Slumps and a request

16 Nov

I have been in a SLUMP. It happens, it happens more now than it used to. I tried my tricks; rereading an easy one like Harry Potter or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (actually not a great reread once you know whom to suspect), watching a Netflix series or five, not worrying about it. But I’m ready to get back into it. This is my favorite time of the year book-wise. I’ll be back in the bookstore a little bit starting a week from Saturday, all of the Best Of lists will be or are already coming out. It’s a magical time of year! I’ve been looking at my own Top Ten list and worrying that I’m missing something great (as I always worry). I would LOVE to know what your favorite books of the year have been – especially ones that I’ve missed! You can comment here or email me at schieber.elizabeth@gmail.com.  If I get a lot or even more than a few responses I’ll dedicate a post to it so everyone can see the suggestions. Thank you in advance!

 

I think I’ve only read three books since my last post. Here they are:

I Am I Am I Am doesn’t come out until early February, AND it’s non-fiction, AND I actually really, really liked it. Maggie O’Farrell wrote one of my favorite novels last year (This Must Be The Place) so I was excited at first to see she had a new one coming. Then seeing it was non-fiction, well, you know me – I almost passed it over. I’m so glad I didn’t! This is the story of Maggie’s real-life 17 brushes with death. They go from crazy (escaping, narrowly, a serial killer) to not so crazy (a dangerous childbirth) and they are all really well written and paint a vivid, if pained, portrait of her life. 4 stars.

Alice McDermott’s newest novel, The Ninth Hour, is just what you want (and expect) from an Alice McDermott novel. Great writing, simple story with characters you want to be friends with or that might live on your street. It’s the story of a young woman whose husband commits suicide while she is pregnant with their first child. The local nuns take the woman in, giving her work and helping her find her feet. It’s the story of the mother, the nuns, the daughter…and it’s Irish New York City. Highly recommend, 4 stars.

Wishtree has been buzzing lately, a middle-grade novel that everyone seems to be loving. I enjoyed it, but didn’t find it as deep or as touching as other middle grade works. It’s the story of an immigrant young girl, kind of the outcast of her neighborhood and school, and a wise old tree, the wishtree, that lives outside of her family’s home. The story is narrated by the tree itself, and the story is sweet with a good moral. 3 stars.

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Catching Up & Surpassing Goals

27 Sep

It’s been a while since my last post, but I’ve been keeping up with my reading, just a little slower than I’d like. With this last batch of books, I surpassed my goal to read 50 books this year. I finished Child Finder today, my 55th book of the year. I definitely didn’t think I’d hit this and am thrilled to have done so – with time to spare!

A lot of these were good, but the best one, for me, was definitely Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. There was a lot of hype about this one since her last, Salvage the Bones, won the National Book Award the year it was released. I haven’t read that one, but this one really hit the spot for me (you know I like those dark, depressing, character driven family stories with no happy endings). It’s the story of a young boy living with his elderly black grandparents. His white grandparents want nothing to do with him or his little sister, his mom is deep in a drug addiction and his father in jail. When his father calls to say he’s being released, the mom grabs both kids and heads to the prison to pick him up. I loved the grandfather, the boy himself, the way it was written. Definitely one of my favorites this year. 5 (depressing but great) stars.

Maybe next on my list would be The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas. This is a massive novel. Physically massive. I think it clocks in at over 500 pages. But I really loved it! Most of it, at least. It’s the story of Joan Ashby, acclaimed author of two collections of short stories published at a young age. She built her career on the idea that as a writer, and a woman of her own making, she would never marry, never have kids. She shocked the literary world when she married, and then shocked herself when she accidentally wound up pregnant. We follow her into motherhood, see her give up her name and her fame and her writing to raise two sons. But then she starts to take her life back and I loved watching her/reading about her doing it. The shortcomings for me were the excerpts of the stories that made her famous (also fictional). I just didn’t think they were that great, in fact I didn’t like many of them and was skimming or skipping completely all of the parts that she “authored” by the end. 4 stars

Two thrillers on the list were just what I needed when I needed them. Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips – a woman and her son stuck inside a mostly empty zoo that is apparently under attack by two snipers. Fast-paced, hooked me right away, loved the mom. The Child Finder I just breezed through today during preschool/nap times. VERY fast. A woman named Naomi has a career of finding missing children (she’s known as “The Child Finder”). She takes a case in her hometown trying to locate a girl who went missing in the woods three years ago. She, of course, has her own back story and working in her old hometown forces her to face a lot of things she’d forgotten. Kind of reminded me of Descent by Tim Johnston. 4 stars.

Affections by Rodrigo Hasbun kept popping up in my social media feeds so when I saw it at the library I snagged it. It’s short – maybe 120 pages – and reminded me of a lot of things I’ve liked. Part In the Time of the Butterflies, part Paul Theroux/Mosquito Coast. The story of a man who flees Germany with his family after WWII (he had been Leni Reifenstahl’s (fictional) main camera man) and lands in La Paz, Bolivia. He goes on lots of expeditions working on a nature documentary and sometimes takes one or two of his three daughters along. Chapters alternate between daughters – one later becomes a revolutionary. All the pieces for something great are here, it just felt a little chopped up to me. 3 stars.

Rabbit Cake was a light-ish book club book last month – a coming of age story of a young girl named Elvis who is dealing with the sudden death of her mother. Grief finds everyone in different ways and between Elvis, her father and her sister…things get a little weird. Easy, fun even though it’s dealing with death and grief, and just really quirky and weird. 3.5 stars

Serpent Essex is kind of a slow burn that has been growing on me little by little since I finished it. Also kind of a weird one, but very atmospheric. It’s the story of a woman whose terrible husband dies and she finds herself free to live how she pleases (late 1800s, I think, England). She decides she wants to be an archaeologist of sorts and moves to a small town rumored to be home to a monstrous sea creature. Part of this were slow, but it all felt very misty and muddy and foggy. Some great characters that keep popping back into my head. 3.5 stars.

Five Stars!

4 Sep

littlefireseverywhere

Please go out right now and reserve this book from your library or bookstore. It was so good!! You might remember Celeste Ng from Everything I Never Told You, a bestselling debut. Her sophomore effort is also A+! I loved it even more. Set in Shaker Heights, where everything from the color of your house to the length of your hair seems to be dictated, Little Fires Everywhere starts with the burning down of the Richardson family home. Immediately everyone suspects Izzy, the youngest of the 4 siblings and the black sheep of their otherwise perfect family. Of course things are not always what they seem, even to those in the middle of the drama. I loved loved loved this layered story, all of the characters were so beautifully drawn and so believable. Definitely one of my favorites so far this year. 5 stars.

Here are two other titles coming out in September. Warcross by Marie Lu is perfect for that tween/young adult in your life who liked Maze Runner or Ender’s Game or who kind of liked Hunger Games. A virtual world, a high stakes game, a potential assassin. 3 stars for me but I think lots of kids will love it.

Lily Tuck has written some novels I’ve liked in the past. Sisters is more of a novella about the second wife of a man I didn’t like so much. It’s her first-person story of meeting him and loving him and living with the ghost of his previous marriage (his ex is still very much alive). I didn’t connect with her as well as I wanted to. 3 stars.

Murder, Attempted Murder, Missing Girls

17 Jul

High Dive is a recent favorite of one of my favorites. I’m not sure I loved it quite as much as he did (sorry Jason!) but it was a pretty solid vacation read. Set in a British hotel that has made a bid to host the PM Margaret Thatcher, the chapters rotate between Moose, the manager of the hotel, his daughter Freya, summertime front desk worker, and a man called Dan. Dan is deep in the IRA network and in charge of planting a bomb at the hotel with a delayed timer set for the PM’s visit. It’s not a fast-paced mystery, no Richard Gere in The Jackal, but rather a solid character study, gently driven by the bomb-plot. 3.5 stars

Magpie Murders was such a pleasant surprise. I hardly ever read mysteries, but this one has me thinking I should like to start. It’s a story within a story and starts with the latest and final installment of a fictional author’s famous murder mystery series featuring detective Atticus Pund. Editor Susan Ryland is ecstatic to receive an early manuscript from her boss and she (and we) plunge right in to the story. HOWEVER, the final chapter is missing, leaving Susan (and us, the readers) wondering whodunnit. Susan heads to her office to search for the last chapter, but when she arrives there is news that Alan Conway, the, the author of the Pund series, has committed suicide. Susan begins to investigate his death and finds eerie similarities to Atticus Pund’s final case. Was it a suicide? was it murder? Good, twisty and clever, 4 stars.

The last two are both WWII novels. Both were good, neither was great. The Alice Network is told through two women during two different world wars. Eve Gardiner, a stubborn young women with a bit of a s-s-s-stutter, takes a job as a spy during the first world war. She is sent to work as a waitress in a french restaurant frequented by high-ranking German officials. Her life in 1915 is one that will keep you on pins and needles. Flash forward to just after WWII, a young (unwed, pregnant) American named Charlie (Charlotte), flees from her mother on a European trip and heads to France to search for her beloved cousin who disappeared during the war. The only clue she has to go on is one name: Eve Gardiner. Not great writing, but fast paced and a little soap-opera-y (in a good way). 3.5 stars

The last one is a Young Adult title about a blond-haired, blue-eyed Dutch girl named Hanneke who finds and delivers expensive black market items to the people who can afford them during the German’s invasion of Holland. One of her customers asks her to locate a missing person, a young Jewish girl she had been hiding in her cellar and when Hanneke agrees to take the job she is plunged into the world of the underground resistance. Again, the writing was not great. It’s a little juvenile in terms of character development, romance and overall content, but the plot moves right along and there is a good twist ending. Suitable for as young as 11 or 12 who are interested in WWII. 3.5 stars.

Summer Reading at its Finest!

16 Jun

 

All of the sudden I have a giant, excellent backlog of books to tell you about! The only dud on this list (and apparently I’m in the minority, a lot of people have loved it) is The Jane Austen Project. There were a lot of things to love about this odd time-travel period piece. Two scientists travel back in time with the goal of befriending Jane in order to save a secret manuscript and potentially Jane herself. The thing that really bothered me was that I didn’t believe ANY of the romantic interests. At one point, when two characters were confessing their undying love, I thought had to page backwards and figure out where exactly they had even spoken to each other. 3 stars

The Hearts of Men was a book club pick this month – we’d read his previous novel Shotgun Lovesongs and it went over well. This one was a little tougher – although people agreed it was interesting and compelling, it was dark and everyone had trouble saying that they “loved” it. The story follows young Nelson, an outcast at Boy Scout camp and in his everyday life, as he deals with bullies and the business of growing into a man. Broken into three sections: Nelson as a child, Nelson as a man, Nelson as an old man (sort of, a little more convoluted) all sections set at the Boy Scout camp. I gave it 4 stars, I think the group would’ve given it 3.

I bet the cover of Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore gives you an idea of what to expect – a sweet, small town bookstore, quirky staff, feel-good ending. That’s what I was thinking as I cracked it open. Guess what? I’ve never been SO WRONG. This was maybe the creepiest story I’ve read in a while and I loved it! It starts at a great independent bookstore…and a suicide. The patron was especially known and loved by Lydia, a member of the bookstore’s quirky staff. She is the one to discover the body, and in his pocket, a picture of her as a child. From there, she follows a series of clues he’d left behind that lead her deeper and deeper into her creepy past. If you like a creeper, pick this one up right away! 4 stars

I read If We Were Villains faster than I’ve read anything lately. Oh it was so good. Think The Secret History plus all the Shakespearean tragedies and you’ll get pretty close to the essence of this novel. We meet the seven fourth-year theater students at an elite but nontraditional university that specializes in four different areas of the arts. At first I thought seven would be too many to keep track of, but pretty quickly their characters were established and so memorable that they kept themselves untangled. Just like in Secret History, we know something bad is going to happen as we see their friendships get tested and start to crack. You just don’t know WHAT that something will be. Very tense, full of drama on and off the stage. Lots of Shakespeare quotes as the seven begin to rehearse for the tragedies they’re putting on throughout the year. Very ominous and good. 5 stars

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos is our next book club pick and I got a good jump on it this weekend. Of course now by the time we meet I will have forgotten everyone’s names, but at least it’s read! I really enjoyed this one. Jumping back and forth between the 1630s, the 1950s and the year 2000, we meet first Sara de Vos, one of the few Dutch women painters of her time. One of her paintings (that I can so clearly picture because of the excellent writing) ends up over the bed of Marty de Groot who, in the 1950s, realizes that his copy is a forgery. In the year 2000, both the forgery and the original are accidentally on their way to an exhibit of female Dutch painters that professor/expert Ellie is opening in Australia. The three plot lines all converge, but each one has its own mystery to solve. What happened to Sara de Vos? Did Marty track down the thieves and recover his original? Will Ellie be in the center of a giant scandal when both copies arrive at the museum????? 4.5 stars

Well, the Cover is Pretty

12 Jun

houseamongthetrees

Isn’t it? I was disappointed with this one. I loved The Widower and was excited to dig into this, but I found myself waiting and waiting for something that never came. I was waiting for the story to get interesting, the characters to really resonate with me, something to really happen. Overall I thought it just didn’t connect with me. The story is about a famous children’s book author who dies and leaves his estate in the hands of Thomasina, a younger-than-him woman who worked as his personal assistant for many years. The two had a weird relationship, she lived with him, but not a romantic one. So the story is Morty’s rise to illustrated greatness (the past), Tommy’s difficulty with his death and settling his estate (the present). We also get some of Tommy’s history, as well as (randomly, maybe) chapters about this woman Merry who thought that her museum would be getting all of Morty’s personal effects/work. 3 stars.

Wolves, Zepplins & Clairvoyants

19 May

I have had a GREAT week or two of reading. Everything – whether it was good or bad – was easy to finish and I flew through a lot of stuff from my library queue. Here we go.

Court of Thorns and Roses – this was popping up like crazy in all my social media because the 3rd book in the series just came out on May 3rd. I read this one and the 600 page second one like my life depended on it. They were good. These are classified as Young Adult, but there are some pretty steamy sex scenes so they definitely can’t go to a younger audience. Two sentence premise: Feyre, a young peasant girl, kills a wolf when she’s out hunting to feed her family. Turns out the wolf is actually a High Fae faerie, which is bad news for Feyre because an even more terrifying faerie comes to take her captive. Think beauty and the beast but set in a magical landscape. The second one (The Court of Mist and Blood) was WAY better – the first one is kind of a slow build but then it gets really great too. 4 stars.

Flight of Dreams was our Mother/Daughter book club selection this month. Historical fiction about the Hindenburg. Maybe the most interesting part of this novel was learning about the flight and its demise. All I knew was that it went down – I had no idea that there were so many survivors or that the cause of the crash was unknown. Ariel Lawhorn did a tremendous amount of research and all of her characters were REALLY on the Hindenburg. They all suffered whatever fates they suffered in real life. My book guru Mary likened the novel to Murder on the Orient Express – where you have a bunch of people who could be responsible, a bunch of people with secrets and schemes, and the novel is more about those characters than the actual crime. 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 after our interesting book club discussion.

Weird that I read two books by women named Ariel, huh? I’m just noticing that. The Rules Do Not Apply is another one that seems to be a hot topic right now. I’ve been seeing it everywhere, people raving and recommending. This one was not for me. I really, really disliked this Ariel – a writer for the New Yorker. Her story is sad, and I felt sad for her, but I didn’t like her. In the end I didn’t really care that she was sad? Here is her tale: struggling to break into the journalism scene in New York City, Ariel meets and falls for an older woman named Lucy. Lucy wears a ring, committed to another woman back in San Fran. The two begin an affair, end up married and spend a lot of years drinking and partying like college students (or so it sounded). They decide to quit drinking to try for a baby. You learn right away, in the opening pages, that Ariel is now, presently, suffering from the loss of both baby and spouse. Such a downer, with an unsympathetic narrator. 3 stars.

Salt Houses was really so great. It’s the story of a Palestinian family forced to leave their home during the war. Salma, the matriarch, reads her daughter Alia’s future in the tea leaves and vows never to tell her what she’s seen. Such an intriguing start to what turned out to be a great family saga. The format is exactly what I love in a family tale – perspective shifting from chapter to chapter so that you get multiple views of everyone and everything and feel like you’re holding the secrets and the facts and the family together. It got a little tiny bit long towards the end, but I loved it. 4.5 stars

I have a hard time figuring out how to classify Spoonbenders. I’ll start by saying I really liked it, so the challenge to place it is a good one. It’s the story of a family of psychics. And maybe magician/cheats. Teddy Telemachus heads up this family of misfits and disgraced fortune tellers, himself the only one who doesn’t have the “gift.” His daughter Maureen has the ability to tell if a person is lying or speaking the truth, his son Frankie is able to move objects with his mind. The youngest son, Buddy, doesn’t speak much and is left to his own devices but it’s known that he can see the future. When Maureen’s son, Matty, starts developing his own strange powers, the family gets thrown into a mess of things ranging from mobsters to foreign spies to CIA operatives. Overall I liked this a lot – parts of it were weirdly amazing, parts sad, parts funny. It’s fairly long, but worth it! 4 stars.