Thursday, December 31, 2015

Did You Ever Have a Family

by Bill Clegg
Dec. 19-22, 2015

I am stunned. That doesn't happen often. My favorite thing is when I can't stop thinking about a book, long after I've turned the last page. This is most certainly one of those. Even more rare, I am contemplating rereading this book SOON. It's short, but I still tore through it in three days. Reading on a beach in Mexico probably played a big part, but it doesn't diminish the beauty that is Did You Ever Have a Family.

Character study achieved to perfection. The first time I cried was on page 61, the next was page 109, then I lost count. By the end I wanted to sob. It's definitely heavy, heavy reading, but worth every word. I simply could not put this book down.
“The world’s magic sneaks up on you in secret, settles next to you when you have your head turned.”
I know it's crazy, but I am speechless. Isn't it funny that I have little say about such an amazing novel? It's kind of pointless to relay the plot, since it's both simple and complicated, and easy to find on the dustcover. But I recommend going in blindly. It makes for a better experience. I can't possibly recommend this book more. Go. Now.

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Monday, December 28, 2015

The Book of Speculation

by Erika Swyler
Nov 6-Dec 15, 2015

Well that was a whole lot of nothin'. Or, more specifically, a whole lot of nothin' disguised as somethin'. Maybe it was the major plot line about some old, sinister tarot cards that turned me off. I'm not a fan of mystics, tarot card readings, horoscopes, etc. But I typically love books about books, about magic, about the beach. Or possibly it was the whiny-as-hell narrator.

I feel like we caught him – Simon – in the midst of his crises. Yes, I know a book has to start somewhere, but I couldn't help but wonder why and how he let his house get in such disrepair that he literally fell through the floor. The house was meant to be a sinister character too, I guess, but it was just silly. And all of a sudden Simon was in an awkward relationship with the girl he grew up with (did I miss the chapter when they slept together?!) Overall, rather clumsy storytelling in my opinion.

Finally, the "slow burn" to the climax was a bit excruciating. It was also pretty predictable and definitely eye-roll-worthy. I was even chanting in my head "seriously, don't do it, don't do it" while reading of Simon's fate. Then lo and behold, a nice big bow wrapped around the whole story. No thanks.

I read that some people were making the suggestion, "If you liked Night Circus, this is better." That sealed it. I wasn't a fan.

There was one small shimmer, way toward the end, that immediately got me out of my comfy reading spot to grab a pen. This quote is gorgeous:

"Once you've held a book and really loved it, you forever remember the feel of it, its specific weight, the way it sits in your hand."

Too bad I didn't feel that way about this book...

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Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Kitchen House

by Kathleen Grissom
Oct 12-Nov 5, 2015

Obviously I'm way late reading this one. I've decided that 2015 is officially the year of my biggest reading slump. For more reasons than one, I couldn't seem to focus on anything, let alone reading. There weren't a lot of new titles that piqued my interest. And I abandoned more books this year than I have ever done before. When I decided to look on my small, dusty bookshelf, I saw The Kitchen House, which I've had for years, with no shortage of recommendations. It was just what I needed.

I tore through each chapter of an orphaned Irish girl living among the slaves on a tobacco plantation. Lavinia identified with the slaves; an attitude that would cause trouble for everyone around her. Grissom mastered the character development of both the slaves and the plantation owners. I felt love and hate for these people in equal measure. With chapters alternating between Lavinia and Belle, the plantation owner's illegitimate daughter, I was riveted and ultimately satisfied with the story.
“This world is not the only home. This world is for practice to get things right.”
When it was originally published in 2010, of course people were making direct comparisons to The Help. While maybe they would compliment each other, they certainly can't be compared. For whatever reason though, I've noticed a bit of a slavery "trend" in subject matter of late. Or maybe I'm just drawn to it? Personally, I've read three books about slavery this year alone. The Kitchen House beats the others hands down.

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Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Girl on the Train

by Paula Hawkins
Sept 21-Oct 11

I think this book got a lot more hype than it deserved. Everyone is trying to compare their husband-is-the-suspect-in-his-wife's-disappearance to Gone Girl, and that's just not going to work. The suspense didn't quite get there. The characters weren't interesting enough to care about – unless loathing every single one was the author's goal. And while the book started off like gangbusters and was definitely a quick read, the plot soon became eye-rollingly (is that even a word?!) predictable. I've often said that I am not a fan of suspense and whodunit novels, so to be fair, I can understand why people like this. It's quick, easy to read, and hits all the casual reader requirements. I need something with a little more depth. I have a friend who gets annoyed with the term "beach read" because he hates the assumption that just because you're on vacation you need to read something dumbed-down or shallow. Not true! I prefer to be literally challenged. Others prefer to fly through a book for the sake of numbers and pop culture, and that's OK; I'm just not one of them. Call this a beach read if you will...
“There’s nothing so painful, so corrosive, as suspicion.”
See what I mean?! I can hear your tongue clicking!

Aaaaand, off the soapbox. Girl on the Train has book-turned-into-blockbuster-movie written all over it. Let's just hope that NPH turns down any and all offers to play a single character.

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Sunday, November 1, 2015

Eight Hundred Grapes

by Laura Dave
September 3-16, 2015

Synchronization (actual definition): to represent or arrange (events) to indicate coincidence or coexistence.

Synchronization (novel's definition): A "clever" attempt to make an underwhelming story deeper than it really is.

That's the first problem. Trying to make an irrational runaway bride with a normal, only slightly effed up family seem like the next great work of literature. And an author who used the word synchronization like it's an epiphany. At least that's how I interpreted it. The second issue was that the entire book was. Written. In Sentence. Fragments. This got monotonous and distracting after only a few pages. Used properly, this technique can be fun and expressive, but in Eight Hundred Grapes, I'm sure English teachers everywhere were clutching at their grammar textbooks.

“You have to grow about eight hundred grapes to get just one bottle of wine. If that isn’t an argument to finish the bottle, I don’t know what is."

In truth, I'm not sure I can give this book the fair review that every book deserves. I read it so long ago that I barely remember it (nearly two months is a long time in avid-reader days). But to dismiss something so completely in that length of time speaks to the depth of the story – forgettable.

Overall, nothing of note. A light story with potential, but just too shallow.

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Sunday, October 4, 2015

In the Unlikely Event

by Judy Blume
August 12-September 2, 2015

Judy Blume shaped my childhood and most certainly can be credited for my love of reading. I mean, Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret was a rite of passage. Forever will always hold a special place in my heart and I will remember the last line of that book until the day I die. "Theo called." Devastating!!!

While I haven't really kept up with most of Blume's adult books, I was intrigued by this one. I also found out she lives in Key West and I was mad I didn't stalk her when I was there last year.

So apparently "non-skeds" were a thing in the 50s. I had to look it up. A bunch of airplanes left unused since WWII were purchased by private owners and used to get travelers around the country at the last minute. The problem was that most of these planes weren't properly maintenanced, so they ended up crashing. In Elizabeth, NJ three of these planes crashed within 58 days. Blume weaves this historical truth in with Miri, our fictional heroine, and how it affected the lives of the teenagers growing up during this turmoil. It's a cute, past-paced novel without going too deep. Each chapter is told from a different character's point of view – which I typically like – but this time I was craving a little more in-depth look into Miri's life. A lot of the side stories were interesting and could have used more development.

Although I wasn't alive in the 50s, the nostalgia was fun to read. I think Boomers would appreciate this part about the book more than anyone else, but they aren't really Blume's target audience, are they? Unless she's trying to reach out to a new demographic? Mainly it's an homage to her hometown.

No major work of literature here, but a light, fun read nonetheless.

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Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Lost Girls

by John Glatt
July 26-31, 2015

Cleveland made headlines in May 2013. It was a day I will remember forever. I listened to news stories for 10 years about two girls who had been missing and couldn't believe my ears when I heard they had been found – together. That just doesn't happen. And the more we learned, a third girl was also held captive, but no one ever came looking for her. Turns out she received the worst treatment and was imprisoned the longest of the three.

There is no way to "review" a book about this horrific event. I will say that Glatt's information was laid out clearly and presented in a way that made me sail through this book in just over four days. But the takeaway here is how completely the Cleveland police failed. Yes, it was wonderful for the team who finally got Amanda and her daughter out of the house and went back in to rescue Gina and Michelle, but before that – an embarrassment. For years people would report hearing screams from the house. Police would show up and knock on the door and leave when no one answered. The same thing would happen after reports of seeing a child in an upstairs window. And again when calls came in describing naked women in the backyard. WHY weren't these calls taken more seriously?? Unfortunately it's the reputation of that neighborhood and so many others like it. It's a travesty.

If you want to learn more about the girls' time in captivity and the subsequent rescue, this is a great place to start. I think we as Clevelanders will be seeking information for years to come. It's just hard to wrap our heads around why and how something like this can happen so close to home.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You

by Courtney Maum
July 11-August 1, 2015

I love novels about Paris. I also love that after ahem many ahem years since my last French class that I am still able to read French sentences fairly well. I was drawn to this novel solely based on the title. It sounded like the perfect summer read. While it started out that way, I quickly lost interest as the storyline lost its way.

A British artist cheats on his French wife with an American journalist. He's completely obsessed with the American and even more so since she ended their affair. But he loves his daughter and tries to convince himself that he needs to make things work with his wife. In the middle of it all is a painting that symbolizes these relationships. This is my simplified explanation of the plot because I'm not sure it deserves any more than that. While the book started out with gusto, I couldn't help but get extremely bored as the plot went around and around so many times without an acceptable resolution that I stopped caring.

My favorite lines, however, were those that humanized Paris. I will get there one day – soon.

"No woman possessed more confidence in her appearance than Paris."

Overall, nothing felt real, the ending was rushed, and the protagonist was a whiny asshole. From other reviews I read on Goodreads, it seems that many share my feelings. Even more people seemed to have abandoned this book. Me and my displaced loyalty.

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Thursday, July 30, 2015


by Colum McCann
March-May 2015

I'm going to keep this one short and sweet because it's been eons since I finished TransAtlantic and I don't have anything intelligent to say about it. I have to admit I didn't give this book my full attention. I listened to it while driving, spring cleaning and doing yard work. Having said that though, I truly appreciate McCann's writing. It's like listening to a bedtime story. His words, they soothe.

"We seldom know what echo our actions will find, but our stories will most certainly outlast us.”

See? Poetry. Much like Let the Great World Spin, this story weaves between past and present, non-linearly, magically tying together each character in an 'aha!' way. I wasn't familiar with any of these historical figures or events, so I know I missed out on quite a lot. I can't help but wonder though, that if the story was more gripping, would I have paid much more attention? Entirely better and more comprehensive reviews can be found on Goodreads.

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Friday, July 3, 2015

I Take You

by Eliza Kennedy
May 25-June 13, 2015

Usually before I write a review, I read a few other opinions on Goodreads. I like to see who felt the same way I did about a book, but also those who had a different or opposite reaction. I have to say that this time I was totally shocked. Boy, did people hate this book. And I guess if I translated its meaning as literally as some, I would have hated it too. But maybe for me it came along just at the right time and I enjoyed it at surface-level. No need to get in too deep here. I also believe that was the intention of the author. I Take You being her first novel, I'd say Eliza Kennedy accomplished that goal.

Lily is a young attorney with a passion for life, aka, booze and boys. She's about to be married to man who sounds absolutely perfect on paper (I had a crush on him in the beginning!). However, she can't seem to be faithful to him. This little bit of gender role reversal was fun, but was the first topic that began to off-put other readers. Mainly because as Lily is headed to Key West for her wedding, she sleeps with not only her boss, but many friends of her financé, Will, and countless others along the way. Her family life was unconventional, to say the least. Her father, having being married five times, and also a cheater, was the main crux of her issues. Although Lily and the people in her life are all completely flawed, I couldn't help but find them endearing. Again, taking this for a casual summer read, not the next great literary masterpiece.

Lily is hilarious and wow, can she drink. I have been known to over-imbibe on numerous occasions, but just reading about the quantities of liquor she consumed made me tipsy. Especially for a 27-year old!
"Men? They're not that hot. Not all-around, like women are. Men have random hairs and bad fashion instincts. Odd smells. They never exfoliate. Either they try way too hard, or they don't try at all. Of course, some are lovely, and most have a few good qualities, but sometimes you have to look hard for them. Like in those Where's Waldo? books."
See? Funny! As much fun as I was having reading about Lily's cocktails and sexcapades, the story started to fall apart toward the end. Will's big reveal just kind of cheapened the whole theme of the book. Why can't women have the upper hand just this once?! And that's the second subject that completely offended other readers. Plus, the "important deposition" (two days before her wedding!) was way too drawn-out; it was silly and forced. I would have been happier without it altogether. I'm also not sure her career added very much to the story. It would have been more interesting to continue reading about her childhood.

I do understand why people were offended by this book. And like I said, I typically would be too. But for some reason I enjoyed this little fantasy summer read. It's definitely not something I allow myself to read often, but once in a while it hits the spot.

I received I Take You from Blogging for Books for this review.
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Monday, June 1, 2015

Yellow Crocus

by Laila Ibrahim
April 21-May 8, 2015

I've had a bit of reading ADD lately. And it's so not like me. I have a bunch of books started and I've put them down to begin others. I never do that! I'm craving a book that sucks me in and won't let go. It's been too long. Short books seem to be finding me lately, and luckily this one was short and sweet.

“This is as true a story as has ever been told: the story of my love for Mattie, and, I suppose, her love for me in return.”

It's hard for me not to directly compare Yellow Crocus to The Invention of Wings, given that I read them so closely to each other. But if it were a contest, Crocus would win hands down. The emotion, truth and heartbreak was just better represented here. The relationship between Lisbeth and her wet nurse Mattie was so believable and well-written. The story didn't drag on either, like Wings did, so I was captivated until the end. It's amazing to read about the bond that can form between a free white person and a slave. Like it's been said before, love is love.

* * * * *

Play On: Now, Then, and Fleetwood Mac: The Autobiography

by Mick Fleetwood
April 21-May 5, 2015

My love of Fleetwood Mac knows no bounds. If I met Stevie Nicks, my life would be complete. Does that sound sad? Hell no!! She's my favorite. I would at least love to sit and chat with her for an afternoon. But my obsession continues into all of Fleetwood Mac's music. I know every single song forward and backward. Not as much the stuff before Lindsay and Stevie joined the band on New Year's Eve 1974, but from then on, I know and love it.

I'm not sure that there's a ton to say about an autobiography as far as the subject matter goes. I mean, would you read one about someone who didn't interest you? Right. So why wouldn't I love this one? I feel like I knew a lot of the history going in to it, but I learned so much more about the early years and got the real scoop on Mick's love affair with Stevie. It was also fun to hear about the other big bands on the scene around the same time: the Stones, the Beatles, the Dead and so on.

The audiobook, read by Martin Dew, was the perfect companion to my spring cleaning. Listening away while being insanely productive makes me very happy. It also helps that the narration was great. Not necessarily the next literary prize winner, but a must read for any Mac fan.

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The Enchanted

by Rene Denfeld
April 6-20, 2015

I'm way behind on my posts. Three or more to be (sort of) exact. Though I won't do them justice, these posts will be short and sweet so I can get caught up.

The Enchanted. Poetic. Stunning. At first a little confusing. A lot depressing. But just beautifully written.

"The sun sets over the scrubby woods below, and the sweet peach juice runs down the lady's throat. It takes like a miracle."

At only 237 pages, this novel has a lot to say in a small amount of space. Denfeld was quite successful, knowing what to embellish upon and what to leave be. The statement about prison life is loud and clear. I personally struggle with this though because isn't prison meant to be a punishment? Do hardened criminals, murderers and child molesters deserve any better than they get? I completely understand why a prisoner would choose death over life in a cell.

The Enchanted, seen through the eyes of a mute, death row inmate, is one long metaphor. The inmate interprets his surroundings into what makes sense to him. He sees prison through a magical lens. I had the sense that there was a fuzzy haze over the whole novel. A calming feeling even though the subject matter was so intense. It's a quick, thought-provoking read. I highly recommend it.

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Book of God: The Bible as a Novel

by Walter Wangerin Jr.
Lent 2015

I have to admit that I've lapsed in my Catholicism of late. But I do try to remind myself of my faith every Lenten season. Small steps are better than no steps. So aside from giving up popcorn (which is a major sacrifice!), this year I promised to do some faith-based reading. 40 (long) days of The Bible as a Novel.

It would be ridiculous to try to critique the Bible. That's not the point of this post. What was nice was that Wangerin broke down many of the major stories from the Old and New Testaments and included them in a novel form; easier reading for modern western culture. I learned a lot while not feeling overwhelmed by information. But I admit, about halfway through, I was struggling with names and places. I skipped over many of the chapters about Kings when I knew I wasn't going to finish by Easter. Once I got to the life and time of Jesus, told from the apostle's points of view, my nightly page count increased. However, 40 days is a long time and I honestly started missing comfortable, familiar literature. Doesn't that make me sound awful?? There are definitely two types of people though: fiction and nonfiction readers. I simply prefer fiction. Escape from the daily grind. But I've had this book for years, maybe more than 10, and I'm glad I finally finished it. Happy Easter! My favorite holiday.

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Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Invention of Wings

by Sue Monk Kidd
January 19-February 15, 2015

I'm way, way behind on this post. No real excuse why; it was a good book. But I tend to judge the feelings I have afterward higher than while I'm actually reading. And the fact is that I honestly haven't thought about it, other than knowing I needed to post a review, in a whole month.

I am truly fascinated by the mentality of slave owners in the 1800s. Two hundred years later and the topic is still discussed. That's a good thing; lest history repeat itself. But to imagine that treating another human being so horribly was considered normal is beyond my comprehension. Difficult reading for sure.

“History is not just facts and events. History is also a pain in the heart and we repeat history until we are able to make another’s pain in the heart our own.”

Sarah Grimké is "gifted" a slave for her 11th birthday. Hetty "Handful" is a year younger than Sarah at the time. Sarah immediately objects to the gift, but her mother won't hear of it. From there, the two form a bond in as much a way possible for a free woman and a slave. I honestly didn't realize until I finished the book that the Grimké sisters actually existed, and while Handful was fictional, the story was woven out of actual events in their lives. I may have appreciated it more having known that in advance. But I did enjoy it, even if the parts about Sarah trying to become a Quaker got a bit drawn out. Told in alternating voices/chapters between Handful and Sarah, I enjoyed Handful's fictional side a little more.

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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Still Life with Breadcrumbs

by Anna Quindlen
October 2014-January 2015

I gotta make this one short and quick. Even though I struggled for about three months to get through it. Because "Still Life" was exactly that for me – still. I didn't feel like there was really any complexity to the characters and the story dragged on in a very uninteresting way. I'm disappointed because I really adore Quindlen's work, but to be fair, the majority of the issues I had were with the narrator.

For the second time I've been unfortunate enough to stumble upon Carrington MacDuffie, the same narrator who ruined (albeit a rather dull story anyways) Never Knowing for me. Not to completely slander a person I've never met, but honestly, this woman should not narrate audiobooks. Her accents were laughable and she somehow manages to make every person sound ignorant, and most frustratingly of all, whiny. Oh how I hate whining.

The other thing that contributed to this marathon reading session was the 'Serial' podcast. I dropped this book like a hot potato so I could listen to Sarah Koenig. There would also be days and days I would go without giving it even a five-minute listen. I guess one could argue that because of this I was never fully engaged in the story. (I was going to write a post on "Serial', but what could I say that hasn't already been said? Plus, every single American has already formed his/her own opinion.)

But again, NOTHING HAPPENED! The most interesting characters were the ones who had the least amount of page time; specifically, Rebecca's mother, who played an imaginary piano incessantly, and Jim's mentally ill sister, whose death was, regrettably, an interesting moment. Finally, I'm love the idea of a woman dating a (much) younger man, but either the narrator or the author managed to make this come across as creepy, and honestly, kind of gross. Plus, with Rebecca being in her 60s, I related less to her than the "younger man."

Perhaps a more interesting read for a Baby Boomer.

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Sunday, January 25, 2015

All the Light We Cannot See

by Anthony Doerr
January 1-18, 2015

First book of 2015! And boy, was it a great one. With at least five nods as one of the best books of 2014, the only thing that kept me from reading it sooner was simply a slow/off reading year. I'm looking to get my groove back this year.

I read that it took Doerr ten years to write this book. His effort paid off. He is a genius with prose and the imagery made me feel as though I was experiencing the horrors of war with Marie-Laure and Werner. With short chapters and time-hopping of about 10 years in these kid's youths, I was able to read at a pace that I hadn't in quite some time.

Marie-Laure is a blind girl living in Paris with her locksmith father at the time of the German invasion in WWII. Werner is a German orphan with a knack for fixing radios, which ultimately lands him in a school for Hitler youth. Of course their lives intertwine, but for me it was a surprising and delightful meeting. While there were so many moments in the story that were heartbreaking and gut-wrenching, there was an equal amount of poignancy as well as an unexpected history lesson. Marie and her father were forced to flee to her great-uncle's home in Saint-Malo, and I admit that I'd never heard of this town on the Brittany coast of France. I was so fascinated by what I'd read in the book that I did a little more research when I finished. I was struck by a line near the end of the novel (by this point, present day) that really does ring true:
"Every hour, she thinks, someone for whom the war was memory falls out of the world."
I just makes me think that I should have asked more questions of my grandparents when they were still alive. Both my grandfathers fought in WWII.

The "light we cannot see" became a character itself in radio waves, but it also symbolized many moments in the lives of the protagonists. The fate of the "Sea of Flames," a rare gem entrusted to Marie's father for safe keeping, is a perfect discussion point because, do we really know what happened to it?

I savored every word of this, in my opinion, masterpiece. I can only hope to be as luckily with the rest of my book choices for this year.

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Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Museum of Extraordinary Things

by Alice Hoffman
Nov 24-Dec28, 2014

I finished reading this book a week ago, and unlike a really great book you can't stop thinking about, I haven't given this one another thought. Historical fiction can not only be educational, but also entertaining – within the right context. This story is sandwiched in between two horrific fires: the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and the Dreamland fire. These unimaginable tragedies do not make for an entertaining read, especially when the author adds in a deplorable father whose inhuman acts would disturb and trouble even the most stoic reader.

With New York City at the turn of the last century as one of the other main "characters," I felt that more focus was placed upon it than the actual people and their unconvincing, evolving love story. In other words, I feel there was just too much crammed into one book. There were times when I would be completely engrossed and read page after page. But more times than not, I would drift off and have no comprehension of what I just read. Really great potential, but never fully realized.

My favorite parts we those of Maureen, the "faithful" servant and nanny, and her secret love affair with the Wolfman. More focus should have been placed on them, than on Coralie and Eddie. Why does it always seem that historical fiction needs to have a love-at-first-sight plot? Include a bunch of convenient resolutions, and it's one cliche after another. I'm not sure I've ever read a Hoffman novel before, but for some reason her name stands out in my mind. Unfortunately now it's not for a good reason.

Oh well, on to better books. Happy 2015!

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