Reviews, of books, of course!

Not reviewing doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading. Rather, I don’t feel the need to share everything. Some things I don’t finish (because life’s too short to read something I don’t l0ve), some things I don’t feel like sharing, and of course there are lots of times when I just plain forget. That last one is probably truest when it comes to the lack of reviews in the near-recent past. To make up for it, here’s three seemingly unrelated reviews….

Gangsterland by Tod Goldberg

  • Crime fiction
  • Library hardcover
  • PopSugar Challenge Category:  None

First a disclaimer: I am not normally a reader of crime fiction; I read this book because of Tod Goldberg. I’m a huge fan of Literary Disco, a podcast about books, sort of, and Tod is one of the three co-hosts (the others are Julia Pistell and Rider Strong). I am late to the scene of Literary Discoland, and started at the beginning. I’ve been listening to at least two episodes a week for months and some days I feel like the hosts have taken up residence in my head. I dream about them, I hear their voices in my head when I read. Of course, none of that has a thing to do with Gangsterland…

I was blown away by this book. It’s funny, but not the kind of laugh out loud and have to explain yourself to random people around you funny. I’d say it’s more clever-funny. Just the idea of hiding a hitman from a Chicago crime family in Las Vegas by having him pretend to be a rabbi is cleverly funny. I loved the little details, like that Sal (our main character and hitman), thinks of himself as David as he gets more and more into his new role, but when he makes a call to do some business, he’s Sal again. I liked how he gradually learned that the words he had read to prep to be David had sort of dug themselves into him, and he has started believing them. I loved the in-your-face attitudes of the other family members, the gay informer, the blinged-out funeral director. I loved this book.

I know it seems like I’m all over the place when it comes to reading, and will pretty much recommend books in any genre, but usually I think of books as if you liked this, you’ll like that sort of thing. I have read very little that fits in with Gangsterland so I have no clue how to compare it. But if you like a well-written, clever, sad, funny book that talks about love and finding yourself and losing yourself, you should read this book. And if you want to experience as I did, you should listen to a couple episodes of Literary Disco first so the narrator in your head will be Tod Goldberg. It made the experience that much better for me.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

  • Self-Help
  • Library e-book
  • PopSugar Challenge Category:  A book that made you cry

I’m not sure I agree with the genre on this one, either. There should be a single word that describes writing that is lyrical with being music, poetic but not poetry, heart-wrenching, life-affirming, gorgeous, beautiful, fulfilling, and brutally honest. I’m sure it can’t be its own genre, though, because only this book would fit into it.

This book is a collection of advice columns written by Cheryl Strayed under the pseudonym Sugar for The Rumpus. On a totally unrelated side note, The Rumpus is blocked at work. Considering the guys who determine what’s blocked and what isn’t, I have to assume they think “rumpus” = “rump,” a conclusion that would annoy my grandmother who actually had a rumpus room that had absolutely nothing to do with read ends. Anyway! Cheryl Strayed, in a nutshell, writes like I only wish I could. She’s got some sort of magical thrall-like control over words and no matter how negative the subject she’s talking about (rape, incest, alcoholism, etc) her words are still achingly beautiful.

I’m planning to produce a top ten this year, and this book is definitely on it. Considering how many really good books I’m reading, that’s a big old compliment from one lowly reader, especially one who prefers fiction. I feel like Cheryl Strayed gave me a gift of my own, personal, tiny beautiful things: all those tears she made me cry.

A Slipping-Down Life by Anne Tyler

  • Modern Literature/Coming of Age
  • Library e-book
  • PopSugar Challenge Category: A book that came out the year you were born

This is a book I could put into two categories: it’s Anne Tyler’s first book and it was published in 1969 (and now you know how old I am!). I’m sticking with the second one.

I accidentally skimmed a couple Goodreads reviews before I read this book, something I try not to do. I would rather go into a book fresh and not spoiled by other people’s opinions. It seemed like people didn’t love this as much as Anne Tyler’s other books. I do not agree.

The story is a little odd, or maybe the main character is, I’m not really sure which. Evie Decker is a junior in high school in the late 60’s. She lives with her father (her mother died in childbirth) in an aging neighborhood in Baltimore. Her father is a teacher in the school that she attends. She has one friend who is described as hugely fat (although later in the book we discover her actual weight, and it’s not all that bad). She develops this weird sort of star-struck crush on Drumstrings Casey, who plays his guitar music at a local bar. And then things go straight to hell.

Anne Tyler paints an interesting picture of a case of mild crazy that can result from living as a very sheltered and very shy girl. She also describes everything so well that I could very well imagine myself in Evie’s dusty house, sitting at a crowded table in the roadhouse, in the tar-papered shack outside of town. I felt for Evie, maybe even understood her just a bit, although I promise I would never do the things she did. But at the end, the causes behind her actions didn’t matter. I simply wanted her to succeed. And I was pretty pleased the Anne Tyler did not wrap the ending all up in a pretty little package and hand it to us. She left us hanging, and gave me some space to think about how it could go.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s on the heavier side, definitely not a beach read, but it is totally worth reading. It’s not a love story, it’s more of a life story. A slipping-down life story. 🙂

If you’re still with me…

I said these three books are seemingly unrelated, but there’s actually a common thread for me. All of them were read because I learned about them on a podcast. The very lovely Tracie and Barb of 2KnitLitChicks did an episode on Anne Tyler that led me to start reading her books, and as a relatively new Marylander I am a bit ashamed that some Cali chicks had to point me to the magic that is Ms. Tyler. Cheryl Strayed is an oft-cited author on Literary Disco – she’s one of their go-to authors when they’re trying to explain the right way to do non-fiction. And, of course, Tod Goldberg is a very obvious podcast tie-in. Podcasts = awesome, mkay?

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A post! About books! YES!

For your reading pleasure, a Five in One book review!

A Wrinkle in Time Quintet by Madeleine L’Engle

  • YA Fantasy
  • Paperback box set, gift from my sweet husband
  • PopSugar Challenge Category: A book from childhood

Overall: I think the books were out of order, and sometimes things weren’t carried forward accurately (something you’d not notice if you didn’t consume them one after the other like they are a giant Hershey bar and you’re premenstrual). There’s lots of religion – it’s a common theme through the whole series. It gets annoying at times, but mostly I was left with a feeling the Madeleine L’Engle did an excellent job of balancing faith and science. I have loved these characters since I was in fourth or fifth grade and yes, they stand the test of time. I’m really glad I re-read (or read for the first time in two cases) the series. Totally worth it.

Book 1: A Wrinkle in Time

Summary: Meg and Charles Wallace Murry, brother and sister, team up with their new friend Calvin O’Keefe and three very interesting ladies to save the world, or at least a small part of the world. Using a technology called “tesseract,” which is basically combining space and time in your head to get to the fifth dimension, they move through space to rescue their dad from a communist-type world that has succumbed to the darkness.

This is, bar none, my favorite book from my childhood. I love the idea of kids who aren’t “normal” doing amazing things, taking risks, going far above and beyond. I love the science fiction combined and fantasy combination that L’Engle has going on here. This book is also the start of many (not just the ones in this quintet) that she uses to show a sort of balance of faith and science. The overall theme is one of a battle between light and dark, which could also be good and evil. I also love the characters, especially Aunt Beast. She’s featured in my dreams since I first read this (I think I was ten).

The sheer goodness of this book: the writing, the fact that Meg as the central character is real enough to throw temper tantrums, the descriptions of the planets they visit and their three helpers – none of these have paled with my maturity or with my numerous readings of this book. I find the references definitely dated now and am less enthused by the more faith-based aspects of the book, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a good story, with writing that’s far above what you might otherwise get in a YA book.

Book 2: A Wind in the Door

Summary: Charles Wallace is very ill. With the help of a cherubim, Meg and Calvin along with the much-maligned elementary school principal Mr. Jenkins, do a little inner-space exploration to try to make him better. This will, in turn, help to balance darkness and lightness again. Because Charles Wallace is just that important.

I’m guessing this is the second or third time I’ve read this book. It’s good, but it’s no Wrinkle in Time. I love the idea of them going inside Charles Wallace’s cells, and I love the science of it all (of course!). I also love that the fate of the entire world – heck, the UNIVERSE, is once again in the hands of a bunch of kids. Well, plus a grumpy principal. There are some scenes that stick out for me, for now anyway: Mr. Jenkins splitting into three and the farandolae dancing like dervishes are my favorites. What I don’t like about this one is the even more heavy-handed religious overtones. As I was reading it, I kept thinking cut that out already. Little did I know what was awaiting me….

Book 3: A Swiftly Tilting Planet

Summary: Mr. Murray gets a call from the President that the leader of a small, south American country has somehow obtained a nuclear warhead and is planning to start World War III. Charles Wallace, along with a friendly unicorn, must travel through time, making subtle changes in the past that will make incremental changes that will, in current time, stop the madman with the bomb.

This is the first in the quintet that I’d never read before. I LOVED it. Again, religion and faith. Again, darkness and lightness and angels and evil. But! What a fascinating story. It’s the first time that the tesseract is used to travel in time and not space, so that’s an awesome carryover from the first two books. It also relies heavily on what the call “kything” which is sort of like mind-reading but not quite. I loved the places (times) that CW visited – the descriptions were amazing. I just loved this book. The reason I didn’t read it before is when I was on my L’Engle kick many years ago, it was Meg I was following. I read everything with her in it so this one was skipped.

Some other awesome stuff: Characters that continue through the timeline and pop up in different forms. A unicorn with sass. Time travel. It was easier to stomach the faith stuff because I could put it in perspective for the times he visited. Plus it’s about time CW got to be the hero. What I didn’t like: no Calvin!

Book 4: Many Waters

Summary: For the first time ever, the normal middle sibling twins in the Murry family, Sandy and Dennys, get in on the action. While poking around their dad’s computer, they click something and are whisked way back in time. They hang out with Noah and his family and get to experience the very beginning of humans choosing dark over light.

This was another in the quintet that I’d never read and, like the last one, I found it simply amazing. There weren’t faith overtones here, there was straight up religion, of course. It’s a retelling of a Bible story, after all. And it’s a fascinatingly good retelling. I loved getting to “know” the normally overlooked Murry twins. I loved the angels who hang out with the people. I loved the relationships that the faithful had with their God. I found myself feeling that if such a pure and sweet religion existed today, I might find my way back to it. But the story is one that might be echoing forward to today: people screwed it all up so God shook things up like an etch-a-sketch and started it all over.

They should have left the cockroaches behind.

I found parallels to Eve by Elissa Elliott, a book I read earlier this year. There’s something I find rather enjoyable about the retelling of a familiar story in a new and interesting way. In this go-round of L’Engle’s books, this one was my favorite.

Book 5: An Acceptable Time

Summary: Meg and Calvin’s daughter Polly has been sent to live with her grandparents in New England, and finds herself in a bit of a precarious situation when she follows a family friend through a time portal into prehistory. Once there, she wants to help a friend and save herself at the same time.

Another time traveler! I’d read this before, a few times, and still love it. I’ve been wracking my brain trying to remember why Polly was sent to live with the Murrys, and drawing a blank. Maybe I should go back and read the other Meg books? Or maybe I should give YA a break for a bit?

Anyway! There’s whining! A LOT of whining! There’s smart girls, saving the entire universe! There’s the Murrys as grandparents, and in a much more central role than in the other books. There’s bunsen burner stew, tesseract as traps, fantasy, and haunted swimming pools! Pretty mush a whole lotta awesome packed into one little book, right?

Currently reading

  • The Odyssey by Homer (for school – a really good translation
  • Allegiant by Veronica Roth (book 3 in the Divergent series, and YA, right?)
  • An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfied Jamison (mostly hibernating)

On Deck

I honestly have no clue what I’m going to read next. I have some stacked up on my Kindle from the library and BookBub, and a pile of “real” books yet to get through from a recent shopping frenzy. So many choices!

What shall we talk about today?

Hmmm? How ’bout books?

But first, let me complain a tee-tiny bit about flu shots. Yes, my sister the nurse told me they are a waste of time, but I’m more of a show me than a tell me kind of gal and my empirical evidence was proving that they do work. I’ve had one every year since somewhere in the 90’s and have not had the flu in all that time. And then. When it’s not even really flu season (hello, it’s springtime!), I go and get the flu. There was the fever that I could get under 100 for a couple hours but would pop right back up. There were aches all over my body; it hurt so badly that I couldn’t sleep. There was the headache that felt like someone was slowly driving railroad spikes into my skull. That was the first 36-48 hours. Then came the four days of exhaustion, having to nap three or four times a day, getting out of breath going from the sofa to the kitchen in our very small house. Thankfully the headache backed off a bit and I could do some reading while I was trapped on the couch.

And read I did. I’ve only got a couple reviews because I only finished two that I’m going to discuss in detail, but I’ve actually read several more. I occasionally get myself on a chick lit kick (and like many others have noted, chick lit is a horrible name for a genre) and am on one now. I’ve pulled down a few yummies on BookBub and have been reading my eyes out, or something like that. I actually read three entire books and part of a fourth on Friday. It’s crazy, right? The whole light-hearted sort of let’s all be girlfriends and drink some wine and giggle thing is a real palette cleanser when I stick a bunch of them between books that win Pulitzer Prizes and classics and the like.

Reading will slow down again now, though. I am feeling 100% better. I did yard work with Wayne this morning. I am leaving as soon as I post this for knitting group. I expect I’ll be catching up on housework after group. Reading will get back-burnered for a while.

Anyhoo! How ’bout those reviews?

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

  • Classic Literature
  • Kindle e-book, free classics
  • PopSugar Challenge Category:  A book with a color in the title

What a sweetly moralistic little read this was! It tells the story of a young woman (18 at the beginning of the book) named Agnes. She’s the baby of the family, her mother and older sister try their best to spoil her despite the fact that their father is nearly destitute and is slowly dying. The mother decides it’s a great idea for Mary, the sister, to try to sell her lovely little watercolors to try to make some money for her own needs, Agnes announces that she would also like to contribute. After much poo-pooing, everyone finally agrees to  her try her hand at being a governess.

And then all hell breaks loose.

Agnes makes it through almost a year at the first house before she’s sent home with her tail between her legs. And no, she’s not at all saddened by that because she was trying to teach a small army of monsters. She stays a bit longer at the second house, where her charges are older but no less nasty. Through her first-person narrative, Bronte does a great job of pointing out the no-mans-land inhabited by folks like governesses and tutors: not as low as servants, not as high as family, stuck in a place where they really have no one in whom to confide, no one to befriend.

Agnes, through it all, sticks to her upbringing and stays kind and wholesome. Despite what I found to be close to abuse (and a whole lot of it – I would have spat in at least three faces and packed my shit long before Agnes), she is sweet and loving, always. And the ending was quite satisfying to me, especially when compared to what I feel are contemporaries to this novel (all of Austen’s work, Jane Eyre – Anne’s sister Charlotte’s most popular work, etc). I like a happy ending, what can I say?

I find myself sometimes struggling with the classics, but this book was no sort of struggle at all. It was a light and easy read, the language was accessible, and the story was worth my time. I recommend it for anyone who loves a little history and a little romance.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

  • Modern Literature
  • Library e-book
  • PopSugar Challenge Category:  A Pulitzer Prize winning book

Whoa this book was AWESOME. It left me with a series of word impressions, and that might be the best way for me to share it with you:

  • Gritty
  • Horrible, but very correct, language
  • Mojo, more bad than good
  • Poverty
  • New Jersey
  • Sex, both too much and not enough

This is the first Junot Diaz I’ve read, and I have no idea why. His writing style is unique, hard, dirty, and just plain amazing. The narrator’s voice (actually narrators’ voices) are so clear and so well-done that I could see Yunior in my head, I could hear him telling his story in his own voice with his own cadences. The characters were so well-developed that I found myself looking for Lola at the orthodontist’s office, for Oscar at the library, for Yunior at Giant.

I’m not going to review because I cannot do it the justice that it deserves. I am going to say I can see why it won the Pulitzer. I think of the idea that the work should express something that is uniquely American, that speaks to our culture and our shared way of life – Oscar Wao fits that mold to a T. This is the second Pulitzer Prize winner I’ve read since I started the reading challenge and I’m thinking that my next challenge is going to be to read every Pulitzer Prize winner (fiction, at least, and possibly drama too).

I am very, very glad I read this book. It’s wonderful on a whole different level than a lot of things I read. If you can abide the use of the “f” word, you need to read it. If you can’t abide it, read it anyway and just chalk it up to realistic language. You’ll not regret it.

In Progress:

On Deck:

On Books and Whatnot

I’d like to pretend I’ve been terribly busy, too busy to post, but that’s not true. What’s closer to, and a better explanation of, what’s been going on is an odd combination of laziness and springtime. Sun is shining, flowers are blooming, birds are singing, and I want to be out there with them, not hunched over a keyboard. All of that blooming and budding and frenzy of life out there also does a number on my allergies, leading to headaches that stagger me and leave me stretched out on the couch, unable to do much more than sleep.

But it’s Monday, the first day of a new work week. I slept pretty well last night. The headache is, if not vanquished, at least crouching off to the side for a bit. And I feel like sharing.

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

  • YA Distopian
  • Library e-book
  • PopSugar Challenge Category:  A book that became a movie

I read Divergent a while ago and loved it, which means one of two things would happen with Insurgent – it would be terrific or I would hate it.

I most certainly did not hate this book. I was Kindle-in-bed-at-midnight with this book. I was peering-around-the-shower-curtain with this book.

I wish it was about 200 times as long, but I get that it’s YA so it can’t be 200 times as long. And I’m cool with that, I suppose. And even though it’s not at all fair, I can’t help but compare this series to some others I’ve read. If I could put each series on a ladder, these would be on the second-to-the-top rung (I haven’t read the last book yet, so I can’t put it at the very top). The Uglies would be half a step down. Artemis Fowl would be a full step down. Harry Potter would be on a different ladder. The Dark is Rising would be on the roof, about three feet above the ladder. Twilight would be in a hole, deep down, under the ladder.

So in order of worst to best:

  • Twilight (please)
  • Artemis Fowl
  • The Uglies
  • Divergent
  • The Dark is Rising

I really do enjoy YA adventure series, as you can see. There’s a bunch that I haven’t read yet (Cinder is definitely on my list, for example, and I need to finish Divergent, and I want to read The Dark is Rising again). I’m glad that this particular series is holding up, though, and can hardly wait for it to be my turn to get the library book.

My advice: Get all three of the books and then read them. The only thing that disappointed me about Insurgent was that I didn’t have Allegiant in my hot little hands to read immediately.

Jenny Pox by J.L. Bryan

  • YA Paranormal
  • Kindle e-book, free from BookBub
  • PopSugar Challenge Category: A book set in high school

Jenny Pox is a self-published book that masquerades as YA but is really geared towards an older reading population. The general plot: Jenny was born with some sort of condition that causes anyone who touches her to grow nasty, plague-like sores. If she holds on, the other person dies. She killed her mom, the doctor, and the nurses when she was born. She’s spent her whole life living in the woods outside a small town in North Carolina with her alcoholic dad, and when she leaves their small and dirty house, she dresses so that everything, including her hands, is covered.

Enter her dastardly villain of an enemy, Ashleigh. Ashleigh is a beautiful and popular girl who has a power of her own. She also is the girlfriend of the most eligible boy in their small town. To get a good image of Ashleigh, imagine what would happen if Regina George (had Plastic in Mean Girls) and Heather Duke (lead evil Heather in the Heathers) melded into one horribly popular bitch, who then produced a kid with Satan. That kid would be about 25% as horrid as Ashleigh.

And then there’s Ashleigh’s boyfriend Seth, who also has a power. His power is the opposite of Jenny’s and he is the only person she can safely touch. Of course she immediately falls in love with him. At first she sort of lets herself be mowed down by Ashleigh, but then she puts on her Big Girl Panties and commences to fight back.

I love the idea of this book, and some of it really pulled me right in. I was especially pleased with the bits that talked about people unleashing their powers – those were particularly interested. What I didn’t like was what I feel was a lack of good editing, which is a common issue with self-published books. The story is really great and the voice is decent, but the writing is sometimes drawn out and repetitive, and I stumbled over more than one mistake. I know how hard it is to self-edit (believe me, I really do) so I’m not slamming the author, rather I would hope that he could get picked up by a publisher and perhaps get set up with a terrific editor.

My recommendation: if you have a ton of patience for something that is sometimes a slog (and not really a positive one), and you LOVE gore (I do, sometimes), read this book. Otherwise, give it a pass.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

  • Mystery
  • Hard cover, library check-out
  • PopSugar Challenge Category:  A book written by someone under 30

I thought this one would be coming of age, but it turned out to be a rather delightful mystery. The narrator, Blue van Meer, is a freshman in college, telling the story of what happened during her senior year in high school. There are deaths, bumbling police officers, cliques, bad teachers, and bullies. There are twists and surprises and love stories and “a-ha” moments. Blue is funny, witty, and often wry; who is still often ruled by the same crushes and vanities that every other teen is plagued with, despite her rather odd upbringing.

Folks, I loved this book. Pessl writes it in such a newly refreshing manner: making Blue a total egghead who is supposedly writing her memoir, complete with in-text citations and a LOT of supporting information. I wonder, still, if all of Blue’s sources were real or if some were made up, but it wouldn’t matter to me one way or the other. It’s a fabulous read, devourable despite its length.

I would think even people who don’t like a good mystery (crazy talk, right?) would enjoy this book. It’s just plain fun to read. My advice: go for it!

Currently Reading:

On Deck:

It’s been a banner week – THREE great books!

I’m at the end of a week of reading a bunch of stuff that didn’t suck. It’s awesome when that happens, you guys. Everything this week has been well-written and masterfully crafted. I love weeks like this.

Two of this week’s books cover the same time period: The Falls and Breathing Lessons both take a look at a life from the mid-fifties  to the late seventies. The Falls covers that time period as it happens (in the confines of the story) and Breathing Lessons covers it in memories and flashbacks and it’s interesting to me to consider both the similarities and the differences between the two. My takeaway from that little exercise: people from Maryland are normal and people from New York are whack.

And with that, onto the reviews!

The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates

  • Modern literature
  • Kindle e-book, borrowed from library
  • PopSugar Challenge Category:  A book set somewhere that you’ve always wanted to visit

I chose this book because I’ve dreamed of Niagara Falls for what feels like my whole life. I imagine the noise, the mist, the drama and majesty. I think about people throwing themselves into that turmoil, knowing that they won’t make it out alive. How much braver is that than simply jumping from a bridge? The drama, beauty, and sheer awesomeness of it make it show up regularly in my dreams. I’ve even wondered if actually experiencing it would cheapen the dream.

Reading this book added a new lens through which I can view the Falls. The story follows the life of Ariah, a Protestent minister’s daughter from Troy, New York. She’s on her honeymoon in the fifties, she’s twenty-nine years old and has married so late in life (for her time and culture) that she knows nothing about her new husband, and so is blind-sided by him throwing himself over the railing and into the Falls on their first morning as husband and wife. This even sets the stage for everything that follows: her second marriage to a well-known and respected Niagara Falls attorney, her life as a member of upper-class Falls society, her three children, her fall back to where she came from, so to speak. We follow her up to 1979, and view her from her childrens’ perspectives, and see how their lives have been shaped by her personality and her choices.

I did not like Ariah as a character, and I would not have wanted to be a friend of hers. I did not like the way she behaved, the choices that she made, her interactions with her children. I didn’t notice until I’d finished, though, that I found her so very unlikeable. I’m reminded of several discussions I’ve heard on podcasts about unlikeable characters and how some readers won’t read books that focus on people we just cannot root for. In Ariah’s case, I could root for the people around her and I could become absorbed in this awesome story of how man can mess stuff up.

A large part of the narrative talks about Love Canal and the effect it had on the region. In retrospect, I’d have to say that Oates did a tremendously good job of weaving fictional lives into the truth of Love Canal. It reminded me a bit of Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver in that both books talk about a serious environmental issue that is directly caused by human negligence or ignorance or downright assholishness, but they come at these issues through the carefully woven and well-developed points of view of very fictional characters. This is the first Joyce

Carol Oates I’ve read so I can’t say if environmentalism is a common theme in her works or if this is a one-off for her, but it definitely works well here. I wonder if she used the characters to tell the story of Love Canal, or if Love Canal made the perfect historical setting for the characters that had already created themselves. Either way, it worked.

I say read The Falls if you like taking a different look at an historical event, if you like characters that are so well-developed that you want to find out what happens even though you kind of hate them, or if you simply want a good and engaging read. It’s worth it.

Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler

  • Modern literature
  • Paperback, library check-out
  • PopSugar Challenge Category: A Pulitzer Prize-winning book

Oh man, what a great book. I’ve been encouraged to read Anne Tyler, both because she’s an awesome writer and because she’s a fellow Marylander, but this is the first of her books I’ve ever read. That Pulitzer was extremely well-warranted.

Breathing Lessons is a look at a single day in the lives of married couple Maggie and Ira Moran, from Baltimore Maryland. They’re on a road trip to some little town just across the line in Pennsylvania for the funeral of Maggie’s best friend Serena’s husband. Through a series of events and flashbacks, we get a look deep inside of their lives both as individuals and as half of a couple who are well into their second decade together.

Maggie and Ira’s personalities, behaviors, and interactions are as much a part of the plot as anything else. I glanced through an interview at the end of the book and Tyler said that she’s not much of an action writer, and I agree based on this book alone. It all unfolds through conversations and memories and there is almost no action. The few places where setting is used to convey the story are few and far between, and are so well-written that each one packed a punch I am still remembering – the description of Maggie’s hand trailing across the privet hedge, the view down the two streets in the town where Serena lived with her husband, the bubbling up of Coke out of a bottle that wasn’t held quite still – all beautiful, evoking feelings layered on top of clear visuals.

I’m pretty sure that the thing that will stay with me the longest was the conversation Maggie had with her mother about Fiona, the 17 year-old bride of Maggie’s 18 year-old son. The mother claims that Fiona isn’t even from Baltimore – she’s such an outsider that she can’t even pronounce Wicomico – she says “Weeko-meeko” instead. We live in Wicomico county and this is such a random and true fact that it cracked me up (It’s pronounced why-com-ih-coe, if you’re curious).

If I was one to use stars, this book would get five out of five. There is nothing I didn’t love about it. The characters are so well-developed that I feel like they’re relatives, the setting is perfect for the story (an open country road, occasionally dotted with farms and tiny crossroads-towns is the perfect place to delve into your memories, especially if you’re not driving), and the arc is incredibly well-done considering the story only covers twenty-four hours. I’ll be looking for every single book she’s written.

I’ll be redundant and give my recommendation: READ IT.

A Separate Peace by John Knowles

  • Coming of age
  • Paperback, library book (YA section)
  • PopSugar category: A banned book

I’ve heard, more times than a few, comparisons between A Separate Peace and The Catcher in the Rye. Since I  read Catcher so recently, I found those comparisons in the front of my mind as I went into A Separate Peace. I found obvious similarities in setting (a boy’s boarding school in New England), voice (both are narrated by a boy in high school), and war as a sub-theme (Catcher is set just after World War I and Peace during World War II). Yes, it would be easy to call them similar based on those things.But there are more differences than similarities.

Although Gene has been with his class at Devon, he’s a bit of an outsider because he’s not a native New Englander. We never find out where he’s from, except that it’s south, but not as far south as he sometimes pretends (my guess would be Maryland or Virginia – not that it matters). He’s smart and intellectually driven. His roommate Phineas, or Finny, is from Boston and is Gene’s opposite and many ways. Finny is graceful and athletic, the frequent descriptions of how he moves and how he occupies space are sheer poetry. Finny is popular and a born leader, is irreverent and a natural storyteller, is unconsciously aware of his ability to enchant all around him. And because of the sort of person that he is, he chooses outsider brainiac Gene as his best friend.

Of course, things go awry. Gene is all but eaten up with jealousy of Finny and is at an age where he doesn’t really understand what he’s feeling or why. He lets the feelings rule, though, and does something that will touch him for the rest of his life. In fact, the story that we’re told is a much older Gene’s memories of what happened, memories brought to the surface by a visit to the school when he’s much older.

I’ve commented before on the fact that I keep reading books set in World War II. I get that as a device; it’s so multi-faceted and well-documented that it’s a great go-to. But where some books I’ve read use the war as a sort of scapegoat, easy out, others weave it in so well that it is a natural part of the narrative. A Separate Peace is the second type. I was left with the feeling that such things could only happen in that atmosphere; in a school that should have honored academics above all else, Devon was focusing on creating soldiers and making athletic ability king.

If you’re like me and were never assigned this book to read in school, you should really check it out. It’s more a look at jealousy and the darker side of adolescence than historical fiction. It reads smoothly and quickly and the ending is not what you’d expect it to be. Don’t pay any attention to the naysayers who claim that the book was irrelevant when it was published and is even more so now – jealousy is not something that ceased to exist with the coming of the 21st century.
Currently Reading 

  • Jenny Pox by J.L. Bryan
  • Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

On Deck

  • The Wrinkle in Time Quintet by Madeleine L’Engle
  • An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison

There’s been some reading going on up in here

Spring Break meant lots of reading…

Autobiography of a Pocket Handkerchief by James Fenimore Cooper

  • Classic literature
  • Kindle e-book, free from the classics section
  • PopSugar Challenge Category:  A book more than 100 years old

I was going to start out by saying that this is the first time I’ve read anything by James Fenimore Cooper, but then I remembered that he wrote The Last of the Mohicans – hasn’t everyone read that?

This was a cute, funny, odd little book. It’s told from the first person point of view of a handkerchief in a stretch of anthropomorphism greater than any I’ve seen before. The handkerchief, through some sort of hanky osmosis, absorbs things that happen around it and is then able to comment on such things as society and relationships. Although pocket handkerchiefs are asexual by nature, this one leans more toward the female side because it’s all lace-edged and whatnot. Quite a piece of artistry, if it does say so itself (and it does, many times).

In all, this was an interesting tongue-in-cheek way to give an insider’s look at both Paris and New York society in the early 1800s. I found many parallels to Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence, which is set nearly 100 years in the future from the handkerchief’s New York society; it seems a whole lot of nothing changed between Cooper’s and Wharton’s New Yorks. I think I may need to read Gatsby again now to sort of close the loop.

My advice: take a look at this one. It’s short, unlike the “typical” classic novel, and it’s really funny. Cooper is a master of sarcasm.

Back Roads by Tawni O’Dell

  • Coming of Age
  • Hard cover (from a library book sale)
  • PopSugar Challenge Category: A book at the bottom of your reading list

Wow. Freaky, weird, insane, surprising… you get the point. I think this is one of those books that made it onto my reading list thanks to Oprah, and I can see why now that I’ve finished it. It’s whack, and I totally did not even close to guess what was coming at the end.

The story is told from the point of view of Harley, a guy who was 18 and fresh out of high school when his mom shot his dad to death in the kitchen of their little house in the hills of western Pennsylvania. He agrees to become the guardian of his three younger sisters and goes from a guy trying to figure out what to do with his life to an adult with major responsibilities overnight. Of course, shenanigans follow, some of them just plain crazy.

I found this book to be well-written to the point that it was compelling. I normally read more than one book at a time and had four in progress when I was reading Back Roads; I had to put the rest of them aside to read this. I stayed up late reading it. I was five minutes late to work because I picked it up in the morning. Yes, it was really like that. However, not being able to put it down doesn’t automatically put it into the category of lifetime-memorable. I’m pretty sure it won’t be one of those books that stick with me, in other words.

Oprah really likes books with twisty endings. I do, too, but this one was way twistier than typical. My recommendation: read it for the ending.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

  • Classic – Romance
  • Paperback
  • PopSugar Challenge Category: A book with bad reviews

This is another of those classics that totally slipped past me when I was younger, and I’m glad it did. There’s no way that 15 or 20 or 30 year-old me would have understood and appreciated it like 45 year-old me does. Because it’s a classic, it’s been reviewed countless times and I don’t think I have anything to add on that front, so instead of a review I’ll tell how I came to read it.

I got the idea in my head a while ago, perhaps last summer or the summer before, time sort of runs together anymore, that I needed to attempt to read Dickens. Please don’t ask why, I can’t explain it. It was sort of this thing where I was thinking about all of the times in high school when I sort of scooted off to the bookstore and spent my hard-earned dollars on SparkNotes (remember when you had to actually buy them in book form?) so that I could have more time for other stuff, like making pizzas and therefore money, or studying for the classes where I was tested and not graded on my writing ability. I skipped a couple Dickens assignments and some sort of adult moralism that’s popped up, pretty much unwelcomed, started creeping into my middle-aged mind and telling me that I needed to actually experience these classics.

This newfound literary moralism happened to coincide with a period where my youngest step-daughter was in a reading phase. I can’t say enough about how important reading is to me, and how much I want to encourage a love of reading whenever I can. When the Squirrel asked for books, in other words, I was a willing accomplice with a credit card. So there I was in Barnes and Noble. She was in the YA section and I was standing in front of a display of Barnes and Noble-published classics that were, for a limited time only, buy one get one free. Right in front of me was “Great Expectations,” and that inner voice talked me into picking it up. Of course, another needed to be chosen to finish off the deal, right? I passed over books that I’ve read and loved; no Austen or Hemingway or Fitzgerald for me, thank you very much, and selected a volume titled “The Awakening and Selected Short Stories,” realizing I had never even heard of Kate Chopin before.

Fast-forward to about a month ago. I was trying to fill in slots on my reading challenge and Googled “classics with bad reviews,” and to my surprise there was “The Awakening,” which was sitting on the shelf waiting for some love. I penciled it in and went about my life. I found myself between library books not long ago – I mostly only check out e-books and was waiting for some to become available – and I picked the book up and started to read. I put it down a couple times when library books came up, since I own it and can go back to it whenever. Once I got to about the middle (if you’ve read it, the part when the family goes back to the city), I was no longer able to put it down. I find it hard to believe that this book, this very racy book that was written by a woman, was actually published in 1899. It is so good. The story amazed me, and the ending almost made me cry. I felt what Edna, the main character, felt. I find myself now wanting to retell the story in a modern setting. And the phrase “think of the children” is bouncing around my head like a ping pong ball on crack.

In a nutshell, if you’ve not read this book, read it. You won’t regret it.

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

  • Historical fiction
  • Recommended by Barb from the 2KnitLitChicks podcast, library e-book
  • PopSugar category: A book a friend recommended

I read a lot of books set in or during wars, and WWII is by far the most popular. The Postmistress by Sarah Blake is one of these. It’s the story of three women: Emma, a small town doctor’s bride; Iris, the postmaster in that same small town; and Frankie, a war correspondent for CBS. Through some maneuvering and coincidences, their paths end up crossing and twisting together in not unexpected ways.

I skimmed some of the reviews on Goodreads and they seem to be universally terrific or terrible, with not much middle ground. I’m firmly in the middle on this one. The writing is quite good. I could see the research that went into creating the character of Frankie and the London blitz scenes, which were the best parts (however, they in no way compare to the same scenes as described in Life After Life). I found I sort of liked Frankie and rooted for her and wanted to really get to the bones of her story, but that wasn’t in the cards. I also had to read about the two-dimensional characters back in Franklin, Massachusetts.

Emma, the weeping childlike bride, has lived alone her whole life but is incapable of living alone after her husband goes to war. Iris, the postmaster, is some sort of letter-sorting automaton – when she does things outside of the established bounds of her character’s two-dimensions, she actually comments that what she is doing isn’t in her character.

I think I would really enjoy the story of Frankie, female war correspondent, living in London during the blitz and then traveling occupied Europe on a press pass. It’s unfortunate that Emma and Iris had to be a part of it at all.

I’d say this is worth a read if you’re looking for a quick read that’s pretty well-written, but if you want a story that you can love, choose something else.

Currently Reading:

  • A Separate Peace by John Knowles
  • The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates
  • Jenny Pox by J.L. Bryan

On Deck:

  • Breathing Lessons by
  • Special Topics in Calamity Physics by
  • Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

Ye Olde Weekly Book Post

It’s been a week. There were a few times when I didn’t feel like reading (gasp) so .my word consumption is down a bit. I also found my way to BookBub – a friend pointed me in that direction, and in the odd way that the world is full of coincidences, I saw it mentioned in an article the next day. I signed up, logged in, an proceeded to collect something like forty books. I’m going to give them a try, even if none of them were on my reading list.

And speaking of the reading list, I think I’ve reached a point where it’s not going to be so easy to read for the PopSugar challenge. I’m about 50% done with the list and it’s early March, so I’m not concerned that I won’t finish. I’m sort of liking this whole share what I read thing, though. I’m thinking I’ll just read as I want to, put things on the list when they fit, and then share all of them. This week, though, everything I read fit the challenge.

A book you were supposed to read in school but didn’t

The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger

First, allow me to offer my humblest apologies to Mrs. Jackson, my English teacher for my last three years of school. I am quite sure that she’s the one who assigned this book that I only read the first two or three pages of. I know! How could a nerd like me have participated in such shenanigans? It’s straight up crazy talk.

The real craziness, though, is that this is an extraordinarily awesome book No wonder it’s a classic. No wonder it keeps getting assigned in English classes all over the US. It’s terrific, nearly timeless, and generally wonderful. I’ve read more than a handful of books that attempt to explain, through various methods, the “American condition,” and what it really feels like to be a certain type of person or a given age. None has ever gotten it quite as right as this. Salinger manages to create a character who is simultaneously light-hearted and depressed, who hates everyone but loves a few to absorption, who is bold and afraid. In other words, he shows us the ageless and timeless teenager, in a masterfully well-written manner.

I’m glad I didn’t read this as a teenager; I suspect it hit me harder and settled deeper than it would have thirty years ago. It’s a feeling akin to taking the glasses off of the nerdy girl and discovering beauty.

A book by an author you’ve never read before

While We’re Far Apart by Lynn Austin

If I was a giver of stars, this book would get 2.5. It was interestingly descriptive and fabulously well-researched. I’m a fool for historical fiction, the more accurate the better, and Austin hit the nail on the head on accuracy.

This is the story of what amounts to three families living in Brooklyn during World War II. Eddie Shaffer decides that he can’t bear the grief of mourning his dead wife and enlists in the Army, even though he has two young children. His assumption that his mother, a hoarder who is nearly immobilized by rheumatism, will take care of them is quickly shown to be false. The shy and overly-protected next-door neighbor of his mom, Penny Goodman, steps in and volunteers.

After a lifetime of thinking she’s in love with the handsome son of her neighbor and being afraid of everything thanks to her controlling and odd parents, Penny packs up a couple paper bags of clothes and moves into Eddie’s apartment. Esther, the older daughter, hates her immediately because she’s not their mom. The other child, Peter, has mysteriously stopped talking. The downstairs neighbor and landlord, Jacob, is Jewish and Penny has been taught to fear Jews. She’s got herself in quite a pickle, in other words.

It’s got the makings of a great story. I read it to the end, even though it fell down for me in a couple places. Many of the sub-plots were so predictable that, when they finally played out, I found myself thankful they were done and we would no longer need to hear about them. The bits and pieces that would have been pretty cool and interesting were repeated so many times that I actually spoke aloud to the book, saying things like “Yes, we know.

It was a great story, the writing itself wasn’t terrible, but it was seriously redundant. 🙂

A book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet

All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner

I love Jennifer Weiner – she’s one of those go-to’s for me. If you’re curious, some of the others are Neil Gaiman, Wally Lamb, Sohpie Hanna, and Elizabeth Berg. There are more, but those are the ones that popped right to the front of my head. They all write consistently wonderful stories. They’re all excellent in-betweeners; authors that I know will bring me back to the center of my love of reading when I’ve drifted off to things that don’t necessarily knock my socks off.

In this book, Weiner tells the story of a middle-class housewife with an embarrassing habit: pain meds. We follow Allison through an often painful journey (unintended pun there) as she works through a habit that just might be an addiction.

Allison’s antics made me cringe, laugh, and cry. She’s a terrifically developed character and I can imagine running into her at the library, Yoga Flow, even A Little Bit Sheepish. She reads like every 30-something female’s friend. Her daughter is hilarious and her best friend is the perfect foil. I found to book to be gorgeous and hard to put down. It wasn’t quite the hug-it-to-your-chest-when-you-finish type book, but awfully close. I’m trying to decide what my favorite thing was, the single element that gave me the most joy in reading this, and I think it’s probably the arc that Allison’s character takes. In my head, it’s a nearly perfect sine wave: from dead center to the top, then crashing down past center and farther than she thought she could fall (I agreed with her), then climbing back up again. Her rise-fall-rise is just gorgeous.

Currently Reading

  • The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  • Ordinary Life by Elizabeth Berg
  • Back Roads by Tawni O’Dell

On Deck

  • The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
  • Autobiography of a Pocket Handkerchief by James Fennimore Cooper

And a random note: I just discovered that last week’s book post got lost somehow. I normally create them early in the week and schedule them to publish on Sunday – I imagine something in that process got wonky. Since I write from four different devices (typically, more can pop in from time to time), I’m not sure where it could be. I didn’t forget to write it; rather I forgot to verify. Sorry y’all.

And the book love continues

It’s time for another stunning and fabulous update on my insane amounts of reading! Aren’t you excited? I know you are.

A book with nonhuman characters

Until Tuesday by Luis Carlos Montalvan

This is the story of the author and his awesome service dog, Tuesday. You can pick which is the nonhuman. 🙂

Capt Monlalvan is a veteran of the Iraq war. He served two tours. He was injured in the line of duty and was awarded the Purple Heart. His injuries eventually led him to muster out. He then spent a couple years being entirely miserable until he was lucky enough to get matched up with Tuesday. Tuesday offers him a safe place to be when the world around him pecks at his PTSD, a steady back when his brain injuries cause him to get dizzy, a slobbery mouth for shoe-fetching because it’s wicked hard to pick up shoes with a back injury.

I learned a great deal about one man’s point of view of the war, told by a man who is a journalist, a public speaker, and an advocate for disabled vets. The story is interesting, but… in a couple places, Montalvan talks about folks who speak against him. After I finished the book, I did a little Googling and discovered that there are men who served with him who doubt that his injuries were quite as bad as he makes out. One voiced surprise that he won the Purple Heart. My opinion? Even if he is exaggerating his injuries, it’s still a great story. He loves that dog, and following along as they get to know each other was totally worth it.

A book with antonyms in the title

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink

You’d think it’s non-fiction week or something! It’s not. Well, not entirely.

So this book. I heard about it on 2 Knit Lit Chicks and it made its way onto my “to read” list because it sounded interesting. And oh yes, it was very interesting.

The author tells the story of what happened at Memorial Medical Center, a mid-sized hospital in New Orleans, during and immediately after Hurricane Katrina. She won the Pulitzer for investigative journalism for this book and yes, it was well-deserved, and then some. No stone was left unturned. No story was left untold. Nothing about the story was beaten to death – rather, it was told without a whole lot of drama on Ms. Fink’s part, but read with a ton on mine. This was one of those books that required me to stop and read things aloud to Wayne, normally followed by a “can you believe that???” or preceded by an “Oh my GOD listen to this” or both.

The nuts and bolts of the story are here in much less detail, but it’s true to Fink’s story. I would recommend reading the book, though, and not just the article. Some of the things that happened made me want to build a time machine, go back in time, and punch some doctors and nurses in the throat. And I’m non-violent. They killed people. Seriously. Killed them. I want to tell you more, but y’all should really read the book and find out for yourselves. It’s a terrifically written saga of some terrifically horrid crap.

A book you can finish in a day

Rising Tides and Inner Harbor by Nora Roberts

Make that two books I read in a day. Yes, two. In one day (I did some other reading, too – it was a snow day after all). I am on a Nora Roberts diet now, I swear. That was a good seven to eight hours that should have been spent on Lonesome Dove. But anyway!

These are books 2 and 3 of the Chesapeake Bay Saga (I read Book 1 last week to fit the “book set in your hometown”). They were sweet little stories, except:

  • Every character is beautiful and lovely and handsome and intelligent except the kid’s crack whore mom
  • Every single person knows how to sail (with one exception… see the next bullet)
  • The only person who can’t sail is oddly and totally unbelievable. She’s some sort of virginal egghead who wears satin undies and thigh-highs? Sorry – no.
  • And my biggest niggling UGH: the fictional town of St. Chris is on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake and the streets in town run westward from the water. Map that out and I’m quite sure you’ll agree with me that the townspeople are merfolk. There’s no other way it could happen.

The only other complaint I have is that since I’ve read six Nora Roberts books in the recent past, my Kindle keeps giving me screen-saver ads for other romance novels. Amazon now thinks I have sponge-brain. Ugh.

Currently Reading

  • Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (initial reaction – slow but good and the 1980’s-era mini-series was dead on)
  • 11/22/63 by Stephen King (initial reaction OH MY GOD THIS IS A GOOD BOOK, and the librarian told me there’s a mini-series in the works for this one so yes!)

On Deck

  • Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington
  • Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman
  • The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Reading update, and whatnot

Happy Valentine’s day, all! It has been a very productive reading week for me and I’ve knocked many more items off my reading challenge list. Let’s discuss, shall we?

A classic romance

The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton

How had I missed this amazing book? Perhaps I overlooked it because Edith Wharton also wrote Ethan Frome, that oft-assigned classic that English teachers so love to use as an example of realism, and I so hate to read. No offense to anyone who loves the book; I find it torture each and every time. It seems my (subconscious) belief that all of Wharton’s works would be the same was, in a word, wrong.

Let me share my synopsis of this book: Newland Archer, the main character, is stuck tightly in New York society in the late 1800s. He’s had his affair and is ready to settle down with the lovely, young, and socially correct May Welland. He’s very taken with May. But then May’s cousin, Ellen Olenska, enters the scene and Newland finds himself with the need to make a choice. I don’t think it’s over-sharing to tell you that he falls in love with Ellen and questions ending his engagement. Throughout the rest of the book, we see an absolutely gorgeous picture of true love, what it means, how it grows and changes, and its effects on the people around us.

I finished the book on a deep sigh and a smile, finding myself overly pleased with how Newland Archer lived his life. He is a wonderfully developed character, really three-dimensional. He did things I wanted to kick him for, and things I wanted to hug him for. He never seemed to forget who and what he was raised to be. I might be  just a little in love with this man. Some of the pictures Edith Wharton painted with her words are still in my head: the image of May with her bow and arrow, the flowers in Ellen’s sitting room, the gold-edged paper on which Newland’s mother wrote out menus, the dining room full of rowdy teachers. The book is lovely in and of itself, but the love story takes it to a whole new level. It’s no wonder it won the Pulitzer in 1921.

A graphic novel

The Homecoming by Ray Bradbury, illustrated by Dave McKean

I may have taken an easy out on this one by choosing a WISP. I was looking for a Neil Gaiman graphic novel at the library, but all they had was The Sandman volumes 5, 7, and 8. I’m not willing to risk starting a series at number 5. So I did some looking for another familiar name and found this lovely little morsel of deliciousness.

The story is short and is atypically typical Bradbury. I expect science fiction, fantasy, mind-bendiness from him and this story does not disappoint. It’s an awesome read in and of itself, but adding McKean’s illustrations takes it to a whole new level. It’s as if he drew what was in my head – he crawled in there, snapped Polaroids, took them home, and painted them. What’s funny is that his illustrations are also in the Sandman series – see how things always loop back on themselves?

Anyway! If you’re not a graphic-novel reader and want to stick your toes into that particular pool to see test the temperature before your cannonball, I highly recommend this book. I imagine other WISPs would also work. Check them out!

A book that takes place in your hometown

Sea Swept by Nora Roberts

I know! I already complained about Nora’s books once and I chose another one. Hear me out on this one: She likes to set her stories in semi-fictional small towns in Maryland, and I live in a not-so-fictional medium-sized town in Maryland, and I decided this would be close enough. It’s set in a town that Ms. Roberts calls St. Christopher, but which seems to actually be Crisfield. One of the main characters lives and works in Princess Anne, where I work. There’s a trip to an unnamed mall which must be in Salisbury – it’s the only mall within fifty miles on Crisfield, and I live in Salisbury. So yeah. It’s close enough for me.

Sea Swept is a love story, of course, and I can see how it can stretch into a trilogy because the main male character has two grown brothers. The brothers were all abused and rough teens who were adopted by a college professor (I bet he taught where I work LOL) and a pediatrician who lived outside St. Christopher. Their mom died a few years before the story starts. They all meet up for the first time in years at the hospital where their dad is dying. Dad’s found another stray, a ten year-old kid, and has taken him in. On his deathbed he gets the three older ones to agree that they will all take care of Seth for him.

In typical Roberts fashion, there are fist fights, people who don’t know they’re in love, people who sleep together after knowing each other for five days, lots of bad language, and frequent references to All Things Maryland. Okay, so these books aren’t literature, and they can be consumed in three to four hours. They don’t stretch my brain or surprise me. They don’t even really make me want to read the next two books in any given trilogy (but I’ll give you a hint – one of the categories is “a book you can read in a day” so Ms. Roberts is probably not done yet!). As I said in my last Nora Roberts post, she’s not going to win a Pulitzer. But she talks about home – I can take a walk at lunchtime and see where the social worker works, and guess where she might live. I can drive the road the brothers took to go to the mall. The familiarity is pretty cool, all things considered.

Currently Reading(*):

  • Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink
  • Until Tuesday by Luis Carlos Montalvan
  • Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

On Deck:

  • 11/22/63 by Stephen King
  • The Awakening by Kate Chopin

* I feel the need to explain why I am almost always reading more than one book at a time. I try for one on my Kindle (Five Days at Memorial) that is portable and easy to read over my lunch at work or on the bike at the gym. I also try to have at least one at home book, which is normally on actual paper. I love the feel and the heft of a book, particularly one like Lonesome Dove, which I think has about 2,748 pages. If my “home” book is fiction, I sometimes add a non-fiction at home. I work on the theory that non-fiction is best read when interruptions are guaranteed because it’s a lot easier to jump in and out of it, and fiction works better for feet-up, cat in my lap, tea at my elbow, hours-long reading.

Could I appreciate each book more if I read one at a time? I’m sure I could. And whenever I get to a can’t put down spot, whatever can’t be put down gets all my reading time. Most recently that was The Age of Innocence (Kindle); everything else including reading emails and stalking random people on Facebook came to a screeching halt at about 62% because it was just plain too good to stop.

This week’s offering… More Books!

Yes, I do things other than read. I get my braces adjusted and eat Ibuprofin. I exercise, knit, crochet, talk, listen to podcasts and music, fix computer stuff, write reports, cook, fold laundry… well, you know, I do stuff. But for now, I am obsessed with that old PopSugar reading challenge and I’m sticking with that. And so, this week’s categories…..

A book based on a true story

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I’m quite sure this book does not fit the intention of this category; I suspect they were thinking more about a true crime, or some fictionalized version of something awesome, but I was reading this and I needed to finish it because it’s amazing and I need to bless someone else with it, so I’m saying this is where it fits. I am not actually going to review it, though. This book has been discussed and reviewed and lauded countless times and my little opinion will do nothing at all to change its greatness. I will share that Elizabeth Gilbert’s mad skillz extend past this book; The Signature of All Things is also amazing.

Instead, I’m going to encourage you to bask in Ms. Gilbert’s stunning awesomeness in another format: TED talks. Your Elusive Creative Genius is worthy of listening to over and over, especially if you find yourself in a writing slump (as I do, like now, which is why I have so much time to read). Creativity, though, is not limited to writing and I believe that everyone can find something that resonates in this talk. Success, Failure, and the Drive to Keep Creating, while shorter, is also a stunner. She’s just all around awesome, people. Believe me.

A memoir

Dad is Fat by James Gaffigan

First, a confession: I was expecting something along the lines of Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me or Shockaholic, two books that I love-love-love. I was disappointed. Instead, I got a series of essays about being a fat, pale father of five who doesn’t think he’s good enough for his wife. There were inconsistencies, there was redundancy. It was funny in places, don’t get me wrong, but his stand up is much funnier. I didn’t laugh out loud. I didn’t gasp. I barely finished it before OverDrive automatically returned it to the library. But I did finish.

I would say if you’re a tremendous fan of Jim Gaffigan or of self-deprecating humor, you might like this book. Otherwise, spend your time on something a bit more interesting.

A book originally written in a different language

Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende

Quick summary: Originally written in Spanish, this is the super awesome story of Eliza, an orphaned baby who is taken in by a family consisting of an old-maid sister and her two brothers who live in a British colony in Chile, set in the early to mid 1800s. Eliza has some odd talents: an amazing sense of smell, a very accurate memory, and the ability to make herself invisible. Her life and family are chock-full of half-truths, secrets, and lies; much of which she doesn’t find out about until after she’s traveled, unchaperoned, to try to track down her first love near San Francisco during the gold rush.

This book is just amazing. The characters are sometimes quirky, sometimes funny, often selfish, and very believable. The settings are gloriously, almost poetically, described. It doesn’t read like a translation, which is a great nod of respect to not only Isabel Allende, but also to the translator (whose name I cannot find now, and I’ve returned the book – sorry!). It’s very close to the top of my recent reads; probably a close second behind Life After Life (which is still staking a claim on space in my head).

A book you started but never finished

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – Dave Eggers

I can no longer say I never finished it. I also can’t remember why I put it down. I think I started it last summer, and it gets pretty heavy and dark in places. It’s not a summer read, not for me anyway. But it’s a gloriously fabulous book to devour with a cup of tea, in front of a fire. Review-wise, I suggest you read the one on Goodreads (the title’s hyperlink will take you there). Rather than breaking down the story, the characters, the what-not nuts and bolts, I want to talk about how it affected me.

Eggers and I are the same age. When he was being (to all intents and purposes) the single parent to his eight year-old brother Toph, I was in the Navy. It’s hard for me to imagine the GenX life he describes, although I have seen evidence of it in movies and TV shows, because I lived nothing even close to that. I don’t know how much different my life in the early 90s would have been had I stuck it out in college, but I’m guessing it would have been nowhere near as interesting as Dave’s. So there’s that side of things.

On another hand (be prepared for a many-handed creature here), I totally get his constant low-level worrying because I am also a worrier. I get the feeling that once a job feels like a job, you no longer want to do it. I get the horror of looking at a kid’s school pictures and thinking he (or she) looks lonely/scared/lost enough that someone at his (or her) school is going to report you to child protective services. I get the whole am I doing this right, is this how it’s done, is this all going to work sort of non-voice underlining absolutely everything I do (even typing this blog post). I heard something on the Books on the Nightstand podcast not long ago (an older episode because I’m behind) where Ann said she thought a particular author was living under her bed. Emotionally, worryingly, I feel the same about Eggers.

On yet another hand, this book is often hilarious. The conversations Dave has with his quasi-suicidal friend John, some of the material from the magazine he and a group of friends are starting, his quirky and off-the-wall self-talk – it was all crazy funny. Some of the things that were gut-splitting were also, oddly, some of the things that were also dark and weird. I must like dark and weird.

I could go on but I’m getting up to a simply ridiculous number of hands (no more than three, with a nod to Daughter of Fortune and the artist who charged by the number of hands in a portrait). Plus four books are more than enough for one post, right?

Currently Reading:

  • One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak
  • The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

On Deck:

  • The Awakening and Selected Short Fiction by Kate Chopin
  • The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (hopefully – going to the library soon)
  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (will move up or down based on the library haul)

Happy reading!