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!

 

Review
4 Stars
The Refugees
The Refugees - Viet Thanh Nguyen

I read Nguyen's well-received first book, The Sympathizer, so I was eager to read this collection of short stories, and happy to see it available on NetGalley. When I initially selected Sympathizer, it was on my husband's recommendation, but that book easily sold me on Nguyen's ability to compel a reader, especially one who wasn't sure about the subject. Like Sympathizer, the characters here live difficult, often impossible lives. In some cases, I admit, I wasn't sorry the story was short; I was happy to escape to a different place, with new characters and challenges. Despite the slim volume, the characters are fully-realized, and their stories are crafted with care and compassion.

Review
4 Stars
Letters to a Young Writer
Letters to a Young Writer: Some Practical and Philosophical Advice - Colum McCann

I can't believe it's been so long since I read this book, but I am behind on my reviews and yes, it's a new year, so I am trying to catch up. The lateness, however, has nothing to do with my love for this book; this was a highlight of the year for me.

 

I've enjoyed Colum McCann's novels, so when he wrote a book on writing, of course I wanted to read it. (And I wanted to enroll in his creative writing class at Hunter.) When I look at the book again now, I am kind of surprised I didn't highlight passages. So why didn't I highlight this one? It would have taken all of the pleasure out of reading, what with all that highlighting. There are so many inspiring words here, as evidenced by writers and non-writers alike who rave about this book.

 

I especially appreciated that McCann addresses older writers here as well, and that he credits a whole slew of others with his own writing education. If you are an aspiring writer, this is a book to treasure, and, something I say only rarely — one to read again and again.

Review
4 Stars
Building Better Teams this year
The Best Team Wins: The New Science of High Performance - Chester Elton, Adrian Gostick The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups - Daniel Coyle The Age of Agile: How Smart Companies Are Transforming the Way Work Gets Done - Stephen Denning

Working on my next review for Global Business and Organizational Excellence with 3 inspiring titles that deserve the press they are getting. Told with a nice combination of anecdote, interviews and compelling data.

Review
4 Stars
Believe Me
Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens - Eddie Izzard
If you are a fan of Eddie Izzard, I think you will love this book anyway. But if, like me, you are intrigued by the title and have a relative interest in his story, you might also love this as much as I did. Having him read it is sometimes challenging, as he tends to go way off tangent ("extra footnote here, when I wrote this...") and continually updates his story. But it is also intimate, thought-provoking, and highly entertaining.
Review
3.5 Stars
My Absolute Darling
My Absolute Darling: A Novel - Gabriel Tallent

This story is deeply disturbing and brutal, yet also moving and even hopeful. It is a terrific audio book, despite the difficult themes, and at times, feels like an evil voice in your head that you just can't shake. Not for the faint of heart - the book is graphic and explicit, painfully so almost throughout. But then you think, this is surely someone's reality, and you are shamed from turning it off.

Review
4 Stars
Hunger
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body - Roxane Gay

This book is heartbreaking, soul-baring, and gut-wrenching, but even through all of that, there is the tiniest spec of cautious hope, which I found amazing. Roxane Gay's story is not easy to read, but you need to read it. I was devastated, and shamed, and called out for my ignorance, thoughtless comments and occasionally averted eyes. I am not proud of any of this, but I was also given a path to understanding, and I will take it.

Review
3 Stars
Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker
Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker - Shelley Johannes, Shelley Johannes

This book was a break from all the doom and gloom I seem to be reading lately. Another pick from NetGalley, but not really what I was expecting. I thought it was going to be a middle grade reader (should have read the whole blurb), but Beatrice is just starting 3rd grade, so it's more of an early chapter book. In any case, it is a cute, quirky story, and Beatrice is the perfect character to represent those of us who like to think in an upside-down kind of way. Third grade is hard, and often, other girls can be thoughtless or mean; sadly, Beatrice learns this immediately. But she stays true to herself, something that is rare and inspiring. Wish this was around when my own daughters were in third grade, because truly, that year probably won't make the highlight reel. Grab a copy if your daughter is finishing second grade, and arm her with this; Beatrice's humor and spirit will provide the perfect encouragement if things do not go as well as planned.

Review
3 Stars
Juliet's Answer
Juliet's Answer: One Man's Search for Love and the Elusive Cure for Heartbreak - Glenn Dixon

I found the premise of this book engaging—a High School English teacher from Canada takes a journey to heal his broken heart to a place famous for its literary romantic roots. But Dixon's real-life story of unrequited love did not feel genuine to me; the friendship so far from a romance that it almost seemed invented for the sake of the story. While I especially loved the idea that there are people who write letters from Juliet, I wondered why they would let someone so inept in a relationship offer advice to anyone. In contrast, the other letter writers seemed so thoughtful and sincere, their carefully crafted notes proved they were really just sounding boards for the letter writer, while Dixon seemed to revel in his own awkward responses. I kept thinking I would be disappointed if I took the time to write a letter and got a response back from him. The classroom scenes that are interspersed with the ones set in Italy follow the arc of Dixon's tale too neatly; honestly, I would have preferred the entire story told in Italy, since the people Dixon meets are lively and fun, and far more interesting than the bland woman he is pining for back home. His description of Verona, though, is terrific, the city came alive for me and truly made me want to experience it myself.

Review
3.5 Stars
Coming to my Senses
Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook - Alice Waters

I decided to listen to this book because it is read by Alice Waters. While she cannot really compare to the many wonderful, professionally-trained actors who read audiobooks, I still enjoyed hearing the story from her. She is in her 70s now, I think, and there is something mind-blowing about hearing someone that age talk about how she payed for the building that is now Chez Panisse with the help of parents, friends, and some "un-named dope dealers." How she came to be such a culinary legend is a truly roundabout and fascinating story, and you should listen to it just to hear the names of all the people who dropped by before they were famous. Also, in perhaps the biggest understatement of the book, she admits turning down a dinner with her friend John Kott while she was living in London - he was in town to interview John Lennon (in 1967 or so), and she was too overwhelmed by the thought to join them for dinner. She admits, "in hindsight, that was probably a mistake." Her love of food is contagious, and her rapture about garlic and fresh-picked lettuce made my mouth water — has your mouth ever watered for the taste of lettuce? That's impressive. Her kitchen is a legendary rite of passage for some of the biggest names in the Slow Food movement. If you are any kind of cook or foodie, you will love this story.

Review
4 Stars
A List of Cages
A List of Cages - Robin Roe

I'm not going to lie; this book will break your heart. To be honest, it knocked me flat every time I returned to it until I finished, but the writing was beautiful and there were plenty of characters to love (and hate) in this wrenching story. I'm not sure what was more overwhelming, the emotional or the physical, but be warned, there is some very graphic violence. But don't be dissuaded by this, it is a compelling story, and sadly, probably not all that far from the truth of some people's stories. It is not all angst and violence, though. There are beautiful relationships and strong bonds and people who are willing to stand up for what's right, which is comforting. Especially around here, lately. Read it and weep.

Review
4 Stars
A Little Life
A Little Life: A Novel - Hanya Yanagihara

This book was brilliant, but brutal. There are some very graphic parts, and an overwhelming sadness, akin to how I felt reading Khaled Hosseini's books, pervades the story. But if you can take it, it is totally worth your time. Apologies to the people in the NY coffee shop with me when I finished—ugly crying in public is not usually my thing.

Review
3.5 Stars
Little Heaven
Little Heaven: A Novel - Nick Cutter

Why, why, why, does someone like me, who is terrified of horror movies and books, keep choosing these books from NetGalley? To be fair, I have not chosen a lot of them, and they all have one commonality — they were all written by Nick Cutter (or Craig Davidson, who uses this name as a pseudonym.) I don't know what it is about these books, but I've said it before (here) and (here), I just find Cutter's writing completely compelling. This time, I didn't even tell my husband about it, I just went ahead and read it without the horror-shaming that usually comes first from him. And guess what? I loved this one too, more than The Deep, and a teensy-bit less than The Troop. Maybe next time I'll try a Davidson book, so I won't have to sleep with the lights on for a week after I finish.

 

Honestly, that's all I'm going to say about this, you don't need anything else from me. Get the book and read it for yourself. You will not be disappointed. Freaked out, confused and sleepless, but definitely not disappointed.

Review
4 Stars
The Nix
The Nix - Nathan Hill

This was a terrific book, but it is, I thought, way too long. I am a fan of John Irving's quirky, sprawling novels , and this reminds me of them. However, listening to it (a 22-hour audio book!) I thought there were many times that descriptions, while wonderful, just went on and on. For example, while in the airport, the protagonist passes what is likely a Brookstone - I got that with the first four or five items listed, didn't need the almost complete inventory provided by Hill. Still, if you have the patience, the writing is lively, the story is interesting, and the ending was untidy and wholly satisfying.

Review
3.5 Stars
To Capture What We Cannot Keep
To Capture What We Cannot Keep: A Novel - Beatrice Colin

I admit, I judge a book by its cover. As a graphic designer, it comes with the territory, and a habit it's too late to change at this point. Having said that, I will also say that this habit has only rarely let me down. This book had the tremendous advantage of 1. featuring the Eiffel tower on the cover (compelling for me after staying within feet of it in Paris last summer), and 2. bearing a remarkable resemblance to the cover of All the Light We Cannot See, a huge favorite of mine. While I don't condone knock-off covers, this one, with a similar type layout to Doerr's book, subliminally convinced me it was going to be good. Normally I might feel manipulated, but Colin was able to follow through on the promise I felt when I first laid eyes on this cover, so I'll forgive her (and the cover designer).

 

I am a fan of historical fiction, inspired by real events with larger than life characters and their creations. Before I visited the Eiffel Tower, I didn't know much about the controversy surrounding its creation, and the fear of it being an eyesore is surprising knowing what an icon it has become for the city, many years after it was supposed to be dismantled. There are a couple of plotlines going on here, and of course a little romance thrown in for good measure, but the true story does not require a whole lot of embellishment to make for an interesting tale. The politics of the drawing room and the social scene in Paris provide a backdrop for what becomes a compelling story with a surprisingly satisfying untidy ending.

Review
4 Stars
Born a Crime
Born a Crime - Trevor Noah

I was not really familiar with Trevor Noah when this book became available on NetGalley, but the title stood out. Later, when it was still on my to-read pile, I got a "you should read this" note from my sister-in-law through Goodreads. Since this was unusual, I moved it to the top of my list.

 

I was at the University of Maryland during the height of the Anti-Apartheid protests, and I was a (very small!) part of the protests outside the South African embassy in DC. Nevertheless, my concept of life in South Africa was very limited. Noah's essays provide a unique perspective of a life on the fringes of so many different cultures. They are at turns heartbreaking and hilarious, for every outrageous thing Noah does there is an equally outlandish story about his mother. Mother and son are almost, as they say, two sides of the same coin. I agree with Noah when he describes the book as a love letter to his mother, it is all that and so much more. A must read, sure to move and inspire.

Review
4 Stars
Faithful
Faithful: A Novel - Alice Hoffman

This, for me, was not a typical Alice Hoffman story. Having read several of her other books (including her middle grade novel), this one, ironically, seems lighter, despite the weight of serious, complex themes. I appreciated that Hoffman tackled a conventional subject from a new angle — the car crash described at the start of the novel does not take lives in the literal sense— but both of the girls involved, and their families, cope with the "life" they each have left. Shelby has been dealt what may seem like the better hand (her friend Helene is comatose), but her guilt for the circumstances related to the crash, her experiences in the hospital after, and the fact that she has managed to build a life beyond it, all overwhelm any relief she might feel.

 

Hoffman is at her best rendering the finer details of ordinary life; here, even the minor characters provide transcendent moments with simple acts of kindness and compelling stories of their own. At some point, I found I was almost more interested in them than with Shelby, but that is not a criticism, Hoffman's powerful writing ensures each character is a fully realized, compassionate individual, worthy of our time and attention.

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