From just OK to really great, my December reads

Live by nightLive by Night by Dennis Lehane

4 stars

Lehane continues to be an absolute pleasure, this time in audio version. Live by Night continues the story Joe Coughlin, who makes only a brief appearance in The Given Day. Filled with booze, mobsters, dames and violence, this novel is part film noir crime drama and part vividly detailed historical fiction. I love the mood Lehane sets and the darkly troubled characters who people his novels. Highly recommend.

I don’t think people are ready for moderation. It makes them think too much. People like sides, not subtleties.

on canaans sideOn Canaan’s Side by Sebastian Barry

4 stars

Stunning, vivid, beautiful writing. Barry examines the costs of war, speaking through the voice of an octogenarian Irish immigrant. I loved the format of Lilly writing her own history as she prepares to take her life. A sad premise, but ultimately very fulfilling, this is a book for which I wanted to (needed to) take my time and savor the language.

To remember sometimes is a great sorrow, but when the remembering is done, there comes afterwards a very curious peacefulness. Because you have planted your flag on the summit of sorrow. You have climbed it.

when it happens to youWhen It Happens to You by Molly Ringwald

3 stars

I picked this book up completely on impulse at the library and found it an enjoyable, if somewhat shallow read. I was frustrated that Ringwald didn’t fully commit to a novel, choosing instead to write it as intertwined short stories. I never quite knew whose story I wanted to follow and the book ended up failing as short stories and not quite meeting the demands of a novel. Still, I enjoyed the journey and found a lot of emotional truth in her characters.

It seemed to Greta that Theresa was one of those girls who spent all of her time being an imposition while obviously trying not to be an imposition. Almost everything Theresa said or did broadcast the message ‘I won’t take it for myself. You’ll have to give it to me.

one thousand white womenOne Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus

3.5 stars

Although it took me a while to really get into the groove of this epistolary novel, I ended up really enjoying the book. Based on the premise that Ulysses S. Grant attempted to broker peace with the Cheyenne Indians by trading white brides for horses, we follow the journal entries of a wealthy Chicago woman who sees her escape from a mental asylum in the fictitious program. While the premise is a lot to swallow, I found myself convinced enough by May Dodd’s voice and the details she provides, that I kept forgetting I was reading fiction.

That’s exactly the good thing about the Injun life–you don’t have to stop and think about whether or not you’re ‘happy’–which in my opinion is a highly overrated human condition invented by white folks.

telegraph avenueTelegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon

2 stars

Chabon is unquestionably a brilliant writer, with passages that stopped me with their beauty and evocative image, but his writing overwhelmed his storytelling. I never completely engaged with his characters or this story, which I found confusing. Since he asks readers to follow him through single sentences that span ten pages (no exaggeration), he’d really better make me want to go on that philosophical journey. He did not. I struggled to finish this book, but I would definitely give Chabon another shot.

The Secret History came off kind of boring in its particulars, truthfully, built on events and details and historical phenomena whose obscurity to Titus only deepened as his grandfather strung them together.
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6 thoughts on “From just OK to really great, my December reads

  1. Nice reviews! On Canaan’s Side looks really good, and I really need to get around to reading One Thousand White Woman — it’s been on my shelf for months.

    I’ve read one of Cabon’s books, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, and just could not get into it. Your review of Telegraph Avenue makes me think I’m right to skip reading it.

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