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.

Old Friends and New Ones

3 May

celine

Peter Heller is my favorite, and maybe my only, literary crush. He’s just so cool. Dog Stars and The Painter – holy cow – two of my most favorite books ever. Kinda hard to live up to “most favorite ever,” I know. This one, Celine, was pretty good. I think I’d even call it “great” if the other two hadn’t been just so great. Story: Celine, 68-year-old Chanel wearing Private Eye suffering from emphysema, takes on a hot new cold case. She’s on the trail of a man who was apparently the victim of a gruesome bear attack over twenty years ago. His now grown daughter has a few reasons to be suspicious – like the fact that the body was never recovered and that the animal tracker had an issue with the way the bear tracks looked. So Celine and her amazing husband Pete head out into the wilderness to investigate. Celine is maybe the most wonderful character ever, she’s smart and funny and passionate and just really cool. And Pete! swoon. Don’t even get me started. They have an enviable relationship that was entertaining but also felt real. 4 stars

ifoundyou

You know how I’m always saying “oh, I hate thrillers” and “I’m just not a thriller reader” and all of that? Well. I momentarily take it back because I Found You had me on the edge of my seat/couch/bed/kitchen chair and it was just so smart and satisfying and creepy but not in like a creepy-creepy way, just in the best way ever. Kinda dark, but weirdly didn’t FEEL that dark. Perfect summer read. I’m still thinking about the twists. Three story lines: 1) man shows up on beach with no memory (sounds cliché, but…) 2) newly married woman searches for her missing husband 3) 20 years earlier, family vacationing at the beach. 4.5 stars

Leavers, Leave Them Be.

1 May

leavers

The Bellwether Prize is a large monetary prize awarded to a debut novelist. Founded by Barbara Kingsolver, a rotating panel of well-known authors blindly read the entries and pick a winner. The only guideline, really, is that the novel be “socially engaging.” This year, award went to Lisa Ko and her novel, The Leavers (the first novel to receive this prize was Mudbound, remember that one?).

The Leavers is the story of a Chinese Immigrant, Polly, and her 11 yr old son Deming. One day, Polly doesn’t come home from work. And after 6 months, Deming is adopted by an older (white) couple and moves to the (whitest) suburbs. So the story is back and forth, Deming, renamed Daniel, and his mother Polly. Every now and then I thought the momentum kind of lagged, but the dialogue is SO good that it would draw me back in. I literally thought multiple times in my head “wow, that is a really well written conversation right there.” The part of the book that, I think, is supposed to be the peak of the plot, was weirdly not the most interesting plot point. Or at least it didn’t hit me as hard as maybe it could have. I don’t know. Overall I thought this was a really smart, pretty good read that I think will be a great book club pick. 4 stars.

Sophomores in the Midnight Room

28 Apr

Remember We Are Called to Rise? Me too. So great. Well, Laura McBride has a second novel releasing the first week of May. It’s called ‘Round Midnight and boy was I excited to get my hands on it early.

round midnight

In the end, I found it so-so. Much like We Are Called to Rise, there are four or five story lines that all converge around an incident. If you were using movie examples, think Crash. One woman, married to a man who runs a Vegas nightclub with big star entertainment. One, a Mexican woman sold by her uncle to a wealthy man in Chicago – a man who frequents the Midnight Room at the first woman’s nightclub. One a native Las Vegan (is that what you call them? Las Vegite?) teaches music in a suburb and wonders about secrets her family is keeping. One, a maid who cleans not only the night club but also homes of the wealthy locals. All of their stories converge, as they do We Are Called to Rise, with a single catastrophic act/event. However. Whereas the previous book had me sobbing and feeling all the feels, this one fell a little flat. 3.5 stars.

Sneaking Pages Here and There

26 Apr

All of the sudden I’ve read three books, and fourth due out later this summer. I don’t know exactly how it happened but I’m pretty pleased with myself. Like I said I would, I went back and finished One Good Mama Bone by Bren McClain. Guess what? Loved it.one-good-mama-bone

I’m not sure this one will be for EVERYONE, but it really hit me. It’s published by a small press that turns out to be PAT CONROY’s. They say that this is one of the last he picked to publish. Neither here nor there, really. This started slow for me. Slow enough that I could put it down and read something else. Thankfully I went back to it, because just after I’d stopped it started getting really good. Here is the story: Sarah Creamer, in the opening scene, delivers her best friend’s baby on her kitchen table. It’s the 1950’s and rural South Carolina, so maybe not so shocking that the baby came in the kitchen. The shocking part is that the baby’s father is Sarah Creamer’s husband. Her best friend refuses to accept the newborn, thrusting him in Sarah’s arms and dragging herself across the garden to her home. Skip forward 7 years, Sarah and her boy, Emerson Bridge, are barely squeaking by. Poor, hungry, seriously in debt, Sarah reads an article about a young boy who won a ton of money by raising a steer, entering and winning a 4H competition. She sells her every last thing and buys a steer for her boy. And that’s where it gets good. I loved this small/gossipy/country/cow novel – so much quiet drama. 5 stars.

hateugive

The Hate U Give is one of the buzziest YA novels around right now. Everyone is reading and raving. For good reason. I sped through this one so fast because I HAD TO KNOW what happened. Starr Carter feels like she’s living in two separate worlds, the poor neighborhood she lives in where gunfire is a constant background noise and the fancy suburban private school she drives 45 minutes away to attend. She does a pretty good job of keeping her worlds separate – until the fateful night when her friend Khalil offers her a ride home. Pulled over by the police for seemingly no reason, Khalil ends up shot and killed, breathing his last breath in her arms. He was unarmed. Starr has to decide if she wants to speak out about this injustice or remain an unnamed witness. 4.5 stars.

saints-for-all-occasions-by-courtney-j-sullivan.jpg

I have been REALLY looking forward to this new J. Courtney Sullivan that comes out May 9th. When a copy showed up on my doorstep (sort of) from my favorite sales rep, I jumped in. And wow. SO good. Two sisters, Nora and Theresa, board a ship sailing from Ireland to New York in the 1950s. Nora (sensible, shy, duty-bound) and Theresa (careless, outgoing, captivating) end up in Boston with Nora’s fiancee Charlie who had come before to get settled. I feel like squiggling my fingers and saying “things happen!” but of course they do because it’s a novel and a story and that’s the very definition. Things happen. Fast forward to 2009, Nora is the aging mother of a large Catholic family. Theresa is a nun. The two haven’t spoken in years, in fact Nora’s grown children have no idea that Nora even HAS a sister. So good. Characters that feel real and relatable and imperfect but not in a bad way. A story line that will keep you reading. This will be a big summer book, I’m sure. 5 stars.