experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she's been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don't want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

My take: 3 looks

Like the other Picoult books I have read, this one had me hooked from the beginning. The writing is so compelling and the subject of current-day racism is so relevant.

I jumped right in, hating Turk, pulling for Ruth, wary of Adisa, and cheering for Kennedy. Living in the deep south, where the most heinous acts occurred during the civil rights era, I have a different perspective than I think people in other regions of the US may have. Like Kennedy's mother, I don't tend to look at how far we have yet to go, but how far we've come.

With that said, it was very difficult to read some of the sections, and made me put the book down so I could consider the text. I didn't read this book lightly, and am glad of the conversations that I feel it will inspire. Conversations that need to happen.

Then I got to the end. I am not going to spoil it for you, but the ending of the book left me completely deflated. I wanted the situation to be handled realistically. I wanted a real-world outcome, with all of its consequences. I wanted commentary on how the struggle for racial equity continues. I wanted evidence of small steps making a difference. I wanted to see how people changed perspectives from both sides of the color wheel. This struggle is not a tidy one, and that's what I expected to see reflected here.

Instead, I felt robbed of all of that. Instead, I got theatrics. And not even realistic, at that. The ending is out of left field, and so out of any realm of remote possibility that it almost ruined the rest of the story for me. If it were not for the strong social commentary throughout, I would have put this at a rating of two, but I think Picoult had more to offer than that rating would indicate. However, she also had a great opportunity to shine a spotlight while holding a mirror up to her readers. That opportunity was squandered.

Recommended, but prepare to be disappointed.

This book is available October 11, 2016.

Thank you to LibraryThing Early Reviewers for a copy of this prerelease in exchange for my honest opinion.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

The Wasp FactorySummary:

Meet Frank Cauldhame. Just sixteen, and unconventional to say the least:

Two years after I killed Blyth I murdered my young brother Paul, for quite different and more fundamental reasons than I'd disposed of Blyth, and then a year after that I did for my young cousin Esmerelda, more or less on a whim.

That's my score to date. Three. I haven't killed anybody for years, and don't intend to ever again.

It was just a stage I was going through.


My take: 2 looks

This book had such potential. A young man who has a history of psychosis and murder. Yet, it's his brother whom he considers crazy. The machinations Frank goes through to "read" the signs, protect his home and surrounding areas, and continue with his every day life were very intriguing. His friendship with Jamie could have been better explored. Eric's descent into madness could have been better illustrated. Frank's father's motivations should have been clearer.

All-in-all, this book was very disappointing. It was engaging to a point, then it was over. The end was a quick jump off a cliff with nothing resolved and nothing explained.

Not recommended.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Frederik Bachman

Summary:

Elsa is seven years old and different. Her grandmother is seventy-seven years old and crazy, standing-on-the-balcony-firing-paintball-guns-at-men-who-want-to-talk-about-Jesus-crazy. She is also Elsa's best, and only, friend. At night Elsa takes refuge in her grandmother's stories, in the Land of Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas where everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal.

When Elsa's grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has wronged, Elsa's greatest adventure begins. Her grandmother's letters lead her to an apartment building full of drunks, monsters, attack dogs, and totally ordinary old crones, but also to the truth about fairytales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other.

My take: 5 looks

One of my favorite authors, this one did not disappoint. I adore getting to know the characters more book-to-book, and seeing the various plots from differing perspectives. In this one, our main character is Elsa, an almost-eight-year-old only child with a half-sibling on its way (called "Halfie"). Her world is rocked when her beloved granny dies and leaves behind a series of letters to deliver on her behalf.

What follows is quite the adventure. Elsa meets new people, faces fears, reconnects with her father, sees her mother in a new light, and reaches a better understanding of who her grandmother was. The story brought tears to my eyes, as well as made me laugh out loud.

Bachman's writing is so entertaining and complete in drawing the reader into the story that his books are always a pleasure to read. If you are reading his oeuvre (thanks to David A. for a reintroduction to this beautiful word), my suggestion is:

A Man Called Ove
My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry
Britt-Marie was Here

Enjoy this highly recommended trio of treasures!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Coming across my desk are two new ones!

I await two new review copies from authors I adore. I received confirmation yesterday and today that they are coming, one electronically and the other in hardcover (!).

"small great things" by Jodi Picoult.

Summary:

Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.

With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion—and doesn’t offer easy answers. Small Great Things is a remarkable achievement from a writer at the top of her game.

You can read an excerpt here. "small great things" will be released October 11, 2016 by Ballantine Books.

The second, and the hardcover, is the latest by Herman Koch. I adored his "The Dinner", and can't wait to read "Dear Mr. M". This book was released yesterday.

Summary:

Mr M is being watched. As a famous writer, he is no stranger to the limelight, although interest in his work has been dwindling of late. His print runs are smaller than they used to be, and so are the crowds at his bookshop signings. But there is someone still interested in Mr M and keeping an extremely close eye on him—someone whose own story bears more than a passing resemblance to the plot of Mr M’s bestselling thriller, in which a teacher has an affair with a student, only to be brutally murdered by the girl and her teenage boyfriend. In Mr M’s book, the body is never found—but in real life, bodies have an awkward habit of turning up.

Listen to or read an interview with Herman Koch about the book here.

Stay tuned for my reviews of these two!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

Summary:
 With his debut novel, The Grace of Kings, taking the literary world by storm, Ken Liu now shares his finest short fiction in The Paper Menagerie. This mesmerizing collection features all of Ken’s award-winning and award-finalist stories, including: “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” (Finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards), “Mono No Aware” (Hugo Award winner), “The Waves” (Nebula Award finalist), “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” (Nebula and Sturgeon award finalists), “All the Flavors” (Nebula award finalist), “The Litigation Master and the Monkey King” (Nebula Award finalist), and the most awarded story in the genre’s history, “The Paper Menagerie” (The only story to win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards).
 
A must-have for every science fiction and fantasy fan, this beautiful book is an anthology to savor.

My take: 5 looks

It took me a while to read this one because I had to pause at the end of each story, sometime for days, to think about it, mentally study it, and allow it to enter my memory stores where it wanted to reside. The stories are varied in length, are wide in range and subject, and are all unforgettable.

When I started with "The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species", I knew this would be unlike anything I'd read lately. And it just got better from there. A sly combination of history lesson, science fiction, revisionist history, and social commentary, Liu deserves every award and accolade he has received for this compilation, which are numerous.

I highly recommend this gem. Here are a few memorable quotes:
  • "We have always faced a precarious existence, suspended in a thin strip on the surface of this planet between the fire underneath and the icy vacuum above." Mono No Aware
  • "The desire to freeze reality is about avoiding reality." Simulacrum
  • "...a boy stands in darkness and silence. He speaks; his words float up like a bubble. It explodes, and the world is a little brighter, and a little less stiflingly silent." A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel
 Thanks to NetGalley for an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

Summary:

Ella Minnow Pea is a girl living happily on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal pangram, "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." Now Ella finds herself acting to save her friends, family, and fellow citizens from the encroaching totalitarianism of the island's Council, which has banned the use of certain letters of the alphabet as they fall from a memorial statue of Nevin Nollop. As the letters progressively drop from the statue they also disappear from the novel. The result is both a hilarious and moving story of one girl's fight for freedom of expression, as well as a linguistic tour de force sure to delight word lovers everywhere.

My take: 5 looks

Loved the very idea of this book before I bought it. Very rarely do I want the physical book enough to seek it out (electronic copies are more my "immediate speed"), but I read this one with highlighter in hand, and will keep it on my shelf for re-reads.

But I get ahead of myself.

Written in epistolary form, for which I am a sucker, the fictional island of Nollop read amazingly like it was set in my own tiny community. The people are wonderfully real, cleverly written, and react in much the same way we all do: immediate compliance to rules, followed by a bit of questioning, followed by a concerted effort to change what we find disagreeable. Because of the story flow, I had to read the last several pages aloud to hear the phonetics of the words and understand the sentences. I loved the interactive nature of the end!

While this book is very witty and introduces words both real (rarely used, which I will have to look up later) and imagined (warning: I may now work some into my own lexicon), the very sly commentary on what we venerate struck a deep chord within me. In an very subtle style, Dunn makes profound observations on the corruption of power, blindly following rules, the view of an outsider looking in, and finally, the dissolution of status quo. And all in such an entertaining and engaging story.

Thanks to my friend Lara for the recommendation, and I am now passing the recommendation on to you!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Omnia by Laura Gallego, Jordi Castells (Translation)

Summary:

Where else but Omnia would a boy go looking to replace a one-of-a-kind stuffed bunny that happens to be his baby sister’s favorite toy? Scrolling through the online retailer’s extensive inventory, Nico finds what looks like a perfect match, but the item is lost somewhere in the vast Omnia warehouse. He doesn’t believe it, so he stows away in a shipment being returned to the warehouse to search for the bunny himself.

Nico quickly gets stranded on the island of Omnia, a fantastical place that does much more than sell everyday items. It is a hub for a business with intergalactic reach, and while stray visitors to Omnia are welcomed warmly, they are not permitted to leave, ever.

The adventure of a lifetime awaits Nico as he searches for the beloved toy and tries to find a way to return home.

My take: 5 looks

Read in one sitting, this book brought smiles to my face over and over again.

Nico feels bad about inadvertently putting his sister's favorite stuffed animal, one from his mother's childhood, no less, in the pile for donation. When he searches for a replacement, there are none to be found. However, his friend Mei Ling reminds him of an Amazon-type site called Onnia, who boasts to have "Anything you could ever dream of."

Through a series of decisions, calculations, and tumbles, Nico finds himself in the middle of the Omnia world, with robots, aliens, new friends, odd items, and lots and lots of rules. It seems that Nico will never be able to find his way home, much less the bunny which started the adventure in the first place.

Told with such wit and cleverness, this is the perfect book to read aloud to upper-elementary or junior high students. A thoroughly delightful tale, this is highly recommended.

Thank you to NetGalley for a pre-release galley of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko by Scott Stambach

Summary:

The Fault In Our Stars meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Seventeen-year-old Ivan Isaenko is a life-long resident of the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children in Belarus. For the most part, every day is exactly the same for Ivan, which is why he turns everything into a game, manipulating people and events around him for his own amusement.

Until Polina arrives.

She steals his books. She challenges his routine. The nurses like her.

She is exquisite. Soon, he cannot help being drawn to her and the two forge a romance that is tenuous and beautiful and everything they never dared dream of. Before, he survived by being utterly detached from things and people. Now, Ivan wants something more: Ivan wants Polina to live.
  

My take: 3 looks

What an odd book. I don't totally disagree that it's The Fault in Our Stars meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Next. However, I think that diminishes the worth of this book on its own. It is nicely written and easy to read from a structure perspective. On the other hand, it is very difficult to read. It is, after all, a slice of time in the life of an institutionalized 17-year-old child of Chernobyl. If you don't know exactly what that means, look it up on the internet.

Ivan struggles with a strong mind in a horribly broken body. He even laments this, commenting that most of the other children in the hospital are spared the horror of what they are because they don't have the mental faculty to understand. Ivan has a nice cadence to his days, dealing with new patients, trying to determine who will die within three months, and be abreast to all of the personal business of the nurses.

In walks Polina and everything changes. If there can be a coming-of-age book for a boy with nubs for legs, one arm whose hand has only three fingers, and lack of muscle strength on one side of his face ...  but all of the feelings of a 17-year-old boy, this is it. It is not a sweet story, but shows with occasional harshness the reality of knowing things will always get worse.

I can't rave about this book like other reviews I have seen. It is well-written, and about a subject that doesn't get much page-time. However, it is also not illuminating, doesn't give you any info that you don't already know (even if it's deep in your mind), and will probably not have you rush to the bookstore to see what else Stambach has on the shelves. What it will do, however, is make you think about it for days after the last page is turned.

Thank you to NetGalley for the copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson

Summary:

A passionate film buff, our hero’s life revolves around his part-time job at a video store, the company of a few precious friends, and a daily routine that more often than not concludes with pizza and movie in his treasured small space in Stockholm. When he receives an astronomical invoice from a random national bureaucratic agency, everything will tumble into madness as he calls the hotline night and day to find out why he is the recipient of the largest bill in the entire country.
My take: 4 looks (and a tiny spoiler alert)

As is my usual, if I read a book in one sitting, it automatically gets 4 looks.

This book was such a treat! An extraordinary premise, to be invoiced for the experiences you've had in life ("You didn't think it was all for free, did you?"), this was unlike any other book I've read. Much like Karlsson's previous novel, The Room, this story is unique, eccentric, sweet, and totally believable ... as long as you suspend belief.

And that is the way of the story. The protagonist, what is his name... how can I not have realized that we never learn his name?? I know his childhood, his great love, moments that he treasures, his favorite scene in his favorite movie ... but never his name.

The genius of Karlsson's writing is so subtle and subversive, it could knock a sphere on edge. This is, I think, a book that you will either love or hate. I wanted a little more, and I wanted to better explore the path that this was all a hoax. Those are the reasons for my review of 4 instead of a 5. All the same,  I very definitely fall in the former category of feeling. Highly recommended.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Tea Planter's Wife by Dinah Jefferies

Summary:

Nineteen-year-old Gwendolyn Hooper is newly married to a rich and charming widower, eager to join him on his tea plantation, determined to be the perfect wife and mother. But life in Ceylon is not what Gwen expected. The plantation workers are resentful, the neighbors treacherous. And there are clues to the past - a dusty trunk of dresses, an overgrown gravestone in the grounds - that her husband refuses to discuss. Just as Gwen finds her feet, disaster strikes. She faces a terrible choice, hiding the truth from almost everyone, but a secret this big can't stay buried forever.

My take: 4 looks

I was riveted by this story. I read several books at a time, and I found myself thinking about this book as I was reading another. I can think of no higher compliment to this author.

Gwen is a lovely protagonist. We are cheering for her, shouting advice, and mourning when she is bereft. I love how she develops and grows in the story, and the perfect combination of backbone and forgiveness she extends. Her husband, Laurence, is an affable character, and deals well with her as a new, young bride compared with also being his second wife. Periphery characters add additional spice to the story, and are completely believable and enjoyable.

The tumult of Ceylon under British rule plays out on the outskirts, but touches the family throughout the story. A bit of an epic, we see the Stock Market crash in New York, prohibition, changes in fashion, and mixed-race marriages. There are so many wonderful nuances to the story, and it is wholly satisfying in the end.

I recommend this and look forward to reading more by Jefferies.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

Summary:

Kate Battista feels stuck. How did she end up running house and home for her eccentric scientist father and uppity, pretty younger sister Bunny? Plus, she’s always in trouble at work – her pre-school charges adore her, but their parents don’t always appreciate her unusual opinions and forthright manner. 

Dr. Battista has other problems. After years out in the academic wilderness, he is on the verge of a breakthrough. His research could help millions. There’s only one problem: his brilliant young lab assistant, Pyotr, is about to be deported. And without Pyotr, all would be lost.

When Dr. Battista cooks up an outrageous plan that will enable Pyotr to stay in the country, he’s relying – as usual – on Kate to help him. Kate is furious: this time he’s really asking too much. But will she be able to resist the two men’s touchingly ludicrous campaign to bring her around?

My take: 3 looks

Vinegar girl is entertaining and very easy to read. A re-do of William Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew", it is relatively faithful to the spinster-finds-marriage plot, but that's about it. It is not as experimental as Tyler's other books "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant", "Breathing Lessons", or the beloved "Accidental Tourist".

The Hogarth Shakespeare series now has four titles, and this is the first I have read. Again, it is easy to read and entertaining, but also just as easily forgettable. Kate, Pyotor, Dr. Battista, and Bunny are all just characters in a story already told several times.

At less than 250 pages, it's not a commitment, and you will have another Anne Tyler title under your belt. Recommended summer supplement book.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

Summary:

Like nothing you’ve ever read before, All the Missing Girls delivers in all the right ways. With twists and turns that lead down dark alleys and dead ends, you may think you’re walking a familiar path, but then Megan Miranda turns it all upside down and inside out and leaves us wondering just how far we would be willing to go to protect those we love.

My take: 4 looks
When I found out that this story was told backwards, I was immediately interested! There have been books with flashbacks, books with the end told at the beginning, and so on, but this book is literally told backwards. I LOVED that about the storytelling!

Miranda's writing is good, as well. Characters were believable and well-fleshed out. The protagonist's relationship with her father and her brother felt extremely real, and her other various relationships were well-suited to the story.

The action built a sense of dread, as well as enticed me to read faster and faster to find out what had happened "the day before", as the chapters are titled. As promised in another review, I wanted to reread the book from the beginning as soon as it was finished. You know, knowing what I know now...

The only thing I would change here is the title of the book. While I am loathe to voice a problem without a possible suggestion to change, I cannot think of another title that would reflect the jewel that this book is. "All the Missing Girls" is milquetoast compared to the pages between the covers. Something that would grab your eyes from the bookstore shelf. Something that would make your breath stop until you picked it up to read the back summary. I have thought and thought, with nothing coming to mind.

Regardless, pick this one up, suggest it for your book club, and pass it to your friends. It is worth every minute.

Thank you to NetGalley for a prerelease of this book in exchange of my honest review.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Sonata for Miriam by Linda Olsson

Summary:

Linda Olsson's first novel, Astrid & Veronika, introduced readers to her gorgeous prose, and her extraordinary understanding of human relationships. With her second novel, she once again charts that terrain in a novel that also explores the significant impact of history on individual lives. In Sonata for Miriam, two events occur that will change composer Adam Anker's life forever. Embarking on a journey that ranges from New Zealand to Poland, and then Sweden, Anker not only uncovers his parents' true fate during World War II, but he also finally faces the consequences of an impossible choice he was forced to make twenty years before-a choice that changed the trajectory of his life.

My take: 2 looks

A disappointment from one of my favorite authors. While the writing and structure are absolutely beautiful, the story and characters left me with no sympathy and no desire to get to know them better, as well as very little understanding of what the purpose of the story was.

Adam is grieving the death of his daughter, which happens very early in the story. He is grieving, but we seem to get in on the end of it because there is no sense of heart-wrenching, brokenness, or despair. Instead, I was left with the feeling that since a main aspect of Adam's life was now gone, he simply needed to replace it with something or someone else. And the story centers around this search.

Toward the end of the book, we switch to Cecilia's voice. The woman who gave up her child with no valid explanation. And we never understand why. We never understand what this grief is that Adam claims she has. She comes across as very self-serving, self-absorbed, and everyone panders to her.

All in all, this book is a collection of beautifully crafted sentences and paragraphs, which have nothing at all to say. Not recommended.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Writing techniques

A book is coming across my desk soon for review which uses an interesting writing technique. The story is told backwards. That was enough to make me agree to read and review it.

And it got me thinking about other interesting writing techniques. Here are two of my favorites:

Epistolary - written in letters, notes, emails, journal entries, etc.
84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff is one of my faves
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Griffin and Sabine by artist Nick Bantock

Perspective - written from a number of different people's experiences
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

There are so many others: time travel, reincarnation, alternate history (one of my faves), and magical realism. As a matter of fact, there are so many devices available to writers that these genres, subgenres, narrative methods, and perspectives blur when categorizing.

I am looking forward to receiving this book-written-backwards, and will let you know what I think. Meanwhile, what are your storytelling methods?

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett

Summary:

Rain is elemental, mysterious, precious, destructive.

It is the subject of countless poems and paintings; the top of the weather report; the source of the world's water. Yet this is the first book to tell the story of rain.


My take: 5 looks

I was intrigued by the  premise of writing about rain. Not water, not floods, not weather. Rain. When I started it, I will admit that it was a tiny bit on the dry side (hehe). However, Barnett's skill at segueing from one topic to another, while weaving both scientific facts with myths, stories, and real events soon became quite mesmerizing. I have never used so many sticky tabs in a book to remember to make notes later.

It's hard to resist a sentence that contains "C. Leonard Woolley - think Indiana Jones with high cheekbones and kneesocks - ..."; and this book abounds with them. From the first meteorologists to the de-feminization of the umbrella, the story of rain as presented by Barnett is both educational and compelling.

Oh, and read the book yourself to find out why I am going to start calling windshield wipers "marys".

Highly recommended.

Thank you to Blogging for Books for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Grand Tour by Adam O'Fallon Price

The Grand Tour: A Novel by Adam O'Fallon…Summary:

Richard Lazar is advancing in years but regressing in life. After a career as a literary novelist that has ground to a halt and landed him in a trailer in Phoenix, Richard is surprised to find sudden success publishing a gritty memoir about his service in Vietnam. Sent on a book tour by his publishing house, Richard encounters his biggest (and really only) fan: an awkward, despondent student named Vance with issues of his own (an absentee father, a depressive mother, his own acute shyness). Soon Vance has volunteered to chauffeur Richard for the rest of the book tour, and the two embark on a disastrous but often hilarious cross-country trip. When things go wrong, Richard and Vance forge an unlikely bond between two misanthropes whose mutual insecurities and disdain for the world force both to look at each other, and their lives, in a more meaningful way.

My take: 5 looks

A beautifully written story of the short crossing-of-paths between an old, curmudgeonly writer with his first taste of fame, and a young writer-in-waiting, still sure that the written word holds for him the promise of a future.

Richard is completely unlikable. He lies, drinks, sneaks, and wears his lifetime of regret like a garment. However, he is very likeable. One of his most introspective moments gave me this great quote:

Of course, it was he who was the pile of shit. He felt, in fact, that he was made of shit. Bullshit, dogshit, horseshit, ratshit, chickenshit. His mental and physical state constituted a sort of Pouisse-CafĂ© of shit - an elaborate stratification of shit that comingled to crate a shitty whole that was much shittier than the sum of its shitty parts. Immediate, automatic remorse was the greasy top layer of shit, which  bubbled on top of the churning shit of his hangover, which was generously layered on top of the firmer soil bed of his bad health and drinking and desire for alcohol, which itself sat on top of untold, fossilized geological strata of guilt and fear, decades - a lifetime - of shit. Chapter 5

This gives the reader great insight into Richard. He knows how he is. He knows why he is this way. But, at this point, he feels that he is probably too far gone for any significant change. He is honest about who he is, and he offers this honesty to all those around him, giving them the benefit of his experience.

Then there is Vance. Vance is instantly likable as the neophyte fan who volunteers to pick up Richard from the airport, as Richard begins his first ever book tour. Vance manages to finagle his way into a more substantial spot on Richard's book tour; and, you guessed it, we begin The Grand Tour.

The characters and the writing of this book meld into a wonderful journey. You almost wince at places, and want to turn your eyes to avoid what you know is coming next. But rather than being predictable, it is more of a well-worn path that you choose to walk with these two.

A colorful menagerie of complimenting characters add a nice spice to this main dish, and serves to move the story and characters along on their journey.

Available August 9th 2016 by Doubleday, I highly recommend this one. It is on my list of 2016 favorites. Thanks to NetGalley for providing a copy for this honest review.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Library Look: A library gone to seed (tee hee)

By Lisa M. Esquivel Long of The News-SentinelThe Little Turtle branch of the Allen County Public Library makes use of an old card catalog box by turning it into a free seed library. 

I LOVE the library! As a matter of fact, I would love to be the cool, edgy librarian who dresses up, plays characters, and lives a life that fosters a love for books in others.

So, I am always so excited to see libraries getting out in the community and making a difference in lives. In this case, the Little Turtle (love that name!!) branch of the Allen County Public Library system in Fort Wayne, Indiana is helping to feed people.

From the January article in the local paper:

The seed library is meant to encourage gardeners of all levels to grow their own, organic food at home for no cost. The library will supply seeds to patrons to plant at home and any food resulting from the seeds belongs to the grower. However, the library does ask that gardeners let a few plants continue to seed and that they return those seeds to the library to replenish the supply.

GREAT JOB Little Turtle!! By the way ... The Little Turtle branch was named after Miami chief Little Turtle, who was born near Ft. Wayne.