Thanks, Reese Witherspoon

9 Sep

Well, Reese Witherspoon beat me to it. I wish I had posted about Where the Crawdads Sing last week after I finished it – she just announced it’s her next book club pick and all I could think was “I loved it first!” Guys. I really loved this. Definitely the first book this year that, as I was reading, I knew would be on my end of year list. Definitely the first book this year that was immediately a 5 star read. It was so good! There are a few things that bother me – the title, for one. And the main character, Kya. She doesn’t bother me, in fact I think I love her more than many characters I’ve ever met/read. But her name! So weird. Even with those two annoying things, this was an amazing read. It’s the story of KYA (sigh, how do you even say that!) who has a terrible family living in a hut in the swamp. In the first chapter her mother leaves her (and her siblings) with their alcoholic father. One by one, all the siblings leave to find a better future. Kya (the youngest) finds herself alone with her father who all but ignores her. It’s her coming of age story wrapped in a murder mystery with so many lovely parts. I’m a sucker for a good “girl who learns to read and it changes her life” story and that’s pretty much what this is. 5 stars.

These other two that I finished in the past few week – they were ok. The True Story of Hansel and Gretel is the story of Hansel and Gretel through a WWII/Holocaust lens. Hansel and Gretel (not their real names) are left by their father and stepmother in the woods. They find shelter in the cottage of the “witch.” Not my favorite WWII story, but it was well-received by my book club. If you want to read some great WWII fiction, please instead find In the Land of Armadillos by Helen Maryles Shankman. It’s a masterpiece.

How to Love a Jamaican is a collection of short stories about contemporary Jamaicans. The stories were great! It was an easy-to-read collection. I have a few more collections that I’d like to read this year, so I’m not ready to call this one my fave. 4 stars.

Here’s an update on my TBR:

A River of Stars: Read half and didn’t finish. Nothing wrong with it just didn’t catch me.

The Family Tabor: Read the first few chapters and decided I wasn’t in the right mood for it.

Chariot on the Mountain: was annoyed by the writing style so stopped reading.

Virgil Wander: reading it right now and loving it! Maybe only 10% through it but it’s good.

and the pile grows ever larger!

15 Aug

Partly for you, partly for me. I thought I’d post a glimpse of my TBR for the rest of this year. A lot of these aren’t out yet but some of them are. I currently have How to Love a Jamaican and The Family Tabor out from the library. Let me know if I’m missing anything or if anything needs to be bumped up!

If You Were Thinking of Taking a Cruise – Don’t.

10 Aug

I have a list seven miles long of all that I’m excited to read – either just out or coming out this fall. Here’s what made the cut this past month.

Two of these were for book club: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and Kitchens of the Great Midwest. They were both great for book club – lots to talk about, lots of differing opinions. I was the odd-woman-out in my mother/daughter/granddaughter book club when it came to Eleanor Oliphant. Everyone LOVED, loved loved this book so much so that we spent half of our book club tonight talking about it (it was last month’s pick). I didn’t like it. I made a bad guess as to where it was going and it colored my entire opinion of Eleanor. Where everyone else found her quirky, odd but sympathetic and maybe even charming, I read her as being totally creepy. It DIDN’T end up going where I was thinking it would and I think if I had read it without any presumptions I would have liked it more. Kitchens of the Great Midwest I listened to while I was doing dishes and cleaning up in the evenings. My house has never been so tidy! I loved the audio as well as the story. In the same vein as Olive Kitteridge (only not so superbly written), it’s the story of Eva Thorvald told through a variety of different people whose lives cross hers.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottesa Moshfegh is such a weird one. I’m not sure why I gobbled it up, I have no idea who to recommend it to but I really enjoyed it. It struck me as being for the same crown who loved Sweetbitter. It’s the story of a twenty-something woman, well-off financially and in terms of beauty, who gets fired from her art gallery job and decides she needs a year of “rest and relaxation.” She finds a terrible therapist who prescribes her an unending amount of various sleeping pills and basically spends most of her time passed out in her apartment. When she’s awake, she watches movies and eats take out food from the bodega on the corner. There is a lot of poor decision making (usually while blacked out), a lot of foul language and a lot of vulgarity – this is kind of what Ottesa Moshfegh is known for – so readers beware. 3 stars

I haven’t read Curtis Sittenfeld before but have been seeing this You Think It, I’ll Say It collection everywhere. And oh wow it started off so strong! I loved the first maybe 60% of the stories so much I was sure this would end up on my favorites list. But the last 3 or 4 just fell flat for me. There is a story about a woman honeymooning who runs into a former high school classmate who had tormented her in high school, another one about a homemaker who is obsessed with a lifestyle-celeb (reminded me of Ree Drummond the Pioneer Woman) that she had known in college and whose career *she thinks* is build on lies. So many good ones! 4 stars

The Last Cruise has been sort of a slow burn for me. It follows three characters as they board the celebrated last voyage of a specific cruise ship. Mick, a chef, has been called in last-minute as a replacement. Christine is accompanying her friend Valerie who is working on an article about the working conditions on board and Miriam, a violinist in a stringed quartet books as the ship’s entertainment. Once things start going wrong, they start going reallllllly wrong and even though I was not totally invested in all of the people I HAD to know what happened. 4 stars

Everyone and their mother probably knows how much I loved Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles. A lot. So I was very excited to have been gifted an advance of Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls (out Sept 4) which is the same story of Achilles and Patroclus but from the point of view of Briseis – Achilles’ battle prize/concubine. She had been queen of a neighboring kingdom and when her kingdom was sacked she was handed over to Achilles as a trophy. I feel like Pat Barker did a great job of driving home what I’m sure was her main focus – women have been treated horribly throughout history. This novel is filled with stories of rape and the passing of woman from victor to victor, women dying and being left behind, mothers killing their daughters so they are not taken by conquering soldiers etc etc. It’s an important story, to be sure, but it was a little overwhelming. I might have quit it if I wasn’t so interested in seeing what happened to Achilles AFTER Patroclus’s death (where Madeline Miller’s story leaves off). 4 stars


The Fish are the First to Go

1 Aug


Does anyone remember Emma Hooper’s Etta and Otto and Russell and James? Oh, I loved it. I was so thrilled to see her new novel – out mid August – that I moved it clear to the top of my stack. Our Homesick Songs kind of reminded me of The Rathbones and also a little bit of The Light Between Oceans. It’s set in a small fishing village called Big Running that once was flooded with fish but has now run dry. The fish shortage has sent all of the town’s inhabitants away to find work, slowly slowly the town has dwindled down to only 6 occupied houses among the dozens of deserted ones. In one home lives the Conner family – Martha and Aidan and their children Cora and Finn. In alternating chapters we get the story of Martha and Aidan’s courtship and the story of their present. What I love about Emma Hooper are the little details that make her stories magic – Cora, sneaking into abandoned houses and redecorating them according to different nationalities (an Italian house, a Mexican house, etc). Finn, trying his best to lure the fish back according to any old folklore he comes across. Martha with her finely knotted nets. This is a slow novel, but beautiful. 4 stars

If I Only Had a Heart

23 Jul


This was such, such a beautiful little novel. Slender, easy to read in one sitting, heartbreaking (and heartwarming all at once, as the cover blurb says). It’s the story of a man named Ellis, drowning in grief when we meet him. In the most beautiful language we get the story of his childhood, his first love and then the love of his life. There is not a whole lot more to say – it’s a good love story. A bit of a love triangle. And Ellis is truly a character that will win your heart over time and again. 4.5 stars.

That Pre-Vacation Reading Binge

18 Jun

We are heading to the lake for a week and I’ve been stockpiling a lot of good stuff to take with me in case I get time to read. I’ve made a pretty good dent in the stack already and it has all been so good.

I’d call a lot of this “fluff reading” but my favorite two are definitely NOT fluffy. There There just came out this last week and is already on the NYT bestseller’s list and being hyped up everywhere. The book is amazing and the author is young and hip and handsome so that helps. There There is a contemporary novel about the Native American culture as it exists today. It’s definitely a tough book, not a lot of cheer. There are twelve different narrators and through each one we see a different slice of the same terrible pie – all stories leading up to a convergence at the Big Oakland Powwow. 12 may have been a few too many narrators for me, I had trouble keeping all of the connections straight, but in the end I found that the exact connections didn’t really matter all that much and served to imply an eternally and infinitely connected community. 4.5 stars

A Place for Us has also been getting a lot of good buzz because it is the first title to be published under Sarah Jessica Parker’s new imprint. And it’s really good. We follow a family of Indian-American Muslims living in California as they gather for the eldest daughter’s wedding. The only son, Amar, is there after having been gone for many years. Everyone is a little tense about his arrival, his whereabouts, what he will tell the guests. And then we go back and get the whole story, Amar and his sisters, their parents, where the family fell apart. It is really beautifully written, the last section (narrated by the father) was very powerful and the perfect way to conclude the family’s story. I will say, though, that I’ve had a string of stories about Muslim families (The Three Daughters of EveHome Fire, and this one) and I found Home Fire to be a bit more powerful. I think if more time had passed between the reading of those two titles, this one would have definitely been a 5 instead of a 4.5.

This is How it Always Is was one of my book club books last month and somehow I forgot to put it up here. It was a fast, engrossing read about a family of five boys – but the youngest one, Claude, starts saying at a pretty early age that he is really a girl. Timely look at issues facing transgender children and their families, great for discussion, not sure I would have picked this up if it wasn’t for book club. 3.5 stars

I finished The Book of Essie tonight in a reading frenzy. If I had to describe it I’d say it’s a mashup of the Duggars (from 19 and Counting), Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptists and Law & Order: SVU. We follow Essie, the 17yr old daughter from a famous reality TV family known for their VERY conservative agenda, who in chapter one tells her mother (off camera, of course) that she’s pregnant. She eavesdrops on the meeting her mother has with the show’s producer and learns that she is to be married – and FAST. The second narrator is Rourke, the lucky 17yr old boy picked to be her husband. The third narrator is a journalist named Libby Bell who has a complicated past that endears her to Essie. I pretty much knew from the beginning where this was going, the writing is pretty straightforward and really there is a lot of room for YA crossover (on the older side of YA). But gosh I really had to see how it played out. 3.5 stars

High Season you’ve probably seen touted all over the place as The Book of the Summer. And it’s just what you’d expect it to be (which is not a bad thing at all). Set in a small town that is not the Hamptons but is nearby, a little less high society and a little more laid back. One summer a wealthy NYC celeb rents out a house on the island and stirs everything up. There is way more to this, but if you want a beach read this definitely fits the bill. 4 stars

Everyone and their mother and grandmother has probably read The Red Tent and I am VERY late to the party but it was excellent and amazing and everything else. It has (honestly) inspired me to go back and learn some of the bible stories in the interest of Literature. So many crazy things! The root of all stories maybe even. 5 stars

Opening Up to Non-Fiction.

29 May

May is almost over and I’m pretty pleased with my reading progress. 3/4 of these really hit the spot, and one was just poorly timed (for me).

The Ensemble has been getting tons of buzz and I really, really enjoyed it. I did skim over all of the music-orchestra-pitch-composer specifics because I had no idea what a lot of it was. In spite of that, I loved it. It’s about 4 graduating seniors who are members of a quartet that is competing at a national music competition. Two men, two women. We follow these four as the quartet matures (they stick together long after graduation) and I really felt like all four characters were so beautifully written, I could see them so clearly. 4 stars

Fruit of the Drunken Tree comes out in June and it is a doozy. You know I love a good story of women during political upheaval ala In the Time of Butterflies (Julia Alvarez) or Perla (Carolina de Robertis) and this one falls right in there. Set in Bogotá during Pablo Escobar’s heyday, we follow Chula (wealthy young girl living in a gated/guarded community) and Petrona (poor, slightly older girl living in the mountain slums) who comes to work as Chula and her sister’s maid/nanny. Things get real. And scary and ugly. So of course I was totally gripped. 4 stars

Heart Berries is short and written so beautifully but just too too depressing for me right now. I read the whole thing, and I know it’s great and everyone thinks she’s great and she is great, but it just wasn’t for me. It’s a memoir, the author is Native American and had a troubled childhood. As the book begins, she is  diagnosed with depression, an eating disorder, and Bipolar II. 3 stars.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark oh-m-gee this one has me up late at night locking and re-locking every door and window in my house. It is so creepy. AND TRUE about the authors obsession with and personal investigation into the Golden State Killer. She gave the perp that moniker, previously he’d been known as the East Area Rapist (EAR) and the Original Night Stalker (ONS). Probably the only reason I can even finish this book right now is that just recently the man was caught (all of his crimes were in the 60s and 70s) so I know he’s not out there peeping in my windows. If you like true crime, or going to bed scared, this is for you. 4 stars.