July Reading Wrap Up

Summer hours and a week-long getaway made for a great month of reading for me. New releases and many titles that had been lingering on my to-read for far too long are finally finished.

July Reads

By the numbers: 13 books, 13 reviews on Goodreads, 5 reviews on alenaslife, 4 oldies from my shelf – #dustingoffmybookshelf, 2 from my 2014 personal challenge (set in a foreign locale & a classic), 1 audio

From most to least favorite:
The Painter, Peter Heller  Reviewed

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan Reviewed

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, Chris Bohjalian Reviewed

The Girl You Left Behind, Jojo Moyes  Reviewed

Birds of a Lesser Paradise, Megan Mayhew Bergman

This outstanding collection of short stories has been on my to-read shelf for years just waiting for my discovery. I fell hard for these brilliant, quirky, animal inspired stories. All are about survival despite the odds. They inspired me and entertained me. Bergman is definitely an author I’ll watch for.

“I wished for things to stay the same. I wished for stillness everywhere, but I opened up the rest of the bedroom windows and let the world in.”

The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd Reviewed

Bellweather Rhapsody, Kate Racculia

Another book that defies any easy description. Mix together temperamental artists, teen angst, middle-ages loneliness, and a mystery. Then plop all of it in a crumbling Shining-style grand hotel and you’ll get a feel for this novel. High drama and high stakes vs. ruin and decay. Really enjoyed reading it, even if I couldn’t swallow the actual story line.

“Maybe that’s what he reminds her of: they are both full of dark corners, odd places, possibly ghosts.”

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston

A very difficult read for me for two reasons. 1) All of the dialog is in heavy dialect so I had to pick apart the language, especially in the first half. 2) I have a hard time not applying my modern values/standards to what I read — which is really unfair given the early 20th century, black community setting of this book. I sometimes wanted to shake the main character Janie, but ultimately, I’m really glad I read this book. It will stick with me.

“The years took the fight out of Janie’s face. For a while she thought it was gone from her soul…But mostly she lived between her hat and her heels, with her emotional disturbances like shade patterns in the woods — come and gone with the sun.”

Silver Linings Playbook, Matthew Quick

Engrossing and enjoyable read despite the heavy mental illness subject matter. Even though I didn’t see the movie I was heavily influenced by its stars in visualizing this book as I read.

“I am practicing being kind over being right.”

Emotionally Weird, Kate Atkinson

This novel has so much confusion — stories within stories, mysterious characters coming and going, multiple fonts, unreliable narrator(s) — all purposeful. I was often lost, but never frustrated or disinterested because it also has Atkinson’s wit, humor and beautiful writing. I suppose there’s a plot — mother and daughter on a decaying Scottish island trying to tell their personal truths, claim identity. It’s all rather circular and a little bit beside the point (although, true to Atkinson’s other works, there are multi-layered connections among characters and everything gets tied together well.)

“Memory is a capricious thing, of course, belonging not in the world of reason and logic, but in the realms of dreams and photographs — places where truth and reality are tantalizingly out of reach.”

The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes, Diane Chamberlain

This book is much more made-for-tv-movie than my usual reading choices, but I had no trouble getting caught up in CeeCee’s story. It’s fast paced and engaging, even if I don’t want to believe any woman (even a 16 year-old) would be gullible enough to fall for the lines that ensnared CeeCee.

“You got dealt some crappy cards. But you’re the one who has to decide how to play them.”

Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

A carry over from June, I struggled to make my way through this book, which I truly wanted to love. I liked the first part and the last part (up until he final 2 pages), but the 300+ pages in the middle left me unmoved, even a little bored. There were some things I loved. I love the blog posts that show up in the novel. These were the most enlightening, passionate, personal moments in the novel, I loved learning about Nigeria and Nigerian culture. Certainly my eyes were opened to the many ways in which Americans (myself included) are blind to racism and cultural identity.

“And her joy would become a restless thing, flapping it’s wings inside her, as though looking for an opening to fly away.”

The Wife, The Maid and the Mistress, Ariel Lawhon on audio

This historic fiction is based on the real-life disappearance of New York State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Creighter in 1930s. Lawhon does a great job of evoking the era, filled with politicians, gangsters and corruption and sets up some delicious characters as the title implies. I wasn’t crazy about the mystery itself. The plot developments felt a little forced and overall, it moved too slowly to make it thrilling. (I probably would have preferred to read the print instead of listening to the audio over the course of a month.)

“His hand left a trail of shame across her skin.”

My July Photo Collage is comprised of book covers provided by Goodreads.

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W…W…W…Wednesday: Books read, reading and to read

I missed all of my fellow WWW-ers last week, but I decided I would not spend a day of my family vacation glued to WordPress. Instead, I was reading!!!! More books than I’ll even mention in this post, but reviews and wrap-up are rolling out on the blog this week.

Thanks to Miz B at Should Be Reading for inspiring so many of us to get involved in WWW Wednesdays. It’s always so great to see what everyone is reading.

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?

 

cover image from Goodreads

cover image from Goodreads

What are you currently reading?  Just starting a short story collection, Birds of a Lesser Paradise that has been on my shelf for a couple years. I needed something completely different in style to sort of clear my mind and this does the trick. Really strong writing and interesting characters, which are key to successful short stories. On audio, I’m back into The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, the 6th installment in the Flavia de Luce mysteries. I just adore Flavia and I appreciate how Bradley is bringing together the previous stories and mysteries in this one (which I hope is not his last).

 

 

cover image from Goodreads

cover image from Goodreads

What did you recently finish reading? So many books! Most recently I read a classic (another of my personal 2014 goals). Their Eyes Were Watching God was a very difficult read for me for two reasons. 1) All of the dialog is in heavy dialect so I had to pick apart the language, especially in the first half. 2) I have a hard time not applying my modern values/standards to what I read — which is really unfair given the early 20th century, black community setting of this book. I sometimes wanted to shake the main character Janie, but ultimately, I’m really glad I read this book. It will stick with me.

 

 

cover image from Goodreads

cover image from Goodreads

What do you think you’ll read next?  I have a lot of reading goals for August, including two non-fiction books, Brain on Fire and A Curious Man, and another classic, 1984, but first up a fiction book recommended by a friend, Shotgun Lovesongs. I love a good small town drama.

Happy reading everyone!

How about you?

What are your W…W…W… titles? Please feel free to share a link to your own W…W…W…Wednesday posts or share your reading plans in the comments.

 

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.”

Best Book Quotes of the Week

Best Book Lines Quotes, past and current.

From Laura McBride, We Are Called to Rise

“How can both worlds exist, the one where a life is meaningful and the one where it means nothing? Does not the presence of one negate the other? Emily is dead. Children are raped. Mothers have killed. Isn’t it obvious that what is happening to me does not matter?”

Fewer than 100 pages into reading this book, and already loving its tone and its characters. Avis is struggling with the breakup of her marriage after almost 30 years.  While I don’t share her struggle, I get the agony of living among evil sometimes. McBride is doing a great job of dealing with pretty meaty issues, while the focus stays on great storytelling.

From Dan Chaon, Among the Missing

As her husband held her close, she could feel the pulse of other choices, other lives, opening up beneath her. Her past crackled behind her like a terrible lightning, branches and branches, endless, and then nothing. ”

Who has not wondered about the path not taken? I can’t help but do it on occasion. But in Dan Chaon’s hands, that innocent wonder becomes something electrifying. The “what if” is really the concept that holds the entire collection together.

From Amy Bloom

You are imperfect, permanently and inevitably flawed. And you are beautiful.

My favorite Goodreads Quote of the Day this week. I have not yet gotten around to reading Bloom’s newest book, Lucky Us, but I hope to get to it this summer. In a culture that places so much importance on image, it’s always nice to be reminded that it is our imperfections that give us character and true beauty.

From R.J. Palacio, Wonder

“She said soft words that I knew were meant to help me, but words can’t change my face.”

Another old Goodreads review that popped up this week. Wonder was the first children’s (even younger than YA) fiction that I had read in some years, but I loved it despite the manipulation of my heart-strings. This quote always reminds me of the flip-side of “words can hurt.” Of course words, especially the taunts of peers, can hurt. The sad truth is that words cannot fix the perception (or reality) of deformity or illness or even perceived ugliness. Such a simple truth from Auggie, a truly remarkable narrator.

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

Another editition of 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?

Among the MissingWhat are you currently reading? I am a big fan of Dan Chaon’s full-length novels so his short story collection, Among the Missing,  has been on my TBR for a very long time. Found it on the shelf and the library last week and I’m so glad I did. Half-way through and savoring ever word. Chaon has a great talent for getting inside our insecurities and bringing them to life in situations so real, I feel like I’m deep in each story. He’s just a terrific writer.

Prayers for the StolenWhat did you recently finish reading? This weekend I finished Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement. I posted a review yesterday so I won’t repeat all my opinions here. I should add though, that I can’t get some of the images Clement created out of my mind. I don’t read much about Mexico, especially considering my heritage, but this is inspiring me to learn more and investigate what other authors are out there writing about what’s going on in that country right now.

 

We Are Called to RiseWhat do you think you’ll read next? I received an email that We Are Called to Rise is waiting for me at the local library so I’ll go pick that up today. Very excited to read this title, which could lead to great disappointment, but I’m hoping great reading instead.

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?

Paperback Pick – The Color Master

I saw in the New York Times that Aimee Bender’s latest masterpiece is now out in paperback, perfect for summertime beach bags.

The Color MasterThe Color Master

Aimee Bender

Aimee Bender’s collection of stories satisfied all my desires. Powerful, dark, magical, engaging and filled with unforgettable images.

Not surprisingly, I was most moved by the stories containing magical realism, especially “The Color Master,” “The Devourings,” and “Appleless.” Bender has an amazing ability to immerse readers in an alternate universe while making it seem all too real. These stories touch me emotionally and their “truths” are more real to me than a story set in my own backyard.

“And in it all, the sensation of shaking my fists at the sky, shaking my fists high up to the sky, because that is what we do when someone dies too early, too beautiful, too undervalued by the world, or sometimes just at all — we shake our fists at the big, beautiful, indifferent sky, and the anger is righteous and strong and helpless and huge. I shook and I shook, and I put all of it into the dress.”

I was pleasantly surprised that her more realistic tales held the same kind of resonance for me. “The Red Ribbon,” “The Fake Nazi” and “The Doctor and the Rabbi” are excellent examples of short stories that stand alone as full-bodied, if incredibly lonely, works of fiction.

“It is so often surprising, who rescues you at your lowest moments.”

I’ve determined that I will pretty much follow Aimee Benderwherever she goes. Immensely satisfying.

For more of my Aimee Bender love, read:

My review of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake and Food for Literary Thought.

 

Astray – a short story review

When I read an author I admire, I often wonder what inspires their stories. Emma Donoghue provides the answers in this wonderful collection of historical fiction shorts about castaways, immigrants and lost souls. Each story contains an afterward referencing her inspiration — sometimes a newspaper article, sometimes a moment in history or famous court cases.

I appreciated reading the fiction story first, falling enveloped into the tiny worlds Donoghue created in a few short pages, before I knew the germ of the fact that inspired her writing. Finishing the whole collection in one day, I greedily moved from one story to the next, soaking up the atmosphere that holds the whole book together.

For all the praise and notoriety Room brought Donoghue a couple of years ago, Astray is a return to her earlier work. The characters all seem smeared in Dickensian grime, the streets are dirty and unfriendly, and the outcomes are rarely pleasant.

No tidy bows, no pat solutions to life’s challenges — just good, tight stories about interesting characters.

Loved it.