Hello Old Friends!

1 Jul

 

Spring got away from me and here we are weeks later. This may be the longest I’ve gone between posts! Sorry friends. Here’s what I’ve been reading:

A slew of so-so novels that will definitely find their readers (it just wasn’t for me). The Home for Unwanted Girls was a book club read that didn’t do it for me about a young girl who gives a baby up and then spends the rest of her life thinking about/dealing with it. Very Nice comes out next week that felt a little too hip and snarky for me – about a college student, her professor and her mother in a weird little Mrs. Robinson-y love triangle. I really wanted to love Mary Toft or The Rabbit Queen because one of my fave book people did. It’s not out until early next year (eep!) and I bet it gets lots of good buzz. Oh and an old classic, Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. It wasn’t what I was expecting and I thought it was sort of slow.

Ones I liked and would recommend include Lying in Wait (thriller with a great ending), The Kiss Quotient super steamy romance the author describes as “Pretty woman in reverse.” I liked it – but it’s a little raunchy!

The final four I really really liked – Searching for Sylvie Lee is about a young woman whose sister disappears and she flies to Norway to investigate, unravelling a slew of family secrets as she goes. Disappearing Earth seems like a series of semi-linked short stories until the end when it all ties together in the most disturbing and perfectly perfect way. Two sisters go missing in Kamchatka and each chapter or story tells about someone who tangentially knew them. The sisters always are mentioned but are not really the main focus of the story. Ask Again, Yes started off so strong for me and then tapered a little bit towards the final third. It’s the story of two families who live next door to each other, a terrible accident and childhood sweethearts. The Secrets We Kept goes back and forth between Boris Pasternak’s mistress and a young woman in the United States who is tasked with helping Dr. Zhivago get translated and distributed in Russian (the Russians in power did not want it published). It’s fiction, so we get the love story between Pasternak and Olga (my favorite parts) and then Sally Forrester and her employment at the CIA. So good.

 

String of A+ Novels

23 Apr

April was a great reading month for me! I read SUCH good things. Body Lies and Queenie were not my faves – they were fine/good/okyeah. Since the other four were great I’ll just pass over those two.

Other Americans reminded me a little of Crash and We Are Called to Rise in terms of its structure. So many alternating narrators that come together in a great way at the end. It’s the story of a man killed in a hit and run, his daughter who comes home to sort out the details of his death, the officers involved with the investigation and the neighbors of the dead man’s diner. Compelling, fast – might be confusing if you don’t give it a big chunk of time to start because of all the voices but overall so good. 4 stars

Call Your Daughter Home I loved – I almost put it down at the hint of child abuse but I’m so glad I didn’t. Set in the years before the Great Depression but after the Boll Weevil infestation in the South, this is the story of three women who are struggling with their situations. One is the elderly wife of previously very successful cotton baron, one is the African-American woman who runs her household and the third is a poor white woman who has just escaped an abusive marriage. The three stories meet when the third woman is hired to work at the big house. 4.5 stars

I usually like novels that play around with structure and form and find different ways to tell a story. Feast Your Eyes by Myla Goldberg does just that. Told through the catalogue notes from a photography retrospective, we get the story of Lillian – a photographer made famous (or infamous, rather) when she displayed photos of her young daughter, naked. The catalogue notes are written by her daughter, Samantha, and supplemented with journal entries from Lillian’s diaries and interviews with her friends. So good. 4.5 stars

This last one I finished just yesterday so it is freshest in my mind. If you haven’t read Jill Ciment before, you really should. Start with The Body in Question or any of her many others. She is so smart and such a beautiful writer and I find myself thinking about connections and links that I missed during my reading. DON’T READ THE PUBLISHER’S SYNOPSIS of this one, it gives away the entire plot and I think you’d be better off surprised. It’s the story of a woman who gets called for jury duty and chosen for a murder trial. The victim is a young boy and the accused is his older sister Anca.  As the defense tries to imply that Anca’s twin sister might be the mastermind behind this heinous crime, our juror C-2 finds herself distracted by a romance with another juror, F-17. So many complications because C-2 is married, the flirtation gets carried away and maybe justice doesn’t get served the way it should. 4.5 stars!

Leaving in a Minivan

22 Mar

We are taking a delayed spring break and of course I’m packing more books than clothes juuuust in case I get a minute to read. Here’s what I’ve finished since my last post:

Loved every story in Sabrina & Corina and love the cover the most. Each story is about Latinas in contemporary Colorado and they are all so good, I would read a novel about any one of them. 4.5 stars

My mother/daughter book club read The Heart’s Invisible Furies and of the 10, 8 loved loved it. The writing is so good, funny one moment and heartbreaking the next. It’s the story of Cyril Avery, adopted son to Charles and Maude, growing up gay in Ireland. Each chapter checks in with Cyril in 7 year increments. 4.5 stars

A Woman is No Man has been popping up all over my social media and I liked it. I thought the writing was a little…forced? simple? I’m not sure what it is but I kept noticing the way sentences were written which bothered me. But the story is good and interesting! It’s about a Palestinian woman named Isra who, in the late 1990s, weds a stranger (through an arranged marriage) who takes her to Brooklyn to live. Not speaking the language, living in the basement apartment of her in-laws small house, Irsa struggles. Chapters alternate between Irsa (1990s) and her eldest daughter Deya (2008s) where history is about to repeat itself. 3 stars

Lovely War is my other book club’s April pick and it’s a hard pass from me. Young Adult, weird mix of Greek Gods and WWII love story. I thought it was silly and hard to read, if you want a good WWII love story just pick up The Bronze Horseman instead. Similar amounts of cheesy romance but TBH is great and this one…didn’t hold my interest. 2 stars.

Hello, March!

1 Mar

Goodbye, snow-day-filled-February! Gosh this was a fast month and I definitely felt like I didn’t get a lot of reading in, but look! Six books. Three were on my TBR post from a while back, two were great, one was probably great but just not for me and the other three were fine.

Peter Heller – I sometimes jokingly refer to him as my boyfriend. He is so amazing. AND he’s coming to the Lawrence library on his book tour in early March, I’ll be there for sure. His new one, The River, was amazing. These two college friends fly into some remote (I don’t know the word) system of streams and lakes that’s totally isolated and set out on a month-long journey to paddle down it. The river is dangerous, they run in to some sketchy people, there is a forest fire on the periphery. If you like him, if you like rivers or novels that make your palms sweat and give you anxiety – this is your book. 4.5 stars!

The Night Tiger has been getting hype everywhere so as always I was a little skeptical. BUT, of course, I found myself totally swept up and really enjoying it. The premise will make you wonder if it’s for you, but I promise it’s not as weird as it sounds. Ren, a young orphan, is asked by his dying doctor boss/father figure to retrieve his amputated finger and bury it with his body. There are a lot of Malaysian myths/folklore/magic undertones but the story itself is very real. Chapters alternate between Ren and a young woman named Ji Lin who happens to have recently come into possession of the finger. Promise it’s not as weird as it sounds, 4.5 stars!

The writing in Rutting Season is so good and readable but every single story felt dark and sad and just really a downer. Good but unsettling (and not in a good way, as unsettling can sometimes be in stories). 3 stars

The other three were all good. Not great, just good. Last Romantics, the story of a now famous poet reflecting on her childhood and the family drama therein. The Lightkeeper’s Daughter, a blind old woman (the lightkeeper’s daughter) finds her father’s old journals and asks a troubled youth/girl to read them to her. Turns out (aha!) the old woman and the teen are connected. The Orphan of Salt Winds is also the story of an old woman and a troubled teenage girl with connected pasts, except this one is set on the moors/marshes and has an eerie feel to it. They were all good, solid reads. 3.5 stars for all!

sabrinacorina

As a final note – I’m a third of the way through this collection of short stories about Latinas in the Denver/Colorado area. I started it because the cover is so perfect and I have to say, I’m loving the stories. So good. It’s out April 2nd.

I’ll be in the back with the Tambourine

19 Feb

daisy jones

Oh my word I fell into this novel about a fictional band from the 70s – Daisy Jones & the Six. The format is not your usual novel format and, as with anything that’s a little different, I’d suggest you start this when you have time to really get a good chunk read and when you know you’ll be able to finish it quickly. It would NOT be a good ‘pick-up-put-down’ sort of a read. Here’s why. Daisy Jones and the Six is written as if it’s the transcription of a documentary about your favorite (nonexistent) old school hard rock band. Many people are comparing this band to Fleetwood Mac (which worked for me). There is a HUGE cast of characters and they would be easy to confuse if you stretched the reading of this out over any great length of time. But if you can give yourself time to jump in, oh it’s so good! I definitely loved Daisy and also most of the other band members. I was very into figuring out what happened and where the twists would be and also sort of devastated that I couldn’t actually LISTEN to the band’s music. There is a playlist you can find, curated by the author and publisher, so that was fun. This is definitely (I think, as of now) on my list for a best Litpick of 2019. Hits shelves in March. 5 stars.

whenallissaid

Also out in March is Anne Griffin’s When All is Said, just as good as Daisy but in opposite ways. In this one we meet Maurice Hannigan – old, Irish, grieving the loss of his wife. He sits at the bar in his small town’s hotel and has five drinks. Each drink in honor of someone important to him – filled with the backstories and dramas of his life. So good – I especially liked it because although it first seems like it’s going to be another Man Called One or Arthur Truluv or something it just really isn’t that at all. 5 stars!

Starting with a Bang

21 Jan

Well this year has started off way better than I could have guessed. Six books this month with the chance to finish at least one more. By far my favorite so far this month is the Jeff Tweedy memoir, Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back). I can still remember the basement I was in when the cool-music-guy I went to high school with recommended that I listen to Wilco. It definitely changed my life for the next few years, I was a hardcore fan. I almost didn’t want to read this because I worried that the man behind the curtain would be revealed as the not-so-great-and-powerful but gosh was this just so so good. Retroactively going on my Best Litpicks of 2018. 5 stars!

The other one I found particularly engrossing was Looker by Laura Sims. Let me start by saying THIS IS NOT FOR EVERYONE. It is pretty twisted, a cat gets harmed…beware. It’s told from the point of view of a nameless female narrator on her descent into, well, pretty much madness. She lives down the block from a famous actress in LA and as she falls further and further into her psychosis she starts to do some pretty crazy things. I thought it was so good, but remember I like those twisted/bang-endings. 4 stars

Along those same lines, Golden Child is another one I enjoyed but would have a hard time recommending. This one will find a big audience without me – it’s the second title on Sarah Jessica Parker’s imprint (following A Place for Us). Set in Trinidad, it follows Clyde and his family – his wife Joy and twin boys Peter & Paul – as they deal with their challenging lives. It’s hard to talk too much plot because that would give it away, but I probably could say that Peter is brilliant and Paul is not and the story is about how they are treated differently. It is a HARD read. 4 stars

The Paragon Hotel has been growing on me more and more since I finished it. The story is SO good, but the entire thing is kind of a slog because of her excessive use of slang and jargon. Set in the 1920s in Oregon, Alice “Nobody” James finds herself seeking refuge at the Paragon Hotel, the only hotel in the city that African-Americans can reside in. She herself is white, running from a huge mess in NYC, but she befriends and comes to care for many of the hotel’s permanent residents. I might have quit this early on because it was difficult to read through the writing style/wording but a child went missing and I had HAD to find out what happened to him. Turns out I was surprised by the story and the further I get from it the more I like it. 3 stars rounded up to 4.

Valley of the Dolls was for my neighborhood book club and I am glad to have read it. I think high school me would have L-O-V-E-D this but mom-aged me is kind of unimpressed. I still enjoyed it! Celeb soap opera that it was. 3 stars

Weight of a Piano comes out tomorrow. I pretty much swallowed this one up this past weekend because I was desperate to know which guy Clara ends up with at the end. I typically love these types of novels – chapters alternating between current day and the not-so-distant past. Here we meet Katya, 1962, Russia as she is bequeathed an old Bluthner piano followed by present day Clara as she moves a Bluthner piano out of her now ex-boyfriends house and into a new apartment in Bakersfield CA. We work forward from Katya as we find out what happens to her, how the piano makes it to the States, etc and also forward from Clara as she decides to list the piano for sale and gets an unexpected response. Everyone in this novel is so sad. Not just sad but clinically depressed. I desperately wanted to know what happened but didn’t love anyone involved. 3 stars, even with the perfect ending.

Take Me to the River

8 Jan

Diane Setterfield’s new novel comes out towards the end of this month[EDIT: it came out last month!]. I LOVED The Thirteenth Tale all those years ago, didn’t love Bellman & Black and came into this one with an open mind. It starts off sooo good and creepy – in a small tavern next to part of the Thames. A man stumbles in late and night, bleeding and delirious, and drops the body of a seeming dead girl into the innkeeper’s lap. Examined by the local midwife/doctor, she is by all signs dead. And then she opens her eyes! Creepy. Three different members of the community come forward to claim the girl and the story takes off from there. It’s pretty wordy, and I got to a point about a quarter of the way in where I decided just to skim to the end to see who the child is and to whom she belongs…but then I just couldn’t because I wanted to follow the twists and some of the character’s backstories are so good and interesting. 4 stars

I’m not sure why The End of Loneliness popped up on my radar, but gosh I swallowed it up and found myself reading through a river of tears. Just the sort of character-driven novel that I really enjoy. I think this is a paperback original and probably won’t get too much press but I enjoyed it! It’s the story of a young boy, Jules, and his siblings (brother/sister) after they lose their parents in a car accident. They’re sent of to a boarding school and drift apart. Jules finds comfort in the friendship of another social outcast, a classmate named Alva. 4+ stars.