Posts tagged ‘Book reviews’

A Good Story lost in the crappy Future – “Future Home of the Living God” by Louise Erdrich

There is no question that Erdrich writes an amazing story with beautiful and sometimes stark imaginary woven into her writing.  So I begin there.  But, I also need to say that I am 34217599.jpgnot a huge dystopian genre fan.  The imagining of our future is often a remake of a previous novel in some form. Our dim, bleak future always seems to include some loss or gain of human cognitive functioning which results in some larger moral question and then there is always a burning need to control women’s reproductive systems.  All of this is always set within a journey of some kind – through torn up cities or burned fields or zombie filled ghost towns. But you must understand that in the case of “Future Home of the Living God” this is Erdrich’s book and so I thought “okay let’s give it a try, maybe the journey will be through a frozen tundra (have they done that already) or something just to mix it up.”

Here is the problem – there is a story here that has a lot of potential.  Cedar Songmaker is in her twenties and finds herself pregnant.  As a baby herself, Cedar was adopted from her Ojibwa mother by a white, solidly middle-class, bleeding liberal couple.  Her childhood was wonderful, her adoptive parents supportive, but Cedar feels like in order to understand her own child’s future she must get to know her birth mother.  And so Cedar hits the road (nope no zombies) and does meet her birth mother, her half-sister and her grandmother. It is such a wonderfully written storyline with a great deal of possibility and the characters are truly interesting.  In and of itself this is a novella or the beginnings of its own novel.  But instead, we have to add in some other elements that never really fold in well with Cedar’s story.

The world is changing. Animals are reverting back to earlier evolutionary forms, plants are changing, and food is unrecognizable.  Babies are being born with irregularities.  While Cedar is trying to take care of herself and her baby, pregnant women are being turned over to the state to be placed in institutions for observations and medical testing. There is a police state, streets are renamed after biblical verses. There is no internet and all communication must again return to letters through the postal service.

It is all the things you have read before but in less detail.  Erdrich leaves a lot of the details of this changing world up to the readers imagination.  She even writes that “the first thing that happens at the end of the world is that we don’t know what is happening.”  But alas, as a reader it would have been nice to be included in a bit more of the what is actual happening part so that everything wasn’t constantly a fog of guess-work.  This all made me wonder how these two stories (Cedar’s and our dystopian) were formed and came together.  It feels like two ideas were slapped together in a mismatched way and it left me confused. Erdrich plays with religion, culture, purpose, and the concept of motherhood throughout as well.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it feels forced.  Quite honestly, I think some of it went right over my head.

Overall, this book was exactly what I suspected. A journey into our dim, bleak future where pregnant women are rounded up and we all end up eating endless piles of twinkies and slim jims from convenience stores while wishing we had learned better survival skills in gym class.

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January 12, 2018 at 11:14 pm Leave a comment

Tiny House People – “Caroline: Little House, Revisited” by Sarah Miller

If you are a woman who grew up in the 70s or 80s the chances are pretty high that at Unknown-1.jpegsome point you read “The Little House on the Prairie” books.   So the fact that Miller has written a book revisiting the story from the viewpoint of Laura’s Ma (Caroline) is pretty exciting for those of us who are LHOP fans.  And the book really didn’t disappoint.  It is a study of pioneer life as a mother, wife, and woman just like the LHOP books were a study of pioneer life of a young girl as she goes through all the stages of childhood to adulthood.

More specifically, this book follows the life of the Ingalls family as they make the trek in a covered wagon from Minnesota to Kansas.  To further complicate life, Caroline finds out she is pregnant right before they begin their journey – so, if life in a wagon sounds amazingly comfortable then just imagine it pregnant with two smalls kids in tow.

Miller’s strengths are in her thorough research of the topic and her detailed descriptions.  Her insight into the life of a pioneer family from the stitching of the cover for a wagon to the sweetening of bread over a fire with molasses to how to halt a prairie fire is certainly  insightful and in a lot of parts is interesting.  Unfortunately, where Miller tends to lose momentum, is in the story itself and connection to the narrator.  Caroline seems cold and removed even with the soft edges Miller tries to give her and the day-to-day detailed tasks start to feel as tedious as they likely actually were.  I was reminded as they started building their one room house on the Kansas prairie that there are a lot of shows based on this premise of tiny house living.  And as I suspected, this insight into tiny house living with two small children is nowhere in my life plans.

There is some momentum towards the end of the book, but as all LHOP fans know (SPOILER HERE), the Ingalls family winds up moving back to Minnesota after all of that  work setting up a homestead in Kansas which just seems to deflate the story like a balloon.  Ending the novel on that note left me feeling disappointed and like I had also made a lot of cornbread with molasses for nothing.  In truth, I wish I liked molasses more than I do.

 

 

January 3, 2018 at 7:38 pm Leave a comment

Expectation is the mother of something – My year end book round-up thing

IMG_5512.jpgI read an unusually large amount of books this year (72 to be exact).  The only way I can really account for this large number is an entire Spring, Summer and Autumn of evenings on our new porch.  The space is peaceful – even with my children and dog tumbling through it.  I found that even when I have worked a long day I just needed reading time in that space. So I guess what I am saying is that I am the shallow person that needs pretty spaces while I read and if that happens then 72 books are totally within my grasp.  IMG_5515.jpg

In all of those piles of books I read this year there were great finds, disappointments and just plain ridiculousness that made me wonder how the author landed with any kind of book deal let alone was acclaimed by some list or carried some kind award winning stamp of approval.  Here is my list.

Favorite Books that made me think: 

  1.  Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and Birth of the FBI by David Grann – This book covers the history of the Osage tribe as well as their systematic murders by the white people in their community wanting their wealth.  It is a story that is shocking in and of itself, the fact that it is true is devastating.  This book made me realize how very little I know about Native American history even just in the last one hundred years but also how few books there are that cover that period of history.
  2. The Round House by Louise Edrich – I have not read anything by Edrich before and this book was beautiful, sad and compelling.  Edrich chronicles Native American life but perhaps most importantly reservation life.  The story is told through the eyes of a boy, Joe, who learns that his mother has been savagely attacked and raped.  After the crime, Joe watches his parents try to return to some normalcy while failing miserably.  Between the tribal justice system (which includes Joe’s father) and the white justice system (which does not seem to care), Joe decides that the only way he can find out who attacked his mother is by investigating the crime himself with his friends.   There are a lot of books about boys trying to solve something that has changed their lives but this book is something more.  It is a deep look at Native American culture, white culture has hindered any hope of a future and how even in the most vulnerable moments for our children parents will fail them.
  3. We Crossed the Bridge and it Trembled: Voices from Syria by Wendy Perlman – Before we made any decisions about how to handle refugees from Syria we all should have read this book.  It is akin to where we tell a story about someone who sounds like you living through war and having to leave everything but then say but they are actually Syrian.  It is lawyers, scholars, mothers, students, it is you and I living through something harrowing and expecting the world to care.  But we didn’t.
  4. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi – To me this was the best book I read this year. It is a three hundred year history of a family in Ghana that at one point splinters into tribal royalty and into slavery.  It is brilliantly written and, even though the characters change frequently, there is a connection from generation to generation that keeps the reader invested.  I absolutely loved it.

Favorite Suspense Books: 

  1.     The Dry by Jane Harper – I was hesitant to read this one because of all of the critical acclaim but Harper earned it. This is the story of Aaron Faulk coming home to a painful past in his Australian home town while wrestling with the appearance that his childhood friend has murdered his family and killed himself.
  2. The Good Daughter by Karen Slaughter – If you like suspense books you just should read Slaughter. Her books are just well done all the way around.
  3. The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg – I am new to Lackberg but her novels set in Fjallbacka, Sweden have that wonderful blend of likable characters that find themselves dealing with a murder in their small town and suspense. These character driven mystery novels have become my favorite blend in this genre.

Books that me wonder why they were considered so amazing:

  1. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – This book was everywhere. Acclaimed, talked about, chased after.  But I really didn’t like it, didn’t find it enlightening and was really frustrated by it.  I sometimes wonder if books about such a tough topic that receive critical acclaim make it hard for readers to just be honest about how it resonated with them, instead of just nodding and saying “yes, so deep and insightful.”  Let’s just admit here and now that even the great Toni Morrison has a miss now and then and it is okay to not love everything that examines our nation’s painful past and current race relations. Just because it attempts to create a space for discourse does not render it quality or literature.
  2. Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger – This book made some good points but completely lost me on some of the political points as well as completely frustrating me when tribe is used as an excuse to lose our sense of what makes a community healthy and meaningful.  We have to be smarter and better than that.
  3. The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman – I really hate to add this to the list but this book was disappointing for me.  It is meant to be prequel to Hoffman’s “Practical Magic” and that had such appeal and Reese Witherspoon loved it so there’s that. I felt a bit like these were a lot of short stories Hoffman has written that she then wove together to create a bigger story and then it became the prequel so it was marketable.

Nice Surprises that are wonderful reads:

  1. My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith – it is sunny and set in a gorgeous place, read it on a cold day when you are wishing to travel.
  2. Bruno Chief of Police by Martin Walker – it is a mystery but also such a great focus on Southern French culture and food that it was just too lovely to not enjoy. Read it when you have a good bottle of wine and cheese on hand.
  3. The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne – This is her first book and it was a compelling story of what life would be if you were born out of your mother’s captivity but still loved your father who had held her captive.  There is a level of writing here that really makes me curious to see what Dionne writes next. Read it when you want a good suspense novel with some excellent writing.
  4. Who Thought this was a Good Idea by Alyssa Mastromonaco – written by President Obama’s deputy chief of staff this book has so many funny moments but is also such a great reminder of how hard being a woman in politics is and makes you hope that the days of this type of integrity are not a thing of the past. Read it when politics are depressing you and you have a good drink in hand so you can really forget about our current woes.

Never ever pick up:   No matter who says otherwise I would beg you not to read books by Victora Aveyard (Red Queen series), B.A. Paris (I know they sound good in the descriptions but trust me), Shari Lapena (maybe the first one she wrote but otherwise no), or maybe anything else Paula Hawkins writes.

And so ends 2017. May your 2018 be filled with joy, happiness and lovely places to curl up with a good book.

 

 

December 30, 2017 at 6:34 pm Leave a comment

The Gift of New Beginnings and Hard Choices – Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

There is a reason this book is on the tip of everyone’s tongue when they talk about the 2017 books to read.  It is simply excellent.  Ng’s sophomore novel is just as good as her first – and if you haven’t read “Everything I Never Told” then you have two books for your Thanksgiving reading list. 34273236.jpg

By all societal measures, the Richardson family is perfect. The attorney husband, the reporter wife (Elena), the two sons and two daughters nestled in their beautiful, well-manicured home in the carefully planned and civic-minded community of Shaker Heights.  Mia and Pearl, the Richardson’s new tenants, are the antithesis of the Richardson family. They are constantly on the move. Mia takes part-time jobs to sustain her art and Pearl is dragged along trying to find where she fits in each new school. They do not own a couch or two beds, their home furnishing are as impermanent as Mia’s artistic creations.

Despite their differences, at first the families seem to be a good fit in many respects.  Elena (Mrs. Richardson) hires Mia to clean their house and make dinner and Pearl becomes a fixture in the Richardson children’s lives. In a turn of heartbreak, when Elena’s life-long infertile caucasian friends move to adopt a Chinese baby, Mia quickly discovers that she works with the birth mother at a Chinese restaurant. The birth mother who has now realized that leaving her baby at a fire station was the worst mistake of her life.  This begins a legal battle between the birth mother and the adoptive parents splitting the town itself with the question of what makes a good mother? As the legal battle begins to pull Elena and Mia further apart, Elena makes the decision to find out about Mia’s history and this leads her down a path that results in a bitter end for absolutely everyone.

The question of motherhood and what makes us good mothers is a thread through-out this book. Is it the willingness to give up the things we most want for our children? Is it the simple act of giving life and sharing our genetic codes and ethnic backgrounds? Is it the financial ability to give the child the best life opportunities? Is it understanding we are not yet ready to be a mother and making the ultimate sacrifice of  giving up the child or ending the pregnancy?  Is it understanding that you are first a self-determined woman and then a mother or vice versa?

Ng examines each of these possibilities, while at the same time looking at how we plan our lives and how even the best plans are often extremely flawed.  There is an actual fire in the beginning and end of this story so the title is literal in that sense.  But Ng’s writing really pushes the edges of our planned lives to the brink of those moments when we pretend that everything is okay when really there are small fires to be put out everywhere we turn.  And sometimes those fires are exactly what we need to wake us up.

“Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground, and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too. They start over. They find a way.”

 

November 21, 2017 at 10:06 am Leave a comment

Hopefully the first and only suspense novel you have read – “The Breakdown” by B.A. Paris

Let me begin at the beginning. I did not love “Behind Close Doors” which was B.A. Paris’s previous book. It was fun and that was enough to carry me through to the end. So I was not completely smitten with her writing to begin with.  But all of that said what the hell was this book “The Breakdown”?

To clarify, if you have never read a suspense book before, never seen the movie “Gaslight,” have been living in a cave or have been raised by wolves and have just learned to read, then this may very well be the book for you. And in that case, please enjoy.  However, if you actually enjoy the suspense genre, go and see a movie now and then, and engage in general society then I challenge you to not figure out the twist of this story within 10 pages.  I have laid down a fairly easy gauntlet, I promise you.

The combination of the riddle being so easily solved and how actually unlikable and whiny the main character is makes this book even more disastrous.  Our simpering, pill-popping heroine is just too much to bear and quite frankly I felt at times sympathetic to the alleged stalker who was messing with her sanity.

In sad news,Unknown-1.jpeg I read the entire book because I was hoping that my initial thought was wrong and perhaps Paris had a different plan – pssst, I was mistakenly hopeful.  As an added insult to reading injury, when the story reveals itself you then get to read a lot of pages about how the evil doer(s) plan unfolds. Just in case you, dear reader, are that stupid and can’t figure it out for yourself.

No, I did not give you a synopsis of this story because well, that seems to be wasted time. But do, watch “Gaslight” – it is a wonderful old movie and really the same story.  On the reading front, if you want to read an interesting suspense novel both Karin Slaughter’s “The Good Daughter” and Ali Land’s “Good Me, Bad Me” are certainly worth your time.

And for the time being, I am wondering if I should challenge myself to read my unread books sitting on countless shelves and surfaces around my house.  But then again, Alice Hoffman has a new book out that may be calling my name…

 

October 22, 2017 at 10:03 pm Leave a comment

Crazy Lady Brains are Always Trouble – “The Address” by Fiona Davis

I was happily surprised by how much I enjoyed this book.  It was an interesting look at the history (through fiction) of the famous New York city Dakota building – which is well known for being the place where John Lennon was shot, where famous people like 500px-Dakota_Building.JPGLauren Bacall lived and where parts of “Rosemary’s Baby” was filmed.

This book, like many as of late, cuts back and forth chapter by chapter between the presentish* (1980)  and the past.  In 1884, Sara Smythe travels from Ireland to run the staff at the newly built  Dakota.  So in the pieces of the past, Sara  finds herself struggling with class, understanding how the nouveau rich work, while also trying to manage her feelings for the married architect of the Dakota, Theodore Camden.

A century later, Bailey finds herself freshly out of rehab after too many nights living like a scene out of a Hunter S. Thompson novel.  She is out of a work interior designer, homeless and unsure if her sobriety will stick.  Her last hope is her wealthy cousin Melinda, who has inherited an apartment in the Dakota from her grandfather Theodore Camden (see the connection).  Melinda is quite excited to hire Bailey to oversee the modernizing of her apartment  – though Melinda’s vision has all of the amazing decor touches that so many of us are happy were left in the 80s (think pink bathrooms sinks and decorative bamboo).   As Bailey reluctantly helps Melinda achieve her decorating vision, Bailey begins to learn more through boxes and archives about Theodore Camden and the  woman who eventually was accused of murdering him, *insert dramatic music here* Sara Smythe .
The twists and turns are somewhat predictable but not painfully so.  There is a lot here about class and what society did with women who did not follow the rules.  Davis did her homework here and incorporates in her story the cutting-edge journalism that really helped reform the New York asylums and treatment of women in the 1880s.  She makes it clear that if a woman was too smart for her own good she would be punished severely and for the right amount of money you could make her disappear.

Davis also touches on how America really was meant to be a place where you weren’t born into society but, instead, you actually could climb the societal ladder – but then it became a place that was turning itself inside out to create the very nobility it had wanted to leave behind.   She touches on some tender parts of who we are as a country and where this seems to have led us.

This is not a deep book, but it is interesting with enough historical pieces to make it thoughtful and enough compelling story to make it fun.   It also makes me eternally grateful that asylums for sassy women are a thing of the past because sometimes I do use my lady brain too much.

 

*As an aside, I know presentish is not a word but shouldn’t it be?

September 28, 2017 at 8:33 pm Leave a comment

Lots of time to read this weekend? I have ideas…

These types of weekends are usually time for me to catch up with friends but also, being the bookish introvert that I am, I need lots of time to curl up and read.  If you find yourself with some time for the latter here are some reads I have really enjoyed lately. They might be good ones to add to that pile on that table right next to you (you know the pile).

  1. “The Little French Bistro” by Nina George – this book is just lovely, not amazing, not a pulitzer, but really a tribute to many middle-aged women, that either by choice or by circumstance, have to reinvent their lives.  After forty years of marriage, Marianne gets up from a dinner in Paris with her self-absorbed husband and walks out.  She finds herself, after a few misadventures, in Brittany. There is the quirky cast of characters, the beautiful setting and great food.  This is a quick read that leaves you wanting to go to Brittany but I settled and had a glass of wine while I read it instead.
  2. “The Girls” by Emma Cline – For quite some time I have been weirdly fascinated by the Mason Clan and cults in general.  I don’t mean that I am fascinated with the bloodshed part but more about that thing in a person that has to be broken for them to end up in a cult. It has to be the right mix of brokenness, masterminding, and timing – and it oddly happens so frequently.  Cline in “The Girls” tries her hand at a fictional telling of something similar to what happened with Mason and his followers.  It was truly well done, though disturbing.  And I may have accidentally read it in a day and a half.
  3. Red Queen” by Victoria Aveyard-  I landed on this book because my friend suggested I read the “Red Queen” and I got the wrong book.  That said my accidental science fiction young adult reading was pretty fun.  This is really a new twist on the whole the main character is a strong young woman who thinks she is ordinary but she isn’t thing that we all have become very familiar with.  It is simple, quick and fun.  My one warning is it leads you into reading the next book which is absolutely awful. So just be prepared to either not really know what happens to the characters or know you will have to go on to read a really terrible book. You have been warned.
  4. If you are looking for a good suspense book I have a few I have liked recently – “The Perfect Stranger” by Megan Miranda, “The Child” by Fiona Barton, “The Marsh King’s Daughter” by Karen Dione.  The last one being my favorite, Dione’s first book is really well crafted.

On my reading list this weekend,  I need to finish “The Sinner” by Petra Hammesfahr (which is pretty bizarre so far) so I can somehow excuse buying Karin Slaughter’s new book. I guess I really should read the other 50 books I have on my “to read” stack already but what’s the fun in that?

Happy Labor Day weekend my fellow readers!images-1.jpeg

September 1, 2017 at 3:44 pm 1 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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