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 Stars
New Thoughts on Innovation
The Power of Little Ideas: A Low-Risk, High-Reward Approach to Innovation - David Robertson, Kent Lineback Mapping Innovation: A Playbook for Navigating a Disruptive Age - Greg Satell The Upstarts: How Uber, Airbnb, and the Killer Companies of the New Silicon Valley Are Changing the World - Brad Stone

I'm reading for my July-August review in Global Business and Organizational Excellence and these titles pretty much run the gamut on innovation. From a core product that needs some new life to a disruptive, groundbreaking, category-changing idea, there are some excellent insights offered in each of these new books.

Review
3.5 Stars
The Children
The Children: A Novel - Ann Leary

I chose this book from NetGalley because I loved Leary’s previous book, The Good House. While these books do not share a setting (though I think both could be Connecticut), they share a certain penchant for an oddball cast of characters, not always likable but always interesting. This is no easy task — for the most part these people are seriously flawed, or at the least, in serious denial about some of the realities of their lives.

 

The beauty of The Children is that Leary offers up a family that at first seems low-key and light on drama, only to reveal a dark edge, and deeply felt animosities among the “loving” members of this sprawling family. In a place where everyone seems to know everyone else’s business, there is remarkably little they really share. I think Leary has a gift for this type of character-driven story, where the plot is not nearly as compelling as the motley crew propelling it forward. They carry with them all manner of secrets – some more obvious than others – but regardless of this you will want to stick around to see how it all works out in the sometimes-bitter end.

Review
3.5 Stars
Under Rose-Tainted Skies
Under Rose-Tainted Skies - Louise D. Gornall

When I first started this book, it reminded me of Everything, Everything. Except in this story, it is not the Mother keeping the daughter inside the house; its 17-year-old Norah, whose crippling anxiety has made it impossible for her to leave.

 

There is a lot to come to grips with in this book. Norah suffers from a multitude of fears and phobias, brought on by agoraphobia and OCD. Luckily, she lives with a compassionate, loving mother with unflinching patience, and a caring doctor who caters to Norah’s changing needs. Of course, it is Luke, the new boy next-door (an overdone plotline, maybe, but it still works for me) who makes Norah rethink her world, and, in the same way, Luke’s worldview changes dramatically because of her.

 

It is not all sunshine and lollipops when Luke moves in, however. While the intense drama that followed later bordered on the implausible for me, I understood the necessity of the device to allow Norah to come to grips with her life. Despite the implicit danger the author contrives, in some respects I thought, ah, if it were only this easy.

 

I like that this is almost an ordinary teen romance; while it is an important theme, mental illness is only one of the facts of Norah’s life, not her whole story. Instead, this is a story about two new friends getting to know one another and finding their place in the world, and it is told with empathy, compassion, and grace.  

Review
3.5 Stars
The Fifth Petal
The Fifth Petal: A Novel - Brunonia Barry

You know what I like reading about almost as much as plagues? Witches. I loved Brunonia Barry’s first book, The Lace Reader, so much that when I saw another book was coming out, I jumped on it. I am not generally a series reader, though I will often read the first one in a series and nothing else (yes, I’m a quitter, I admit it.) But Barry sucked me in last time, so this time I was a willing victim. I completely believed her tales about the lace readers, and honestly, I was stunned that she made everything up (sorry, spoiler alert). I was completely convinced, and I am telling you that so when she tricks you with her voluminous knowledge of old Salem and throws in a bunch of hooky, you will not feel bad like I did. You’re welcome.

 

So anyway, here’s what you need to know. Read this book. There is high drama, grave danger, horrible childhoods that need to be redeemed and reclaimed and also, witches. Did I mention that? What could be better? Nothing. It takes place in Salem and surrounding areas, so of course there are witches. There are also regular people, unfortunately, with all kinds of unmanageable, overwhelming problems. There are bad characters I kind of liked, and good ones who do the wrong thing, so basically, it’s perfectly balanced. And don’t worry if you didn’t read the first one – this one stands alone just fine. (But I’d read The Lace Reader anyway, because really, aren’t you better than that?)

Review
4 Stars
Magruder's Curiosity Cabinet
Magruder's Curiosity Cabinet - Peter H. Wood

Wow. I never thought I would say this, but I am pretty sure this is another great book about the plague. Do you think it’s on purpose that my other favorite book on the topic, while wholly different and based on actual events, is called Year of Wonders? Both titles, weirdly, sound much more inviting than their actual topic.

 

I read a note from the author, and I have to agree that the cover and maybe even the title on this one do seem a little more middle grade than modern adult. I tend to read both genres, so when I picked this one up a while after I requested it, I honestly was not sure. The cover seems so perky for a book about class warfare played out through a plague quarantine. So, no, as my kids used to say, this would not be appropriate for them. Unless of course you don’t mind them reading about the death and mayhem of a plague epidemic running rampant through the carnival sideshow. Other than that, it’s just a tad risqué, but really, given the setting, how could it not be?

 

In any case, that’s just fine, because you will want to keep this gem all to yourself. There is an amazing cast of characters here, especially heavy on the character. Honestly, I loved them all. The setting itself looms large, offering an abundance of Coney Island trivia and a privileged glimpse of the old sideshow attractions. Wood has crafted a fine sense of community and morality in this strange and curious world. I loved this book.

Review
3 Stars
Relativity
Relativity - Antonia Hayes

This is a heartbreaking story of a family, but it is tinged with hope for the possible. I am a fan of stories where parents are portrayed as struggling, harried people, having myself struggled and been harried as a parent. 12-year-old Ethan seems much too wise for his years, but Hayes’ lyrical writing and sense of wonder lets me forgive her that indiscretion. There is a strong science theme in this story, but it is not pedantic or overwhelming; it’s tempered with respect and awe, especially when we see the physical world through Ethan’s eyes. Hayes sets us up for punishment: there are red herrings in this plot and we are encouraged to go down paths that will not get us where we want or need to be. We think we have the whole story in tact just because we have each person’s point of view, but their memories are highly charged and often filtered. The second point of view overlaps the first, but there still seems to be something missing, and then the third, Ethan’s, only adds to the mystery. Most painfully I think, Hayes offers a realistic story just when we thought we were getting a magical one. But I cannot fault her for being true and honest, and actually, that makes me respect her all the more.

Review
4 Stars
Did You Ever Have a Family?
Did You Ever Have A Family - Bill Clegg

Read this after Fates and Furies when Lauren Groff thanked her agent, Bill Clegg, and I remembered this book on my to-read pile. Have wanted to read this one since the day I bought it, the cover was just so perfect. The book inside, not surprisingly, was just as good.

Review
4 Stars
Fates and Furies
Fates and Furies: A Novel - Lauren Groff

Can't just add this to the read pile without a quick note: I am a fan of Lauren Groff, so this book was one in a string of her books for me - I listened to some of this but then I remembered the giant chunk of a book I already had on my shelf, hardcover, enormous, and I had to prop it on my lap and read the rest myself. Groff's writing, with its odd assortment of characters and warped perspectives reminds me of John Irving and everything I love about his writing. Messy and strange, but ultimately compelling and satisfying.

Review
3 Stars
The Versions of Us
The Versions of Us - Laura Barnett

I chose this book on NetGalley because the premise, that a singular moment could open up three distinct possibilities, was appealing. “The one thing that's certain is they met on a Cambridge street by chance and felt a connection that would last a lifetime. But as for what happened next . . .” Barnett has set the book up in a rotation for each of the different storylines, so you follow the thread of a particular future every three chapters. I think she did this to keep everything chronological; with the three stories side by side you are able to compare the different paths in real time. However, in a kindle format this can be confusing — challenging to go back and find out who’s with who.

 

As a fan of stories about artists and writers, I appreciated the way Barnett wove these elements into the plot. Barnett writes with wit, charm and an eye for detail, but even her eloquent prose cannot overcome a less than captivating group of characters. While these main characters loomed large over everyone else, most of the minor characters remained virtually the same no matter what happened in the different plots, which was a shame, because I liked many of them. While I am not an unbridled romantic, I did find it unrealistic that no couple in this book could remain faithful in marriage. There are all sorts of rationalizations and “higher art” themes to justify this, but I found it annoying, and, in some cases, Woody Allen-esque-ridiculous in terms of highly unlikely pairings. I did appreciate (but also, sadly, unlikely) that Eva was wildly successful no matter which path she followed — so yes, girl power and all that, but still. Some of those comments make me feel silly and prudish, but if none of that would bother you, have at it. I remain hopeful that Barnett’s best is yet to come.

Review
3 Stars
Imagine Me Gone
Imagine Me Gone - Adam Haslett

This book starts with a bang — dropping you into the middle of the action without any information and then leaving you the balance of the book to put the facts together. Kind of like waiting for the other shoe to drop. Not entirely a pleasant feeling, but a compelling device.

 

From the very beginning, most of the characters are in untenable positions, with their lives spinning ever more deeply out of control. This is not the story of a dysfunctional family, but of a family unable to function at all, as father, and later son, face a crippling mental illness. For me, it was difficult because at times I expected some of the characters to make better decisions; but this would have meant making them based on hard facts rather than heart. Obviously, this was not a light read, though there were some lighter moments; Haslett’s writing is lyrical and elegant, and his character’s fierce love of music is conveyed with loving detail. This book was painful at times to read, but it was, nonetheless, a deeply moving story.

Review
3.5 Stars
Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood
Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood - Liesl Shurtliff

My daughter encouraged me to read Rump, also by Shurtliff, as soon as she finished it. I loved that she chose that book, because it looked like the big chunky books I always love, that invite a long stay on the couch under a cozy blanket (its gloomy and cold as I write this). While Rump is still on my tippy to-read pile, I picked this from NetGalley when it was available, based on that earlier recommendation.

 

So, I will admit it, my daughter was right. Shurtliff’s newest tale did not disappoint, so I really need to think about moving Rump to the top of the pile. I love the overlapping fairy tales, and the many ways Shurtliff adds depth to a character who typically seems to have none at all. I especially liked how she seamlessly wove characters from the other tales into the plot as if we could watch the forest from a high tree and all the stories were really only one epic tale – it reminded me a little of the forest in Shrek. I did not really love Goldilocks in this version, but that is a minor complaint in an otherwise completely enjoyable read. Oh, yeah, I almost forgot. I also read this one first, so I could recommend it to my daughter.

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The Most Beautiful Libraries in America
The Most Beautiful Libraries in America

The Library at Rutgers University, NJ, was modeled after a 4th-Century Roman Church

 

Of course we support our local library - but now you can tour across America with THIS LIST of amazing libraries in every state.

Review
3 Stars
The Art of Not Breathing
The Art of Not Breathing - Sarah  Alexander

This is one of those YA books that makes me wish I was not a parent when I read it. I know, even as I react to events, that I am thinking like a completely annoying parent — ooh, that’s too dangerous, should she be doing that? — and not a young adult. So yes, I understand, I am reading books I probably shouldn’t read anymore, but sometimes I need to, in order to see what’s out there for my own writing, and to pretend I am previewing it for my daughters. That last part is a story I tell myself, as my daughters no longer value my opinion about their reading, and have in fact taken to believe that they have superior taste in books to me.

 

In any case, I am trying to be less wordy in these reviews, because really, who has the time to hit that “Show entire post” when you’re scrolling through the feed late at night? This book has everything a YA should — thrill-seeking teens, edgy romance, complex problems at home, and long-buried secrets — but I did feel that the myriad of serious problems presented here were explored in only a cursory manner. Alexander serves up a lot of angst, and, despite my mixed feelings about the book, she gave me some cringe-worthy moments realizing that I have teenage daughters who may someday want to date a bad-ass surfer boy.

Review
4 Stars
I Let You Go
I Let You Go - Clare Mackintosh

This book begins with heartbreaking tragedy, then smooths the sharp edges into a gentle story that lulls you very quietly into a sense of complacency, right before ripping the world apart once more. The reader experiences what at first appears to be the complete story — two equal halves in alternating chapters — but understands later that parts are missing, deliberately omitted and carefully concealed. This unknowing gives the story its edge, it’s elusive feel, and kept me reading even though at times I wanted to scream at some of the characters. (Not just one, either. But mostly because I liked them, and I was trying to keep them from screwing up, so there’s that.)

 

It’s hard for me to give a sense of this book in a short space, but I don’t want to talk about it, I want you to go ahead and read it yourself. I am pretty sure Mackintosh left no genre unturned here, there’s a little something for everyone — fierce drama, crime fiction, light comedy and romance, thriller, and a beautiful setting with a sense of timelessness and history. The year is just beginning, start it off with a jolt.

Review
4 Stars
Read this book, no matter how old you are. I won't tell if you pretend it's for your kids. (But let them read it too, just to be safe.)
The Girl Who Drank the Moon - Kelly Barnhill

I read a lot of incredible books in 2016, but I have to say, this was one of my favorites. It is the kind of book that you just want to put in someone else’s hands the minute you finish it, because you want to talk about it with someone you care about as soon as possible. This was an almost grown-up kind of fairy tale, so perfectly imagined and wondrously told that I am hesitant to say too much about it.

 

I might have wanted to listen to this book, if only to know how to pronounce the characters’ names correctly, but that was a minor distraction in this otherwise joyful book. Of course, there is treachery and deceit — all proper fairy tales need a villain or two (and there are quite a few here) — and there is the mandatory clash with evil and the ultimate victory for the side of the good, but knowing this still does not take away from the dramatic tension or suspense. The publisher’s blurb is not hyperbole — the lyrical language, the moving story and the truly unique and imaginative characters all combine to make this a modern classic.

Review
4 Stars
The Girl in the Well is Me
The Girl in the Well Is Me - Karen Rivers

Ok, I am going to do a few different things with this review.

 

First, I am going to cut any suspense and tell you straight out, I loved this book. Now love is a weird thing, because this is a very sad, moving, terrible story, and for the most part, a lot of it is not enjoyable to read. But, Rivers tells this story without being heavy-handed — if someone told me it was about “bullying” I might have skipped it as a hot-topic issue kind of book.

 

Also, I am going to say that it is not a book for everyone — you can tell that by reading even a couple of other reviews. But here’s the thing, the “dark” humor some people fault is really what helped me through what I found to be a compelling, beautifully told, tale. Kammie is a survivor, and she got that way by having a sense of humor in the face of grave circumstances. I laughed out loud at her wild imaginings while trapped, each ending with a version of, “but I can’t, because I’m stuck. In a well.” Her sarcasm especially appealed to me, and I know my daughters will appreciate this as well when they read it.

 

Kammie’s story is important because it is difficult and filled with despair, but there is (literally) a tiny light at the end of the tunnel. And her ability to see that light, despite all the muck that rains down on her (literally and figuratively), is a triumph of human spirit, and a lesson in perseverance and hope for the rest of us.

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