October Reading Wrap Up

After my slow book month in September, I didn’t think it could get any worse. I was wrong. I don’t know if it was the books, or my schedule or just my mood, but I hardly read at all in October and it’s starting to get me down. (Followers will also notice that I didn’t do much writing or posting either…I just felt as if I didn’t have much to say.) But, if only to look back on later, I still provide my measly little wrap-up.

By the numbers: 4 books, 2 reviews on Goodreads, 0 reviews on alenaslife, 0 oldie from my shelf – #dustingoffmybookshelf, 1 from my 2014 personal challenge (poetry, non-fiction, foreign locale), 2 audio, 1 set-aside

October 2014
From most to least favorite:

Elizabeth is Missing, Emma Healey

Even though I guessed most of the plot early on, this tale held my interest and my heart. Maud is 82 and clearly has dementia, so when she insists that “Elizabeth is missing,” no one pays attention. As her memory and her independence continue to slip away, her past becomes more pronounced. Maud is the definition of an unreliable narrator but the way Healey handles her voice is brilliant. My heart broke for her in so many ways.

“The sun’s in my eyes and it’s difficult to see. The shape of her is distorted by the light, circles of her silhouette removed as if by a pastry cutter.”

The Drop, Dennis Lehane

My favorite part of reading Dennis Lehane is the way the atmosphere creeps off the page from the opening lines. His novels are dirty and violent, obsessed with society’s underbelly — the thugs and the losers. And yet…there is still beauty.

“His brain was not evil. He knew it wasn’t; he spent a lot of time wandering its pink folds. It was just confused and hurt and filled with misshapen parts like an auto junkyard.”

The Painted Girls, Cathy Marie Buchanan (audio book)

Despite some weaknesses in the writing, I love the atmosphere and I love the two main characters, Marie & Antoinette. Buchanan’s novel is based in historical facts set in late 19th century Paris. Degas and one of his most famous models are included, as are some famous criminals and authors. Those “real” moments, passages and people set an incredible background for Buchanan’s imagination.

“Willfulness, such as yours, is exactly what a girl needs to raise herself up to do something useful with her life.”


When the Killing’s Done, T.C. Boyle (audio book)

Complex and interesting subject, but unlikable characters.

“She was at sea. She knew the rocking of the boat as intimately now as if she’d never known anything else, felt the muted drone of the engines deep inside her, in the thump of her heart and the pulse of her blood. At sea. She was at sea.”

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

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.


Wednesday is back again. Gee it feels like just a week ago when I was working on this particular Q & A. Feel free to play along. 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? I just started Molly Ringwald‘s short story collection, When It Happens to You. It was a very impulsive choice when I saw it on the shelf at the library. I’ve only read the first story, but it’s pretty good so far. For my audio choice I needed an author whose name starts with “M” for a book group challenge. I was hoping for Kate Morton but couldn’t find anything, so I settled on Laura Moriarty‘s The Chaperone. It’s gotten mixed reviews, but I’m pleased to listen to Elizabeth Montgomery reading the novel.

What did you recently finish reading? Over the weekend I finished Sebastian Barry‘s On Canaan’s Side, which is just a terrific novel. Thoughtful, intelligent and evocative.  Also finished Dennis Lehane‘s Live by Night on audio. Great escape into Prohibition era gangster-controlled Tampa.

What do you think you’ll read next? Now that I’ve met my 90-book goal for 2012, I feel like the pressure is off my reading choices. I haven’t put anything on hold, but I may try Telegraph Avenue next. I also want to read Stone Diaries since Carol Shields made my Best of 2012 reading list.

What are your W…W…W… titles?


When in blogging doubt, just play a game. It’s Wednesday everyone and since I’m trying to get back in the writing groove, I thought I’d bring back a favorite Q & A. 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? Reading Sebastian Barry’s On Canaan’s Side, which may be contributing to my sluggish reading pace. It’s dense and wordy and thoughtful without much action — but it’s so, so good. I was a big fan of another of his novel’s The Secret Scripture and I think he’s just going to be one of those authors I can count on when I’m in the mood. Listening to another wordy writer, Dennis Lehane, on audio. Live by Night is a sort of continuation of The Given Day — mob meets immigration meets human rights meets film noir.

What did you recently finish reading? Last week I read Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver, which was pretty great. I also finished my Ann Patchett Project, reading the only one left on my personal list, Taft. I liked it, but didn’t love it. Glad I completed the project but I’m Patchetted out.

What do you think you’ll read next? I’m going to listen to something by Kate Morton next, to fulfill a challenge I’m attempting with my Goodreads book group. I’m open to suggestions, but may just choose from what’s available on the library shelf.

What are your W…W…W… titles?


It’s W…W…W…Wednesday. For me, it’s also the start of a 5-day weekend. Looking forward to tucking into some good books. What about you? To play along, 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? Reading the final pages of Taft by Ann Patchett. Earlier this year I endeavored to read all of her books by December. This is the last novel on my list. In typical Patchett fashion, I’m caught up in the people and the place. Not her best piece of work, but a good read. Listening to Dennis Lehane‘s Live by Night. This is a follow-up (sort of) to his novel The Given Day in that some of the same characters show up. This story is more Boardwalk Empire than historical fiction, but I’m loving it nonetheless.

What did you recently finish reading? I absolutely fell in love with Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. (See my previous post for my rave review and then, please, read it yourself.) On the other hand, I had to give up on the audio version of All the Pretty Horses. Cormack McCarthy remains one of those great authors I’ve never read.

What do you think you’ll read next? Next up, one of my favorite authors. I just got Barbara Kingsolver‘s new novel, Flight Behavior. I also have a new short story collection by Alice Munro.

What are your W…W…W… titles?

Food for literary thought

BEFORE YOU READ THE REST OF THIS POST, close your eyes and think about your favorite authors. I’m talking your “go-to” writers, the ones you’ve read and possibly reread. Can you say, “I’ve read almost everything written by so-and-so?”

This morning, the moderator of one of my Goodreads Book Clubs asked this very question. (Thanks Deb at Bound Together.) Without having to think too hard, I immediately answered.

I have several adored authors. If I had to choose a few whose books consistently blow me away, I’d go with:

Toni Morrison whose latest book in coming out in May. I know she’s not for everyone, but I love her voice and the way magic and ghosts and folklore are just woven into every story.

Ann Patchett because she’s smart and her settings are incredible and she can really craft a sentence.

Geraldine Brooks for historical fiction. No need to say more.

Aimee Bender is a newbie for this kind of list. But her books and short stories take me to such interesting places that I can’t wait to see what she has in store next.

As I prepared to post my comment, I realized that I had chosen all female authors. Frankly I was surprised. If you had asked me yesterday whether I preferred male or female authors, I would have refused to answer such a ridiculous question.  Of course I also have male authors I follow closely – Colum McCann and Dennis Lehane come to mind immediately.

I want to believe I read blindly when it comes to an author’s gender. But I’ve read multiple articles in the past month on the gender gap in literature and they have me questioning my own literary assumptions.

In a wonderful New York Times article by Meg Wollitzer, On the Rules of Literary Fiction for Men and Women – NYTimes.com, she writes:

But the top tier of literary fiction — where the air is rich and the view is great and where a book enters the public imagination and the current conversation — tends to feel peculiarly, disproportionately male. Will the literary habits of a culture change as younger readers take over?

I certainly don’t classify as a “young reader,” but I do believe I buck the male dominated trend.

  • According to my Goodreads stats, 51 of the 88 books I read in 2011 were by women. (I realize this is only one year of reading so it doesn’t prove much, but it’s all I’ve got.)
  • 9 out of the 10 books on my “Best of 2011” list are by women. https://alenaslife.wordpress.com/2012/01/03/bestbooks2011/ Again, it’s one year of many, but those are the numbers.

I want to believe that none of this matters. I want to assume that the above-mentioned authors are not my favorite because they are women, but because they are fantastic writers. But it’s given me food for thought today.

Now think back on the authors you chose as your favorites. Are they all one gender? Or, did you have some of each? Does it matter?