Archive | March, 2014

Is it too late for a Spring Break post?

28 Mar

I hope not – because I just got back from mine and I got a lot of reading done. Probably not the best stuff I’ve ever read, but most of it was just perfect for lounging around during Bahamian rain storms or frying on the beach.

Before I headed for the Islands, Loren and I spent a long weekend in Austin. Luckily I finished the one book that probably would’ve been weird to read on a beach – an old book I’d never heard of until lately (although I can see why it’s perfect for a cult following).

Geek LoveI was pretty surprised to find myself loving this book. 2013 marks the 30th (I think) anniversary of its publication and boy is it WEIRD. WEIRD in the way Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex made me feel weird. Here is the set up: Al and Crystal Lil Binewski fell in love at the circus/freak show that Al’s dad owned. When it seemed their traveling lifestyle was dying, the two lovebirds decided to take matters into their own hands and create their own freakishly freaky acts by getting pregnant and then consuming all sorts of drugs and radioactive things (horrible, right). So our cast of characters, besides Al and Lil, are Arturo (aqua boy with flippers instead of limbs), Iphy and Elly (beautiful conjoined twins), Oly (our albino/humpback/dwarf narrator), and Fortunato (the baby, who looks normal but can seemingly move things with his mind). I thought the whole thing was bizarre but captivating – say Middlesex meets The World According to Garp.

Now on to the beach reading. I think I’m going to lump these next four together, because they share a lot of classic beach-elements: family/marital drama, hidden secrets, single surprising twist at the end. Also, all but one of these are narrated in multiple voices, switching narrators with the chapters.

And the DarkGood HouseGeminiComfort of Lies

These may actually be in order of how I liked them. The Julia Glass is due out April 1 (next week!) and stands out because it centers around a man. Christopher “Kit” Noonan has been out of work for a while, and his wife sends him on a mission to (finally) discover the identity of his birth father. Of course there are ups and downs along the way, as well as a cast of (mostly) loveable characters. There were some I loved way more than others, but that’s ok.

The Good House is next, recommended by one of my trusted aunts. I’m a huge sucker for unreliable narrators, and I really got one with Hildy Good. I loved her from the first minute. She is THE real estate agent in a small north-eastern town who seems to know everything about everybody. When Hildy strikes up a friendship with the wealthy new neighbor, she finds herself in the middle of a small town scandal.

Gemini by Carol Cressida is one I’ve been putting off for a while. I don’t know why, something about the cover maybe? But it is maybe the most classic “beach read” of the four. It starts with a woman named Charlotte who is the doctor on call when a Jane Doe trauma patient arrives at the hospital. As time passes and  she tries to save the patient, she becomes consumed with finding out the woman’s identity. Pretty good, with a weird/unbelievable twist at the end.

Lastly, Comfort of Lies. This one came out last year, and was mentioned in some sort of prestigious publication as one of the best five books you never heard of from 2013. I disagree. I thought it was completely predictable. It’s the story of three women – one falls in love with a married man, produces a baby which she gives up for adoption. Another is married to a man who, she discovers, had an affair that produced a baby. The third is a woman who, though not quite sure she’s cut out for motherhood, adopts a baby with her husband. Pretty easy to see how these three connect, but then they ACTUALLY connect in a series of eye-rolling ways.

AND I had one more to get me back home. Purchased at the lack-luster Ft Lauderdale airport where I spent most of my vacation, this one is a little outside of the norm for me.

Brain on FireMostly because it’s non-fiction. The choices were VERY limited. But. I thought this was a great fast read. I had it finished after my long layover, two plane changes, three flights. Brain on Fire is the true story of Susannah Cahalan, a New York Post reporter, who was 24 when she went off her rocker. I mean literally went quite mad. After weeks of erratic behavior, she was finally hospitalized with an impending diagnosis of bipolar or schizophrenia, things her family refused to believe. Of course there was ultimately another diagnosis – one that allowed her to recover enough to write a book and head back to work. But still. Fascinating medical mystery with really short chapters that let you fly right on through.

Revisiting the Past

18 Mar

I hardly ever go back and read something I’ve missed. I think years of working in a book store have me spoiled – I only want to read the current, up and coming stuff. So, I read Long Man by Amy Greene a little while ago.

longmanRemember this one? I really liked it, you can read what I thought about it here. Her first novel, Bloodroot came out in 2010 and was very much loved by my favorite sales rep. Unfortunately, I didn’t read it when it came out. It was gathering dust at the very bottom of one of my stacks of books with little chance of ever seeing the light of day. But then I swooned over Long Man and decided to dig it out.

BloodrootI am SO glad I revisited this “older” book. I would recommend it to anyone – everyone.  Set in the backwoodsy-est Appalachian town where people still believe in curses and witchcraft, Bloodroot is pretty dark and twisted. The publisher’s synopsis describes the narration of the novel as a “kaleidoscope,” and I think that’s about right. At the heart of it all is a woman named Myra Myers Lamb and over the course of the novel, we get six different perspectives (including, finally, Myra herself).  By the time she got to Myra, I was desperate to know what had happened to her to make her lose it as spectacularly as she loses it. Although this novel is fairly bleak, there are lots of really remarkable moments in it, and it ends with a hint of redemption, forgiveness and hope (which I found completely refreshing). Four really solid stars.

One for All and Book Club picks for one.

16 Mar

Yesterday was the PERFECT day for porch reading in Kansas City – 70s and sunny (of course today there is snow…) – and I took full advantage. I flew through a recommendation from one of my favorite bookseller friends.

storied lifeThe Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is brand new and one of those books that just makes you feel good. Curmudgeonly A.J. Fikry owns a teeny bookstore on Alice Island. When we meet him, he is so grumpy he first comes across as much older than his 39 years. We quickly learn that he has reasons to be so cross; his beloved wife and co-owner Nic died in a tragic car accident, his most prized possession (a rare edition of E.A. Poe’s first published work) gets stolen and he pretty much drinks himself to sleep every night. And then. All of these things start happening that sort of force him to turn his life around for the better. Part of the reason this is so great is because of the bookstore at the heart of it – lots of great insider book things that reminded me of my time at Rainy Day. Very uplifting and sweet, 4 stars.

The other thing I wanted to talk about in this post is new paperback releases that would be great for book clubs. My Grandmother’s mother/daughter book club was asking for suggestions, and I realized I hadn’t really been paying attention to what was hitting the shelves in terms of paperbacks. So I did a little research. Here are my picks (the paperback covers may be different than those pictured below:

13602426 KimberlingSNAPPER 6878-Jojo-MoyesMe-Before-You.286121153_std dogstars deathofbeescoer frances-bernard aviatorswife calling me home Constellation of Vital Phenomena We Are All Completely lifeafterlife Schroder Tale for the Time Being painted-girlsCascade 13414676

I’ve written about all of these titles in the past, so if you’d like more information on any of them, type the title into the “search” bar at the top. I’ve also loaded up on some more (hopefully) great paperbacks for my upcoming vacation. This time next week, I’ll have many more to share!

Above and Below

13 Mar

Ok, talk about a weird one! Originally I pulled this galley because it was getting some buzz and being compared to Room and Lovely Bones. And those (although grim) were good. And fast.

AboveBut this one? Just plain weird. It was like she wanted to write two entirely different novels and then string them together. Blythe, our young heroine, was nabbed off the streets of Eudora, KS when she was 16. Held in an underground silo by a lunatic obsessed with theories about the apocalypse, Blythe is hidden away nearly 20 years (over only 150 pages). The issues I had with this portion of the novel were that 1) This “girl gets kidnapped and held in a cellar” business is old. 2) Dobbs (her kidnapper) didn’t seem too horrible – he didn’t try to sleep with her for years, and once he did Blythe (narrator) didn’t really mention it at all. 3) Blythe bears a child (or two, but only one lives), but her relationship with her baby is scattered and we go in one chapter from Adam (son) age 5 to next chapter Adam aged 15. WEIRD. So, the second half of the novel is when Blythe and Adam finally manage to escape. But the “civilized world” that Blythe remembers is gone, and the second half of the novel turns into a strange post-apocalyptic madhouse. And Adam (never having been in the real world, or seen daylight, or felt the wind) seemed completely wrong – he wasn’t afraid of anything, wanted to take on a stray/wild dog as a pet, etc. I thought this whole thing was really strange. But not what I expected (which was something spooky and traumatic like Room or Lovely Bones). I think this one will be a fine, easy sell in paperback whenever that comes. 3 stars.

Those Annoying Frogs

9 Mar

Emma Donoghue’s new novel, Frog Music, comes out on April 1. I bet everyone will be excited to see it – the cover is great and it sounds like it’d be a great historical fiction. However.

frog musicI read the whole thing – finished it to the very last sentence. But I loved no part of it, not one part at all. It’s the story of a woman named Blanche – a Frenchie living in San Fransisco during the smallpox epidemic of 1876. She is a high-class prostitute – dancing a “leg show” and then taking on private customers afterwards. She lives with a guy named Arthur (pretty much her pimp) and has a child that she sent off to a nursing farm when he was born. She stumbles into a friendship with a girl named Jenny (who is infamous in SF for wearing pants and catching frogs for a living). After a month of knowing her, the two are on the run for reasons unknown (at first) and Jenny gets shot/killed right in front of Blanche. What follows is a back and forth of Blanche’s search for Jenny’s murder (present day), and Blanche’s sad, disturbing past. I thought the sex scenes were grotesque and off-putting, the friendship between Blanche and Jenny sort of weak, and all of the other characters just annoying. I was thankful to finish it so I could pick up something else. On the brighter side, I read something WONDERFUL just before that is due out first week in June. It’s set to post closer to the release date, but there are good things coming!