What the Spring brings…books for every genre

Spring-books.jpgIt is finally sunny and a bit warmer today.  And again, I find myself behind on posting about my  reading.   But this leads to another round-up for good books I have really enjoyed. I have to say I have been expanding a bit in genre (kind of proud of me) so I thought I would share what I have liked in each genre best.

Historical Fiction pick for Spring: “News of the World” by Paulette Jiles

You really must read this book, it is nothing short of brilliant.  Set in post Civil War Texas, Captain Kidd, a veteran in his later years, travels town to town in Texas reading newspapers to crowds who pay a dime each for the entertainment.  He is stopped by a gentleman in one such town and is contracted for 50 gold pieces to return 10 year old Johanna to her aunt and uncle in San Antonio.  Johanna had been kidnapped by Kiowa raiders four years previously after they killed her family.  She no longer remembers anything about her family or about white culture but speaks the Kiowa language and misses her adopted parents from the tribe.   Captain Kidd and Joanna set out on this long journey across Texas together – a lonely old man with a wagon and a young girl whose life has drastically changed yet again.  Their connection with each other becomes so heart-warming and heart-breaking all at the same time.

I could call this book a western but it really isn’t that as much as it is a story of how sometimes the connections we make in life end up changing everything we understood about ourselves in the very best ways.  I was so very, very sad to leave these characters behind at the end of this book because I came to deeply love them.  That is a rare gift from a writer and I was so grateful for the experience.

Fantasy pick for Spring: “Vicious” by V.E. Schwab

I am not a Fantasy reader typically but I read this book because the author was coming to an event at my local library.  I am so glad I did. This book was just fun.

Victor and Eli met in college. Like most college students, they are arrogant and believe they have a great idea for a research project. The project involves near-death experiences and what you bring back from that experience – which for Eli and Victor are supernatural powers.  Yes it is similar to “Flatliners” in that way and so that made it interesting for my 90s self who was obsessed with Kieffer and Julia (remember when they almost got married?) and I watched that movie no less than 15 times. For Victor and Eli the experiments go wrong and they become life long enemies.  Their lives then become focused fully on destroying the other person. It is a revelry that is intriguing in and of itself but more so because of the characters they meet in their search for this destruction.

This book is an interesting twist on friendship and our societal understandings of good and evil.  You really can’t help having a girl crush on Victor either, so just let it happen.

Satirical Fiction (I decided this is a thing) pick for Spring: “Less” by Andrew Sean Greer

I loved this book. It was funny and goofy and nostalgic and beautiful all at the same time. The narration style threw me off for the first 10 pages but then I got into the rhythm and loved it.

Arthur Less is a middle-aged author who finds himself needing to avoid the wedding of his long-time lover.   So he says yes to all of the various speaking engagement invites he receives which will lead him on a world tour.  He wears his signature blue suit with the pink lining, he makes entire German audiences ill, he rides a camel, he mets an intriguing man in Paris, he loses his signature blue suit at a religious center, and eventually he returns home.

I laughed so frequently at poor Arthur’s adventures because they feel like things I have done or will do. And with all of his faults, Arthur is just so endearing.  This book spoke to those moments of panic and nostalgia that middle age brings but then the author brilliantly adds just enough of the ridiculous to keep the book light but not vapid.

Nonfiction Pick for Spring: “The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist” by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington

This book should scare all of us. Our justice systems is so faulty in so many ways and clearly no one wants to be subject to the justice system in Mississippi specifically.  This story of how two hack medical professionals have caused the convictions of at least two innocent men (and I am scared to think of how many others) is just harrowing.  The crimes that were committed against the little girls who were killed in these cases are awful. But the fumblings, racism and blatant miscarriage of justice by the system makes the killings even more horrific.

This story is tragic on so many levels but it is an important story to tell because we can’t work for change without first having awareness.

Mystery/Thriller Picks for Spring: A few…

  • “A Study in Scarlet Women” by Sherry Thomas:  A pretty fun idea where Sherlock Holmes is really a woman.  It is a clever idea and was a great read.
  • “The Favorite Sister” by Jessica Knoll: This is a murder within a reality show so it was fascinating in a lot of ways.  This is not a groundbreaking book but it was fun to read.  It go lovely with all that sunshine that might be headed your way.
  • “The Broken Girls” by Simone St. James: This book was eerie and pretty spooky.  Both stories set in the 1950s and 2014 are around a boarding school for troubled girls in rural Vermont.  There is murder, disappearances, and creepy ghosts stories. You should read this while camping because if you are camping you are already braver than me.

And so ends another round-up.

Come on sunshine. We are ready to be surrounded by flowers, warmth and words. As always, Happy Reading Friends! spring-books.png

 

 

 

 

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April 1, 2019 at 8:34 pm Leave a comment

The funny thing about the New Year and books that made my year

The New Year brings on the reflective bits of all of us.  It is an end and a beginning. A time to look back and see what worked, what fell completely apart, what we lost and what we gained.  Even if the scales balance neatly it still ends in a lot of self-questioning.  Relationships made of sterner stuff take us into the new year, though losses of people are felt profoundly, and we often wonder what could have gone differently.  Changes are questioned along with our choices and it is easy to circle in those thoughts.  It is a funny thing that seems to naturally align.  There are gray skies and cool temperatures that seem to beg for this time of internal examination.  We are bundled in deep coats, blankets, various layers. It is the type of buried coziness that brings on stillness and often a pause that reflection requires.

As I look back and reflect on my reading this year, it had some very wonderful surprises and some very questionable valleys.  It was a bizarre year of a lot of reading – 86 books in all – that I cannot put a finger on exactly except in this year I think I needed more introvert time than other years.  I also become very much an Audible fan. For walks with my dog and work travel, that became a respite.  So here are the books that worked well for me and some that didn’t in categories that I feel best reflect my own bizarre reading year.

Books that helped me learn something surprising about myself:

  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Neishi Coates
  • American Like Me by various authors
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama

Books that I want people to read so we can talk about them: 

  • The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Gowar
  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  • A Shout in the Ruins by Kevin Powers
  • I’ll be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
  • True Crime Addict by James Renner
  • Circe by Madeline Miller

Books that Broke my Heart:

  • Alligator Candy by David Kushner
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Books that are popular for reasons I can’t even imagine and it pains me: 

  • Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman
  • The Girl Stays in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin
  • Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris
  • Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Morairty

Books that had a great Topic but lost a lot in marginal writing: 

  • The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
  • The Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth
  • The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
  • The Perfect Nanny by Leili Slimani (this book may have lost in the translation to English)

Books I loved no matter what anyone else thinks: 

  • Agatha Raisin books by M.C. Beaton – they save my sanity every time
  • The Charles Lenox Mystery Series by Charles Finch
  • Ghosted by Rosie Walsh
  • All the Ever Afters by Danielle Teller
  • Crazy Rich Asians series by Kevin Kwan
  • The Innocent Wife by Amy Lloyd
  • Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry

So we end 2018 and regardless of the reflections and memories that lay heavy on our hearts, I am hopeful that curled up in blankets with a good book all good things will find us.

Happy New Year friends. 

 

 

 

December 31, 2018 at 4:18 pm 2 comments

Blankets, Fireplaces, Hot tea and, of course,a Reading list

There is nothing as wonderful as crisp days, thick socks, blankets, warm drinks and books.  It is just a time of year where things seem to fit so well together.  So, while I can’t make the crisp days or the warm drinks appear, I can put together a reading list for those days when you find yourself wondering what to read next (while wrapped in that blanket of course).

  1. 1. The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Gowar: This book has received some stunning reviews and for good reason.  It is historical fiction of London in 1785 with the story of John Hancock, a widower merchant, and the parallel life of Angelical Neal, a high end gentleman’s companion (if you will).  After an anxious wait for the return of one of his merchant ships, Hancock finds himself, in lieu of money or his ship, in possession of a jar containing a mermaid.  Hancock must make the best of the situation and begins charging for Londoners to come see his curiosity. Meanwhile, Angelical finds herself without a patron or madame and must try to make a society name for herself somehow.  Both Hancock and Angelical cross paths and in an odd turn find their futures entwined.  This novel has a hollow sorrow that echos in all the lives and choices the characters make.  At the same time, it beautifully addresses how quickly futures, lives, and reputations can change while still offering something in the way of fable that I am not quite sure I have fully grasped yet.  It reminded me in pieces of “The Crimson Petal and the White” – as Gowar leaves no room for the reader to romanticize the life of a whore or life as a 1700s Londoner.    It was dirty, grimy, and everyone was looking for their own mermaid in whatever form she would come to them.
  2. Ghosted by Rosie Walsh: Sarah and Eddie meet on the green in a small English town on a summer day.  They spend a week together and when Eddie leaves for a trip it is clear he has every intent to come back to Sarah.  But he doesn’t.  To Sarah this seems unfathomable.  And there I must leave it because there are some many things to discover in the reading. The way this author unfolds this story is extremely well done and I loved it.  There is a bit of a slight of hand by Walsh but it is well done and by the time you reach the end it all falls together well.
  3. The Miniaturist”by Jessie Burton: This novel had all of the elements that make a period piece work so well.  The setting is visible for the reader, the restrictions of the place and time feel suffocating, the smells and discomforts of the characters layer the story.   As a reader you know where you are and what you are meant to feel with the characters.  The story itself happens behind closed doors and in whispers in hallways and bits and pieces of information. I will let you find the storyline elsewhere and the PBS miniseries does such a great job with this book. So of course after the book, you have something to look forward to as well.
  4. The Witch Elm by Tana French: I should say I absolutely love Tana French. This book was a bit of a departure for her.  It was not her usual suspense novel and that has some good things and some frustrating things. Her character development was deeper but I am not sure how much I liked the characters. The story was a mystery of sorts but more of a story of memory, family and the stories we tell are ourselves about who we are.   I am just not sure what I think of this novel but would still recommend it. Though importantly, it should not be your first Tana French experience.
  5. Bluebird Bluebird by Attica Lock:  Darren is a Texas Ranger who is also black.  He finds himself on suspension and doing a favor for a friend by visiting a small Texan town where two murders have happened.  He is just there to get a lay of the land from the small cafe that sits in front of the swamp where the bodies have been found.  The cafe is owned by Geneva Sweet who opened the place 50 years ago so that other black folks had a safe place to stop and eat in deep KKK country.  Darren finds himself quickly embedded with the characters in the cafe and the crimes.  I loved this book.  I will say that some of the characters are fairly one dimensional but the detail of the food, the relationships, the racial tension, the understanding of what is home is just so profound that we can give Lock a pass.  She makes some amazing observations about racism and how it involves the marginalized people just wanting to live their lives while the oppressors are wholly obsessed with what the marginalized people are doing or not doing.  It is a bizarre and sick way for those who have all the power to chose to live.

Hopefully, your blankets are at the ready and you have the kettle on.  Happy Reading friends.

November 7, 2018 at 9:27 pm Leave a comment

Reflections of our American selves – “American Like Me” by America Ferrera and other writers

In the States, one of the biggest crisis of our time seems to be this trying to hold onto, 40604126.jpgfathom, envision, or reimagine what it means to be an American.  We have a reemergence into our collective society of the KKK repackaged with different names. We have camps of people trying to get legal status in our country.  We have caravans we are going to block, walls we are going to build, and on and on with many plans to keep something that is claimed to be valuable – the status quo or even perhaps a fictional version of the status quo.  All of this weighed heavily on me this week as I drove for work through the Midwest and listened to “American Like Me: Reflections on Life between Cultures.”  It is was a good fit for my mindset.

Each chapter of this book is a telling of someone, who by all accounts, is a successful American but who is either first generation or second generation in this country (sidebar: there may have been a third generation story as well that I have forgotten).  The stories are about the gifts of this country, the confusing parts, the narrowness of our definitions, the struggle to fit into somewhere or anywhere, the opportunity and the heartbreak.  There are deep struggles with religion and what parts of themselves they can sacrifice to be “more American” and what must be cherished.  There are lighter struggles of why do we have so many peanut butter choices and how hard twerking really can be.  But there are struggles, and in all of my narrow whiteness and narrowly tailored American understanding, taught to me by others with limited understanding and scope, they are struggles I have honestly thought minimally about.

I, like many people, can immerse myself in books and stories like this, work with people who have immigrated here, yell and shout for better understanding and laws that better reflect who we truly are as American, but then I can put on my coat and go home to my white-bred world of entitlement.  Where I know the words to use, the food to order, the songs to sing, the holidays to celebrate and the clothes to wear (usually) that help me blend in seamlessly.   How quaint and easy for me.

This book was important for me in this moment at this time because it reminded me that there are struggles I do not experience that I need to be mindful of and think harder about.  It reminded me that before I get too comfortable in my quaint, entitled world I need to be thinking better about how that expands and breathes life into other important elements of our society that include different ways of seeing, feeling, experiencing and feeding (literally or figuratively) our understanding of what is American.  It is too important in this moment, in this time, to miss or overlook or put your coat on and walk away.  Because let’s really be honest, this, my white friends, was not our country to begin with.  And no amount of rewriting, reconfiguring, reimagining can change that fact.

 

October 26, 2018 at 10:22 am 4 comments

A letter to my daughter

You are nine years old and are beginning to see things that you do not understand.  Please know my love, that it is not something lacking in you,  it is because they are not understandable.  Through life you will be given explanations, rules, laws and social mandates. These will feel wrong or somehow biased and harsh. That is because they are not for you.

You will hear statistics that 1 in 3 women are sexually assaulted and that in 1 in 5 women are raped in their lifetime at least once.  You will hear ideas about how to get women to report these assaults, you will hear about rape kits and a woman’s social responsibility to stop rapists from raping again.  You will not hear what men must do. Because you see, not all men are rapists.  As if until they are, this is not their problem. At some point, you will hear that it is not routine in many counties and states around the country to process rape kits. You will see man after man defended and given light sentences even when the case is a noted triumph for women.  You will see that we cannot ruin men’s lives or reputations or careers, they are too important.  In many states, if your “courage” to come forward took too long there will be no remedy in law because you are late and waited.  Because even after a woman has been attacked she has responsibilities and those are hers alone.

You will be given solutions. You will be told these are for your protection. Don’t drink too much so no one takes advantage of you, carry your drink everywhere so no one drugs you,  walk in numbers so no one attacks you, dress your body to not draw attention.  All of these things because we live in a world that you must always be on guard against.  Because even if something happens justice will find a way to make this about the one rule you might not have followed.  These rules are really not to protect you, they are a checklist that your performance will be evaluated with.

There are other things that will seem unfair.  You will be told over and over that men fight in a candid way where they can say whatever they want to each other and then get over it.  But know, if you engage with a man in the same candid way you will be found insulting and inappropriate.  You will be put in your place.

You will likely not make that same amount of money even with the same education and qualifications as the man across the office from you.  If you have a baby you will not be given significant time to physically heal, emotionally bond or find a balance to your life, because you cannot be a woman at your job, you must be like a man. In all ways.  That is how feminism has been twisted and claimed by men, this type of feminism is not for you.

You will be told that you cannot feel injustice because you are not in a third world country being physically mutilated or restricted from owning property or burned alive. You will be reminded about how grateful you must be.  Always remember, in our country, we like to tell marginalized people how bad it could be so we make it clear that they have enough and the rest is for white men.

You will hear jokes about women that you will feel like you need to laugh at to fit in. Don’t.  You will be told there are more women in government then ever before so you should be happy with that. Don’t settle.  You will hear that there can be no sexism because women can get college degrees and graduate degrees.  Don’t buy it.

There are things I cannot change for you and that has been a bitter pill for me.  You will have to make yourself physically small everywhere you go because drawing attention is dangerous. You will have to know everywhere you walk who is behind you, beside you, in front of you.  You will have to hold your breath when you walk by groups of men because it will feel bracing and nerve-racking.  You will have men sit by you in movie-theaters, planes, buses, restaurants. They will invade your space because they do not see it as yours.  More than once in your life you will be called hysterical, slutty, a ball-buster, a prude, a cock-tease, shrill.  Don’t let these words move you, they are used by others when women are taking ownership of their lives, bodies, opinions, and spaces.

I have been thinking about what I can change for you.  There is time and there is much possibility.  But we have to  name the problems before we can face them.  In some ways, this letter helped me do that.  I hope when you read this years from now, there have been shifts. I hope you will be able to feel safe in your unfettered choices and your unruled body and your beautiful, full life.

Know I love you always.

 

 

 

October 8, 2018 at 9:09 am Leave a comment

Filling the void – “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens

I will begin by saying when I read the description of this book I was not particularly won 51c9IKSZT9L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg
over.  But for some reason, it still landed in my book pile.  Perhaps my concern was about the natural world focus which is not typically my favorite kind of book. I am not usually a fan of long rambling descriptions of the natural world and how it preys on the lives of the characters.   So when the jacket said the main character found her friends “in the seagulls and lessons in the sand” I may have rolled my eyes.  But what I am admitting is that after finishing this book my prejudice against this type of book is now just embarrassing.  This book was fascinating, heartbreaking and quite simply amazing.

Kya is the youngest in a large family of Swamp trash, living in the marshland in North Carolina.  At a very young age, she watches the tides, the turtles, the frogs, feeds the seagulls with her sister, runs barefoot in the marsh grasses.  Her father is a drunken-abusive veteran  who one by one drives the other family members away – first her mother, then each sibling, leaving just six-year-old Kya and her father.  Eventually even her father leaves.  And so, Kya is alone finding ways to make money to survive – mussel digging and smoking fish to deliver to the local store down on the water.  To the small town several miles down the marshes, she becomes the legendary “Marsh Girl” uneducated, dressed in rags, and solitary.

Over time, two boys appear in her life. One you know from the first page of the book is killed years later and the other becomes her greatest advocate.  The death of the one serves as the suspenseful element of the book but seemed less important to me than the story of Kya’s life itself.   Truly, what makes this book so beautiful is not the suspense of a “who-done-it” thriller but rather the stark loneliness of Kya’s life which leaves her to became a great observer of  the natural world around her.

Delia’s writing of Kya and her life in the marsh, her survival, but also her understanding of the magic of things, that other people take for granted in a land that was cast-off as unsustainable for valuable life, is really what makes this book.  Kya knows feathers and the value of the rare colors of birds that leave the feathers behind. She understand shells and sand patterns.  She can tell what the sky will bring later in the day and what tides are safe to navigate.  Some of these passages remind me of the beautiful passages in “All the Light We Cannot See” where you could feel the sea shells in your hands.  Here you can smell the salt-air and hear the wind.  Delia writes beautiful observations that softly land on the page and take your breath when they do:

“Autumn leaves don’t fall, they fly. They take their time and wander on this their only chance to soar.”

The author’s background in writing about the natural world serves her ability to develop Kya’s character in an unexpected way.   Because of Kya’s existence in this wild life, you can feel how raw she is, how innocent and unassuming, but also how resilient.  She is gritty and real, living on the constant edge of her fight or flight instincts.

Most of what she knew, she’d learned from the wild. Nature had nurtured, tutored, and protected her when no one else would. If consequences resulted from her behaving differently then they too were functions of life’s fundamental core.

I really can’t say much more because to get into the plot would truly diminish the magic of the writing and the book.  Again, not because the plot is poorly crafted but because to write it out will sound far more simplistic than it truly is. I will say the last 20 pages of the book my heart was twisted in knots, desperately rooting for Kya and an eventual end to her lonely existence. But, conflicted because I also wanted that end only in the way that would make her connection with others meaningful to her because that is what seemed to matter most.   The kind of character that moves you that deeply is rare and I am so grateful she landed in my to-read pile despite my earlier reluctance.

As I listen to the crickets outside, autumn is in the air with its foggy mornings, brilliant leaves, pumpkins and crisp air. And so I can only hope your days are full of sweaters, cups of tea, and pages of wonderful characters.  And if you run across those characters let me know where I can find them too.

September 30, 2018 at 9:58 pm 5 comments

The Waning Days of Summer Reading

Our summer days are limited and we will soon need sweaters, blankets and hot tea on hand (which is exciting for me and I have my supplies at the ready). But regardless of the weather, there is reading to do my friends. Some of my reading this summer has been a bit rough. There are truly some really bad books out there being thrown at us by the marketing gods. But that said there have been three books that I have read recently that, even as whiny and critical as I have been, I really enjoyed.

“The Book of Essie” by Meghan Weir is a fast read and is really engaging.  Essie is the youngest daughter of a religious reality show family.  She finds herself at 17 years old pregnant and the family very quickly has to deal with the potential PR nightmare.  That in and of itself makes this book interesting but Weir digs quite a bit deeper. There is so much social commentary in this book that makes it really compelling – not just about religion but also about our fascination with being sold glossy stories by our media. Balanced, as always, with how quickly we swarm when we find out a star is about to fall.

“The Nix” by Nathan Hill is not a fast read. It is a beast of a book. Simply put the story is about Professor Samuel Andresen-Anderson whose mother walked out the door when he was ten years old. It seems she has reemerged in a fairly dramatic way by throwing small rocks at a political candidate.  Sam has been asked by his mother’s attorney to write a letter to the judge detailing what a good citizen and mother she is – which, considering he has not seen her in over twenty years, seems a bit presumptuous.  This book is just so much more than a simple story.  It is packed, and I mean packed, with funny vignettes, uncomfortable characters who eat stringy nachos and don’t shower, and cringe worthy critiques of academia and politics (which are also hilarious and/or disturbing).   It will take time to dig through but it is well worth it.

“All the Ever Afters: The Untold Story of Cinderella’s Stepmother” by Danielle Teller is a part of a genre that I admit to often snubbing my nose at. Telling a well-known story from a different character’s prospective seems overdone at this point. That horse has been beaten, buried, dug-up and trotted around too many times (poor horse). All of that said, this book is exceptionally well written.  It would be a good story regardless of the Cinderella tie in and, frankly, it really doesn’t need it except those darn marketing gods.  It has a historical fiction feel to it and Teller truly has the ability to balance good character development with a solid descriptive narrative.  I am excited to see what she does next and I am hopeful it will be an original story all the way through. Her writing really deserves is on story.

I hope to stumble on more books that make me smile as we finish our days of warm sunshine.  Enjoy your weekend – hopefully there is a pajamas only, sunshine-filled, deep-breath taking, book-in-hand kind of day in it.

 

 

 

August 31, 2018 at 11:01 am Leave a comment

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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.

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