January books — 2013 off to a strong start

Not only is my 2013 off to a very quick start (I’ll never be able to keep up the 10 book/month pace), it’s off to a good one. Of the 10 books I completed in January, most were well above average. A couple surprised me. A couple disappointed me. And all made me glad I love to read.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

4 stars

fun homeA very quick, if mildly disturbing, read. This is my first experience with a graphic-book and I found the illustrations sometimes really added to the limited text,but in some cases stole from the sharp, crisp writing. Bechdel does not shy away from the discomfort inherent in not only her own coming out story, but the complicated back-story of her father’s closeted homosexuality. The complex father-daughter relationship was fascinating to me and I would have liked that to be fleshed out even more (in terms of text). Overall, I was impressed by this memoir.

He used his skillful artifice not to make things, but to make things appear to be what they were not.”

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

4 stars

Previously reviewed

The air would smell like taffy and drying seaweed, and they would wear white, and there would be still more happiness. So much happiness. It was almost as exhausting as this relentless February.”

With or Without You by Domenica Ruta

3.5 stars

Previously reviewed

Is it possible to have nostalgia for a time in which you never lived? I’m sure there is a word for this phenomenon in German — beautiful, absurd, and twenty letters long.”

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

3 stars

the chaperoneI really liked so much of this book (including Elizabeth McGovern’s excellent narration), but it just went on so long. I felt like it had several false endings, places where I was finished but then it kept going. Maybe the problem is just that I didn’t expect an epic when I began. The story covers almost 50 years of Cora’s life in a great deal of detail. And while I find the 20th century interesting background, I was frustrated at Moriarty’s need to touch on so many different “issues” — Prohibition, adoption, gay rights, reproductive rights, suffrage. Add to that, Cora happens to witness or read about dozens of historical events. I began to feel manipulated after a while. What a I loved was the relationship between Cora and Louise Brooks. I would have been much more satisfied had she ended the book after their summer together.

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.”

The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger

3.5 stars

Deceptively simple story about a Bengali woman, Amina, who meets her American husband on-line, moves to Rochester and struggles to bring her parents to America. Immigrations, marriage, family, desire, truth are the themes all tangled under the surface story.  I liked Amina a lot and thought the author brought up many interesting questions, but the other characters didn’t seem as truthful to me. I couldn’t understand their motivations or transitions,which is what prevents a higher rating. I would read more of this writer.

You thought you were a permanent part of your own experience, the net that held it all together — until you discovered that there were many selves, dissolving into one another so quickly over time that the buildings and trees and even the pavement turned out to have more substance than you did.”

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

4 stars

Reviewed previously

You must accept the reality of other people. You think that reality is up for negotiation, that we think it’s whatever you say it is. You must accept that we are as real as you are; you must accept that you are not God.”

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (audio)

4 stars

Another great installment of Harry Potter. I can see that the tone of these novels has really darkened considerably. There were moments when my youngest was truly afraid. It’s quite an accomplishment that, even knowing that Harry will survive, I feel the danger and fear he faces. The suspense and environment are so rich, that “spoilers” don’t even interfere with the drama. Can’t wait to start the next one.

If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison

2.5 stars

I really, really wanted to like this book but I couldn’t. In fact, I cared so little about it when it was over that I didn’t write any sort of review or notes and now I can only remember a disabled teenager, a grieving loser-ish thirty-something and a trip in a van where they pick up all sorts of oddballs. It sounds like a premise I’d love (kind of Little Miss Sunshine), but it never came together.

I know I’ve lost my mind. But I’m not concerned, because it’s the first thing I’ve lost in a long time that actually feels good.”

There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories byLudmila Petrushevskaya, Anna Summers (translation)

Dozens of short stories, most about people whose lives are not going to work out no matter what they do or hope for. I’m sure they are a reflection of the author’s Soviet reality, but, not only were they depressing, I never found any one or any moment to hold on to. Reading this was like skipping stones over a very flat, dark, lake. Ultimately unfulfilling. I received a complimentary copy of this book from Penguin Books in exchange for my honest review.

A Red Herring Without Mustard (A Flavia de Luce Mystery #3) by Alan Bradley

4 stars

A Red Herring without MustardWhile other books were failing me, Flavia was there to bring a smile to my face. As usual, this precocious 11 year-old amateur chemist/detective found herself embroiled in murder and mayhem. While there is a certain formula to all these books, Bradley wisely goes deeper into each character with the succession of novels. We learn more about Flavia each time and get to know more about her long-lost mother Harriet, who posthumously plays a huge role in the emotional undercurrent of this book. The “Buckshaw Chronicles” are a smart, entertaining, emotionally fulfilling series of mysteries. I’m so grateful their interesting titles drew my eye a couple of years ago.

Whenever I’m with other people, part of me shrinks a little.  Only when I am alone can I fully enjoy my own company.”

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The Casual Vacancy – a new review

The Casual VacancyI really enjoyed this novel. I’ve only ever listened to Rowling’s Harry Potter books on audio, but I’ve been consistently impressed by her character development, attention to detail and evocative settings. This book has all of those things.

When Barry Fairbrother dies in a small English town, he leaves “a casual vacancy” in his seat on the local Pagford Parish Council. Through this position, we then meet dozens of his fellow Pagford residents and a few from neighboring Yarvil. Reading about them was like peeking into their diaries. Rowling leaves no stone unturned in searching for her characters’ underbellies, and in turn, the underbelly of the community they represent.

The criticism this novel has received, in fact, revolves in large part around the fact that these characters about whom she writes 500+ pages, are not entirely likable. While that’s true, it didn’t bother me in the least. I didn’t mind that they were petty, guilty, crazy, addicted, ineffectual, suspicious, lewd, sad people. I still liked going along on this journey.

“The mistake ninety-nine percent of humanity made, as far as Fats could see, was being ashamed of what they were; lying about it, trying to be somebody else.”

Rowling is definitely of the school that an author should never introduce a character or plot point that does not have some greater meaning. So in the last 1/3 of the book, I was a little annoyed at some “contrived” meetings of characters and situations. But, this is how she writes. She is making a point about the way in which lives are interconnected. I chose to suspend my disbelief and, in the end, was entirely satisfied with where she left each character.

Did I miss the Harry/Ron/Hermione heroics? Yes, a little bit. But I would argue that The Casual Vacancy does have its share of heroes, at least heroic moments. It’s just that they’re human. They’re small and subtle, tiny victories over our more base natures.

“You must accept the reality of other people. You think that reality is up for negotiation, that we think it’s whatever you say it is. You must accept that we are as real as you are; you must accept that you are not God.”

W…W…W…Wednesday

www_wednesdays44

Where do the weeks go? It’s Wednesday again 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? The Casual Vacancy, which received a lot of flak for its bevy of unlikable characters, but I’m liking them so far. Not sure what it says about me, but I love the small-town politics and intrigue. Listening to the 3rd installment of the Flavia de Luce series, A Red Herring Without Mustard, and enjoying it immensely. Flavia always brings a smile to my face. Also from J.K. Rowling, my sons and I are on the last disc of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. We are definitely on the edge of our seats at the moment. These books are a real thrill.

What did you recently finish reading? Finished an advanced copy of a disturbing new memoir, With or Without You, by Dominca Ruta. Sometimes reading about another person’s crazy scary childhood makes me feel like my life has pretty much been a cakewalk. Also read The Newlyweds, which was a very interesting novel about a Bengali bride trying to make a marriage and life in America work, all the while missing her family in Bangladesh. (That is a really simple sentence about a really complex book.)

What do you think you’ll read next? Eager to start This is How You Lose Her on audio and The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving in hardback. I’ve been wanting to read both for a long time.

What are your W…W…W… titles?

W…W…W…Wednesday

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Another Wednesday has arrived. (Does this week seem endless to anyone else?) At least it’s an excuse to talk books (as if I need one). 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? Learning a lot about Bangladesh and the immigrant experience in The Newlyweds, a good suggestion from a good friend. Just started to listen to A Red Herring without Mustard, #3 in the Flavia de Luce series. I adore Flavia and the audio version is perfect for the car – I only wish I had a longer commute.

What did you recently finish reading? Finally finished the audio version of The Chaperone. There is so much to like about this book, but ultimately it was too much for me. I wanted a more narrow focus and more about Cora & Louise instead of mentioning every historical touchstone in the 20th Century. Loved The Twelve Tribes of Hattie. Just a beautiful, thoughtful book. It too spans much of the century, but to much greater effect.

What do you think you’ll read next? Just received noticed that The Casual Vacancy has finally arrived for me at the library. That will have to be next. My friends and critics I trust are evenly divided on this novel so I look forward to adding my two cents.

What are your W…W…W… titles?