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
3.5 Stars
Before Everything
Before Everything - Victoria Redel

I cannot resist a good book about a close-knit group of girlfriends, especially a sad one. When Helen, Ming, Molly, and Caroline gather to say goodbye to Anna, who is about to enter hospice, I was ready for some wild stories and long overdue confessions. Despite the setup, this story was not the gripping tale I expected, and there were some surprising moments of pettiness among the characters given the gravity of the situation. Despite this, it felt true to me. It reminded me of the times I have experienced perspective altering events, when my own troubles — that had seemed huge and unmanageable before — were eclipsed by unexpected tragedies. Redel does an excellent job of creating characters who are human and believable. They are not always perfect, or selfless, or even kind and forgiving, but they are capable of change, and so there is always hope.

Review
4 Stars
Educated
Educated - Tara Westover

We listened to this one while we worked (my best friend/business partner and I), and I will say there was quite a bit of moaning and yelling at the narrator throughout. Westover's childhood was appalling, and no amount of back-pedaling by her parents and estranged siblings can convince me otherwise. Considering that their lawyer uses the only three children who escaped the family and paid their own way through an education as an example of the alleged "home schooling" success, I have to side with Tara's story whole-heartedly - not to mention that every single one of the others relies on the mother's "healing oil" business for their livelihood. I never thought anyone would make Jeanette Walls' story look like a walk in the park, but here you have it. Also never heard so many near-catastrophic accidents happen in one family; if nothing else, that alone is reason for Tara to distance herself from them.

Review
4 Stars
Memory's Last Breath
Memory's Last Breath: Field Notes on My Dementia - Gerda Saunders

I chose this book on NetGalley because the topic was timely for me — my mom is dealing with many of the same issues — and I wanted to learn more about it, especially given the first-hand account. As it got closer on my to-read pile, I found myself resistant. By then, I had read the eye-opening book, The 36-Hour Day, which certainly helped my understanding, but also pretty much squelched my desire to be more informed. In this respect, Saunders anecdote-filled book was a relief, but, as a scientist herself, she balanced the narrative with so much information that it was occasionally overwhelming. It is always difficult to see someone whose livelihood depends on their superior intellect affected by a disease of the mind, but I was more moved by the daily diary entries that detailed embarrassing lapses in the countless mundane acts we all perform thoughtlessly every day.

 

There are a lot of digressions here, but I forgive her those. I think that, given the platform of this book, she is allowed to show off a little, to prove that she still has a wealth of information at her command, despite this disease nipping at her heels. A thought-provoking story, and, for those of us who truly understand her struggle, a comfort.   

Review
4 Stars
Sing, Unburied, Sing
Sing, Unburied, Sing: A Novel - Jesmyn Ward

With writing most often described as lyrical and lush, Ward's elegiac prose eases you gently into harsher truths. Having read Salvage the Bones, I was happy to see this new title offered on NetGalley, especially with that amazing cover. But despite the fact that I got the kindle version, I decided to listen to the audiobook, which added an AudioFile award to the many others this book has garnered, including the National Book Award for Fiction. This is a powerful, deeply moving story, combining the gritty underside of life with the ethereal world of those who have left but refuse to be forgotten. Compelling and truly a wonder, as you might expect.

Review
3 Stars
The Little French Bistro
The Little French Bistro - Nina George

This seemed like it was going to be one of those charming summer reads along the lines of Under the Tuscan Sun, and it was, for the most part. The summary is a bit deceiving though, and I don't think it's revealing a plot twist to note that Marianne's idea of how to leave her loveless marriage is to literally leave this world. (This is downplayed as "taking action" in the summary.) The problem I have with this is that while she escapes into a completely implausible picturesque new life, she still entertains thoughts about suicide. I am not trying to belittle these thoughts in any way, but instead, I felt like the author was merely pandering in perpetuating this storyline. Perhaps if there had been a little more conflict in Marianne's ideal new life, George wouldn't have had to continue with the half-hearted plot. To be fair, there are some terrific characters here, and, between them and the inspired setting, they make up for the lapses in plot. I am going to believe that something was lost in translation.

 

And yes, I am totally jealous of the new life Marianne is living, so there's that. But lucky for me, I have a wonderful husband who's walked along the Seine with me, without ever making me feel the need to jump.

Review
3.5 Stars
The Accomplished Guest
The Accomplished Guest: Stories - Melody Beattie

I chose this book because I love Ann Beattie's writing, and I found the theme — of people paying visits, traveling to see old friends, or receiving visitors themselves — intriguing. Despite the fact that these were collected from a range of publications, I found the theme especially apt, and enjoyed discovering the connection to it in each story I read. I feel like I have grown up with Beattie's writing, and this collection is one of her best. The characters have flaws but so much soul, and I would guess that, given the subjects she tackles, they will appeal to a wide audience. Told with compassion and humor, this is definitely recommended.

Review
2.5 Stars
Perennials
Perennials: A Novel - Mandy Berman

I chose this book because it promised tales of summer camp (a place I've sent my kids to, but always wished I'd gone myself) and suggested it was for fans of Curtis Sittenfeld, among others. I was hoping for another Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, or something like that, but the characters did not capture my imagination in the same way. While their backstories were interesting, for me at least, they never seemed to be fully fleshed out. Worse still, I found them annoying, so empathy for their problems was especially hard to come by. The resolution of the book came in a rush, and was more confusing than revealing. This was not for me, but, as far as I can tell, if you were a summer camper, you will page through this one on nostalgia alone.

Review
4 Stars
Grief Cottage
Grief Cottage: A Novel - Gail Godwin

I read one or two of Godwin's books long before I began tracking my reading with any kind of purpose, but when I saw her new book on NetGalley, I was eager to read it. Pitched as a mystery/ghost story and a moving exploration of grief, it delivered on all counts for me. I almost wanted to call it Grief Town, because everyone in this book is grieving, far beyond Marcus' loss and whatever happened in the ruined cottage down the beach. Godwin's story comes alive with her deft prose, her quirky and compelling characters, and her evocative setting. It's not so much a mystery — since the missing pieces are not all that hard to put together — but it's a story of loss, love, and how to carry on when things don't work out the way you planned. Perfect beach read, if you are still able to do that, but trade that in a pinch for a comfy chair by the fire with a nice cup of tea or hot chocolate.

Review
3 Stars
New Boy
New Boy (Hogarth Shakespeare) - Tracy Chevalier

I've read several of Chevalier's books, so when I saw this one offered on NetGalley, I jumped at the chance to get a copy. After reading two other books in the Hogarth Shakespeare series, Vinegar Girl and Hag-Seed, I was curious to read Chevalier's take on Othello. I think this is a departure for Chevalier, whose historical fiction I love, but I am not sure what she intended here. Her protagonists are reimagined as 11-year-olds, and the drama occurs over the course of one school day, with most of the action taking place on the playground. For me, this format diminished the impact of the story. I am not sure why Chevalier set this in the '70s, especially when the words and actions of her characters seemed more in line with today's kids, as opposed to the much less eloquent and exceedingly more immature kids I remember, having been an 11-year-old in the '70s.  

 

To be fair, Chevalier on her worst day is significantly better than so many other published writers, that of course I finished reading it, and I have no regrets. Now, on to her other books on my TBR pile...

Review
4 Stars
Tell Me More
Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I'm Learning to Say - Kelly Corrigan

It's almost embarrassing how much I love Kelly Corrigan's books; but I am comforted in my fandom by the fact that my best friend feels the same way. We are both convinced that if we all lived closer, we would definitely be friends. Corrigan's writing confirms this for me — her stories of life with two teenage daughters make me feel like she has been a fly on my walls, especially given that mine are pretty much the same age and with similar tastes. Her husband, like mine, is calm in the face of daily dramas; and their research on parenting equips them with tools only a Dad can wield — Corrigan confirms that we mothers are just in too deep. I bookmarked pages for my husband that I found hilarious, but it was lost in my translation; he begged me to let him read it on his own, without my highlighting the good parts for him. He feels a certain kinship with her too, since they are both University of Richmond grads, but he tired quickly of my yelling out names of college friends she mentions, asking, "Hey, did you know...?" There is some territory here that Corrigan has explored before, but I appreciated the way she organized the essays, with 12 things that seem so simple and yet so significant. As always, Corrigan delivers a thoughtful, moving, and often hilarious account of life in the trenches.

Review
4 Stars
we are never meeting in real life
We are Never Meeting in Real Life. - Samantha Irby

Samantha Irby has a lot to say about so many things. She writes, and sometimes rants, about a wide range of subjects in this collection — race, sexuality, poverty and cats — with an overwhelming sense of calm and rationality. With her razor-sharp wit, the moving, rip-your-heart out moments comfortably balanced the laugh-out-loud ones (I don't watch the Bachelorette, but I would if she sent her application in). Having no previous knowledge of Irby, I found myself checking out her blog and you tube videos for more. Despite being named Chicago's funniest writer when her first book, Meaty, came out, Irby continued to working as a receptionist at the local animal hospital; though to be fair, this experience provides perfect fodder for her writing. I admit, there were some extremely graphic scenes I could have done without, but the excessive swearing was expected (her blog, after all, is "bitches gotta eat"). If any of that offends you, consider yourself warned. In the meantime, I'll be checking out her other books.

Review
4 Stars
Theft by Finding
Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002) - David Sedaris

I am pretty sure I've read all or most of Sedaris' books, and I can't say he has ever left me disappointed. His stories are hilarious and heartbreaking, sometimes at the same time, and tend to linger in my memory. After reading this book and noting his fondness for IHOP, I couldn't help but wonder what he would have had to say about their name change controversy. Still not sure if that was a joke or not, but either way, not a good marketing strategy. But I digress, as Sedaris often does, but much more deftly than me. Of course, this book felt more personal than the others, since it was Sedaris' diary, but it is a diary unlike any I've read, full of bits of conversation and observations that are similar in tone to his essays. Sedaris is an original, his biting humor and keen scrutiny bring life into perfect focus.

 

My husband gets Money magazine, which I rarely touch, but the other day I noticed the page was turned, and there was Sedaris, talking about his new book, Calypso, and how he manages his wealth. And all I have to say about that is, go on and buy culottes and overpriced shirts for everyone, David, as long as you keep on writing. Trust me, we are grateful. 

Review
3.5 Stars
House of Names
House of Names: A Novel - Colm Tóibín

When I saw this book on NetGalley, I chose it because I read Brooklyn and Nora Webster; but this book was something else entirely. A retelling of the story of Clytemnestra, this isn't something I would normally go for, but I live in a house with Greek mythology fans, and they are obviously starting to affect my choices. Not really what I would expect from Toibin either, by the way, but I am convinced now that he can write anything he wants; this story is compelling, and, in some ways, prescient. If it weren't for Toibin's name attached to this story, I probably wouldn't have picked it up at all, though it does have a beautiful cover. (I prefer the red one on Goodreads - BookLikes has its usual limited number of editions - 1 for this one, unfortunately...) I admit, absent of any other information, I do still sometimes judge a book by its cover. In any case, if you feel the way I do, stretch a bit and try this one — there are some graphic moments, but it is a powerful story, and Toibin does not disappoint.

Review
4 Stars
The Dinner Party
The Dinner Party - Joshua Ferris

I became a Joshua Ferris fan after reading To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, and followed that up with Then We Came to the End, so I was thrilled to see his name on a NetGalley list. Ferris covers the gamut of relationships here, and these stories showcase his ability to create an unnerving level of tension and drama in seemingly ordinary moments. Ferris shines a light on some cringe-worthy, depressing situations; it's not all pretty, but his characters are spot-on. The theme was creative, wrapping itself around all kinds of possibilities for guests — including the uninvited and the ones who don't know when to leave. I am probably not the best critic here because I am such a fan of Ferris' writing; but even if you're not, these stories pack a punch and are well worth your time.   

Review
4 Stars
A Boy Made of Blocks
A Boy Made of Blocks - Keith Stuart

You had me at Minecraft. I admit it. After the Minecraft obsession swept through my own home, I was curious to see how the game would be used to engage Sam, the autistic boy at the center of this story. To be fair, calling this merely a story about autism (or minecraft, for that matter) does this story and its author a disservice, because it is really so much more than that. This is a universal story — a beautiful and complicated love story— that begins with a family fallen apart, and then follows them as they cautiously try to piece it back together. The author manages to take characters who are at first appalling in their lack of courage, and turn them back into commendable human beings. This is not always an easy task, but handled with grace and elegance here. This is a powerful story, and, while it has an almost Hollywood ending (which I sometimes pretend to disdain), I loved it here. Set that box of tissues near your comfy chair and have at it.

Breaking the Mold - New Thoughts on Leadership

 

Coming up in my latest review for Wiley's Global Business and Organizational Excellence, three thought-provoking books on leadership — each with a refreshing, unique point of view, that helps them stand out on the crowded leadership "genre" shelf.

For more information about the journal, Click Here

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