August Reading Wrap Up

August started strong, but then I stumbled for a couple weeks in terms of reading. I just wasn’t motivated to dive into (or finish) anything.  Distressingly, I set two titles aside for later — not quite giving up, but waiting for a better time. In better news, I did complete by Dusting Off The Bookshelf challenge — more to come on that this week.

By the numbers: 8 books, 8 reviews on Goodreads, 3 reviews on alenaslife, 1 oldie from my shelf – #dustingoffmybookshelf, 1 from my 2014 personal challenge (non-fiction), 2 audio, 2 set-aside

August 2014 books

From most to least favorite: (Overall, I really ended up liking everything I read this month)
Shotgun Lovesongs, Nikolas Butler, already reviewed

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, Susannah Cahalan, already reviewed

The Flying Troutmans, Miriam Toews #DustingofftheBookshelf

So wonderful and quirky and unexpected. Black comedy at its best. I am ashamed that I have not gotten around to writing the review this book deserves.

“It’s impossible to move through the stages of grief when a person is both dead and alive, the way Min is. It’s like she’s living permanently in an airport terminal, moving from one departure lounge to another but never getting on a plane. Sometimes I tell myself that I’d do anything for Min. That I’d do whatever was necessary for her to be happy. Except that I’m not entirely sure what that would be.”

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches: A Flavia de Luce Novel, Alan Bradley (audio book)

I am very sad to have completed this book, as it is the last in Bradley’s 6-book Flavia de Luce series. I have truly adored each and every installment in the series and The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches is no exception. This is the only one, however, that I don’t think would stand alone without reading the preceeding novels. This finale ties together many outstanding questions left from the 5 murders Flavia has “solved” in her 11th year. I listed the audio versions of all these books except the first. Jayne Entwistle does a magnificent job bringing these books to life.

“Why is it that the facts closest to our noses are the ones that are hardest to see?”

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened, Allie Brosch 

Not my typical read at all — a collection of comedic illustrated essays — but I had heard really great reviews from readers I trust. And I’m glad I snapped my mini-reading funk with this book. I read this in one sitting with no problem. Fast-paced, acerbic humor (as in I was laughing out loud at the pool) balanced with heartbreaking honesty. I recognized myself several times throughout. It’s really good read.

“But trying to use willpower to overcome the apathetic sort of sadness that accompanies depression is like a person with no arms trying to punch themselves until their hands grow back.”

Fourth of July Creek, Smith Henderson, already reviewed

We Were Liars, E. Lockhart

Despite my “advanced age,” I love that the YA fiction genre really coming into its own, filled with great characters, sharp writing and high emotion. We Were Liars has all of these qualities, plus some additional twists and turns. It just didn’t quite reach the level of an overall great read for me. Wounded and vulnerable and misunderstood teenagers make for great books. I just never quite fell in love with this set the way I think I was supposed to. The other problem here is that I predicted the central plot twist very early on in this novel.

“Silence is a protective coating over pain.”

Still Life with Bread Crumbs, Anna Quindlen (audio book)

Perfectly pleasant, very readable, likable characters, good story, interesting setting. Nothing earth shattering here but I can never go wrong reading Anna Quindlen.

“Then when she really thought about it she realized she’d been becoming different people for as long as she could remember but had never really noticed, or had put it down to moods, or marriage, or motherhood. The problem was that she’d thought that at a certain point she would be a finished product.”

What I set aside this month…

The Rise & Fall of Great Powers: Good book, bad narrator. Set aside the audio 25% in. Must get print version.

A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert “Believe It or Not!” Ripley. Lost momentum 2/3 the way through. Will finish this month (?)

 

My August Photo Collage is comprised of book covers uploaded from Goodreads.

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A November Reading Wrap-Up

I did post an individual review of my favorite book in November (actually my favorite book I read this year), Tell the Wolves I’m Home, but I managed to complete quite a few more novels. Here’s a wrap-up of what I read in November.

Harry Potter Prisoner of AzkabanHarry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (audio)

4 stars

My sons and I have been listening to the Jim Dale audio versions of the Harry Potter series and this one did not disappoint us. I love how Rowling tackles the trials and tribulations of a boy growing up. Of course Harry’s world is fantastic and dangerous and full of wizards and magic, but at its core, this entire series is a coming-of-age saga. The four of us experience the books each in our own way. That’s an achievement in itself – the fact that my sons want to sit in the car just to listen to more is astonishing.

“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”

GoldGold by Chris Cleave

3.5 stars

I was so eager to read Cleave’s follow-up to Little Bee that it’s no wonder I was slightly disappointed. I loved the high stakes world of Olympic cyclists and I have to say that Cleave really understands how to write broken, wounded women, but I was never 100% invested in either of the protagonists. Gripping while it lasted, but didn’t stay with me long.

“Love wasn’t supposed to require the constant reassurance. But then again, love wasn’t supposed to sit watching its own reflection in a dead TV while temptation rode a blazing path to glory.”

LLots of Candlesots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen (audio)

4 stars

Listening to Quindlen read her own essays was an easy pleasure. I admit there were moments when I felt “too young” to totally identify with her, but how can I complain about a book that makes me feel too young? Seriously though, I loved the prompt to think about where I am in my life — both what’s behind me and what’s ahead. Quindlen has a remarkable way of bringing me in tune with myself. There are no huge revelations of life-changers in this collection, just an interesting collection of thoughts from a very strong writer, woman and mother. I’m a little jealous.

“One of the useful things about age is realizing conventional wisdom is often simply inertia with a candy coating of conformity.”

The Perks of Being a WallflowerThe Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

4 stars

I almost feel bad about how much I liked this coming-of-age novel because it’s all so obvious and melodramatic, but I loved it. I fell right into this dysfunctional world of overwrought and seriously damaged teenagers and didn’t want to come out. Nothing subtle about Chbosky’s writing, but I didn’t expect anything else from YA. What he did successfully was capture that very particular moment in teenage-dom when you are both cynical and naïve.

“I guess what I’m saying is it all feels familiar. But it’s not mine to be familiar about. I just know another kid has felt this…all the books you’ve read have been read by other people. The songs you love have been heard by other people. The girl that’s pretty to you is pretty to other people. You know that if you looked at these facts when you were happy, you would feel great because you are describing “unity.””

taftTaft by Ann Patchett

3 stars

Definitely not my favorite Patchett. As I expected she sets an incredible scene (in this case Memphis) and gives the readers a multitude of interesting characters, both black and white, trying to balance life’s joys and challenges. There are peaks of drama and a whole lot of internal monologues. All typical Patchett stuff. But this story, this setting, these characters never really captured my interest. Looking back on the body of her fiction work, I can say that her books just keep getting better and better.

“As a state, Tennessee was nearly as screwed up as Texas, in that a man’s allegiance wasn’t to the whole state, just that little part he comes from. People got stuck in the mountains. But in Memphis there’s a river running through the middle of things. It takes people out, brings other ones in. That’s why mountain people kept to themselves and delta people make love in alleyways.”

 

Flight BehaviorFlight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

4 stars

Kingsolver returns to the citizens of rural Appalachia, which she writes so well. Still socially responsible (and even a little preachy at times) she still drew me in to Dellarobia’s world. From the very beginning with its description of a flame-haired woman ready to throw away her life for a moment of rapture, I was hooked. Dellarobia’s natural intelligence and wit, combined with her desire for something more out of life, was a winning combination. Add to that a thought-provoking treatment of the global warming crisis, and I had a winning book.

“…and understood that he had become himself, in the presence of his wife. With the sense of a great weight settling, she recognized marriage. Not the precarious risk she’d balanced for years against forbidden fruits, something easily lost in a brittle moment by flying away or jumping a train to ride off on someone else’s steam. She was not about to lose it. She’d never had it.”

W…W…W…Wednesday

I’m back with a new W…W…W…Wednesday. Sorry that last Wednesday just got away from me. Just answer the following three (3) questions…

• What are you currently reading? • What did you recently finish reading? • What do you think you’ll read next?

What are you currently reading? Almost finished with The Perks of Being a Wallflower which I am loving. There’s something so comforting about YA, where all the emotions are broiling right there on the surface. It’s both easy and satisfying. My audio choice, on the other hand, is the dense and mysterious All the Pretty Horses. I’m not sure I’ll make it through 10 discs, but I feel a responsibility to read Cormac McCarthy.

What did you recently finish reading? Took me a while to finish Chris Cleave‘s Gold, but I really enjoyed it. Aso finished the audio version of Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen. She’s simply a terrific essayist.

What do you think you’ll read next? Next in hardcover, the completion of my Ann Patchett Project. I finally have a copy of Taft. But Tell the Wolves I’m Home is calling my name too.

What are your W…W…W… titles?

W…W…W…Wednesday

It’s Wednesday. Some say Hump Day. Some say Halloween. I say it’s time to play a little book game. Just answer the following three (3) questions…

• What are you currently reading? • What did you recently finish reading? • What do you think you’ll read next?

What are you currently reading? Just started Chris Cleave‘s Gold, which has been on my list for some time. Listening to the last disc of Fool by Christopher Moore. It’s his raunchy retelling of King Lear. So funny, so clever, plus the bonus of narration of Euan Morton. A true delight.

What did you recently finish reading? Finally finished The Forgetting Tree by Tatjana Soli. I loved her book The Lotus Eaters but couldn’t quite get in the groove of this one. Some excellent writing, but I never connected to the two main characters. Took me a full week to read. That could have been because I paused to read the excellent short story collection, Astray, by Emma Donoghue. She took tidbits from historical documents about immigrants and castaways and created moving and interesting stories about them. I highly recommend for short story or historical fiction lovers.

What do you think you’ll read next? I’m planning to start the audio version of Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen. I own the book version but never got to it so I’m hoping the audio will be a good one. Next in hardcover, the completion of my Ann Patchett Project. I finally have a copy of Taft.

What are your W…W…W… titles?

Monday Quote – Anna Quindlen

In books I have traveled, not only to other worlds, but into my own.”

author image from Goodreads

Anna Quindlen,    How Reading Changed My Life

Anna Quindlen has been much on my mind the past week. With the press tour for the release of her new book Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, she has been everywhere from television, to Twitter, to a video chat on Goodreads. I’ve followed her career from journalist, to essayist, to fiction writer, so I was thrilled to participate in the iVillage Twitter party and the video chat. (In the interest of full disclosure, I won a copy of her new book – randomly chosen from participants.)

I find her interesting and witty. She was as clever in 140 characters as she is in her books. I admire that she has made motherhood her priority above all things and found a way to not let that hamper her success. She seems the kind of person I could sit down with to have coffee and talk life.

Only once this week did I feel out of synch with her. When asked about the lack of a Fiction Pulitzer this year, she seemed unfazed. She admitted to not being very upset because, in her words, she couldn’t think of a truly outstanding candidate. I was taken aback and a little horrified that an author would diss her contemporaries so openly. I disagree with her strongly on this point and can point to at least three novels I believe are Pulitzer-worthy, but I get the feeling Quindlen simply speaks her mind. Since I respect that quality in a person, I’ll have to just agree to disagree about the Pulitzer.

So back to the quote…I chose this one because it doesn’t just address the “external” world created by writer, but about the internal changes books bring to both the readers and the authors. I have not read How Reading Changed My Life, but I have lived that sentiment.