Posts tagged ‘Book Club Pick’

The story of the used book’s margins -“Swimming Lessons” by Claire Fuller

My local library is pretty amazing.  It has been even more fun to go with 61iF2AsxQEL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgmy eight and a half year old (she would want me to include the “half”) and let her browse for books while I do the same.  I ran into “Swimming Lessons” on the new book shelves and, though I was a bit wary about the premise  (a story told through letters seems overdone), I decided to carry it on home.  And then I read it in two days because well, it was that good.

The story itself is not completely original. Woman, here Ingrid, has plans to be an independent, career woman and adventurer.  Instead falls for her womanizing professor, gets pregnant and thus finds herself stuck in the role of housewife, mother of two.  But while the premise is very familiar the weaving of the story is too amazing to not give it your full attention.

“Swimming Lessons” picks up at the end of the story, as Gil (aka philandering professor) looks out the window of a used bookstore and swears he sees Ingrid, who has been presumed dead for over ten years.  He chases her and ends up injuring himself.  His adult daughters, Nan and Flora, must come home and take care of him in their childhood home on Dorset Beach which is now filled with towers of used books.  As an aside, I can picture these towers vividly and feel that this  may be my house in about 15 years.

The story plays out with one chapter about Nan and Flora tending to their father while dealing with their history and childhood and then the next chapter is a letter from Ingrid  to Gil documenting their life together.  Before Ingrid disappeared off the shore of their home, she spent time writing Gil letters and placing them inside books through-out their home, carefully choosing the book that best suited the letter (a story about a cocktail party placed in T.S. Eliot’s play “The Cocktail Party”). This telling of Ingrid’s story is so heartfelt and lends such a wonderful prospective to what is happening in the proceeding and following chapters as Nan and Flora care for their father.  The letters add a backstory but also an emotional undercurrent that really moves the story in a thought-provoking and unexpected way.

Fuller’s writing and understanding of families, relationships and loss makes this book a meaningful experience for the reader.   I will say at the end you will not have all the answers you want, but you will have all the answers you need to keep you thinking and wondering.  That usually annoys me but here Fuller wins because she does it so well.  I have to say this is one of the best books I have read in quite a long time (with the exception of “Homegoing”).

The lesson here is if you keep returning to that same book on the library shelf and are skeptical – just check-out it.  The worst thing that can happen is you don’t like it and then you just pick another book. Unless you are me and you don’t return it on time and need a budget for library fines. But that is a story for another day.

Happy reading!

May 27, 2017 at 11:04 am Leave a comment

Dear Diary, I read a Sci-Fi book – “The Girl with All the Gifts” by M.R. Carey

SPOILERS ALL OVER THE TOWN IN THIS REVIEW  (Okay you have been warned).

This book is amazingly clever.  Truly.  How the beginning and the end tie together is one of those gr17235026.jpgeat “oh wow!” reading moments that are really fun (and rare) when they happen.

The novel opens with Melanie, a young girl, who lives in a cell.  Each morning, armed guards come into her cell and strap her down in a chair and take her to her classroom with other children also strapped in chairs.  No one touches her, no one hugs her, and the guns and harsh reprimands seem to indicate that she is different from the people who guard her.

But one teacher, Ms. Justineau, seems to like Melanie and Melanie looks forward to the days when Ms. Justineau is in the classroom.  She reads the children stories, answers their questions, and seem to genuinely care about Melanie.  And life would have continued this way,  but then Melanie is taken beyond the steel door at the end of the hall.

On the other side of the door, Melanie finds herself in the laboratory with clear plans on the part of the cold and calculating doctor that she be dissected and placed in jars. At the moment that a scalpel is at Melanie’s head, the army base (as we find out) is attacked and zombies or “hungries” swarm into the clinic and begin attacking.  It is in this attack and the stopping a man from attacking Ms. Justineau that Melanie begins to realize what she is.  A hungry.   But a different hungry.  A thinking, talking, feeling hungry.   And so the question for the humans that remain, after a fungus has turned so many into hungries, is why are these children and specifically Melanie different?   Will she lead to a cure that could save everyone?  And that is all I will give away here.

In truth, the middle of this book made me a little road-weary and in parts felt a bit like “The Walking Dead.” But, overall this book is a brilliant take on the  genre.  The depth of the characters, the struggle of defining what makes us human, the pain of our pasts all are interwoven into what otherwise could have been a stereotypical apocalyptic-zombie book.

And all of that said, I am also proud of myself that I made it through an entire sci-fi book without even an eye-roll.  So there’s that.

 

October 17, 2016 at 8:44 pm 2 comments

Easier isn’t always Better- “Furiously Happy” by Jenny Lawson

I need to admit that I “read” this book by listening to it on audible.com.  And yes, that is kind of a shameless plug for audible.com because now I am addicted and childishly excited when it is time for my monthly audible credit.  In my house yesterday was called “Audible Tuesday.” Okay plug over.

cover225x225.jpegThis memoir is about Jenny Lawson’s struggle with depression, anxiety, an auto-ammune disorder, and a number of other things that make life a bit of a challenge.  But those challenges in Lawson’s hands are hilarious.  Between explaining how the TSA is just collecting things for the zombie apocalypse to how God made the appendix to her love for taxidermy, Lawson takes those things that occupy her life and mind, in that endless cycle that all those who suffer from anxiety understand, and makes it funny and poignant and then funny again. It is a rare art form.

She admits that life is sloppy and scary, that self-sabotage is easy to do. But Lawson is also able to look at life in way that makes even the biggest issues seem manageable.  And as someone who can obsess about how it is even logistically possible to get my bag from one plane to another in a twenty minute lay-over or who finds herself staring at a book shelf for longer than I care to admit thinking about how important a new book lay-out might be for my sanity, I appreciate Lawson’s take on things. Yes, things could be easier without all of the things that Lawson faces, but just because it is easier doesn’t mean it is necessarily better.

This book is likely not for the easily offended or for the parent who finds every moment of parenting sacred and magical (do those people exist?) or for the person who is completely sane (do those people exist?).   But for the rest of us fumbling through life, anxiety-ridden, and worried about how many pens we have on hand, this book is for us.

 

 

October 5, 2016 at 10:45 am Leave a comment

Sometimes a Good Book just falls in your Lap

I know it has been 9 months since my last book review and I am sure you have frequently, if not daily, thought “how can I know what to read? How can I go on?” So never fear. I am back.

I have still been reading, I just seem to not have gotten around to blogging about it.  But let’s ease back into it with a list – phew, I don’t want to dig too deep this time around.  I have read some good things and some not so good but here are some fun reads I fell into:

  1. 26192646.jpg“Sweetbitter” by Stephanie Danler: This book is getting a lot of press and for good reason. This lady can write.  It is beautifully done.  The story of Tess leaving behind small-town Ohio, landing in New York City, and getting a job at a high-end restaurant is all consuming for both her and the reader.  The description of tastes, the world of dining behind the scenes, hot kitchens, and copious amounts of drug-use are all spot on.  I didn’t as much find the over-arching story as interesting as everything else, but that really is not the most important thing about this book. It is that good.
  2. “Eligible” by Curtis Sittenfeld: Let me say I hate reimagined books. This retelling of “Pride and Prejudice” made me cringe but it was Sittenfeld so I had to try.  And honestly, it was really fun.  The Bennetts are living in Cincinnati, Ohio (Ohio is so popular). They are overextended and double mortgaged.  There are Bingley and Darcy, rich surgeons, who have just relocated from LA to work in the Cincinnati region.  Lydia and Kitty are cross-fit fanatics.  All of the Austen characters fall right into our current culture and it is a great fit.
  3. “The Little Paris Bookshop” by Nina George: The story of Monsieur Perdu w23278537ho is the apothecary of books to heal is so wonderful and made me smile (and tear up) often.  I have also decided that surely it is reasonable to believe that someday I too will own a barge of books that I can travel with from Paris to Provence.  This will happen…probably.
  4. “Triptych” by Karin Slaughter: I have no idea how I am just stumbling onto this author but her suspense writing is so, so good. She is coming to speak at my local library next week so I started reading her books and all of them are fun.  Her writing is very, very graphic so it is not for the faint of heart but for suspense novels these are some of my favorites I have read.  “Triptych” has been my favorite so far out of all of them. I also loved “All the Pretty Girls” and “Cowtown.”

Someday  I will get up the courage to post about “Hillbilly Elegy” which made me yell at the author when I finished.  Although the author was not in the room, and likely could not care less about my opinion, I wished he had been in the room hearing my strongly worded opinions because great gravy, that book was so frustrating.   As an aside, feel free to use “great gravy “as you see fit. An aside to the aside, if you are under the age of 70 you probably should never see fit to use that phrase.

Okay, keep on reading.  And most importantly, happy autumn!!!!!

 

 

 

September 23, 2016 at 2:19 pm Leave a comment

Why is a Raven like a writing desk* – “Mrs. Poe” by Lynn Cullen

One of our favorite American writers gone wrong is Edgar Allan Poe.  His stories are haunting but maybe equally as
interesting is his bizarre marriage to his 13-year-old cousin and his death which is surrounded by urban legends of drunkenness, being found homeless in the street, etc.  “Mrs. Poe” is Cullen’s historical fiction novel about Poe’s affair with the little known poet Frances Osgood.  It all should be the formula for a pretty intriguing book.  But somehow Cullen is deftly able to skirt the intrigue and make this book a mundane and strangely redundant story.

mrs-poeIn 1845, Poe had become quite popular with his publishing of “The Raven.”  His wife, Virginia, was suffering from declining health as she and Poe made the rounds of the literary circles in New York City.  Like the Poes, Frances Osgood spent many evenings socializing in parlors with Whitman, Atwood and a whole other host of literary giants when she finally met Poe.  Frances and Poe seemed to have an immediate connection.  While Frances is married, her husband is a well-known philandering artist. She is lonely and destitute, hoping to publish some of her work.    She and Poe form a fast friendship which quickly grows into more.

There are clandestine meetings where gloves are left behind, whispers in crowded rooms, jealous spouses, gossiping neighbors.  And then there are more clandestine meetings, more rumors, love poems exchanged, societal gossip, some weird behavior by Poe’s wife, etc.  If you read the first one hundred pages of this book, you really can either read those pages again or read the second 200 pages because it is really all the same.  I hope I don’t ruin anything by sharing that they all do die at some point, so the cycle does end…eventually.

I am not trying to diminish  the research and work Cullen must have put into this book, but truly it is baffling how she has made her characters so predictably repetitive and mundane.  I have a young adolescent crush on Poe. He was one of the first writers I read that really scared me.  And the man himself has always been a bit of a puzzle.   But this book is just more of a curiosity then an insight into who Poe was.  I guess sometimes the riddle of the writer is best left alone.

*The unanswered riddle from “Alice in Wonderland”

October 21, 2015 at 12:44 pm 2 comments

The best find of the Summer – “Bittersweet” by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

18339743I am going to go far out on a limb, dangerously so, and say this is by far my favorite summer read.  I bought this book because I happened to read the description and it took place in Vermont. I was headed to Vermont for vacation so it seemed like a good match.

Mabel is the stereotypical nerd – frumpy, uncomfortable in her skin, insecure (you get the picture).  Her first semester in college she finds herself rooming with Genevra (Ev) Winslow.  Ev comes from a long line of the rich, the beautiful, the moneyed.  In short, she is everything Mabel is not.  Oddly, after months of Ev’s disdain, the girls bond and Ev invites Mabel to come summer at her family’s compound in Vermont.  Eager to avoid returning home, Mabel agrees and off they go to the beautiful, idyllic Lake Champlain and the Winslow’s blue blood summer estate “Winloch.”

Winloch has one main dining hall where all the different branches of the family gather to eat.  Otherwise, the property has cottages for the various Winslows to stay in. They are named after the local vegetation “Queen Anne’s Lace,” Goldenrod”, etc.  Ev and Mabel are placed in “Bittersweet” which is to be a part of Ev’s inheritance.  There is swimming, picnics, plays, tennis (of course), boating and other manner of blue blood summer sports. It is everything Mabel never knew she wanted. Of course, nothing is that perfect.  Mabel runs into Ev’s eccentric Aunt Indo who insinuates that there are family secrets to be discovered and assigns Mabel a research project.  This leads her to discover some ugly truths about the Winslow family and about her friendship with Ev.

This book is highly predicable, so I am not claiming it is original.  But the setting and the characters make it fun. And even though Mabel is drab and a bit stereotypical you can’t help but want her to succeed.  So I guess I am saying this book is a blast, with the caveat that it is not going to amaze you with its new ideas or inventive storyline.  Sometimes, this is just the kind of book you need to read.  That and really who doesn’t wish for an invitation to a place like Winloch?

 

Other summer reads that have been fun but not as good as this one:

  • “Natchez Burning” by Greg Iles
  • “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe” by Fanny Flagg (yes, even if you saw the movie you should read it)
  • “Silver Bay” by Jojo Moyes (not as good as her other books but a fun, light read) 

August 1, 2015 at 3:52 pm Leave a comment

Hello February and other reading news

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There is something painful about February for me. It is just cold and dark.  It is the last push from winter and the snow is no longer novel and fun.  And yes, I am whining.   But it does mean I hunker down and read a lot – because it is cold and dark and the snow is no longer fun.   Alas, I have neglected to share what I have been reading for over a month so here is another multi-book post.

I was all over the place this last month in my reading but I feel like with a lot of the books I read I was somehow missing key elements in the story.  Which for me makes for a frustrating reading experience.  Sometimes I do think this poor connection is my fault but sometimes I think the author just missed the boat.  So anyway this is where my reading has traveled over the last few weeks:

1. Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi: Good grief, I found this book to be extremely dysfunctional.  Boy Novak is a girl (yep that is a fun twist) who is raised by her abusive father.  She runs away and tries to piece together a new life for herself.  She ends up marrying a man who has a beautiful, charming but seemingly vapid daughter named Snow.  When Boy gives birth to her own daughter, Bird, it becomes apparent that her husband has been hiding his African-American lineage.  And so the book becomes about our reflections of ourselves, our distorted views of others, our need for classifications.  I know, this sounds like a good idea right? But Oyeyemi just has no solid footing in her storytelling. It is an attempt to recreate and then deconstruct, or something artisan like that, the Snow White fairy tale. But all of the magical elements just seem bizarre and forced. The characters are unlikeable and the story is just, well, lacking.

2. Euphoria by Lily King:  I love this writer. I think she is brilliant and Father of the Rain is one of the best fiction books about alcoholism I have ever read.  Luckily, King is still in top form with Euphoria, which is very loosely based on the anthropologist Margaret Mead and her work with the indigenous tribes in New Guinea.  I always find this desire of the Western Caucasian World to assert itself into other cultures fascinating – it is so harmful and self-indulgent but is so frequently seen as a form of philanthropy.  This book was interesting and the relationship between the three anthropologists makes for good story-telling.  I will admit to finding the end abrupt and unsatisfying (which I think means I missed something important) but I still loved the book.

3. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer: This book is snarky, irreverent fun.  It is Shafer’s first book so I can’t imagine how great his next books will be.  The book has three key characters: Leila Majnoun, the beautiful, disillusioned NGO employee working in Burma/Myanmar; Leo Crane, the trust-fund baby whose conspiracy theories may have taken him over the edge into mental illness; and Mark Deveraux, a ridiculous parody of a self-help guru.  I know this doesn’t explain the story but I promise the way their lives intertwine is some strange combination of ludicrous, comical and compelling. How can that be? I don’t know but please read it.

4. The Paris Winter by Imogen Robertson: This was the kind of book I needed to read. It is suspenseful and set in Paris (two very good things).  Maud is a young British who has moved to Paris on a very tight budget to become an artist.  in fact, she is the literal interpretation of the starving artist.  In order to make ends meet, Maud finds herself in the employ of a young brother and sister, Christian and Sylvie Morel.  Christian confides in Maud that he needs her as a care taker for Sylvie who is addicted to opium.  Of course there are twists and the Morels are not what they seem.  And of course Maud rises to the occasion, righting wrongs, etc.  It is not entirely original, this novel, but it is terribly fun.  And Robertson sets the stage beautifully.

ceb38a46b41857065256efbab7ba1414I am not sure what the rest of my February reading will bring but I do know at some point I need to tackle “All the Light We Cannot See.” But until then my reading friends, stay warm, eat well, drink lots of hot chocolate and know that Spring is around the corner.

February 9, 2015 at 3:31 pm 5 comments

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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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