W…W…W…Wednesday: Books past, present & future

I offer a heartfelt thank you to the members of the blogging community who offered words of encouragement and support last week when I was feeling stuck in the reading mud. You inspired me to push through (and made it OK if I had decided to give up.) I did finish Americanah, and I’m glad I didn’t give up. Now on to more books, more plans and more reviews.

Thanks to Miz B at Should Be Reading for hosting. I have discovered so many other wonderful blogs through this book-loving meme.


I’d love to know what everyone is reading.  To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…(or post a link to your blog.)

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

the secret life of ceecee wilkesWhat are you currently reading?  The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes has been sitting on my to-be-read shelf for a couple of years. I finally chose it because one of my Goodreads reading groups is doing a Diane Chamberlain author challenge. Right away I know that it’s not a typical Alena read, but it feels good to read something easier to digest after some of the heavy reads lately. I’m not sure I’m buying the premise behind this story, but I’m curious to see where it goes.


What did you recently finish reading? I read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (another title that had been languishing on my TBR) for my in-person Book Club and I’m so glad I did. Dan Brown meets Harry Potter meets book nerds all set against a computer geek backdrop. A really enjoyable read. I also finished the above-mentioned Americanah, The Invention of Wings (reviewed yesterday) and the audio version of The Wife, The Maid and The Mistress, which moved a little slowly for my taste.

What do you think you’ll read next?  I’m beyond excited to dive into Close Your Eyes Hold Hands, Chris Bohjalian’s first foray into YA fiction, which is getting incredible reviews. I’ve been slowly making my way through this author’s enormous body of work while still keeping up with his new releases. He’s a solid writer who tells really interesting stories. Hope to start that this weekend. Also beginning a new audio today. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches is the 6th installment in the Flavia de Luce mysteries, which have charmed me each time. Outstanding narration of really great books. Looking forward to getting in the car each day.

All in all, I got a lot of reading done this week.

How about you?

What are your W…W…W… titles?

Thirty Days of Thankfulness: Week 2

I’ve continued to post one thing each day for which I am thankful over on Facebook. Not only have I appreciated the challenge of coming up with 30 variations of “my life,” but I’ve really enjoyed seeing what others have to say during this month of Thanks.

Here’s a round-up of Week 2 posts. I encourage everyone to take a moment to give thanks for one thing each day.

Day 9: Today I am thankful for Origins bath and beauty products (or, as I like to call them, “my lotions and potions.”) I first discovered their incredible bubble bath called “Gloomaway” years ago and have since samples scrubs, hair treatments, lotions and lip balm. Gloomaway lotion remains my favorite product (maybe because of the name), but I so love to see that green box on my birthday. Thanks hon.

Day 10: Today I am thankful for girlfriends. Over the course of my life I’ve had friends who’ve held me up, pushed me forward, caught my falls and, most importantly, made me laugh. Last night I was reminded again of the importance of friends. So to all of you old and new, thank you.

Day 11: Today I am thankful for the thousands of men and women who’ve bravely served in defense of our country and our rights. I think specifically of the men in my family, of whom I am so proud. I understand that my way of life would not be possible without veterans. I honor all of them today.

Day 12: Today I am eternally grateful for saying “yes” to my husband’s marriage proposal. It was the smartest decision I ever made. I thank him for the luckiest 13 years of my life. I found a partner for the journey and the greatest dad for our sons. I love knowing he’s got our backs, always.

Day 13: Today I am thankful for technology. Can’t imagine life without email, social media or my iPhone. Am I addicted to all these screens? Probably. I’m OK with that.

Day 14: Today I am thankful for my three sons. (Yes, I’m thankful for them every day, but today I’m putting it in writing.) Each in his own way brightens my life, touches my heart, makes me crazy and fills me with pride. My sons are terrific human beings. I am a lucky mom.

Day 15: Today I am thankful for Night Owls Book Club. It’s hard to believe I’ve been meeting with them once a month for over 10 years, but I’m grateful for over 100 terrific book discussions, exposure to titles I would have never read, and the chance to make some really nice friends. All ages, all reading tastes and all opinionated, Night Owls is a standing date on my calendar.

Also read in July

July was an extremely busy reading month for me. Thanks to my week-long vacation and a string of really excellent titles, I managed to finish 10 books last month. But, even with all the strong writing, I was not able to write individual blog posts or reviews for every single book. Here’s a round-up of what else I read in July, the good, the bad and the excellent.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian 4 stars

This book must have been recommended to me 20 times in the past few years, but somehow I never got around to reading it. I’m glad I did. Alexie does a brilliant job with Junior, growing up unpopular on a Spokane Indian reservation, which doesn’t hold a candle to freaky unpopular off the rez. “Life is a constant struggle between being an individual and being a member of the community.” He cleverly uses illustrations along with text and finds a heartbreaking honest voice for Junior. I can’t wait to introduce this book to my sons (just not quite yet.)

The Madonnas of Leningrad 2 stars

This was a Book Club pick; otherwise, I may have given up before finishing. I knew very little about the siege of Leningrad or the treasure of the Hermitage so I think the author, Debra Dean, hit upon a very winning subject. She had all the drama she needed in an unusual setting. Unfortunately, she never developed the characters enough to capture that background material. Boring.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone 4 stars

Another, “How could I have waited this long?” moment. When everyone else was caught up in the hysteria of reading these books, I was not at all interested. I didn’t read kids books, fantasy, or books that topped 700 pages. A couple of years ago my oldest son took on the entire series and finished it between school years. He too told me they were great. Finally, this summer, my sons had the challenge of needing to listen to an audio book for the summer reading program. I suggested we find something for the car that we could all listen to. Harry Potter won. Such a great book. Excellent writing which appeals on many levels. My sons just love the story and the characters. I appreciate that Rowling’s writing is also a magnificent metaphor for the trials of growing up, especially if you’re a little different from everyone else.

In One Person 3 stars

Only knowing John Irving’s work through film adaptations, I was shocked by this book. I’m not a prude by any stretch, but something about his descriptions of a bisexual boy coming of age in Vermont struck me as “dirty old man.” The sex passages felt lascivious instead of feeling integral to the plot or character development. And, in the end, I didn’t really get the book. I enjoyed reading it in the moment, but was left with, “So what?”



The Weight of All Things 4 stars

I picked this book off the library shelf because I remember reading and really liking Night of the Radishes last year. I’m glad I did. Once again, Sandra Benitez transported me to another place (war-torn El Salvador) so completely that I lost sight of where I was actually sitting (poolside in the American Midwest). We see the war through the eyes of 10 year-old Nicolas who feels the weight of his mother’s death in the book’s first pages. We then follow him over the next couple months where he is caught between and amidst both the guerillas and the national army. Benitez expertly shows the horrible costs of war, especially when there are no clear lines of bad and good, only the victims. Beautiful writing.

The Sandcastle Girls 4 stars

I knew nothing about the Armenian genocide when I opened this book. Seriously, I didn’t know it existed, so Bohjalian had an immediate hook for my interest. The intense drama of the circumstances provides an excellent backdrop for the novel’s love story. This is the kind of sweeping historical saga that I love to read. Bohjalian did not disappoint.

Living in the world of “Unless”

Cover of "Unless"

Cover of Unless

Although Carol Shields’ novel Unless has a tragic background, it doesn’t focus on a traditional story. Instead, we meet Reta Winters, whose 19 year-old daughter has chosen to sit on a busy corner in Toronto wearing a sign that reads only, “Goodness.”  Reta does not take dramatic action to retrieve her daughter. She does not yell or pull her hair. Instead, she thinks and she writes.

This kind of passive first-person storytelling will not work for all readers, but I loved Reta from page one.

Happiness is the lucky pane of glass you carry in your head. It takes all your cunning just to hang on to it, and once it’s smashed you have to move into a different sort of life.

I immediately understood the way she thinks, the way she views the fragile nature of happiness and the manner in which she tries to understand her own family crisis. All of this occurs while the world keeps spinning. Her two other daughters still need care. She still meets friends for coffee. She still has sex with her husband. What should she do with life once her taken-for-granted happiness had been smashed?

Shields enfolded me in the language of Reta’s thoughts. She did it so completely that I wanted to reach out and hug her. I want Reta for my friend. I want to hear more about how we continue to live with tragedy.

We had failed in our effort to live a happy life. Never mind our careful arrangements, we were about to be defeated. This despite the sweet burnt-tomato smell of lasagna rising from the oven.

I recently read an interview (http://www.shelf-awareness.com/readers-issue.html?issue=85#m1689) with Jessica Maria Tuccelli, whose first novel is about to be published. She remarked , “I enjoy writers whose love of language is boldly apparent.” Carol Shields was just that kind of writer. She used language to its best advantage and I was thrilled to live in that world for a few days.

Unless is the worry word of the English language. It flies like a moth around the ear, you hardly hear it, and yet everything depends on its breathy presence. Unless — that’s the little subjective mineral you carry along in your pocket crease. It’s always there, or else not there.

I was very sorry to learn Carol Shields died shortly after Unless was published. I have not yet read her Pulitzer Prize winning book Stone Diaries, but I will.