Thursday, August 29, 2013

Book Thoughts - The Dinner by Herman Koch

The Dinner by Herman Koch
originally published 2009, published in US 2/12/13
304 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

It's a summer's evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse — the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened.

Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.

My thoughts -

Holy cow.

I almost don't know how to review this novel, because part of its power is in its insidious surprises. I definitely think this is a novel that is better to go into not knowing TOO much, because as each knot is untied, each secret revealed, the twists and turns are so much more shocking when you don't see them coming.

I've seen several comparisons between this novel and Gone Girl, and even though I didn't care for that one, I can understand the connection between the two. I think the reason The Dinner DID work for me was because it was so much more subtle - nothing is obvious, and a large part of the tension in the novel is left up to the reader. Koch's characters do not give up their secrets easily, but I found that necessary work to be part of what compelled me to keep reading.

This was not an easy read - the subject matter is dark, and the issues complex and difficult. I was particularly interested in the questions raised about what lengths a parent should go to in order to protect their child. I would imagine a book club having much to discuss after reading The Dinner.

"Without knowing glances - without winks - there was in fact no secret - that was my reasoning. It might be hard for us to put the events in the cubicle out of our minds, but in the course of time, they would start to exist outside us - just as they did for other people. But what we did have to forget was the secret. And the best thing was to start forgetting as soon as possible." (p. 150)

I don't know that this will be one of my FAVORITE reads of 2013, but I do know it will be one of the most memorable. It's treatment of parental responsibility, violence, and mental illness left me thinking long after I'd turned the last page. Recommended for readers willing to take a disturbing journey into a dark place.

Finished - 7/31/13
Source - South side library
MPAA rating - R - please don't give this to your child
My rating - 8/10

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sunday Shorts

Brother Odd by Dean Koontz
published 2006
384 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

Loop me in, odd one. The words, spoken in the deep of night by a sleeping child, chill the young man watching over her. For this was a favorite phrase of Stormy Llewellyn, his lost love, and Stormy is dead, gone forever from this world. In the haunted halls of the isolated monastery where he had sought peace, Odd Thomas is stalking spirits of an infinitely darker nature. . .

My thoughts -

After being a bit disappointed with the second novel in the series, I was happy to see that this third installment was back to a more interesting, less chase-y plotline. The brothers in the monastery were an entertaining bunch, and this novel's supernatural elements were fun and spooky. Back to the kind of storytelling I enjoy from this author.

Finished - 8/2/13
Source- South side library
MPAA rating - PG-13
My rating - 7/10

Odd Hours by Dean Koontz
published 2008
368 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

After grappling with the very essence of reality itself, after finding the veil that separates him from his soul mate, Stormy Llewellyn, tantalizingly thin yet impenetrable, Odd longed only to return to a life of quiet anonymity with his two otherworldly sidekicks — his dog Boo and a new companion, one of the few who might rival his old pal Elvis. But a true hero, however humble, must persevere. Haunted by dreams of an all-encompassing red tide, Odd is pulled inexorably to the sea, to a small California coastal town where nothing is as it seems. Now the forces arrayed against him have both official sanction and an infinitely more sinister authority...and in this dark night of the soul dawn will come only after the most shattering revelations of all.

My thoughts -

So I'm officially "in" this series now - my OCD has kicked in, and I have to read them all until I'm finished. This installment in the series was surprisingly less supernatural-y, and more grounded in real life bad guys doing real life bad things, which was an interesting change. I'm intrigued by the character of Annamaria, and excited to see that she carries over into the next novel. Fun stuff.

Finished - 8/3/13
Source - loan from my mom
MPAA rating - PG-13
My rating - 7/10

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
published 2011
audiobook, narrated by Khristine Hvam

Synopsis from publisher -

I'm telling you why we broke up, Ed. I'm writing it in this letter, the whole truth of why it happened.

Min Green and Ed Slaterton are breaking up, so Min is writing Ed a letter and giving him a box. Inside the box is why they broke up. Two bottle caps, a movie ticket, a folded note, a box of matches, a protractor, books, a toy truck, a pair of ugly earrings, a comb from a motel room, and every other item collected over the course of a giddy, intimate, heartbreaking relationship. Item after item is illustrated and accounted for, and then the box, like a girlfriend, will be dumped.

My thoughts -

Meh. This was an interesting idea, and I thought Daniel Handler might do an interesting job with this premise, but ultimately it was TOO whiny for me. I couldn't really feel sorry for Min, and Ed was just irritating. I think this particular YA novel just doesn't translate well for an adult audience.

Finished - 8/3/13
Source - South side library
MPAA rating - R for language and adult situations
My rating - 5/10

Disenchanted & Co., Part 1 - Her Ladyship's Curse by Lynn Viehl
published 8/12/13
400 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

In a steampunk version of America that lost the Revolutionary War, Charmian (Kit) Kittredge makes her living investigating magic crimes and exposing the frauds behind them. While Kit tries to avoid the nobs of high society, as the proprietor of Disenchanted & Co. she follows mysteries wherever they lead.

Lady Diana Walsh calls on Kit to investigate and dispel the curse she believes responsible for carving hateful words into her own flesh as she sleeps. While Kit doesn’t believe in magic herself, she can’t refuse to help a woman subjected nightly to such vicious assaults. As Kit investigates the Walsh family, she becomes convinced that the attacks on Diana are part of a larger, more ominous plot—one that may involve the lady’s obnoxious husband.

Sleuthing in the city of Rumsen is difficult enough, but soon Kit must also skirt the unwanted attentions of nefarious deathmage Lucien Dredmore and the unwelcome scrutiny of police Chief Inspector Thomas Doyle. Unwilling to surrender to either man’s passion for her, Kit struggles to remain independent as she draws closer to the heart of the mystery. Yet as she learns the truth behind her ladyship’s curse, Kit also uncovers a massive conspiracy that promises to ruin her life—and turn Rumsen into a s supernatural battleground from which no one will escape alive.

My thoughts -

Okay, first of all, isn't Kit Kittredge one of the American Girl dolls? The one during the Great Depression? I had a really hard time getting that out of my head throughout the reading of this novel.

I'm finding drawn to this genre more than I ever have - I think it's because they really seem to be a complete escape from reality for me, and things at work and home have been pretty intense lately. It's so nice to just lose myself in a completely different world every once in awhile. I thought this was an interesting premise, and think Kit herself could develop into a heroine I can be fond of - this first novel in the series just seemed to have too many loose ends for me to fully enjoy it. I will most likely look for the second in the series, just so I can see how things resolve.

Finished - 8/15/14
Source - review copy from publisher via Netgalley - thank you!
MPAA rating - PG-13 for adult situations and fantasy violence
My rating - 6/10

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Book Thoughts - We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
published 5/31/13
296 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

Darling is only 10 years old, and yet she must navigate a fragile and violent world. In Zimbabwe, Darling and her friends steal guavas, try to get the baby out of young Chipo's belly, and grasp at memories of Before. Before their homes were destroyed by paramilitary policemen, before the school closed, before the fathers left for dangerous jobs abroad.

But Darling has a chance to escape: she has an aunt in America. She travels to this new land in search of America's famous abundance only to find that her options as an immigrant are perilously few

My thoughts -

Last month the longlist for the Man Booker Prize was announced, and because I am just swimming in free time right now, I thought it would be fun to try and read some of the titles before the prize was announced. (Why not, right??) This is the first time I've intentionally read books listed for a specific prize, and I know the Man Booker prize selections can sometimes be challenging, so I'm interested to see what I think of these titles.

We Need New Names is the first novel in my Man Booker experiment, and I think it was a great one to start off the reading. In the past, the titles on the list have seemed intimidating, but this novel was accessible and gripping from the start. Bulawayo gives readers a world-wise and yet still innocent narrator in Darling, and viewing both Zimbabwe and America through her eyes is an enlightening experience.

Darling and her friends live life in Zimbabwe in conditions that seem difficult but not dire - while they are hungry at times and skirt the edges of danger and the law, their days are still centered around their games, or going to church, or making fun of the white NGO workers coming to pass out food and small gifts. It would be interesting to read a comparable novel from an adult's perspective, because while Darling is a fascinating voice, I was never quite convinced of her reliability in conveying the actuality of her situation in Zimbabwe.

"Heavenway is mounds and mounds of read earth everywhere, like people are being harvested, like death is maybe waiting behind a rock with a big bag of free food and people are rushing, tripping over each other to get to the front before the handouts run out. That is how it is, the way the dead keep coming and coming." (p. 134)

I found the second half of the novel, when Darling arrives in America, to be even more perilous than the first - no one tells Darling what she will have to give up for her big "chance" to come to America. Watching her lose contact with the friends and family, and the sense of alone-ness and invisibility she felt was heartbreaking. America is not the paradise Darling expects, and while she manages to leave Zimbabwe with some of her innocence left, that is quickly crushed when she arrives in Michigan. Bulawayo captures the disappointment of the immigrant experience in a way that her readers will not soon forget.

"Because we were not in our country, we could not use our own languages, and so when we spoke our voices came out bruised. When we talked, our tongues thrashed madly in our mouths, staggered like drunken men. Because we were not using our languages we said things we did not mean; what we really wanted to say remained folded inside, trapped. In America we did not always have the words. It was only when we were by ourselves that we spoke in our real voices. When we were alone we summoned the horses of our languages and mounted their backs and galloped past skyscrapers. Always, we were reluctant to come back down." (p. 242)

I found Bulawayo's writing to be exceptional - emotional at times, sharp and funny at others, always perfectly descriptive of the place and people she wrote about. I almost felt like this was more a collection of linked short stories than a true novel - each chapter's events were fully contained, and there was not necessarily an overarching plotline that carried throughout.

I found this novel to be fascinating and disturbing and emotional and challenging. I would absolutely recommend it - I will definitely be anticipating the next work by this author. What a great start to my Man Booker experiment!

Finished - 8/5/13
Source- South side library
MPAA rating - R for violence, language, adult situations
My rating - 8/10

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Bout of Books - Progress reports

Well, friends, here's the dilemma - I've joined this read-a-thon to encourage myself to read more books this week, but all I wanted to do yesterday during my reading time was play around online, getting acquainted with the Bout of Books and it's participants. *sigh*

I'll update my daily progress on this post, so those of you who care can check back, and those of you who are completely uninterested can just skip it! =)

Monday's Progress -

Time spent reading - 20 minutes in print and 1 hour in audio

Books read - The Color Master by Aimee Bender (print) and The Vampire Diaries: The Struggle by LJ Smith (audio)

Books finished - none

Notes - I am going to struggle with balancing my online time and my reading time. Must prioritize better!!

Tuesday's Progress -

Time spent reading - 30 minutes in print and 1 hour in audio

Books read - The Meryl Streep Movie Club by Mia March (print) and The Vampire Diaries: The Struggle by LJ Smith (audio)

Books finished - none

Notes - I had a hard time staying awake tonight - sleep was the priority over reading. Thank goodness for commutes or I wouldn't be getting any reading done!

Wednesday's Progress -

Time spent reading - 30 minutes in print and 1 hour in audio

Books read - The Meryl Streep Movie Club by Mia March (print) and The Vampire Diaries: The Struggle by LJ Smith (audio)

Books finished - none

Notes - note to self - the week from hell at work is not the best time to be trying to increase your reading. While I'm not necessarily reading MORE, I am certainly having a good time participating in the challenges and general reading goodness that has been Bout of Books this week.

Thursday's Progress -

Time spent reading - 2 hours 20 minutes in print (Woo hoo!)

Books read - The Meryl Streep Movie Club by Mia March, The Color Master by Aimee Bender

Books finished - The Meryl Streep Movie Club by Mia March

Notes - Finally, a day where I could really sit down and read for a while - it felt great! It helped to have such a fun and entertaining novel to sink into. I feel like I've finally gotten my groove for this read-a-thon - better late than never.

Friday's progress -

Time spent reading - 1 hour in audio

Books read - The Vampire Diaries: The Struggle by LJ Smith

Books finished - none

Notes - I am making a quick trip up north tomorrow to visit family - my sister is in town from Wisconsin - so my free time today was spent getting things ready for a day trip with two toddlers.

Saturday's progress -

Time spent reading - 3 1/2 hours in audio

Books read - The Vampire Diaries: The Struggle by LJ Smith

Books finished - The Vampire Diaries: The Struggle by LJ Smith

Notes - yay for a road trip to help me finish my audiobook! No time to read my physical copy today - too busy playing with the fam. Had a great day - now I'm exhausted!

Sunday's progress -

Time spent reading - 2 1/3 hours in print

Books read - Looking for Alaska by John Green

Books finished - Looking for Alaska by John Green

Notes - it was nice to finish up the Bout of Books with two strong days of reading - one in audio and one in print. While I didn't meet all of my goals this week, I had a lot of fun, and will definitely be joining in next time!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Bout of Books 8.0 - Sign up and Goals

Okay, friends, I'm taking the plunge -  

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 19th and runs through Sunday, August 25th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 8.0 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

I'm riding a bit of a high from having so much fun during the Dog Days of Summer Read-a-Thon, so I thought I'd try to keep the momentum going and sign up for this event. Since the goal seems to be to challenge MYSELF, it seemed like a great fit.

The Bout of Books hosts encourage participants to set goals for the week, pushing themselves to read more than they normally would during that week. I'm using the goals template found at the Bout of Books website -  it's quick and easy, and hits all the main points.

Goals for the Week -

Time Devoted to Reading -

I want to try and read 1 and 1/2 hours each day. This will be a stretch, but I think it's possible.

My Goals -

I can normally finish 1-2 books per week, depending on their length and level of intensity. I'd like to push myself to finish 3 books this week - 2 lighter reads, and 1 more serious - as well as finishing the audiobook I'm currently about 1/3 of the way through.

Books to Read -

Witch World by Christopher Pike
The Meryl Streep Movie Club by Mia March
Harvest by Jim Crace
The Vampire Diaries: The Struggle by L.J. Smith (audiobook)

So there we go - now it's time to stop blogging and start reading!

Dog Days of Summer Wrap-up

Oh, I had such a great time participating in the Dog Days of Summer Read-a-Thon. It was fun to read along with others, fun to check out some of these
teen "classics" that I've missed along the way, fun to have an excuse to read more! Here's what I read -

My Sweet Audrina by V.C. Andrews - Okay, I have to admit this was entertaining, but seriously? It was a little bit like eating an entire chocolate cake - you know it's a bad idea even while you are doing it. I can see why these novels are popular with teens, though - So. Much. Drama. And for a kid who thinks their life is just THE WORST, reading about someone who has this much crap going on must be comforting. Fun, but I think this will be my first and last by this author.

The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening by L.J. Smith - I was pre-disposed to enjoy this because I watched the tv show for a few seasons back when it started, so I had a feeling this would be a fun read. I was pleasantly surprised at how non-annoying I found most of the characters - but is it a vampire-story thing, or just a teen-romance thing, where the girl is in love with the guy after about 2 minutes? Because that's a little troubling. All in all, though, I enjoyed it, and found the next book on audio so am continuing the series.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares - this is my favorite of the books I read this weekend. I really appreciate the author's ability to portray each of the girls in a way that feels honest, and also that she didn't try to lessen the importance of their relationships with their families. I am definitely going to read more in the series - this book just made me happy the whole time I was reading it.

Heart to Heart by Lurlene McDaniel - Yep, this is the cover on the book I read. And the main characters' names are Elowyn and Arabeth. It was actually like reading the script for one of those old ABC Afterschool Specials - someone dies, and it serves as a warning to the friends, but ultimately everyone winds up feeling better about themselves. I can absolutely see how teenage girls eat this up.

Now I'm thinking of joining in the Bout of Books, which is another read-a-thon taking place this week. It's just so much fun!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Dog Days of Summer Read-a-Thon - check in!

Just a quick check-in on my Dog Days of Summer Read-a-Thon progress - this is fun! I actually started a day early, because I solo parent the twins on weekends, and I knew I would actually have more time to read Friday that either of the two days on the weekend, but I've surprised myself with my ability to sneak in a chapter or two here and there. Here's what I've finished -

 My Sweet Audrina by V.C. Andrews - wow. Just wow. I think I said on Twitter that it was a little bit like a Lifetime movie on steroids - this was a fun read, but I felt a little bit ashamed of myself the whole time.
The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening by L.J. Smith - I have to admit to being a fan of this series thanks to the tv show - it was my guilty pleasure a few seasons back - and it was fun to see how the book and the series were both similar and different.

I have also started a couple more -

The Vampire Diaries: The Struggle by L.J. Smith - I realized my library had this on audio, and thought it would be great for the times this weekend when I actually have to be doing something, like fixing meals, or doing laundry. I'm about 1/3 of the way through.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares - I was a fan of the movie, and I'm happy to say I'm enjoying the book as well. I'm about halfway through the novel, and expect I will be done before the day is out.

I've also been checking in on Twitter when I can - it's been fun to see what the my fellow readers have been doing this weekend.

This is the first time I've participated in a read-a-thon as a reader, and I'm loving it. Thanks bunches to the ladies at The Estella Society for hosting this fun event - now back to the books!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Book Thoughts - The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
published 2006
288 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children's imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn't stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an "excitement addict." Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever.

Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town — and the family — Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape. He drank. He stole the grocery money and disappeared for days. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents' betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home.

My thoughts -

I spent most of the reading of this book alternating between horrified and fascinated, and feeling a little bit like a voyeur watching something that I should probably stop. It took my several weeks to read - very unusual for a book weighing in at less that 300 pages - but I kept having to put it down over and over again. After nearly every chapter I just felt emotionally drained, needed a break, while I was incredibly interested in the story, almost dreaded picking it back up again.

It's hard for me to "review" a book that is the author's memories of her own growing up - how can I critique the narrative arc when it's just the author's actual life? I found her tone to be surprisingly unsentimental, which I assume comes from being enough years away from the events in the book that she can look at them through a somewhat more professional lens. I think the tone is what made the book work, in a way - if she had been overly emotional, her story could have seemed more sensationalized than real. But the way Walls tells this tale, there is no doubt that every word is true.

I found this to be a hard book to read. I'm not sorry I did, and I think it is an excellent piece of writing, but I don't think it will be one I will chose to revisit. If you are interested in a good memoir, this is certainly one to consider, but make sure you are ready.

Finished - 8/11/13
Source - loan from my mom
MPAA rating - R for violence and abuse
My rating - 8/10

I read this book for the Estella Project - find out more here!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The State of the Stacks - Dog Days of Summer Read-a-thon edition

I will be participating in the Dog Days of Summer Read-a-Thon hosted by the fabulous ladies at the Estella Society, and I thought it might be fun to take a look at the book stack I've prepared for this event.

The purpose of the event is a weekend of reading fun, fluffy books -specifically books you read as a teen. Now, I missed a lot of the typical "teen" fare when I was growing up - too busy reading the Austens and Brontes, so I thought it would be fun to go back and catch up on some of the stuff I missed as a youngster.

So here's what I have on deck -

Witch World by Christopher Pike - I know this author has been around since I was a teen, but I think this is his newest release. Oh well - it will still give me a taste.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares - I've actually seen this movie, and thought it was cute enough to want to read the book at some point. Now's the time!

Heart to Heart by Lurlene McDaniel - I know I read something by McDaniel growing up - she's the author where someone always dies, right? But I feel like a "teen read" weekend wouldn't be complete without SOMETHING by her.

Looking for Alaska by John Green - so technically NOT from when I was a teen, but since I was only so-so on the one book of his I've read, I wanted to give him another shot.

The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening by L.J. Smith - Oh, come on, of course I'm going to read this. The darn tv show is one of my guilty pleasures.

Just as Long as We're Together by Judy Blume - I honestly don't think I've ever read a Judy Blume novel. Kinda amazing, really.

My Sweet Audrina by V.C. Andrews - because how could I NOT include the queen of the cheesy teen horror novel genre. Also, I've never read anything she's written, so it fits.

Okay friends - what should I read first? I am fairly certain I won't get through all these in one weekend - I do still have 2 year olds to wrangle- so I want opinions on what I definitely shouldn't miss!!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Tried It and Tossed It

Not every book works for every reader - and I tend to be a particularly impatient reader. Here are a few books I tried that just didn't work for me.

The Last Original Wife by Dorothea Benton Frank
published 6/31/13
368 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

Leslie Anne Greene Carter is The Last Original Wife among her husband Wesley’s wildly successful Atlanta social set. His cronies have all traded in the mothers of their children they promised to love and cherish—’til death did them part—for tanned and toned young Barbie brides.

If losing the social life and close friends she adored wasn’t painful enough, a series of setbacks shake Les’s world and push her to the edge. She’s had enough of playing the good wife to a husband who thinks he’s doing her a favor by keeping her around. She’s not going to waste another minute on people she doesn’t care to know. Now, she’s going to take some time for herself—in the familiar comforts and stunning beauty of Charleston, her beloved hometown. In her brother’s stately historic home, she’s going to reclaim the carefree girl who spent lazy summers sharing steamy kisses with her first love on Sullivans Island. Along Charleston’s live oak- and palmetto-lined cobblestone streets, under the Lowcountry’s dazzling blue sky, Les will indulge herself with icy cocktails, warm laughter, divine temptation and bittersweet memories. Daring to listen to her inner voice, she will realize what she wants . . . and find the life of which she’s always dreamed.

My thoughts -

I know I've read something by this author before and enjoyed it, but this was just unpleasant. The author tells the story alternating between the viewpoints of Les and Wes (and can I pause for a moment and say.....Les and Wes? Seriously?), and it was hard to tell who was the more bitter and spiteful. I just couldn't read any more of how these two people disliked each other. I think I made it to page 40.

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
first published 1851
752 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

On a previous voyage, Captain Ahab lost his leg to Moby Dick, a monstrous white whale. Now, bent on vengeance against the whale, Ahab leads the crew of the Pequod on a pursuit that features constant adventure and horrendous mishaps. On its surface, Moby-Dick is a vivid documentary of life aboard a nineteenth-century whaler, a virtual encyclopedia of whales and whaling. But as the quest for the whale becomes increasingly perilous, the tale works on allegorical levels, likening the whale to human greed, moral consequence, good, evil, and life itself.

My thoughts -

Okay, I honestly gave this a fair try, but seriously? There was just NOTHING for me to grasp onto. I'm really giving this whole "reading the classics" thing a go, but this novel? Beat me. I'm not ashamed to say it. I have absolutely no desire to find out how this story ends. On to the next, friends. On to the next. Abandoned around page 123-ish.....

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Book Thoughts - Finding Colin Firth by Mia March

Finding Colin Firth by Mia March
published 7/9/31
336 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

After losing her job and leaving the husband she dearly loves, twenty-nine-year-old journalist Gemma Hendricks is desperate to save her career by scoring an interview with Colin Firth. But a much more local story steals her heart - and just may save her rocky marriage too. Thirty-eight-year-old waitress Veronica Russo, shocked by the unannounced arrival of the daughter she gave up for adoption two decades ago, becomes an extra on the movie set, wondering if happy endings - and a real life Mr. Darcy - are even possible. Twenty-two-year-old student Bea Crane, alone and adrift, longs to connect with Veronica, her birth mother, but she’ll discover more than she ever imagined in this coastal Maine town. And just when they least expect it in a summer full of surprises, all three women may find what they’re looking for most of all…

My thoughts -

This was an absolutely perfect summer read. If you have a vacation in your future that involves long hours sitting next to water, you should probably take this novel with you. It was sweet and funny and smart, and I enjoyed every minute.

Each of the three main characters faces a turning point in their lives - a serious, life-changing decision that will alter the course of their future. I haven't been in any of the situations described in the novel, but I still felt like I could empathize with each dilemma. I understood completely why each character felt the way she did, and could relate to their struggle to make the right decision. Yet even with all these serious moments, the novel never felt heavy - it was full of humor and fun, and I looked forward to picking it up each time I had the chance to read.

I think March's strength is in her characters- Bea, Veronica, and Gemma were each interesting and complex women, with strengths and flaws that made them feel completely real. I didn't find myself irritated with any of them at any point (a problem I have often when reading women's fiction). I also enjoyed the secondary characters, and found myself wanting to know more about some of their backstories. (Imagine my delight to discover that March has already written one book about this lovely town, featuring three of the characters I found most enjoyable. Guess what book I'll be looking for next?!)

The storyline itself was not particularly new or surprising - more than once, I could sense what would be coming ahead for a character. But I was having so much fun with the story that I really didn't care - it felt familiar and comforting rather than predictable, and I was happy to be correct in predicting happy endings.

I really found this novel to be a delight. It made me happy- what more could I ask for? Recommended.

Finished - 7/26/13
Source - review copy from publisher via Netgalley - thank you!
MPAA rating - PG-13 for some adult situations and language
My rating - 8/10

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

What's Making Me Happy This Week

9 years ago today, we were getting ready for a wedding. Our families were gathering, we were decorating and planning, rehearsing and celebrating. 9 years later, it was still the best decision I ever made.

Happy Anniversary to my love.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Book Thoughts - The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian

The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian
published 7/13
320 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

1943: Tucked away in the idyllic hills south of Florence, the Rosatis, an Italian family of noble lineage, believe that the walls of their ancient villa will keep them safe from the war raging across Europe. Eighteen-year-old Cristina spends her days swimming in the pool, playing with her young niece and nephew, and wandering aimlessly amid the estate’s gardens and olive groves. But when two soldiers, a German and an Italian, arrive at the villa asking to see an ancient Etruscan burial site, the Rosatis’ bucolic tranquility is shattered. A young German lieutenant begins to court Cristina, the Nazis descend upon the estate demanding hospitality, and what was once was their sanctuary becomes their prison.

1955: Serafina Bettini, an investigator with the Florence police department, has her own demons. A beautiful woman, Serafina carefully hides her scars along with her haunting memories of the war. But when she is assigned to a gruesome new case — a serial killer targeting the Rosatis, murdering the remnants of the family one-by-one in cold blood — Serafina finds herself digging into a past that involves both the victims and her own tragic history.

My thoughts -

I have mentioned before that I'm not always sure why I keep picking up Chris Bohjalian's work - I always feel like I REALLY SHOULD like his novels, and then they tend to fall short for me. I think, in general, he and I differ on the way a story should end, and his work has left me feeling unsatisfied in the past. So, inevitably, when I found myself picking up his latest novel from the library shelves, I did question my own choice just a bit. Happily, however, I think I've finally found the Bohjalian novel that I enjoyed as much as the rest of the world seems to.

I never have any complaints about the writing, and this novel was no exception. Bohjalian captures the tension of the end of WWII in Italy; the idyllic life in Florence that is threatened by both the Germans and the Italian partisans; and the fear of the violence that is about to overtake them all. This is not a setting that I've read about before, so it was quite interesting and I thought Bohjalian did an excellent job of giving readers a sense of the historical place of his novel.

I think the heart of the novel is the question of how far each person is willing to go - each character is, at some point, faced with a dilemma, and their response to that situation has far-reaching consequences, for themselves and their families. Bohjalian allows the reader to asses for themselves which characters made the right decisions, and whether or not they truly had any choice in the matter.

The Light in the Ruins is compelling reading, and I found it to be both entertaining and thought-provoking. I did guess the killer about halfway through, but it was still fascinating to wait and see how that person would be revealed. If you are looking for a good literary mystery, don't pass this one up. Recommended.

Finished - 7/27/13
Source - South side library
MPAA rating - R for violence and adult situations
My rating - 8/10

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Book Thoughts - Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
published 4/31/13
audiobook read by Fenella Woolgar

Synopsis from publisher -

What if you could live again and again, until you got it right? On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, while the young century marches on towards its second cataclysmic world war. Does Ursula's apparently infinite number of lives give her the power to save the world from its inevitable destiny?

My thoughts -

First off, why in the world did I think I didn't like Kate Atkinson's work? I know I've tried to read a novel of hers in the past, and for some reason didn't care for it - now I think I definitely have to go back and try again. Life After Life is absolutely one of the more original and absorbing novels I've read in a very long time.

You've all heard the premise, right? And you know that Atkinson repeats the beginnings of Ursula's life over and over and over again. I have a feeling some readers will find this annoying, but I found just enough changing each time - a different narrative perspective, perhaps, or new details divulged - that I didn't get fatigued by the repetition.

I think that slight change is the key - every version of Ursula's life changes in some little way, but it brings about an completely different ending. The decision to walk home a different way - a chance meeting of a man on the street - going back for a dog during a bombing attack - all of these small decisions make, literally, a life or death difference, and that's what makes Ursula's story so compelling.

Atkinson tackles a multitude of difficult subjects, which is my one slight quibble with the novel - it seemed a little like the author was trying to tackle every single controversial issue she could think of all at once. However, despite the issue overload, she does handle each and every one of them with a great deal of thought and care, and leaves the reader with much to ponder each time.

I think if you can get through the first 100 pages or so, you will fall into the rhythm and flow of the novel, and will be hooked. For the reader with a bit of perseverance, I think this novel more than rewards. Definitely recommended.

Finished - 7/19/13
Source -
MPAA rating - R for lots of adult situations and violence
My rating - 9/10