Also read in May

I didn’t come close to posting reviews of everything I read in May. I’m still trying to get back into the blogging groove and, perhaps, not all of them warranted an individual post.

So, what was I reading? From best to worst…

Individual posts went to What is the What and All the Light We Cannot See, my two 5-star reads for May.

The PossibilitiesThe Possibilities

by Kaui Hart Hemmings                                4 stars

I loved this novel of grief, life and possibility. Admittedly it was a little slow to get started, but what a rare treat to read a book that just keeps getting better and better. Sarah St. John is lost in a world of grief 3 months after her son Cully dies in an avalanche. She craves “knowing” but has more questions than answers. Her dad, Cully’s father and her in-the-midst-of-divorce best friend alternately comfort and irritate. Into all if this comes Kit with some answers that lead to more questions.

“You can’t compare and rank heartache. Pain is pain is pain. There is no precise measurement. No quarter cup.”

The Snow QueenThe Snow Queen

by Michael Cunningham           3.5 stars

From the start, this novel reminded me of La Boheme (or Rent for less operatic readers). We have illness, addiction, sex, money problems and even “visions” all in a crumbling apartment. The quality of writing alone rescues this novel from sappy to breathtaking. Cunningham so completely embodies his characters and captures their thoughts, fears and dreams, that even when I didn’t particularly like them, I was still interested.

“People are more than you think they are. And they’re less, as well. The trick lies in negotiating your way between the two.”

The Temporary GentlemanThe Temporary Gentleman

by Sebastian Barry   3.5 stars

I love the book’s Irish-ness. I love the lyrical, reflective moments. I like learning about early and mid-century Ireland as well as Accra…Barry really writes the stranger in a strange land well. I can’t even fault his protagonists, two young hopefuls busted and broken by booze and war. It’s all the makings of a great read, but it never quite clicked into gear for me.

“Just now and then, in my effort to form some sort of narrative, to touch accidentally on something rawer than a mere wound…I have evoked the gods of truth, and they will have their way with me.”

Frog MusicFrog Music (Audio)

by Emma Donoghue                        3 stars

I wanted to like this novel much more than I did. I’m a big fan of Donoghue and appreciate the thoughtful detail she puts in to her historic fiction — in this case 19th century San Francisco at the peak of a heat wave and small pox epidemic. It’s the details, I think, that bog the novel down. I’m normally a sucker for atmosphere, but in this case, all of the information seemed to make the book drag on for too long.

“better keep your mouth shut and seem stupid than open it and remove all doubt.”

The Red HouseThe Red House

by Mark Haddon               1 star

The premise – two estranged families on holiday together – holds so much potential. The author’s track record – The Incident of the Curious Dog in the Nighttime – predicts great writing. The ambition – stream of consciousness from alternating perspectives – indicates something interesting. All of the components should have combined into a great novel. Instead, I spent 3 days with a muddled, confused, overly-ambitious mess of a book.

“Family, that slippery word, a star to every wandering bark, and everyone sailing under a different sky.”

Best Book Quotes of the Week

Best Book Lines

“You’re 12 years old and you don’t yet know that you don’t know shit.”

Jonathan Tropper, Everything Changes

I was looking for a good, engaging audio book. Saw the combo of Tropper (author) and Scott Brick (narrator) and felt pretty confident. Within minutes I heard the above line. My sons are 13, going on 12 tomorrow and 9. I feel like saying this on almost a daily basis.

 

“…to be an artist you had to run the risk of failing, you had to close your eyes and step into the dark.”

Mark Haddon, The Red House

I really, really disliked this book and felt completely frustrated by the confusing writing style, but when I read the above, I wondered if Haddon was trying to explain himself. To my mind, his risk with this novel didn’t pay off, but I was reminded that writers are artists. Without risk, we’d all be stuck in place.

 

“Now we can stand and decide. This is our first chance to choose our own unknown…As impossible as it sounds, we must keep walking.”

Dave Eggers, What is the What

I was so inspired by this book and Valentino’s story as I indicated in my review this week, but this is the quote that sealed the deal for me. No matter the circumstances, whatever the world throws at us, we have to “choose our own unknown.” It’s a great phrase.

 

“No thief, however skillful, can rob one of knowledge, and this is why knowledge is the best and safest treasure to acquire.”

L. Frank Baum, The Lost Princess of Oz

This was my favorite Goodreads Daily Quote this week. It’s never bad to be reminded of what’s truly valuable and important in this life. Ageless wisdom.

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

Better late than never: What is the What

What is the What: cover image from Goodreads

What is the What: cover image from Goodreads

In lesser hands than Dave Eggers’, 500+ pages of tragedy, violence and deprivation would have been intolerable reading material. Fortunately for me, Eggers writes this story of the Lost Boys of Sudan with care, courage and even some humor so that I never lost interest or felt it went on too long.

Although it’s classified as fiction, it reads more like a memoir. We learn the personal tragedy of Valentino, a Sudanese boy whose world and family is ripped apart by war. He runs from his village under attack and just continues to run from refugee stop to stop, with violence and uncertainty trailing him.

“I do not want to think of myself as important enough the God would choose me for extraordinary punishment, but then again, the circumference of calamity that surrounds me is impossible to ignore.”

This “circumference of calamity” seems to expand exponentially as the book switches between his childhood and current day, when he is being robbed and held prisoner in Atlanta. Yet, the book never grows depressing or hopeless. Without creating any emotional distance, Eggers never over-dramatizes the tragedy; he uses the see-sawing timeline to continually remind the reader that our hero does indeed “get out.”

This novel (really a history lesson) never loses hope. These tens of thousands of children walked through a hell that never seemed to end, and yet many of them never gave up or gave in.

“Now we can stand and decide. This is our first chance to choose our own unknown…As impossible as it sounds, we must keep walking.”

It also helps that Valentino is so likably human, even when repeating the same mistakes.

“I wanted to be alone with my stupidity, which I cursed in three languages and with all my spleen.”

Truth be told, What is the What has been on my “To Read” shelf almost as long as it’s been published, but its sheer size and my love/hate relationship with Eggers’ books kept it from moving to the top. Three things finally pushed me to read this: 1) The VERY high recommendation of my friend Kathy, RA Librarian and someone who knows my reading taste well. 2) My 2014 reading goal to read more books that take place outside the US or England. 3) A May challenge in one of my on-line book groups to read a book with “What,” “Where,” “Who” or “Why” in its title.

Sometimes I just have to give it up to fate. This is an outstanding book.

Best Book Quotes of the Week

Best Book Lines

Imagine how many books I could read if I didn’t stop to write down quotes as I go along? Here I present the best lines I’ve read this week.

From Emma Donoghue, Frog Music

“This is what mothers do for their babies. They bite their tongues and let the world ride them into the ground.”

 

Not sure I want to think of myself as being ridden into the ground but Donogue gets down to business in this desperate moment of motherhood.

 

From Dave Eggers, What is the What

“I do not want to think of myself as important enough the God would choose me for extraordinary punishment, but then again, the circumference of calamity that surrounds me is impossible to ignore.”

I love the image of a “circumference of calamity.” He writes so incredibly well that, despite the devastation of his topic, I can’t wait to pick up the story again.

 

From Carol Rifka Brunt, Tell the Wolves I’m Home

“Because maybe I don’t want to leave the planet invisible. Maybe I need at least one person to remember something about me. ”

Although I’m not re-reading this favorite novel of mine this week, I was reminded of this quote by a new friend. Haven’t we all felt this way at one point, especially when we were teenagers.

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