Archive | August, 2013

Weekend Reading

19 Aug

This weekend found me unexpectedly (and excitedly) at the airport. In addition to jetting off to somewhere fabulous to see the best guy I know, I also got hours of uninterrupted airport-reading-time. It’s the best reading time, actually. So here is what happened:

kissThis was the only library book that made the trip. Pretty much the perfect, maybe typical? airplane book. An awkward, utterly charm-less girl who has struggled for years to have any sort of meaningful human interaction, finds an unlikely oasis in this bizarro online chat forum called Red Pill. Members chat all day long, debating various cyclical philosophical questions (can an act really be selfless? or are we all just doing things that ultimately benefit ourselves? etc). Leila immediately plunges into this cyber-world, and is SHOCKED when the highly respected head of Red Pill, a man named Adrian, singles her out for praise.  Even more surprised when he privately messages and asks to meet F2F (face to face). They meet and he offers her the privilege of accepting a job: a young disciple of his, horribly depressed and thoroughly done with life, wants to kill herself. BUT, she doesn’t want to destroy her family by doing so. For a small fee, this woman will pay Leila to intimately learn the details of her life – her speech patterns, every memory friend boyfriend crazy aunt. And then this woman, Tess, will tell all of her loved ones that she is going off to an isolated location to teach a class or something. The plan is that Tess will then commit suicide and Leila will take over correspondence with her family, gradually becoming less frequent and less frequent until she quietly disappears altogether. It was fast and fine read – I had some issues with the ending and a few logistical things. But great for reading on a plane.

fin and lady

I always meant to read The Three Wisemanns of Westport but never did. This slim little novel was really the most perfect thing I could have bought at the beach bookstore. Fin is a funny young kid who loses both of his parents by the age of 10 and is sent off to live with his completely brilliantly crazy half-sister Lady. I loved Lady – her name was so perfect for her character. She reminded me a little bit of a female Gatsby – beautiful and mysterious and always surrounded by suitors but never quite invested in any of them. This was such a great read and feels very much the way a summer book should. A solid, solid 4 out of 5 stars. I need to come up with a better system to rank these – that will be my next project.

9780670026616B.JPGI always have a difficult time deciding to read a Jojo Moyes book. I think mostly it’s because the name Jojo sounds so trivial. I don’t know. But, Me Before You was great. Last Letter from your Lover was pretty good. I guess I’ve never read something by her I disliked. And this one, really I flew through. I had it as an e-book on my phone. And I really hate reading e-books. There is something about it that doesn’t seem quite real – and as much as I liked this book I found myself thinking I would have liked it that much better if I was reading an actual book and not staring at my phone. But anyway. It was great (Cristina, if you see this on your flight home, you should get it!). Jojo writes the best falling-in-love scenes ever. Maybe not scenes, exactly, but she really gets the feeling right. So believable. Basically this story revolves around a sweet little portrait, The Girl You Left Behind. But not how other novels follow a portrait. It’s not really even about the portrait. That girl who was left behind is Sophie – frenchwoman, sister, owner of an inn in the countryside – who’s painter husband went off to fight in WWI. Sophie looks at the portrait everyday, as it hangs prominently in the inn she and her sister run, as a remembrance of her husband (great love story 1) and the woman that she was before the war wore her down. We get her whole, unsurprisingly terrible story of 1917. Her story could’ve been the whole novel. BUT we skip ahead to Liv – 32yr old widowed Londoner – who has The Girl You Left Behind hanging on the wall in a beautiful glass house her deceased architect husband built (love story 2). After four years of dark widowhood, she meets and sort of delightfully falls for a guy named Paul (love story 3). Paul just happens to be an ex-cop living in London working for TARP, a company that hunts for objects and works of art stolen by the Nazi’s during wartime and returns them to their owners. And off we go! So good and enthralling. Also a solid 4/5.

A Smattering of Things

13 Aug

This weekend I found myself with a lot of extra time – so I used it to my advantage and attacked a bunch of different things in my stack. As opposed to my last entry, a few of these may be appropriate for my mom/grandmother’s Mother Daughter Book Club.

longbournLongbourn by Jo Baker is the most likely candidate for the M/D book club. I found an advance of it in the staff room of the library and borrowed it with some skepticism. I have never, never ever read “Fan Fiction.” There are a million Jane Austen spin off’s – Jane Austen and Vampires, Darcy’s blah blah blah, whatever they are called there are millions of them. I have steered very clear. And yet. I love the cover of this sweet looking novel, I love that people are likening it to Downton Abbey. When I started it, I expected to find things to dislike, but even if you’ve never read Pride and Prejudice, it’s a pretty enticing read. Sarah is our heroine, orphaned at a young age and taken in by Longbourn’s no-nonsense head housekeeper Mrs. Hill (called “Hill” by all of the Bennet women). So Longbourn is her story – of struggle and toil and hardship, friendship, courtship and wanting more out of life than scrubbing Elizabeth’s muddied dresses. Very much recommend to people who love good historical fiction.

galateaDon’t get too excited, this is a bit of a tease. I loved Song of Achilles so much. More than normal, probably, and mostly because I loved the way Madeline Miller wrote it. Chapters just flew by! So when I saw an ad for this newly released e-book only short story, I was thrilled. When I say don’t get too excited, I mean only that if you download Galatea you’ll be done with it in ten minutes. It is a short short story. The story comes from Pygmalion – Galatea being the name bestowed upon Pygmalion’s sculpture-turned-woman-turned-wife. In this story, Galatea has been forced into a hospital by her husband after attempting to flee his control with their daughter. Madeline Miller is brilliant, and I love the way she writes. The one thing that stuck out that I maybe didn’t love was that she uses the “F” word quite a bit in such a short story. Which doesn’ t bother me, but maybe limits the range of people I would recommend it to. I still think she’s brilliant.

greta wellsThis was fine. Coming so soon on the heels of Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life probably didn’t help my enjoyment of it. It has a similar enough set-up that I just found myself wishing I was still reading Kate Atkinson. OK here is the set up: In the late 1980’s, Greta Wells loses her much beloved twin brother Felix (to AIDS), and shortly thereafter her boyfriend of a decade leaves her for another woman. Thrown into a deep depression, she visits a doctor who administers what can only be described as electro-shock therapy (to “get the old Greta back”). The effects of the treatment are mild disorientation, light-headedness, and oh, time travel. Greta wakes up in her room, decorated differently, surrounded by the people she loves in 1918. The 1918 Greta has also suffered some incident that led her to electro-shock therapy. After the next treatment, Our 1980s Greta wakes up in 1941. It is easy enough to keeps things straight once the routine of the travel develops, and all of the players are the same in each period. I just liked Kate Atkinson’s spin on this “other lives” sort of thing much better.

last girlfriendHere is something you’ve never seen on Litpicks before: unlinked short stories. The Last Girlfriend on Earth is a straightforward short story collection. Each story is no more than 10 pages, and they are all pretty great and funny. And so creative I’m astounded. They are broken up into three segments, something like “Getting the Girl, Having the Girl, and Losing the Girl” although I think they’re worded differently. Let’s see – there is one where this perpetual single dude is set up by his friends. With a troll. A legitimate troll. Hilarity ensues. There is one set on a college campus where a politically minded student named Owen (leader of a smattering of rallies on various “important” issues) launches an “Occupy Jenny” movement to get the girl he likes to date him. Objectives of the movement: Jenny must begin to have affectionate feelings for him, dump her current boyfriend, and date Owen exclusively. Oh and World Peace for all.” The movement catches on nationally, hilarity ensues. Really I thought all of these were very entertaining.

Black Velvet

7 Aug

Today, I have two books to write about that I thought for sure I’d hate. After starting them, I thought for sure I wouldn’t even finish them. BUT. I did.  Another disclaimer – I am not a romance/smut reader. Just to get that out there.

tampa-nuttingI had been hearing about Tampa by Alissa Nutting all over the place (mostly on my book podcasts). Everyone who talked about it said “AH this is too uncomfortable to give a synopsis but I want everyone to read it so we can discuss!” Usually I love books like that. Man was it uncomfortable. But the ending! oh! OK so the premise is this: Celeste is gorgeous. Smoking hot. She is married to a fuddydud (or so she describes him to be – the book is entirely first person), and she has a thing for teenage boys. Like 14-year-olds. And by thing, I mean Lolita-esque thing. So it makes perfect sense that she takes a job teaching freshman english at a large high school.  You can imagine the grisly, uncomfortable scenes that unfold – her fantasizing about a particular student, seducing him, etc etc. This will not be a book for everyone. I definitely put it down for quite awhile – pretty disgusted by some of her behavior early on. But then I couldn’t renew it from the library…and so I thought I’d just get through it. Turns out to be quite the drama. And at the end – I was reeling.  Best to be read by the pool with your girlfriends or somewhere else blushing won’t be noticed. So scandalous that the book jacket is black velvet. Seriously.

rogueAnd another genre I never thought I’d be reading….Trashy Romance. Sarah MacLean has been popping up here and there and the library list was LONG for this one – so I ended up buying it on my last trip to my favorite Indie. And I really (embarrassingly) liked it. Pretty typical historical romance – a man with a title loses everything on a hand of poker (his fortune, lands, etc). Ten years later, having vowed to take revenge upon the man who robbed him of his lands, Michael Bourne finds out that the lands have traded hands yet again and are now attached to the dowry of one Penelope Something-Or-Other. Plot twist: Penny and Michael grew up next door to each other and were best buds until Michael lost everything and disappeared into the seedy underbelly of London to build his fortune back up. I thought the entire novel would be him trying to GET her to marry him, but he makes that happen pretty darn quick and the rest of the novel is about them realizing the love between them. Sounds cheesy, probably is a little cheesy, but was a very fast and entertaining read.