June Reading Wrap Up

The month of June offered a pretty terrific mix of books to read, both in new releases and me finally settling down with some “meant to reads.” I spent time with two of my favorite authors, Jonathan Tropper and Dan Chaon, plus cemented my love for Ruth Ozeki. I found three new authors and started the beautiful Americanah, which I’ll undoubtedly review in July.

June 2014 Reads

Here’s my June reading list, best to worst.

My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki — already reviewed

We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride – already reviewed

Among the Missing by Dan Chaon

I love best Chaon’s ability to tap into our innermost insecurities for examination. From the insecure widow looking for comfort from an inflatable torso in “Safety Man,” to a survivor wracked with unspeakable guilt in the title story. He doesn’t cross the line into magical realism but his stories retain an other-worldliness that appeals to me. It’s the stuff of deepest fears and imaginings, our dreams and nightmares, and even our everyday weaknesses. All of these stories somehow hinge on a seemingly random twist of fate.

“It’s not like it ruined my life, I was going to say, but then I didn’t. Because it occurred to me that maybe it had ruined my life, in a kind of quiet way–a little lie, probably not so vital, insidiously separating me from everyone I loved. ”

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez — already reviewed

Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement – already reviewed

Everything Changes by Jonathan Tropper (audio)

Not his best work, but any Tropper is good reading. The story felt familiar — Zach is a 30-something Jewish guy with serious father issues who faces a life-altering crisis. Drama, humor and fist-fights follow. It’s the standard Tropper mix but I’m OK with that. Sometimes I want something familiar and not too challenging. I like that Tropper’s protagonists, for all their self-pity, are smart, acerbic and disarmingly self-aware. (Scott Brick is a great narrator for Tropper’s work.)

“Somewhere there’s a therapist alone in his office staring wistfully at the door, just waiting for a patient like you.”

China Dolls by Lisa See — already reviewed

The Last Days of California by Mary Miller

It’s a great premise — a family trapped in the car together as they drive from Alabama toward California to witness the Rapture, which is scheduled for Saturday. The narrator is a 15 year-old girl, insecure in comparison to her bombshell sister and in search of life’s meaning before it all ends. Religious fervor. Coming of age. Sexual awakening. Family drama. These are all components I love, but it never quite came together.

“Why didn’t I feel things the way others felt them? It wasn’t that I didn’t care about people. It was more like I couldn’t really believe they were real.”

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James – already reviewed

Bark by Lorrie Moore

I really did not like this story collection despite the quality of the writing, which is often brilliant. Once again, I have finished reading Lorrie Moore and wondered why her work does not appeal to me at all. Instead of feeling engaged and satisfied and moved, I feel like I’ve just gotten off a roller coaster. I went for a crazy ride, zig-zagged and looped, but in the end I got nowhere and have a slight headache. I know Moore has passionate fans, some of whom are my good friends, but I saw none of the humor or tenderness or truth they find in her work.

“Rage had its medicinal purposes, but she was not wired to sustain it, and when it tumbled away, loneliness engulfed her, grief burning at the center in a cold blue heat.”

Book Review: China Dolls

China DollsIt’s kind of killing me to not love this book. Lisa See is an author whose work I eagerly await so when I got the email that this new release was waiting for me at the library, I rushed over. I expected evocative settings, heart-break and strong-willed, amazing female characters.

I got most of those things, most especially a detailed description of the Chinese nightclub scene in San Francisco in the 1930’s and 40’s. See brings this era to life vividly which I loved.

And there’s plenty of heartache and heartbreak to keep the story moving. Along the way she manages to confront war, racism, promiscuity, Japanese internment camps and lost loves. And really, she handles those issues deftly, weaving them into her story without unnecessary melodrama. But I would say this novel has a surprisingly melancholy feel. The emotional highs are always muted by the knowledge that the bottom is about to drop out.

“Dreamers are born to be disappointed.”

My bigger problem though, came in her three female characters. I never liked them. Grace, Ruby and Helen are passionate. They’re strong-willed. They’re complex. But they’re not likable. I couldn’t root for them in their times of trouble, nor celebrate their successes.

I fell so hard for the female characters in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love and Shanghai Girls, that these three suffered in comparison.

My 3 star rating may just be a matter of my sky-high expectations for Lisa See. This is a fine book, just not her best.

Best Book Quotes of the Week

Best Book Lines Quotes, past and current.

 

From Julian Barnes, The Lemon Table

“Geese would be beautiful if cranes did not exist.”

Julian Barnes would be the crane of literary fiction writers in this example. Not sure why my Goodreads review of this collection is suddenly getting some “likes” but I’m thrilled to be taken back this simple, but beautiful thought. I loved this collection of stories and I’m thinking I may need another Barnes fix.

From Laura Moriarty, The Chaperone

“The young can cut you with their unrounded edges…but they can also push you right up to the window of the future and push you through.”

Another old Goodreads review that popped up this week. I still haven’t figured out why this short review remains one of my most liked , but since I’ve been thinking a lot about how my sons are too quickly maturing from boys to men, this quote resonates with me. I give them much credit for pushing me right into the future.

From Ruth Ozeki,  “A Conversation with Ruth Ozeki” at the end of My Year of Meats

“I want to write novels that engage the emotions and the intellect, and that means going head to head with the chaos of evils and issues that threaten to overpower us all. And if they threaten to overpower the characters, then I have to make the characters stronger.”

No surprise that she perfectly describes why I love reading her books so much. Her books engage me on multiple levels with just the right amount of chaos, strength of character and story resolution.

From Lisa See, China Dolls

“Dreamers are born to be disappointed.”

This is such a melancholy thought and it’s the one that underlies most of the novel. It’s the flip side of my usual “dare to dream” approach to living. It just made me think.

From Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are

“Let the wild rumpus start!”

My favorite Goodreads quote of the day this week. I read it and felt a whirlwind of emotional recall. I remember reading it repeatedly as a child and then sharing with my own sons. This book captured all our imaginations. (And, it’s a great quote to start the weekend!)

 

Looking for more great quotes?

Check out: Thursday Quotables at Bookshelf Fantasies or Every Day Has. You can also find bookish quotes on Book Quotes Hub.

 

I’d love to know what lines have caught your attention.

W…W…W…Wednesday

I’ll tell you mine and you tell me yours. Thanks to Miz B at Should Be Reading for hosting.

www_wednesdays44

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?

Death Comes to PemberlyWhat are you currently reading? Today I will start my book club book for this month. I’m not too excited about reading Death Comes to Pemberly. Actually, I’m not excited about reading P.D. James. I was not a fan of An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, another Book Club pick. I have been told that this one is very different so I’m trying to keep an open mind. I have to remind myself that book club expands my reading horizons and selections.

 

China Dolls

What did you recently finish reading? Just finished China Dolls by Lisa See and I’m contemplating my review. My initial reaction is one of frustration because it didn’t live up to my personal Lisa See standards, but I enjoyed reading it. Loved the WWII time period and learning about the Chinese nightclub scene. She creates such wonderful atmospheres for her books. The problem is that I didn’t like the characters. I kept waiting to like them, but it didn’t happen.

 

We Are Called to RiseWhat do you think you’ll read next? I don’t have anything on hold at the library or waiting on my shelf so I’m in the happy position of being able to peruse the shelves. I do have some titles at the top of my To-Read, including We Are Called to Rise, which has gotten under my skin so I’m hoping to get into that soon.

How about you?

What are your W…W…W… titles?