Books of the Month | November 2017

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante –  I had a hard time getting into this book at first. There are a lot of characters, many of whom go by several different names. Fortunately there is a character list at the front of the book ; I honestly might not have stuck with it if it weren’t for that!  I referred to it a lot.  I almost gave up on it, but I stuck with it and ended up enjoying it. I don’t read many book series, but I did buy the second book in this series. I am not sure I will read them all, but I enjoyed the first enough to pick up the second! This book isn’t the fastest page-turner you will ever read, but it does give us a good sense of time and place. It’s a character-driven novel about a lifelong friendship in Naples, Italy. The first book takes place during the main characters’ childhoods up to one of their weddings (at age 16- still a child!). It was a bit slow going, but once I accepted that about it, I was able to enjoy it. I really had to force myself to slow down, though, and enjoy the ride. Maybe that’s a good thing.

The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich –  This was a very emotionally raw book that is a memoir alongside a true crime story of the murder of a little boy in 1992. There are a lot of triggers in this book that some people may find disturbing. I thought it was very interesting and well done. It is also very sad and disturbing.

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate – This novel is based on the questionable (illegal) adoption practices of the Tennessee Children’s Home  in the 1920s -1940s. Georgia Tann ran the home and adopted children out of it who were essentially kidnapped from mostly poor families. There are two storylines in this book, one takes place in 1939 and the other in present day. I much preferred the 1939 storyline, and didn’t care much at all for the writing of the second storyline (the writing had a quality that I just don’t care for i.e. too many descriptions of the heroine’s “blonde curly hair”, a romantic interest that I felt was unnecessary, etc) It’s hard to put my finger on what annoyed me specifically but I almost felt like the two stories were written by two different people. Still, I enjoyed this book and it brought to life a story from the past I wasn’t aware of. I liked the story, even if I didn’t always love the writing.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid – This is an entertaining and quick read about old Hollywood. The novel is about an actress who wishes to have a tell-all memoir penned about her before her death. Interestingly, this book suffered from the same syndrome as the book I read before it; there were two plot lines, and I found one of them much more interesting and better written than the other. The first is the story of the actress’ life, the second is about the reporter who is writing her memoir. I found the second storyline to be much weaker, poorly developed and probably unnecessary. This is a good book for travel because it’s fast paced (parts of it really sucked me in and I looked forward to getting back to it) and an easy read. It’s nothing deep or life-changing, but it is mostly entertaining.

Books of the Month | October 2017

October turned out to be a slower book month for me. I’m not sure why that is.

Hunger by Roxane Gay –  I really like Roxane Gay’s writing. It’s definitely a memoir, and most definitely not a weight-loss memoir. It’s specifically about an event in her life that shaped her both physically and emotionally, but also covers other autobiographical details. Much of it was very sad.

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline – this book is a fictionalized account of the story behind Andrew Wyeth’s painting “Christina’s World“. I really enjoyed this book. I love books that focus on a small slice of history and make me want to learn more about it. This was a quick read too; I read most of it on a plane.


The O. Henry Prize Stories 2017
– This collection is released annually and I can’t recall having read it in the past. I have read the Best American Short Stories before and been disappointed by them, but maybe I will try again. I enjoyed this collection much more and will definitely read next year’s volume. With compilations such as this, there are invariably stories that will stick with me more than others, but I enjoyed most of them here. I also really liked reading the stories behind the stories by the authors as well as the editors’ reasons for selecting the stories they did and their favorites.

My favorite this month: A Piece of the World (But I enjoyed all three of these books).

Books of the Month | September 2017

The good news is I did manage to get through  most of the library books I checked out for September (some just by the skin of my teeth!). But I have learned my lesson: don’t put too many books on hold. I got a lot of reading done this month, but several of these books were on the short side.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid – This book is touted as “one of the best of 2017”, but it really didn’t live up to the hype for me. It’s about a couple living in an unnamed, war-torn country with a desire to escape. They hear rumors of doors that act as portals to other countries and they travel around the world in this way, surviving together. It was a  good read for me, but not great. I just didn’t find it that memorable; to me books that fall in the “best of” category should stay with you a while after you put them down.

10% Happier by Dan Harris – I enjoyed this book as a guide about meditation and mindfulness and what worked for him. The book has a very “if I can do it, anyone can” message. I am interested in meditation and mindfulness as a part of overall wellness, so it may be a case of I read this at the “right” time. It’s a memoir of sorts, but it’s also about how to put mediation and mindfulness to use in our lives in a practical way.

The Readymade Thief by Augustus Rose – Another book that was just OK for me. Maybe I am too picky!  Or perhaps this genre just isn’t for me. The writing was fine, and parts of it really drew me in, but much of it was just too “DaVinci Code” for me.  It dragged a bit and was longer than it had to be in my opinion.

Books for Living by Will Schwalbe –  I came across this book in the bookstore and it looked interesting. The author also wrote The End of Your Life Bookclub, which got great reviews, but sounded too sad to me to read. I will definitely read it now. I really enjoyed  this book about books and reading. It’s not so much the books specifically he talks about (six of which I have read) that touched me so much as his thoughts on reading and how it affects our lives. The books he chose to talk about were an interesting and unexpected selection. One thing I really miss sharing with my dad is recommending books to each other. We had similar taste, but I haven’t had the opportunity to share a book with him for years. It really touched me  when the author talked about reading books that people who are no longer with us enjoyed or may have enjoyed, and keeping them with us in that way.

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong – This book is about a 30 year-old woman who comes home to live with her parents for a year to care for her ailing father who is in the early stages of dementia. This book touched me and made me remember some events from when my own father was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.  I might not be in a hurry to recommend this book necessarily, but drawing from my own life experience to relate to characters always makes me enjoy a book more than I might otherwise. I didn’t always relate to the main character, but there were certainly times when I did. The book was short at under 200 pages, and I was able to get through it quickly.

The Burning Girl by Claire Messed – I think most people who have been a teenage girl can relate to this story of friendship and growing up. Having said that, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. It’s well written, but for  a short book it dragged at times.  The narrater (Julia) felt a bit flat at times. Still, there were definitely parts I could relate to.

 

This month’s favorites: 10% Happier and Books for Living.

 

Books of the Month | July 2017

One of my intentions with this blog is to share the books I have read each month. Here is what July held for me in terms of reading.

Hostage  by Guy Delisle- I don’t often read graphic novels (I can only think of one other I have read, which is Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant by Roz Chast, which was excellent and came into my life at a very appropriate time). I am open to start reading more of them though.  I am starting to think of them more as short stories or novellas, rather than ruling them out as simply “not for me”. This book is a nonfiction account of Christophe Andre´, a Frenchman working for Doctors Without Boarders when he was kidnapped in Chechnya in 1997. The author/illustrator really gives you a good sense of what he went through, in terms of monotony, hunger, fear, discomfort, and pain. It gave me a sense of place, which I really value in books, graphic novel or otherwise. I read this very quickly, which I guess is the nature of graphic novels, even those over 400 pages.

The Children’s Crusade by Ann Packer – This is one of those books that’s hard to explain what it’s “about”. It’s a character (as opposed to plot)-driven novel about a family, a house, relationships, and the passage of time. The book bounces around through time and different character’s perspectives. I really enjoyed it, but others may find it drags a bit, especially if you need a page-turning plot to enjoy a book. The main theme of this book is family dynamics.

What Falls From the Sky by Esther Emery –  A friend told me about this book; I had never heard of it! I enjoyed this memoir and its message about disconnecting and living intentionally. Many of her thoughts will stay with me, especially the part about living our lives with an audience in mind.  We all spend too much time online, and this book really got me thinking about why and how much is too much, and if it is even practical/possible to live without the internet in this day and age. It would certainly be a challenge.

Redeployment by Phil Klay – Excellent book of short stories about the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and the soldiers who were  (and are) involved and the aftermath. Really accurate depictions of PTSD and war, so maybe triggering for some. The one small issue I have with this book is the many (many) acronyms and abbreviations used by the military, however that is certainly accurate. I had to look up a lot of them.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders – I can see where this is something of a polarizing book. It may be the oddest book I have ever read. For about the first third, I wasn’t entirely sure of what was going on. I almost gave up on it, but I’m glad I stuck with it; by the second half, I had a hard time putting it down.  If you can get over the quirkiness of it, it’s really good. It is a book about a footnote of history, and at its core it’s a book about  grief. It’s narrated mostly by ghosts who are stuck in purgatory (Yes, I did have to look up “bardo”- it’s a Buddhist term for a state of existence between life and death) and about the death of Abraham Lincoln’s young son, William. It’s very Sixth Sense-ish (which is a challenging phrase to say out loud, by the way). This book sent me down a wiki rabbit hole, which I always feel is a good sign in books. When a book makes me want to learn or read more about something, it’s served a good purpose.

 

My favorite this month: Lincoln in the Bardo