Blah, Blah, Blah, Book Blog

Blah, Blah, Blah, Book Blog

I'm not a fan of summarizing, so get that from the publisher, and then we can talk. Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Young Adult, Middle Grade, Picture Books. I'll read it all, and, if I like it, I'll make you want to read it too!

 

Yes Please
Yes Please - Amy Poehler

I would definitely recommend listening to this, since it's "read" (performed?) by Amy Poehler. There is plenty in here that seems odd, and, as mentioned in other reviews, a bit rambling, that I imagine seems less odd when she reads it. There are some asides that acknowledge this, but I'm not sure all of that is in the book. I have no idea if the people on the audiobook were real — Carol Burnett, Seth Meyers, her parents — or just Amy doing imitations, but regardless, it was very entertaining. Her writing about the early days of her career and growing up in general provided some embarrassing (earbuds in, walking alone on the middle school track) laugh out-loud moments.

Review
4 Stars
Our Homesick Songs
Our Homesick Songs - Emma Hooper

To be fair, there is almost no reason why you need to hear from me that you should read this book, especially since I am embarrassingly late on my review. (though I did put a note on Goodreads). I am not the first person to mention the lyrical writing, so yes, I am using this tired word but please don’t be turned off by it. According to my thesaurus, I could also call it deeply felt, passionate, expressive, and emotional, and any one of these words would also fit perfectly, but you might consider me a bit over the top. But honestly, I wouldn’t be. This book will rip your heart out and then, give it gently back to you. (How is that even possible? I don’t know.) You will cry before you are even halfway through, as if it’s a Fredrik Backman book, because you will know that bad things are going to happen and nobody is going to be happy. But you will go on anyway, because you are a reader, and you are brave, and you will hope for a happy ending in spite of all that. And you will learn something. (About the Cod fishing industry in Newfoundland, and its collapse in 1992.) And then, in the end, you will agree with me. There was no reason you needed my review to understand the beauty of this book.

Review
3.5 Stars
The Myth of Perpetual Summer
The Myth of Perpetual Summer - Susan Crandall

I chose this book from NetGalley because I love Crandall’s writing. While this book covers some similar territory as Whistling Past the Graveyard, I love to read a good southern saga, and I appreciate Crandall’s tendency to place her young female protagonists in charge of their family’s destiny. Tallulah James is just one of many memorable characters; Crandall suffuses them with a natural warmth and kindness despite the tumultuous times and their unpredictable, often destructive, family. Set in an era revered for its righteous outrage — civil rights marches, Vietnam war protests — Tallulah discovers that not everyone’s motives are pure, and that often, they come at a grave cost. This is a perfect coming of age story, with courage in the face of hardship and uncertainty, and friendships that survive over time and tragic loss.

Review
4 Stars
The Button War
The Button War: A Tale of the Great War - Avi

When I got this book from NetGalley, I considered it a Middle Grade novel, as the protagonists are twelve years old. But, while I usually consider a twelve-year-old today so much “older” than their counterparts in the early part of the twentieth century, history has forced maturity on Patryk and his friends in this story, with a hometown that has been repeatedly occupied by malevolent strangers. The Great War has turned their town into a contentious place, and the boys’ games have begun to change too, from innocent fun to grave tests of daring. My teenagers have not read this book yet, but I can imagine that it will inspire in them the same chills I felt, the kind that accompany an overwhelming sense of dread and foreboding. This is a difficult, disturbing story, but an important addition to the historical fiction of World War I.

Review
4 Stars
Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe
Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe - Preston Norton

I have read a couple of books lately that confirmed for me that I am simply too old to appreciate the edgy, increasingly depressing and horrifying themes of recent YA novels. And yes, I am too old, but this book was not one of them. The ironically named Happy Valley High has the typical roster of peer groups wreaking havoc on the self-esteem of the tender-hearted, but Cliff Hubbard has had enough of all of that. Instead, in a twist of fate only a decidedly adept novelist could achieve, the awkward, 6’6” 250lb Hubbard is teaming up with the ridiculously popular quarterback, to accomplish what is perhaps my favorite mission statement ever, “to make the school suck less.”

 

I don’t usually like to summarize the books I review, but I wanted to do this here, because I think the plot itself seems, in those few sentences, to be wildly unbelievably and unlikely to compel a teenage reader. But Norton’s writing is sharp and his observations are spot on and often hilarious, despite the serious topics he tackles. Cliff Hubbard is a character who literally cannot be ignored. This book will make your heart hurt, but it will also make you smile, and it may even provide a little hope for those of us who agree that making school suck less is always a worthy goal.

Review
4 Stars
The Baltimore Book of the Dead
The Baltimore Book of the Dead - Marion Winik

This is a terrific book, especially if you are like me and love to read the NY Times obituaries. I used to feel weird admitting that, but two things made me change my mind. 1. The NY Times still prints them, and that can't possibly be just for the friends and family. and 2. They made a documentary about the NY Times writers of those obituaries, appropriately called, Obit. But I digress, sorry. This beautifully-designed, pocket-sized edition (I know adorable is not an acceptable literary term, but still) is tempting to devour in one sitting, but I suggest you take your time. Winik does not use people's names, which I liked, (This is a follow-up to her original Glen Rock Book of the Dead, which I couldn't get a copy of in my local book store.) but I did spend some additional time trying to google to figure out who some of them were. (The Playwright, anyone?) So yes, I read it in two days instead, but really, this one is worth savoring.

Review
4 Stars
War in the Val D'Orcia
War in Val D'Orcia: An Italian War Diary, 1943-1944 - Iris Origo

I found this book interesting because I haven't read much about WWII from the perspective of an Italian civilian, (actually an English woman married to an Italian), caught between constantly changing governments and allegiances, hoping for the Allies to appear. The courage of her and her family, as well as the peasants in the surrounding farms, is astonishing and surprising. I will admit that the book was made even more interesting by our visit to Italy last summer, and the tour of La Foce by Origo's great granddaughter...

Review
3 Stars
Babbitt
Babbit - Sinclair Lewis

I am reading Sinclair Lewis after Min Jin Lee shared her passion for his writing with us at our Library Author lunch. I don't remember reading any of his books, but if I did, it was in the blur of high school required reading, so I am having another go at these. This one reminded me of the Cheever stories I was obsessed with years ago; perfectly capturing the details of ordinary lives, and rendering them memorable.

Review
4 Stars
how hard can it be?
How Hard Can It Be? - Allison Pearson

When I saw this on NetGalley, I didn’t realize it was the second book in a series. After I finished it, I realized, embarrassingly, the first one was already on my book shelf. To be fair, those shelves are awfully crowded with hundreds of my to-read books. I’ve read them both now, but out of order, and frankly, I’m glad I did. There was so much more I could relate to in this book. Despite the fact that I have worked continuously since the birth of my daughters, and my job was nothing like Kate Reddy’s, I could relate to juggling a modern workplace, the unending needs of teenagers, and finding the time to spend with spouse and aging parents.

 

Kate Reddy is a 50-year-old heroine (Yay!) struggling through all of this, all while remaking herself with a career reboot that is taking a little longer than expected. I was disappointed with the plotline where she denies her past to work again in the same company — this seemed entirely incredible — if she was going to start over anyway, why there? Aside from this, her husband is having a mid-life crisis, and her teenagers behave atrociously. I add this because it’s true, but also to admit I loved this because it made me feel much better about my own family! You will see most of the plot twists from a mile away, but the anticipation only adds to the satisfying resolution. I think Kate Reddy is my new superhero.  

Review
3 Stars
So Close to Being the Sh*t, Y'all Don't Even Know
So Close to Being the Sh*t, Y'all Don't Even Know - Retta

This is one of those books from NetGalley that I allegedly got for my teenage daughter, but ended up reading myself. I got it for my daughter because she is the one who introduced me to Parks and Recreation, and the one who binge-watched it with me this past year, even though she had seen every episode while it was still on the air. As usual, she was a step or two ahead of me. Retta’s story was surprising — no slouch academically, she developed a love for comedy at Duke, and it went so well there that she abandoned plans for med school in search of her own sitcom. I especially love that she is a Jersey girl, and that her obsession with beautiful handbags may very well inspire her (force her?) to keep working forever. I’m not so sure about eating Ramen with American cheese; I’ll take a pass on that one. But if you’re looking for a fun and mostly light-hearted read covering a wide range of topics, this is it.

Review
4 Stars
Keep Going
Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad - Austin Kleon

Sometimes, it is really inspiring for someone to give you a nudge, urging you to, "Keep Going". Austin Kleon is a terrific motivator — his Friday newsletter is something I look forward to each week, easily the best email of my day. Follow him on twitter or wherever you go to play social media hooky. This book could be read in one sitting, but don't. It's like a pep talk that can last as long as you want it to, and I recommend savoring it in small bites, at least until you just can't wait to make some art of your own.

Review
4 Stars
An Exact Replica of a Figment of my Imagination
An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination: A Memoir - Elizabeth McCracken

Elizabeth McCracken writes, "This is the happiest story in the world with the saddest ending," and proceeds to tell a powerful story of life-changing loss, slow and painful healing and eventually, hope. She offers a new vocabulary for loss and thought-provoking ideas on how we deal with a stillborn baby in a world where a healthy birth is taken for granted. This is the perfect book for someone suffering a similar loss. McCracken's search for consolation offers others what she sought: the confirmation that we are not alone in our grief and our fears of moving on. Beautiful.

Review
4 Stars
McKay's Bees
McKay's Bees: A Novel - Thomas McMahon

I got this as a free e-book from the University of Chicago Press - thank you! This is a weird, wacky book; historical fiction—with an emphasis on fiction— where true-to-life luminaries touch the peripheries of the lives of our main characters. As far as I can tell, there is only a tiny bit of truth regarding Gordon McKay here, and it comes only at the end of the story in a wrap-up. But honestly, who cares? This is a tale of westward migration with Geraldine Brooks' attention to detail and eye for quirky facts, along with the unnerving sexuality of an old VC Andrews story (If I say that a Sister and Brother - twins - figure into the plot, you'll know which one I mean.) I learned about bee-keeping, kiln making, and a bunch of other things I never would have googled until now; McMahon packed a lot into this slim volume, which is totally worth the time if you are up for an adventure.

Review
4 Stars
You Think It, I'll Say It
You Think It, I'll Say It - Curtis Sittenfeld

I am a late adaptor in terms of Sittenfeld’s work. I read her novels Sisterland and Eligible before this short story collection, but missed Prep and others before that. There is a certain upper middle class world that Sittenfeld captures so perfectly, but it is their cringe-worthy behavior that is most often on display. Reading her work, I can easily imagine being at a cocktail party with some of these people, which is not a little disturbing when I see their behavior satirized in print. Sittenfeld is a sharp wit, and, while she does sometimes seem to sympathize with her characters on occasion, I would not want to be the focus of her attention. She is like that voice in your head at school events and fundraisers, when you are feeling slightly less than charitable, but she says it all out loud, and documents the fallout. How can you resist?

Review
4 Stars
Beauty in the Broken Places
Beauty in the Broken Places: A Memoir of Love, Faith, and Resilience - Allison Pataki, Lee Woodruff

I didn’t really know anything about Allison Pataki when I picked up this book, aside from recognizing the name of her famous father. I hadn’t read any of her books. But I love reading an engaging memoir, and Allison’s story was unusual. (Go ahead, take a minute and read the blurb here. It’s a little long, but I’ll wait. If you’re like me, you’ve already purchased it by now. Should I keep waiting?) This story packs a punch. From crushing heartbreak to boundless joy, Pataki rides a roller coaster of emotions, reporting changes with a sense of wonder and wistfulness. Sometimes the veneer of her upbeat cheerleading cracks just a little, and Pataki seems to shy away from telling us just exactly how things are. As heartbreaking as it is, Pataki’s story is also of her family’s great love, and the many things, large and small, that they will do each day to insure that love will last.

Review
4 Stars
Love and Ruin
Love and Ruin - Paula McLain

I don’t think Paula McLain can stop herself from writing about Hemingway. Seriously, when she spoke at our library author lunch, I’m pretty sure she admitted to being a teensy bit obsessed with him. Thankfully, this time around Hemingway’s mystique is completely eclipsed by the powerhouse journalist Martha Gelhorn, who unfortunately gets mixed up with the hard driving author on the cusp of stardom. The book’s summary uses words like “unexpectedly” and “uncontrollably”, which makes Gelhorn seem a helpless debutante, which she is decidedly not. But what was it with Hemingway and all these women who gave up their lives, homes, and careers for him? That is some amazing charisma…or something. Anyway, this is a woman worthy of her own story, and I was mildly disappointed that McLain chose to tie her life forever to Hemingway’s, especially when such a small part of her success came when they were together. Nevertheless, McLain can craft a compelling story, and I will keep reading her books as long as she continues to find intriguing historical subjects like this that inspire, enlighten, and entertain.

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