Posts tagged ‘Fiction’

The “what if it really is Spring?” reading list

Let’s admit it has been a long, long snowy, cold and dark (did I say long) winter.   I believe this means we need to tip our customer service people more than usual because likely they are Unknowndealing day in and day out with the cranky lot of us.   But this also means I have been reading a lot of mysteries just to keep me awake in the evening and get my adrenaline going (the gym works too, but reading is usually more fun).

Here is what has kept me sane through this crazy weather of random:

  • A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch – This is the first in the series of Charles Lenox mysteries.  Lenox is a wealthy, upper-crust gentleman in Victorian London who also seems to have a good handle on sleuthing.  The mystery itself in this first book wasn’t what kept me captivated, though it was well done, it was the societal descriptions, the cups of tea, and the rules of priority that made this fun.  It is best enjoyed with a glass of sherry, if you can handle the stuff, or just admit that sherry is terrible and just have a glass of wine while you imagine gaslights and rustling petticoats.
  • Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker – I need to just throw it out there that I love Jane Eyre like the rest of you love Pride and Prejudice.  That is not to say that I do not love Austen (I absolutely do) but nothing has ever grabbed my imagination like Thornfield hall and poor, resolute Jane.  I say all of this because maybe this retelling of the story through Edward Fairfax Rochester’s perspective is not as good as I think it is.  I am pretty sure I would latch onto every retelling of this story and love it.   The critics of this book complained that it was slow but the way Shoemaker matches her style to Bronte’s, as well as the writing of the period, is really well done.   No, it is not exciting at every turn and no this is not a traditional mystery.  But Jane Eyre is one of the best gothic novel of its time and this retelling is just fun.
  • Arrowood by Laura McHugh – This is the second book I have read by McHugh and I like her style.  While playing outside on a summer day, Arden Arrowood’s twin sisters disappeared without explanation  and with only 7 year old Arden as the unreliable witness. After searching everywhere for the twins, the Arrowood family moves away from their family home in the small Iowa town to try to forget all of the terrible memories.  But as Arden comes to examine her life in her twenties she finds that she is directionless and again newly single.  So she returns to her family home and begins trying to examine her own memories of the day her sisters were lost.  As she begins piecing together things that as a child seemed unimportant, she finds that those same events reveal that there may be a way to find out what really happened. And Arden quickly realizes that finding these answers seems the only way to help her move forward in her own life.
  • The Quiche of Death by M.C. Beaton –  This book is everything I love in a quirky story.  Agatha Raisin has spent her life building her own firm in P.R. in London.  In her early fifties she decides to sell her firm and retire to a quaint cottage she has found in the Cotswolds.  Not exactly a warm and fuzzy person, Agatha finds that her neighbors in the village are not as easy to get to know as she had hoped.  In an
    effort to assimilate, she enters into the local quiche baking contest.  Of course, Unknown-2.jpegnever having baked a quiche in her life, Agatha trains up to London, purchases a quiche at the award winning bakery, and returns to the town to submit it as her entry.   The judge after eating a piece of Agatha’s quiche dies and the police discover that he has been poisoned.  Obviously, Agatha has to shamefully admit that she did not make the quiche but this leaves the interesting question of who wanted this small time judge of quiches, jams, dog shows, and flower arrangements dead? This book is just fun and should be read while also googling sales of Cotswold cottages so we can all dream about moving there but not entering into local bakery contests.  I already found my cottage and of course you can visit.

Don’t despair friends, as happens every year, I feel almost positive that warm weather has to be on its way. But until then I wish you warm cups of tea, sightings of snow drops and violets, and cozy reads.

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April 15, 2018 at 5:23 pm 2 comments

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.

January 12, 2018 at 11:14 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

The End of the Affair and the beginning of another – “Before We were Yours” and “Column of Fire”

It is inevitable. You have a writer you love and you look forward to their new works in that nerdy breathy way we crazy readers do. And then the new book falls a bit flat and you start to reassess your reader-to-writer relationship.  Was it really love? Was I crazy? Should we have broken up sooner?

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I am afraid this is where I am with Ken Follett’s newest book “A Column of Fire.” Now don’t get me wrong, a writer who can spend 800 pages writing about the construction of a cathedral and make it dramatic and engaging is brilliant. So, Follett will always have my love for that.  But this third installment in the Kingsbridge series just didn’t hold me in the same way.  Even setting the book during the rein of Bloody Mary and Elizabeth the First didn’t keep me interested.  Which is impressive because the Tudors hold my interest in the way that many folks love the Real Housewives shows – it is a rich, bloody, back-stabbing mess.  I have thought long and hard about what this book was missing and for me I think it was character connection.  It was clear who the protagonists were but I wasn’t wildly rooting for them.  This left their destinies a bit uninteresting for me.  I guess for me Ned Willard can’t hold a candle to Jack and perhaps therein lies the rub.  If you have traveled this far with Kingsbridge this book is still worth the read but I just don’t think it holds up quite as well as the other two.

This leads me to my new love affair with Lisa Wingate the author of “Before We were Yours.” This is another historical fiction book set on the Mississippi River in the late 1930s.   It focuses on the illegal kidnapping of hundreds of children by Georgia Tann who ran the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage in Memphis.  Wingate has used fictional children and families to illustrate the destruction that Georgia Tann wrought on low income families and single mothers for more than 20 years. In a time when adoption records were sealed and with powerful judges, doctors, and police officers receiving kickbacks and bribes from Tann, families who lost their children to the orphanage were powerless to recover them.  While many of these children were adopted by families of better financial means this did not keep them safe from abuse, neglect and

Unknown-2.jpegin some cases death.   Perhaps some of the most famous cases of such abusive adoptions were those of movie stars June Allyson and  Joan Crawford (Mommy dearest anyone?) who both adopted children from Tann.

Wingate’s story is beautifully woven regardless of the harrowing historical backdrop.  She uses the strong unbreakable ties of siblings and the importance of  the need to feel rooted in who we truly are to carry the characters through decades of loss, change and then renewal.  Her ability to set the stage for the reader with her descriptions and a strong sense of place seemed to imply that the places we surround ourselves with are just as important as the people that surround us.  Our sense of place (the water we played in as children, the porch we sat on, the tree we climbed, the flowers we always smelled in the Spring) is a part of who we are just as much as family – and recovering both can be enormously healing.

While I did struggle a bit with part of the modern day story line that is interwoven with the past, Wingate’s writing was strong enough to pull it off.  And strong enough to make me wonder what else has this Wingate written and why is our relationship just starting?

I guess the long and short of it is, I am quite fickle in my author love affairs and I am always happy to be swept off my feet by a new author.   Now I am back with a newish-old love, Celeste Ng, and so far her second book is living up to all the hype.

November 10, 2017 at 2:47 pm 4 comments

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

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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