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Peanut-Butter Birdseed Pine Cones

26 Nov

At Thanksgiving brunch, I told my 3-year-old nephew I was going to take pine cones, cover them in peanut butter and roll them in birdseed to hang for our birds. That very night, the mother in the book I was reading took pine cones, covered them in peanut butter, rolled them in birdseed and hung them for her birds. This happens to me every now and again and I always take it to mean that I’m reading exactly the book I’m meant to be reading. In this case, it was Idaho by Emily Rustovich (pub date Jan 3 2017).

idaho

When I tell you what it’s about, you’ll wonder WHY IN THE WORLD I’m meant to be reading it at all. But guys, it’s good. It starts with a woman, Ann, and her husband Wade. They live clear up in the mountains in, you guessed it, Idaho. Wade is slowly sinking into dementia, like his father before him, in his mid-forties. We quickly learn that there is tragedy in his past – that Ann is his second wife, trying to suss out the details she wants to know but is afraid to ask. The thing of this novel is that WHAT happened is not the point. The point is Ann, dealing with the not-knowing, Wade, dealing with the forgetting, some of the other characters living with the burden of knowing exactly what did happen. Such a beautifully written story, one that kept me reading and continually impressed. 4 stars

Also: I’m back in the bookstore for the next four Saturdays, 10-2. Expect a blog soon about my top 10 or so books of 2016!

Curative Waters

7 Oct

I have fallen sorely behind in my reading. I’m going to blame it on my 30-day free trial of Netflix (Stranger Things, House of Cards and Orange is the New Black), but in truth I just haven’t picked up a book in a while. My perfect husband came home with two (gift-wrapped) books on Wednesday night and to make him happy I cracked open one and started to read. I cannot even begin to tell you how amazingly perfect News of the World by Paulette Jiles is, but I will try.

newsoftheworld

This might look familiar because it was just short-listed for this year’s National Book Award. I haven’t read any of the others, but if this one doesn’t win I’ll be sad. Firstly, the size of the books is smaller than normal. It’s shorter and squarer and feels so lovely to the touch. And it jumps right into the story – no dilly-dallying, no big huge set up. Captain Kidd, having lived through 3 wars, is looking to ride out his days after the Civil War traveling the frontier and reading the news (as in, booking a hall, charging a dime, and reading news articles out loud to the townsfolk). At one of his stops, the first one we meet him on, he is asked to take a feral-looking girl back home to her relations in San Antonio. Hundreds of miles away. The young girl is Johanna, a 10-year-old who has just been “rescued” from the Kiowa people who had been holding her captive for four years. Captain Kidd is maybe my favorite old man character ever – completely honest and respectable and endearing. And Johanna! A real pistol. I loved reading of their journey in this perfectly packaged novel, loved the way they came to love each other, loved it so much. 5 stars!

Teacher’s Pet

2 Oct

cruel beautiful

Do you know those books you luck into every once in a while that you read in such a fevered frenzy that you look up from and realize that the day has run away from you? That hours have passed and the sun and set and maybe it’s even a new day and you still want to just FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENS? This is one of those. Not terribly literary, or incredibly substantial once it’s been consumed, but man, was it an engrossing read. Here’s the story: 1969, a dashing young English teacher arrives at a high school. Shakes things up with his radical ideas, becomes the object of every school girl crush. Including that of young Lucy Gold. And, shocker of shocks, William (the teacher) falls for her, too. They decide to run off together. AND THEN. What follows is Lucy’s story, plus the story of her sister Charlotte. If you’ve been in a reading rut and need something that you can really sink into, try this. 4 stars.

Sweeping Plots and Lots of LOLs

25 Aug

nix

Nathan Hill’s The Nix reminded me of a mash-up of Garp and Owen Meany – a fresher, funnier John Irving (is that possible??). The general premise is this: A young English professor at a small college realizes that the mother who left him as a child is all over the news for throwing rocks at a polarizing political figure (think Trump). And now, after decades of not knowing where she is or what she’s been doing, the professor must find her and uncover her life’s story. Samuel, our professor, is great. But also great are the oodles of supporting characters. I read the entire 4th chapter out loud to Loren, cry-laughing harder than I had in a long time. I’ll tell you about the 4th chapter just to make sure you go out and pick this up when it comes out on the 30th. Samuel discovers that one of his students has plagiarized 98% of a term paper (the only thing original? her name) and he calls her into his office to let her know that he’s going to fail her. This girl tries every excuse in the books, starting with flat out denial, cruising through arguments like “well, I paid for it, so technically it is MY work,” and ending with a frenzied crescendo (and maybe the longest run on sentence in the history of the novel) covering everything from the stress of college dating to her mother’s impending deathbed. Of course, this ends with buckets of tears. Samuel, whose inner dialogue is hilarious during these attempts, happens to be a sympathy crier. Meaning that any time ANYONE starts crying around him, he becomes a sobbing mess himself. So, here is this girl crying in his office, after plagiarizing an entire term paper, and he finds himself getting read to let loose a giant tearful sob. In his childhood, one of this school counselors offered up the idea that instead of succumbing to tears, he should try to laugh instead. Right when young Laura (I think that was her name) says “….and my mother is DYING” or something to that effect, Samuel blurts out “Ha Ha Ha Ha.”¬† Oh man I was really laughing during this entire encounter. Definitely set me up to love this big, sprawling family tale. If you like John Irving, if you like a big meaty novel (it’s over 600 pages), then this is for you. 5 stars.

Behold the Dreamers, the Schemers.

20 Aug

beholdThis novel is getting all the buzz. The story of an immigrant family hunting down that American Dream in NYC in 2008. The father, Jende, will have your heart from the very moment you meet him in the first chapter. We meet him in a green velour suit (I think…that’s how I remember it) with a clip-on tie nervously sweating through his interview in a big city building. He’s interviewing to become a chauffeur for one of the muckity mucks at Lehman Brothers. Before the crash. Jende and his wife, Clark (the senior exec at Lehman) and his wife Cindy – these are the four characters we follow over the course of a year. One couple scrimping and saving, one couple spending unscrupulously. A lot of people LOVE this book, a lot. I’m not one. I thought it was good – I thought I’d read it or stories like it before. I loved Jende. I just want more Jende. 3 stars.

Gathering Dust

13 Aug

Ok this week – 2 duds and 1 winner. I know some people don’t like reading bad reviews, so those will be brief:

All-the-Bright-Places-jkt

Someone told me this YA novel was this past season’s “Fault in Our Stars.” I loved that one, this All the Bright Places didn’t speak to me so much. It’s about a high school boy who has phases of “being awake” and “being gone.” I’ll not ruin the surprise of the diagnosis – but this one didn’t hit me nearly as hard as Fault in Our Stars. 3 stars

Aug. 2nd, 2016

Eowyn Ivey, author of one of my all time favorites The Snow Child, is back with To the Bright Edge of the World. This was a slow, slow, slow read with minimal plot points. A man goes off into the Alaskan wilderness, leaving behind his pregnant wife. Part adventurer’s journal, part homemaker/birdwatcher’s journal, part description of artifacts. She’s a great writer, it’s just a slow like molasses read. Reminded me of the HBO series¬†Deadwood but without any of the action – just the isolation and sense of settling new territory. 3 stars.

Aug. 9th, 2016

I Will Send Rain caught me from the very beginning. I really loved falling into this dust-bowl tumbleweed of a story. The story revolves around the Bell family, struggling to grow their wheat during the great depression. The dust storms have just started to hit and they’re making everything worse – including young Fred Bell’s asthma. Annie, the mother, finds herself questioning her long ago decision to marry Samuel and move to the godforsaken plains of Oklahoma, Samuel becomes obsessed with his dreams of rain and their teenage daughter Birdie is so busy dreaming of a future somewhere else that she lets the present-day catch her off guard. 4 stars, a fast, entertaining summer read that will have you reaching for a glass of water.

The Boy Who Lived….

5 Aug

HO

Well, wow. If you loved Harry Potter books 1-7, this is a MUST READ. The fact that it is written in play form made me hesitate a little bit, but after I got into the flow…well. It’s Harry Potter. It’s the real deal and it was AWESOME. It made me miss him all over again. Read it slowly! 5 stars.

Livin’ that Reservation Life

31 Jul

larose

For some reason I am always a little hesitant to read Louise Erdrich. Maybe it’s because of the National Book Award, maybe something in her name sounds a little intimidating…I’m not sure. BUT. I always end up loving her. I loved loved her newest, LaRose. Typical to her others, there is a lot of Native American folklore and old tribal stories woven throughout the main plot line. In the opening chapter, a man known to have conquered an addiction problem is out hunting and somehow shoots and kills his neighbor’s 4 year old son. After praying and spending time with his wife in their sweatlodge, he decides to make things right he must give his neighbors his OWN 4 yr old son, to replace the one that he took from them. I know this sounds awful, but reading it wasn’t bad. The story unfolds from this initial bleakness, following both families, the son (LaRose) that they share and also life on the reservation in present day. I thought it was amazing! I wish I had sisters like Josette and Snow, they were a constant source of humor and pure adolescent wisdom. I loved the old ladies, who sat around bickering and swapping scary old tales. All in all, this was a terrific read. 5 stars!

Another Week, Another Duet

27 Jul

I feel like I am tearing through books – something I haven’t felt in a while! Here are the last two:

heat and lightRemember Jennifer Haigh? She wrote one of my Top Ten Litpicks of 2011, Faith. Initially I didn’t know why this one slipped past my radar – but after reading it, I think the reason it slipped past is that it was just okay. It’s about fracking. Fracking. If Jennifer Haigh didn’t hold such a place in my heart, I probably would have skipped it. But I’m glad I didn’t. Think Erin Brockovich and that movie with Matt Damon about drilling on farms. A small farm town is approached by some fast talking slicksters about signing leases that would let a big gas company drill on their lands. Under their lands. Heat and Light is the story of some of those landowners – not so much about the drilling/big-gas-company. There is the hypochondriac of a woman who thinks that the water smells funny and is making her daughter sick (even though the daughter was sick BEFORE the drilling started), the female paster who gets involved with one of the men on the drill crew, the organic dairy farmers who decide to rally when they start losing customers. Overall, I liked it. It was a little long and lacked the big ending that I look for in her novels. 3 stars.

siracusaPerfect summer popcorn. Fast and tense and drowning in dread. Siracusa is the story of two couples, each with their own problems, whose vacation causes everything to unravel. If you are looking for an easy beach read, full of suspense and that great feeling that comes with knowing that SOMETHING BAD is about to happen, this is it! 3.5 stars (would be more stars if I hadn’t guessed the ending!).

 

This Must be the Post.

17 Jul

I had a great reading week! I love it when that happens. Here are the THREE books I read this week, from “liked less” to “loved” to “loved the most.”

dinner

Dinner with Edward was a little bit outside of my ordinary read (it is NON-fiction) and it was fine. An easy afternoon read written by a woman who is a reporter for a tabloid in NYC whose life/marriage is falling apart. She befriends her friend’s father, recently widowed, and the two have dinner together every week or so. I thought it was kind of a bizarre relationship (at one point the old man buys her a dress, picks out her lipstick and tells her how to style her hair) but overall very sweet. Each chapter begins with the menu of what he cooks her for dinner. 2.5 stars

ninewomen

PERFECT beach read for people who like to be swept away and like dramatics. I literally FLEW through this and was sad when it was over. The novel begins with a straight-from-the-country-girl walking in her first NYC fashion show. She is wearing a little black dress designed by Max Hammer. Immediately as she steps on the catwalk, flashbulbs start going off – it is THE dress of the season. From there, we see the Bloomingdale’s sales girl borrow it for a date with the hunkiest movie star, a business man attempt to buy it for his girlfriend, etc etc. The lovely thing was that all of the story lines are charming and they all intersect. If you just want to escape for a minute, not think too hard and enjoy the journey, you should try this. Not every book has to change the world, right? 4.5 stars

this must be

Love. Oh my how I loved it. Let me start by telling you that this cover is VERY misleading. I can only think that it made sense to the publisher because it’s set in Ireland (generic green grass) and one of the characters is briefly nicknamed “Cloud.” Disregard this cover. This Must Be The Place is the wonderful, complex story of a couple living on an isolated farm in Ireland. They live what I considered a charmed life with their two children – romping through hillsides, planting flowers. The mother, Claudette, immediately comes across as the most endearing loon you’ve ever met on the page. Daniel – her husband – charming, handsome and American. And they are perfectly in love, so much fun to read. HOWEVER. They both have some weird things, some dark things, in their pasts and slowly over the course of the novel those things are unearthed. I loved the way this story unfolded, I loved that I was drawn in so entirely and that there were so many characters that won me over (there are so many characters). I loved the way it ended, literally five minutes ago, and that I will go to bed still thinking about them and hoping they’re happy. 5 stars!