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One Cold Night in Russia

2 May

I love reading Russian. Not in  Russian, of course, but by or about Russians. That is the reason why I gave Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Sashenka a chance a few years ago – and I loved it. The author normally writes non-fiction and is thought to be one of the great Stalin biographers, so his foray into fiction was not really expected to do much and pretty much went overlooked. But it was SO good. Set in 1916 Moscow, the story of a young woman (Sashenka) in three parts – her teenage years (engaging in revolutionary behavior), her adult years (when the revolution had occurred and she’d married one of the powerful politicos), and then her disappearance.

Sashenka2That was a few years ago. When I was lazily exploring Goodreads the other day, I came upon a list of upcoming 2014 releases, and was SO THRILLED to see a new one from ole Sebag. I tried all my usual sources, but an advance could not be obtained. So, like the true book nerd I am, I ordered a copy from the UK. And drank it all down the minute it arrived at my door (but it’ll be hitting shelves shortly after this blog post posts, so you won’t have to wait long).

one night in winterAt first, I thought it was shaping up to be the Russian equivalent of The Secret History – in the first chapter, two children are found shot dead in the middle of a busy street/bridge (can’t remember). It is soon discovered that they are both members of a secret society dedicated to the works of Pushkin (borderline anti-Bolshevik). The two dead students go to an elite school, with children of all the bigwig politicians. Almost immediately, all of the students in this secret club are arrested (and held in prison for a very long time), forced to turn against one another and their powerful parents (at this point it felt extremely more serious that Secret History). I have never worried so much for a set of characters. I think knowing that this was based on a true story and that many of the players existed in real life made the reading of it all the more nerve-racking. Thank goodness I wasn’t a teen in 1945 Russia! Five stars!

Best Litpicks of 2013

17 Dec

I am shocked I didn’t have at least 10 books make my Best of 2013 list. Shocked!! My 2012 list was so good this year almost seems like a letdown (you can see the 2012 list here). But the 6 books that did make my list are pretty great.

LifeAfterLife1) This was far and away the best thing I’ve read lately. Not only is it brilliant and well-written, it is also supremely amazingly creative. Basically it’s the story of Ursula Todd (or rather the stories of her lives) growing up in WWI-ish England. Here is the brilliant part – at the end of each chapter, Ursula Todd dies (don’t worry, some of the chapters are 100 pages long). The first chapter, she dies at birth when the doctor gets stuck in a snow storm. In the second chapter, the doctor arrives well before the storm and we get to see Ursula’s early childhood. UNTIL an unfortunate accident cuts it short. In the third chapter, a small change is made that prevents the accident and we follow Ursula deeper into her life. I’m not able to do it justice, but luckily I’m not the only one with Life After Life on my list, so maybe you’ll read about it elsewhere.

hundred summers2). I am almost embarrassed to be putting such a fluffy novel on my list. But then I can convince myself that it was not entirely fluff – and truth be told I couldn’t put it down. I’d compare it to Rules of Civility but in a wealthy Cape setting. Anyone who loves good character driven novel  and doesn’t mind some good old girlfriend drama would love this. Sweet, innocent Lucy is entering her senior year at an all girls college. She is shy and awkward-ish and prim. Every summer that she can remember found her summering on the shores of Rhode Island (on a great big summer estate) with her childhood friend Budgie. Budgie is Lily’s roommate now in college, but where Lily is demure Budgie is brazen. She wears tight sweaters and is always running with some boy. Running fast. One weekend Budgie convinces her shy friend to drive up to Dartmouth to see her current beau play in the football game. During the game, Lily catches sight the tall handsome quarterback, Nick Greenwald. Lily and Nick fall in love immediately (in the first chapter!) and are all set to live happily ever after. Second chapter, 7 years later: Lily is back at her Rhode Island summer home, chasing after her 7-year-old sister when Budgie (brazenly!) shows up to open her long-emptied family home. Lily hasn’t set sights on Budgie in seven long years and is nervously anticipating an encounter. Even more nervously anticipating an encounter with Budgie’s husband, one Mr. Nick Greenwald. SHOCKING! But oh it is compulsively readable, and so easy to root for Lily.

133307673) This one is a bit of a cheat, as it came out towards the end of 2012. BUT, I hadn’t read it when I made my list last year and it is REALLY GREAT. I still think/worry/wonder about some of the characters in Joan Wickersham’s stories – I loved how she left every story with a couple of questions still floating around. Did they split up? Did he end up going on that trip? ARE THEY OK? Even if you have never ever read a short story, even if you never WANT to read a short story, you should read this. It’s masterful.

KimberlingSNAPPER4) I loved this little novel. It may technically be a novel of interconnected stories – but I myself am usually not a big short story person, so this one I think of as a novel. It is the story of Nathan Lochmueller; birdwatcher, romantic, unwitting rebel rouser. One of the more memorable episodes occurs when Nathan’s car breaks down just outside the town of Santa Claus. Waiting for repairs to be done, he sits in an empty-ish diner and helps the owners answer letters that kids have written to Santa Claus and sent to their same-name town. Everyone who comes in, from truck drivers to moms to children grab some from the enormous stack and send a reply. It was funny and sweet and perfectly delivered by Brian Kimberling.

deathofbeescoer5) I read this was back at the beginning of the year, and it would have maybe missed it’s shot at my Best-Of-list glory if it weren’t for Christina (thanks for reminding me!). Imagine Room if Room had a snarky-smart-foul-mouthed teen as a narrator instead of a sort of ferral-innocent-naive 4yr old. Two sisters live in a housing project in Scotland, their parents are broke and junkies and a little crazy, and Marnie (the elder sister) has pretty much been doing all the parenting/rearing of her younger sister, Nellie. At the start of the book, both parents are (mysteriously) dead, and the two girls are burying them in the backyard (hoping that if they can just make it until Marnie turns 16, she can claim responsibility for her younger sister Nell and the two won’t have to be thrown in the foster care system). It sounds like maybe a funny beginning, but it really is very not funny. Grim and grimy and dark. But one of those books that you can’t put down.

 

 

 

 

lowland6) This one makes the list mostly because I love all of her things. It was a little dark, and little sad, and I’m not quite sure I remember the ending, but I flew through it and still thought Jhumpa Lahiri was a fabulous author at the end of it.  Two brothers growing up in Calcutta are as thick as thieves. The older one, Subhash, is as dutiful a son as any parent could wish for. The younger, Udayan, is always up to something. But such a charmer that no matter what mischief he gets in, he is adored by all who know him. As they grow up, their paths diverge. Subhash travels to America to study, Udayan gets involved in the growing political unrest that threatens to divide their homeland. That’s all I want to say, but there is SO MUCH more to this story.

 

 

 

 

 

The ReadingMoon is Over.

16 Nov

We spent a wonderful week in Tulum, Mexico, getting back late last night. And guess what? We both read A TON. Loren actually read 3 books – 300% more than he’s read in a year and a half! Because the place we were staying didn’t have electricity (don’t worry – it was nice), we found ourselves going to bed soon after it got dark (8pm at the latest), and then waking with the sun around 5am. Since nothing was open until around 8, we had lots of good reading time in the morning. And once it got dark and we were in for the night, we could read on our porch with our headlight/flashlights. So romantic.

So I got through my travel-stack. Turns out I couldn’t wait very long to dig into Where the Moon Isn’t by Nathan Filer.

Where the moon isntI started reading this the Thursday afternoon before we left and by Friday morning, well. One less book to pack. I liked it. Yeah, I liked it. I can see why Mary loved it – it has one of those great, unreliable first person narratives that is just so different and enthralling. Think Room or How to Be a Good Wife. I just like Room  so much better. BUT if you’re in the mood for something with a different voice, and a fast pace, this could be it.  (3 stars)

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This is the one I was excited for – Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson, author of my fav Edenbrooke. I liked it. Yeah, I liked it. But there were times when I thought Kate/Kitty, the heroine, was a bit silly. Not endearing silly, but roll-your-eyes-and-scoff silly. Here is the set up: Kate (trying to get rid of her childhood nickname “Kitty”) has decided that she never wants to marry. Her mother – a great Regency villain of a mother – is furious about this decision, and after Kate turns down an old geezer’s marriage proposal, the mother cancels Kate’s upcoming trip to Blackmoore. Blackmoore is an estate owned by Kate’s best friend’s family and for some reason Kate is ridiculously fixated on visiting it. Kate’s best friend, of course, is a hunky guy named Henry. So, because she is so obsessed with getting to Blackmoore, Kate agrees to a deal proposed by her mother: She can go to Blackmoore, but must receive (and turn down) three marriage proposals. If Kate does so, her mother will agree to her never marrying (and traveling around the world with an aunt). And the story goes from there. I will say that I loved the way it ended, I loved LOVED Henry. This was not a disappointing read, but I rolled my eyes a bit more than at Edenbrooke.                   (4 stars)

Guest on EarthSomething made me stick Lee Smith’s Guests on Earth in my bag. Not sure why, I know that my grandmother has read and loved many of her earlier novels, and this cover is so lovely. But I wasn’t a fan of this one. It seems like Lee Smith has tried to do something different in this novel – different from her others – by revolving it nearly around Zelda Fitzgerald. It’s told through the eyes of a young girl who is admitted to the mental institution that Zelda frequented. The institution where Zelda died in a fire. And it opens with a newspaper clipping about the fire and the deaths it caused. Then there were about 300 pages of a rambly sort of story about the young narrators life, in and out of the institution, in and out of love, running into Zelda now and again. And the fire is brought up again in the final chapter. I had a hard time completely engaging. (3 stars)

CircleI’d been hearing mixed things about Dave Eggers’ newest. Some totally completely loved it, others really really didn’t. Personally, I found it pretty interesting. It is basically about what would happen if one company (in the novel its sort of a mash-up of Google and Facebook) were to take over the world. It’s like the 21st century version of that movie The Net with Sandra Bullock (that I also loved). Except instead of being skeptical of the digitalized take over of the world, like Sandra in that movie, Mae (heroine) is 100% a believer in the product/company. There are a couple of sex scenes in it, but if there weren’t I’d recommend it to my Michael-Crichton-loving cousins.            (3.75 stars)

SomeoneThis was hands down, by far, my favorite read over the readingmoon. Remember Brooklyn by Colm Toibin? I loved that one, and this one is like its less charming but equally as divine sister. It takes place in Brooklyn and is a brilliant scattering of moments from Marie Commeford’s life. It opens when she is 6 or 7 years old, sitting on the front step waiting for her father to return home from work. She wears huge eye glasses and has a blunt haircut – awkward all the way around. I just loved every moment that we got to see. Once I got to know Marie, with her horrible eyesight and quirky personality, I thought she was so perfectly imagined. I think this is also nominated for the Nation Book Award, which Alice McDermott has won previously. (4.5 stars)

FangirlBy the time we reached the Cancun airport for our flight home, I had run through the books I brought. At the Mexican airport, the only books available in English were the books in the Twilight series and some other more contemporary thriller sorts. So I decided to download one on my iPhone – something I typically don’t do. When I was working at Rainy Day, Rainbow Rowell did a teeny tiny event with us for her first book, Attachments. Because she was a first time author and the event was sure to be itsy, I decided to read it. And I really enjoyed it – sort of a silly but wonderfully fun office romance story that made me laugh. Lately, she’s been getting tons of buzz for her YA novel Eleanor & Park (which is now next on my reading list). Fangirl is also YA – and it loved it. It was just the perfect take-me-home book. I got sucked in right away, right after meeting lovable/semi-crazy/totally-nerdy/completely-relatable Cather. The book follows her freshman year in college, navigation her English Writing major, her first love, her relationship with her wildly popular twin sister Wren, her father’s mental health, the mother who abandoned her. Man, it kept me hooked all the way home and through this morning when I finally finished it. Fangirl, the title, comes from the fact that a massive part of Cather’s life is spent writing fanfiction about a Harry Potter-like series about two magically inclined students named Simon and Baz. She posts her stories about these already developed characters and literally tens of thousands of people read them immediately. So on one hand, she is insanely successful. Anonymously. On the other hand, her life has all these sort of uncomfortable issues and she is, publicly, incredibly awkward and a little weird. (3.75 stars)

 

Reading-Moon

7 Nov

Loren and I are leaving tomorrow for our honeymoon, and I have an entire duffel bag of books ready to go. I just have to make a quick stop by the bookstore to get Where The Moon Isn’t, a book my friend Mary (bookseller extraordinaire) has been raving about for a while.

Where the moon isnt

At the very top of my honeymoon stack is Blackmoore by Julie Donaldson. Remember Edenbrooke? It ranked in my top ten last year – a really great regency romance that I was surprised to love. Well, Blackmoore is her new one. And it sounds AMAZING. From what I can remember (it’s not in front of me), it is the story of a headstrong and smart young woman who wants to travel the world and never marry. Her mother tells the young girl/woman that she can do what she pleases, but only after obtaining (and turning down) three marriage proposals. I mean, doesn’t that sound like perfect beach reading?

blackmoore

One thing that did NOT make my honeymoon book bag is Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. I was so excited to dig into this book, and the first parts of it are so good that I thought I’d fly right through it. 350 pages later, I have lost steam. I’m almost (almost) halfway through, and it is the longest story ever. Plus it’s heavy.

goldfinch

I have so many other great things in my bag – hopefully next weekend I’ll be able to post a bunch of things.

One to leave you with for now – one you’ll have to wait a bit for as it doesn’t come out until February 25th – is the new novel by Amy Greene, Long Man. It has been a crazy almost two weeks since the wedding – our house is a disaster, we’ve been to two KU games and a bunch of family things – so my reading time has been sort of haphazard. But I definitely made/found the time to get to Long Man. It was SO GOOD. Parts of it felt like The Cove by Ron Rash, except that it was not exactly a love story. Long Man is the name of the river that runs through an Appalachian town in Tennessee, a town that is set to be flooded in 1936. The novel is three days just before the government-sponsored flood is set to occur – and one stubborn (fairly) young woman refuses to leave. She and her three-year-old daughter are carrying on with their normal routines as the deadline approaches. And then the child disappears. Did she wander off? get swept away by the river? or did the creepy, one-eyed, vagabond snatch her? I was riveted. And nervous, pretty much the whole way through.

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1 Nov

I thought this list by Business Insider was interesting. Interesting that they did “Most Famous” and not “Best,” interesting that John Grisham gets more than one, interesting that they are almost all novels…

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Revolutions and the Sea

24 Sep

Every so often I come across a book that is lovely and quiet. Does that makes sense? The sort of slowly unfolding character drama in which not TOO much actually happens, but reading it is like the perfect almost-fall weather – refreshing, sunny, invigorating. Books that I lump into this category (sort of few and far between) are Burning Marguerite by Elizabeth Inness Brown, Jamesland by Michelle Hunevan and Highest Tide by Jim Lynch.

Jamesland390h      burning marguerite     Tide-210

Susanna Daniel’s Sea Creature has made that list. I loved it – but in a quiet sort of way. It’s the story of a woman named Georgia who moves back to her hometown of Miami with her husband Graham and their 4 year old son, Frankie. They buy a houseboat and dock it in a canal, tethered to the dock in Georgia’s father’s backyard. Slowly things unfold. Graham is plagued by terrible insomnia – parasomnia, actually – that leads to horrible sleepwalking incidents. Not in a funny way, in a sad way. Frankie, once a normal gurgling toddler, has forsaken speech. He communicates using sign language and gestures. Settling in to their new watery digs, Georgia takes a job running errands for a recluse/hermit who lives in a house on stilts in the middle of a quiet canal. His name is Charlie. He’s older. He’s a bit grumpy. He’s also an incredible artist, sketching all things sea-related. As the story evolves, a lovely friendship develops between Charlie and the young Frankie. It was really beautiful. Of course more stuff happens, and things really pick up pace at the end. I have a feeling a lot of why I loved this novel had to do with my mood (relaxing and ready for fall/chillier air). But really. It was good.

Sea Creatures

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I also read two graphic novels about China’s Boxer Rebellion. Not my usual style, but they went so fast and I knew nothing about the Boxer Rebellion. Probably appropriate for Middle School/High School. There are lots of fight scenes. I don’t have much more to say about these. Except to say that the Boxers side of the story was infinitely better, for me, than the Saints side.

boxers-saints-covers

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Reader’s Retreat

16 Sep

This is going to be a jam-packed post! I just walked in the door from the best, most relaxing weekend in Cabo with my sweet cousin/maid of honor. And it was everything I wanted – lounging on the beach, flying through books, laughing. So perfect. And because I’m in that weird post-travel mood that makes sleep seem impossible, I thought I’d just whip up a post. There are so many – the descriptions will be short!

crane wifeThe Crane Wife by Patrick Ness got me most of the way to Cabo. It was the first one I grabbed because I so loved his middle-reader novel The Monster Calls. And this one didn’t disappoint! It reminded me of Jonathan Safran Foer or Vaclav and Lena or maybe even Paul Auster. Basically that just means it felt creative and hip and intricate. Quick overview: George Duncan, American Expat in London, is divorced and lonely and running a print shop. One night, he is awoken by a “keening” coming from his backyard. Upon investigation, he finds it to be coming from an injured crane – a crane with an arrow through its wing. He heals it – it flies off. The next morning, a mysterious woman named Kumiko walks into his print shop, and the two create this sort of amazing duo. Loosely based on the japanese folk tale of the crane wife – I thought it was very good.

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how to be a good

How to Be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman is maybe the only book I’ve ever read where, upon finishing, I’ve thought “That would’ve been much better as a movie.” The blurbs make it out to be comparable to Room or Before I Go to Sleep (by SJ Watson) – and I can see that. It was the perfect thing to breeze through on the beach, a really fast frantic read. Quick synopsis: Marta, our narrator, is dealing with what at first seems to be an extreme case of Empty Nest Syndrome. Her only son Kylan has moved on/out of the house she shares with her husband Hector. Things are complicated as we learn that there are pills she should be taking, and isn’t. And more complicated when she starts to have intense visions of a girl who appears to be abused/in trouble. It’s one of those where you can’t really trust the narrator, but you can’t really trust anyone else.

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bellman&black

AH I was so excited to get my hands on this. The official release date is October 8th, so it’ll be a few weeks before this hits the shelves. And crashes and burns? Maybe not that extreme. There was a huge chunk in the first half that I really liked, but overall I was unimpressed with this long-awaited second novel from Diane Setterfield (following The Thirteenth Tale, which I loved). It reminded me of a not-so-magical In The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruis Zafon. Quick synopsis: Will Bellman seems to have it all – beautiful, loving wife, perfect children, successful career running a mill. But perhaps because of a small, cruel act committed as a child, he is doomed to lose it all. The serious of catastrophes that plague his adult life begin with the appearance of a man in black – a man who begins to haunt Will’s waking thoughts. He makes a deal with the devil, so to speak, and his life is set off on a darkly course. I wanted so much more!

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return

The Return by Michael Gruber is the manliest book I’ve read in a while. If you are looking for a fast, smart, manly book for a husband/brother/father/etc this is a good one to look at. Quick synopsis: Richard Marder finds out that he is dying of cancer. So he buys a camper, cashes out vast amounts of stock profits (that no one knew he had), buys a massive estate in the drug capital of Mexico, and heads south of the border in a camper loaded with guns, ammo and cashola. Along for the ride is an old, sketchy friend from Nam naked Skelly. Chapter by chapter, the reasons behind Marder’s strange journey are exposed. There are lots of gun fights, drug deals, Nam flashbacks and back-stabbings. I’m only giving this 3 stars because it’s just not my kind of a read – but I know some guys who’ve read it and given it 5.

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thursday's in the parkOn the complete opposite end of the spectrum sits Hilary Boyd’s Thursdays in the ParkA huge bestseller in the UK, I was curious about this sweet looking novel. Again, it’s fast. And a perfectly lovely read. It very much reminded me of Jeanne Ray’s Julie and Romeo – a second-chance-at-love story. A woman who has been married for 40 years is struggling to understand her husband. And her son-in-law, and maybe her daughter too. Or maybe they are all just struggling to understand her. Every Thursday afternoon finds her at the park with her sweet granddaughter and one fateful Thursday she meets and befriends a man there with his grandson. And the two strike up a charming relationship across an array of Thursdays, bringing a lot of different issues to a head in her life. I read this one just before my trip – and don’t have it in front of me so am struggling to recall names!

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husband's secretHere is one I really enjoyed. I gave this to my cousin first (because it looks fluffy and she likes that sort of thing for vacation reading, as do I), and she hardly came up for air. Quick synopsis: Cecilia (Tupperware saleslady, most together woman on the block, perfect wife/mother) comes across a letter amidst her husband’s things in the attic that says on the outside of the sealed envelope “For my wife Cecelia, to be read upon my death.” Jean-Paul, her husband, away on business, laughs over the phone when she mentions it to him and tells Cecelia to just throw it away, that it’s an embarrassing love letter he wrote upon the birth of their first daughter. But when he flies home early and frantically searches for it – Cecelia decides to read it. And her life changes! So good! There are two other story lines, the stories of two other women, and all three intersect in such great ways.

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margotMargot is the imagined story of Anne Frank’s sister – had she escaped the concentration camps and made her way to Philadelphia, city of brotherly love. Everyone assumes she died in the camps, and she lives in secret as Margie Franklin, straight-laced secretary for a defense attorney (who always wears sweaters, even in the hot summers, to hide the number tattooed on her arm). I enjoyed this more than I thought I would. With only a vague recollection of Anne Frank’s Diary, I’m sure I was missing out on some things, but I still really enjoyed this late 1950s tale.

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Bobcat-by-Rebecca-Lee

And, last but not least, Bobcat and Other Stories by Rebecca Lee. With only a short flight that needed filling, I opted for this collection of short stories. I’m not a huge short story reader, but have been reading more of late. It was the perfect thing for a bit of a layover and then a flight from Denver. If you like short stories, you should read it. If not – you can probably let this one slide (not like News from Spain, which everyone should read, short-story lover or hater).

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This is probably two much for one post – and if I ever have a reading weekend like this again, I’m going to split it up!

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.

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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.

The PERFECT Summer Book

16 Jul

You know that lovely feeling when you find a book you really like? That’s what I’m feeling right now. Last night, knowing that I had to wake up early (for the gym!), I decided to read just a few pages of A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams. I’ll admit right now that I bought it because the cover reminded me of Tigers in Red Weather, one of my 2012 favorites. Just a few pages, I thought. When I looked up, it as WAY past the time I thought I’d be sleeping and I was halfway through.

hundred summersMy day today was crazy, and every moment I wasn’t talking I was wishing I could sneak off and read some more. I buzzed through my work at home this afternoon hoping that I’d be able to finish it. And I did. I’d call A Hundred Summers a cross between Rules of CivilityTigers in Red Weather and maybe even a little bit of J. Courtney Sullivan’s Maine. To sum up: The PERFECT Summer Book. Here is the story: Sweet, innocent Lucy is entering her senior year at an all girls college. She is shy and awkward-ish and prim. Every summer that she can remember found her summering on the shores of Rhode Island (on a great big summer estate) with her childhood friend Budgie. Budgie is Lily’s roommate now in college, but where Lily is demure Budgie is brazen. She wears tight sweaters and is always running with some boy. Running fast. One weekend Budgie convinces her shy friend to drive up to Dartmouth to see her current beau play in the football game. During the game, Lily catches sight the tall handsome quarterback, Nick Greenwald. Gifted athlete, handsome bloke, Jew. Knowing that falling in love with someone of his religion would blackball her from her family, Lily goes right on ahead. Oh, do they fall in love! Heck, I fell in love with Nick Greenwald. Second chapter, 7 years later: Lily is back at her Rhode Island summer home, chasing after her 7-year-old sister when Budgie (brazenly!) shows up to open her long-emptied family home. Lily, sweet girl, hasn’t set sights on Budgie in seven long years and is nervously anticipating an encounter. Even more nervously anticipating an encounter with Budgie’s husband, one Mr. Nick Greenwald. SHOCKING! But oh it is compulsively readable, and so easy to root for Lily. And there are twists and hurricanes and dramatics the whole way through. Seriously singing the praises of this fun novel (and Aunt Linda, I’m letting you borrow it for your trip!).