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
Dept. of Speculation
Dept. of Speculation - Jenny Offill

I will add a caveat to my review—I rated this on the high side to compensate for the fact that I would have given the audiobook a 3. While I generally love listening, especially when the author (or anyone British, honestly) reads to me, I don't think this book lent itself to that form. The writing was spare and poetic, but the transitions were difficult (at least for me) to follow on audio, i.e. even though you might hear a new chapter number, the topic change was sometimes jarring. For such a short book, I spent a lot of time rewinding. I think this book, more poetry than prose, might be one you should hold in your hands and enjoy the old-fashioned way.

Review
5 Stars
The Dutch House
The Dutch House - Ann Patchett

OK, full disclosure. I love Ann Patchett, and I say this with the authority of someone who has read a decent number of her books and has even visited her bookstore, where the people who ring up your purchase compliment you on your choices and tell you interesting facts about them that you won't find in the normal book blurb. So yes, I'm a super fan—skeptics take this with a grain of salt, but really, you should read it anyway. This is not a perfect book, but honestly, it is about as close as I've come in a while. The characters are all flawed, and ugly and remarkable, just the way I like them. I've seen reviews that cast the narrator in a bad light, but he bared his soul in the telling, and was willing to admit he did not always do the right thing. Also, the narrator of the audio book is Tom Hanks, so you literally forgive him everything. Definitely recommend the audio-book on this one, especially if you are quarantined and eager to hear a new voice in your house. 

Review
4 Stars
The Luminaries
The Luminaries - Eleanor Catton

This was an epic novel. Reading this in quarantine, when I have the attention span of a flea, was a challenge given its length, but honestly, it was worth the effort. Beautifully written with a wealth of interesting, original characters, the book was genre defying— a Wild West tale dressed up as the best literary fiction. Read this book while you have some time, so that you can savor it. 

 

Anybody have any idea when they're going to fix our dates on here so that my reading challenge doesn't say 0 books?

10 New Books to Read Now
Paris, 7 A.M. - Liza Wieland Mrs. Everything - Jennifer Weiner Inland - Téa Obreht The Last Book Party - Karen Dukess Scars Like Wings - Erin Schwier Stewart Olive, Again (Oprah's Book Club) - Elizabeth Strout Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me - Adrienne Brodeur Mobituaries: Great Lives Worth Reliving - Mo Rocca A Good Neighborhood - Therese Anne Fowler Naked Mole Rat Saves the World - Karen Rivers

I am trying to use the extra time I have now to catch up on some long-overdue posts. Hopefully you will be encouraged by these suggestions to contact your local bookseller and order some books! Curbside delivery or mailed to your home – we need to support our local businesses in this time of crisis.

 

I am going to review several books in one post, so that you don’t have to look through the feed for them. If you haven’t seen my posts before, you will notice that I don’t give bad reviews, I simply don’t post about books I didn’t like. By now, I am a pretty good judge of what I like, so it is extremely rare that I don’t finish a book, or find something to like about it. 

 

Paris, 7 a.m.  by Liza Wieland

I chose this book because I thought the premise was terrific — poet Elizabeth Bishop, who painstakingly chronicled her life in journals, omitted three weeks she spent in Paris after graduating from Vassar. But why the gap? With Paris on the brink of war, Wieland—a poet herself—offers her own theory in this evocative book. Though the book is well-researched, the writing drew me in with its ethereal quality, setting it apart from most historical fiction I’ve read. Recommended for anyone interested in interesting viewpoints on World War II, or Elizabeth Bishop, before she became one of the most influential poets of the twentieth century.

 

Mrs. Everything  by Jennifer Wiener

I am pretty sure you can’t go wrong with a Jennifer Weiner book, but maybe I’m biased, having read several others. I also have a sweet spot for stories about sisters, especially two seeming opposites like these, who share so much more than they realize. Weiner spares no feelings with the trauma and tragedies they face, but she crafts her story with care and grace. While I will admit that I noticed some timeline inaccuracies here (like many others on Goodreads), I tried not to let that distract me from enjoying what was otherwise a compelling story.

 

Inland  by Téa Obreht

Inland is one of those books where I say, who knew this topic could be so compelling to me? I understand that plenty of people would find it compelling, but I am not always as open-minded as the rest of you when it comes to certain historical fiction topics. Obreht’s mythic narrative captures the vast, lawless Arizona territory in stunning detail. Despite the little-known history of the time, her characters come to life in a world that is moving and deeply intimate. There is suspense and drama—it’s the wild west, after all—in this gem of a book.

 

The Last Book Party  by Karen Dukess

This is a perfect, be-careful-what-you-wish-for kind of story, a light read for the weeks ahead. A peek into the publishing world set in a lovingly described Cape Cod community, the story seems even more nostalgic than its 1987 setting would seem. Or is that just me dating myself? The protagonist is a 20-something would-be writer, who hasn’t yet found her footing, and gets distracted along the way. If it sounds familiar, yes, this is the story of many would-be writers, but this one has prettier people fumbling about in more elegant settings, and Dukess’ sharp writing will make you care how it all works out.

 

Scars Like Wings  by Erin Stewart

I am a fan of middle grade books (and yes, I’m too old for that), so I had no problem reading and loving, Wonder. For those who want something that skews a bit older, Scars Like Wings, while technically still a YA book, offers a more grown-up story in this vein. This felt to me like a much more difficult and personal story, given that teenagers can already be so swift and ruthless in their assessments. The emotions run heavy, but, I think, equal to the circumstances; and these fraught relationships remind you that everyone has their own battles they fight every day.

 

Olive, Again  by Elizabeth Strout

I am a fan of Elizabeth Strout, and I think I’ve read most, if not all, of her books. I don’t know if I’m in the minority here, but I liked this one even more than Olive Kitteridge. Maybe it’s because I was already introduced to Olive, so, with the exception of seeing her older, and perhaps a bit more empathetic, it was like stepping back into a familiar place. Olive is not a perfectly sweet old lady—she can be ornery, funny, rude, crafty, wise, and occasionally kind. Just like all of us. Personally, I would like her to meet Ove, but maybe that’s for the next book.

 

Wild Game  by Adrienne Brodeur

I’m not going to lie, this was a crazy book. I had to remind myself throughout that this was a memoir, not some farfetched fiction. There were so many moments while reading this that I stopped to say to my husband, you’re never going to believe this! It was shocking and bizarre, and yes, of course, a gripping story. Brodeur’s got baggage beyond comprehension, all completely justifiable, but she manages to cobble together a life in spite of that. I am amazed at her resilience, and appreciate her lowering the bar for motherhood so that we can all sleep a little easier about the job we are doing.

 

Mobituaries  by Mo Rocca

This book was based on Rocca’s podcast, which I had not heard, but I am an obituary reader, and the fact that there are several books like this makes me understand that I am not the only one. These are not necessarily the lives celebrated in the NY Times pages, though many are familiar. Rocca celebrates people famous for unusual reasons, and also honors the demise of some unusual things: the station wagon, sports teams, and dragons. This is a perfect choice for these times, I think, not because it’s about people dying—it’s not, it’s celebrating lives—but because I seem to have a social-media-induced attention span, and these individual stories offer some respite from all of that.

 

A Good Neighborhood  by Therese Anne Fowler

This is one of those stories where you are waiting for the other shoe to drop from the very first chapter. Though Fowler takes us down a seemingly predictable path, she has more in store for these characters than a simple morality tale. I think Fowler’s writing, fresh and smart, saved this from becoming an “issue” book; though the amount of hot-button topics still seemed a little unrealistic. I like a book with multiple points of view, so this added to the story for me, though not every character felt authentic. Regardless, Fowler has given us a lot to chew on here; a perfect read for a neighborhood book club.

 

Naked Mole Rat Saves the World  by Karen Rivers

This is not your typical middle-grade book. Rivers has given us a cast of unconventional characters who somehow seem ordinary despite their extraordinary circumstances. This is a complex, unapologetic book, overflowing with powerful emotion, necessary magic and superhero naked mole rats—really, what more can I say?  

Let's Be Optimistic
Leading with Gratitude: Eight Leadership Practices for Extraordinary Business Results - Adrian Gostick, Chester Elton Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World - David   Epstein Everyone Deserves a Great Manager: The 6 Critical Practices for Leading a Team - Scott Jeffrey Miller, Todd Davis, Victoria Roos Olsson

Wow, I didn't even realize how behind I was on posts until today. I have been busy reading, though my challenge does not reflect that. Has anyone figured out the bug that won't let me add books I've read in 2020? I thought that bug was a millennium problem?

 

Anyway, I just found out that some of my recent reviews for the Wiley journal, Global Business and Organizational Excellence, have been posted where people can read them! Usually they are subscription only. So, if you are interested in business books, I actually started the year out very optimistically, and these choices reflect that. 

 

Even if you are not a business book fan, I highly recommend Range, which has special appeal to parents in these questionable times.

 

READ MY REVIEW HERE

Review
4 Stars
Red at the Bone
Red at the Bone - Jacqueline Woodson

Wow, this was a beautiful story, and a really great audiobook. If you've never listened to a book before, this might be a great one to try, since it's under four hours. Also, there is a remarkable cast reading it, including the author. I have never done this before, but I marked one chapter while I was listening, and then, when I finished, I went back and listened to it again. And again. Chapter 7. This book is truly amazing, a gift.

Review
3 Stars
Immoral Code
Immoral Code - Lillian Clark

This book wins points for its diverse, inclusive cast of characters, with each of five friends telling a part of the story. Since it’s a heist story involving hackers, a digital reader would seem appropriate, right? Not exactly. While the characters have distinct stories, the switching points of view were difficult for me to track, and I spent a lot of time going back to the chapter heads to figure out who was talking. I did, however, appreciate the smart and funny dialogue; reminded me of a modern version of Friends, only they were all just a wee bit smarter. Despite the title, I was disappointed that only one of the characters seemed to have a moral conscience. Yes, I feel old now, having just used the term “modern version of Friends” and worrying about the moral conscious of fictional characters, but still.

 

As a parent of a child the age of the characters in this book, I am clearly not the intended audience, but I still consider myself an open and caring reader. I kept wondering why, if Bellamy was as brilliant as I’m supposed to believe she is, she could not confront her father (or mother) more directly about the money before it got to the point of a heist. Yes, I know there wouldn’t have been much of a story, but this plotline seemed incredible to me—and the neatly wrapped up ending kind of proved my point. I admit, the idea of robbing my parents (or attempting any kind of heist) would definitely have been more appealing to teenage-me than it was to mommy-me, so there is a decidedly large audience for this story regardless of my take on it. In any case, I finished the book because the writing was sharp and often funny, and I will be interested to see what Clark comes up with next.

Review
3 Stars
I'm Not Really a Waitress: How One Woman Took Over the Beauty Industry One Color at a Time
I'm Not Really a Waitress: How One Woman Took Over the Beauty Industry One Color at a Time - Suzi Weiss-Fischmann

As a partner in a women-owned business, I am always interested in reading stories about successful women. Fischmann’s rags-to-riches story does not disappoint. Her ability to envision the future of OPI, a blockbuster cosmetics company, from the remnants of a pretty uninspiring dental supply company, will be heartening to anyone considering a grassroots startup. Besides this, her stories about the creation of her iconic polish names are fun and engaging, and her determination to empower women and support her community makes for a compelling and thoughtful read.

Review
4 Stars
Twenty-One Truths About Love
Twenty-one Truths About Love - Matthew Dicks

I think there might be mixed feelings about the format of this book—told mostly in lists—but I thought it was engaging and made for a fast-paced read.

 

(yes, you know I’m totally going there with the lists)

 

This book has so much going for it:

  1. a smart, charming, funny protagonist…
  2. who quits his job to open a bookstore.
  3. Ok, yeah, so that was really enough to get me to read it.

 

But, as we all know, owning a bookstore is not a get-rich quick scheme. So, when the business starts to fail (or actually, never really gets off the ground),

does Daniel Mayrock decide to:

  1. Host author events
  2. Promote the store in social media and in town
  3. Talk to his wife?

 

No, he does not. Instead, he comes up with an idea to get out of debt that is:

  1. Spectacularly far-fetched
  2. Kind of insulting, at least to this reader.

 

What happened to smart Daniel?

  1. He became a wimp
  2. The story went off the rails
  3. I kept waiting for him to say, “yeah, I was kidding. It was a joke.”
  4. He did not.

 

But wait, you gave it 4 stars!

  1. The writing was so engaging that I finished it despite being annoyed.
  2. I am hoping that next time Dicks stays true to his character, because Daniel deserved better.
  3. But I can’t wait for the next one, because this was a story with heart.
  4. I am a sucker for heart.
  5. Who isn’t?
Review
4 Stars
The Editor
The Editor - Steven Rowley

I had Lily and the Octopus on my to-read list, but then I saw Steven Rowley’s new book on NetGalley, and of course I bumped my ridiculously long line to read that one first (thanks, NetGalley!). I couldn’t help myself—this book has a terrific hook of a premise. As an author, getting your first book deal seems achievement enough, but Rowley ups the ante when the debut author in his novel meets his editor—Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Of course this must have happened to many people over her two decades in publishing, but I had never thought of the day-to-day reality of it before. I checked online to see if there were other stories about Jackie’s career in books, and ironically, two came out within months of each other in 2010 and 2011, but it doesn’t look like either of them gained any real traction.

 

Rowley comes at this from a different angle, in novel form rather than a straight biography or collection of anecdotes. I think this book draws its success from the fact that, while we are inspired by Onassis and the glamour of Camelot that she represented, we probably appreciate the working-woman ordinariness of her even more. Onassis is truly just a hook, because this story is not about the public figure we think we know. Instead, Rowley tells the moving story of a writer’s journey to find his truth, at the urging of his caring and sometimes enigmatic editor. The fact that this editor is Onassis is merely incidental; because at the end of the day, all that truly matters to each of them is bringing the very best story to the page.

Review
4 Stars
The Starless Sea
The Starless Sea - Erin Morgenstern

Morgenstern's first book, The Night Circus, continues to be one of my favorite books, so I was eager to see if her next book would live up to that promise. It did not disappoint. Given what I consider to be an extraordinarily high bar, this is a terrific accomplishment. My biggest dilemma reading this one was trying to savor it without racing through it; but, in taking my time, losing some of the thread of the complicated story. When I picked it up, I tended to do a bit of rereading to get me back into the action. This is not a criticism, maybe just a warning. If you have a comfy couch, a lot of free time, and enough snacks, I would definitely recommend binging on this book.

Review
4 Stars
American Princess
American Princess: A Novel of First Daughter Alice Roosevelt - Stephanie Marie Thornton

This is not my first Alice Roosevelt book. I have to admit, I am drawn to books about this quirky White house daughter, the rebel badass, and, despite the fact that I once considered Eleanor the best of the Roosevelts, I have to think that Alice was the most true to herself. In previous books I’ve read about her though, she was depicted as a spirited girl bent on hijinks—with no particular care for the lives of those around her. This book added a depth to her character that I didn’t feel before, and considered the compromises she made in love and life, going beyond the typical scandals that are recalled when Alice is the topic. I was moved by the story of the years following her mother’s death, her relationship with her father, and the idea that America’s Sweetheart seemed so unlucky in her choices for love. Regardless of that, Alice lived the life she wanted to live, her unequivocal independence and life of the mind so contrary to the prevailing norms, and an example still, of how to get the very most out of life.

 

Review
4 Stars
Daisy Jones & The Six
Daisy Jones & the Six - Taylor Jenkins Reid

I am so late reviewing this book, but thank goodness nobody was waiting around for my review to convince them to read it. As so many have figured out by now, this is a terrific book. Written in the style of the best Rolling Stone interviews, back when we clamored to read each new issue, this book just rolled along, surprising and delighting with sly plot twists and a beguiling cast of characters. Reid captures all of the behind-the-scenes drama, and relates it in a style that is compelling and completely believable. I was thinking so much about Fleetwood Mac while reading this that at some points I needed to remind myself that it wasn’t their story—not because it was so similar, but because the characters were so real. Definitely a must for old school rock fans.

Review
4 Stars
The Library Book
The Library Book - Susan Orlean

Years ago, my husband gave me a copy of The Orchid Thief as a gift. This was back before I ventured much into non-fiction, and one of those gifts that he figured would be great because we could both read it. While we are completely in sync in our love for books, we have our differences when it comes to genres. There are plenty of classics we both love, but generally he is more action/non-fiction, and I am more historical fiction/memoir. In his defense, though, The Orchid Thief had a novel-like plot, and was so much more than a story about orchids. As a birthday present, though, it was a bust. He read it before I did, and even he did not give it rave reviews. I think he described it as “quirky”, which is apparently a negative for him, but usually a plus for me. I read it. Ok, I tried. I wanted to love it, I really did, because honestly, that cover was beautiful!

 

Fast forward to late last year, and NetGalley offered a new book by Susan Orleans. It had been so long since that last one, and, like childbirth, I’d pretty much forgotten the experience. But the real reason I begged for the book? It’s about Libraries! Ok, it’s about a particular one, the Los Angeles Public Library, and a fire that changes many lives, along with the library system. I don’t know if I’ve just matured and come to appreciate non-fiction more, but Orleans wowed me with this book.

 

Besides tremendous research and investigative skills, Orleans brings warmth and a generous spirit to the story. She gets to the heart of the systemic problems, uncovers information about the long-standing arson suspect, and brings to life on the page all of the people who help make this library hum. When so many people do the majority of their reading on their phone, this book brings me hope. It is a love letter to all public libraries, and an inspiring acknowledgement of their important place in our communities.

Review
3 Stars
Transcription
Transcription: A Novel - Kate Atkinson

Just when I thought I’d read enough World War II books (are they a genre? Should they be?), along comes another from Kate Atkinson, who has brought me through the war twice already, in Life After Life, and A God in Ruins. Ironically, I have these reviews back-to-back, but I actually read Transcription first, and am working my way through a backlog of reviews. In case you can’t tell, I’m a fan of Atkinson’s writing, and think that it can elevate even a mediocre storyline. There are compelling themes here—the women’s roles described offered yet another new perspective on the war—but the characters did not seem as developed, and the story as well-plotted as her other writing. You can see that even a partial miss for Atkinson still earns a respectable rating, because I liked it enough to finished it in a couple of days, and, even better, I learned something in the process.

Review
4 Stars
A God in Ruins
A God in Ruins - Kate Atkinson

I would have given this book 3.5 stars, but Atkinson's writing could make even the most banal storyline compelling. Honestly, I felt like this novel could have used more editing, but hey, I picked it because I liked Life After Life, and I also love a big fat paperback. Some characters, (looking at you Viola) were just unlikable; which is ok, but at some point I need to care about them, and Atkinson did not always make this easy. I loved Teddy, but I also found him at times very wishy-washy (does anyone use that expression anymore? Am I being wishy-washy using it?) — it was hard to reconcile the rogue fighter pilot with the wildlife columnist, prone to long, meandering passages. I know very little about birds and English gardens, so I tended to lose interest there. But of course, these are minor arguments. Atkinson's characters drive this story, and, though her jumps in and out of timelines can be distracting, I found the little peeks into the future along the way compelling. I also liked the idea that this was a companion piece to the other book; you did not need to read that one first, but if you did, you felt a little bit like you were in on something.

200 Book Reviews 80% Reviews Published