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
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

Review
3 Stars
The Best of Adam Sharp
The Best of Adam Sharp - Graeme Simsion

When I saw this title available on NetGalley, I immediately requested it, based on having read Simsion's other books. In retrospect, I should have known that this was different, especially with the summary including the part about Adam Sharp, "on the cusp of turning 50", which, in my experience, never bodes well for the unsuspecting wife and the seemingly happy marriage. I think what I missed was the charm of Simsion's other novels, which were appealing in their breezy way, and not at all affected, as Adam Sharp seems to be here, caught up in what can only be described as a mid-life crisis fantasy. Simsion doesn't do any favors to the women he depicts here, either. Despite all this, I kept reading; because I am weak, and I needed to know what happened in the end. And no, I'm not really proud of that. The music aspect appealed to me, invoking Nick Hornby themes, but it couldn't overcome my issues with the often creepy-feeling plot twists. I still think Simsion is a terrific writer (I wouldn't have been able to finish it otherwise), so I will try to keep an open mind about whatever he comes up with next.

Review
4 Stars
The Leavers
The Leavers: A Novel - Lisa Ko

This was an amazing book, on a difficult, timely issue. It feels truthful, since it represents many points of view and the complexities of immigration, without candy-coating anything. There are no heroes in this story, and most, if not all of the characters are flawed in some way. There were parts that made me ambivalent when I did not feel empathetic enough — Polly enters the country owing $50,000 to a loan shark and pregnant, which hardly seems like the better life she longs to give her unborn child. When this better life includes a trip for her son back to China to live with family for years, I wondered why she didn't let him stay where he was loved and settled. Instead, her son suffers a return to an unfamiliar land (and parent), and we begin to see that the life Polly imagined for him will only be achieved once she leaves him for good. This new life is far from perfect, and, while Polly's son Deming struggles with his own identity, Ko brings into focus the many small hypocrisies of a privileged white mindset that, despite more liberal leanings, often reinforces old stereotypes.

 

I don't usually quote other reviews, but I have to agree with this perfect one-sentence blurb from the New York Times Book Review, "Lisa Ko has taken the headlines and has reminded us that beyond them lie messy, brave, extraordinary, ordinary lives.” 

 

Despite any misgivings I had, this was a moving, though-provoking debut, and sets the bar high for Ko's next work.

Review
3.5 Stars
The Witchfinder's Sister
The Witchfinder's Sister - Beth Underdown

In case you've noticed, I'm a little behind on my reviews. Not because I haven't been reading, just that if it's a choice between reading and posting, I usually choose reading. Which puts me on track for my reading year, but regretfully behind here.

 

So enough about that, let's pretend it's the end of January, when I read this book. Brrr! It's freezing! Perfect time to sit in a cozy chair with a hot cup of tea and a warm blanket and read a scary book about witches. But really, if you're like me, there's no bad time to read about witches. This book, though, was a little different for me. For one thing, it was based on the true story of "Witchfinder General" Matthew Hopkins in Essex, England, 1645. Underdown spins a compelling tale based on his investigations, that are every bit as cruel, gruesome and unethical as you might imagine.

 

Alice, newly back in town, has her own troubles to deal with even before she starts to unravel the mysteries surrounding her brother, the now-famous Witch Finder. There is a lot going on in this otherwise sleepy town, and everyone seems to have a skeleton (or a witch) in their closet. The author leaves some things a little vague, but she does not spare the reader. This was an uncomfortable story for me to read; I really longed for a little bit of goodness in this world. I think that in her debut, though, Underdown has crafted an intense, often frightening, but ultimately well-told story.

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I am reading like crazy but so behind in my posts... can't even begin to list all of the excuses I've been saying in my head. But I never stop reading, it's just the tricky bit about the posting. But I'm no quitter, either!

 

Please enjoy this in the interim.

Review
3 Stars
Heroes of the Frontier
Heroes of the Frontier - Dave Eggers

This was tough for me. I love Eggers' work, and so much of this is what I would expect from him, but there are parts that just left me irritated, confused, or extremely stressed out for this unprepared, ill-equipped, mother of two, who displays an almost stunning lack of judgment when she takes her children on an inspired but completely unplanned trip to Alaska. The children, of course, are perfectly sweet, beautiful, wise little Yodas, who manage to charm even when they are at their worst.

 

Despite this, I was rooting for Josie. I bookmarked my audio-book and listened to one part several times — describing how we went from 4 parent visits a year at school to 46-hours' worth of recommended involvement (in a month). So, I cheered for Josie, even when she did some super questionable things (did anyone besides Josie not figure out the jumpsuits immediately?). And I almost made it all the way through. With about an hour or so left, Josie composes some music, and the story went from completely unrealistic yet kind of sweet and brave, to you have got to be kidding me. I considered Josie's musical scoring a charming affectation, a cute little character trait, but this was completely bizarre and almost offensive (to all musicians, everywhere, and I am not a musician). It went right off the rails for me after that.

 

There are some awesome, radical, refreshing ideas here about parenting and life, and it would have been so great if the rest of it had measured up to that great promise. Based on some other comments, I am guessing the geography is not well-researched, which seems a shame, and also easily avoidable. Any Eggers fans out there? Curious to know your thoughts.

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Ridgewood Public Library Author Lunch
Ridgewood Public Library Author Lunch

Time for a quick Public-Service announcement...

If you are in the northern NJ area, come to this fabulous annual event in support of one of Bergen County's best libraries! Nicole Krauss will be speaking and her books will be for sale and signing. Take your chance in a raffle, or bid on something at our amazing auction, featuring essential objects for the home, luxurious vacation packages or must-have tickets to Taylor Swift, Hamilton, and the grandstand at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade!

 

BUY TICKETS HERE

Review
4 Stars
Anything is Possible
Anything Is Possible - Elizabeth Strout

I will preface this, in an attempt at full disclosure, by admitting I am a fan of Elizabeth Strout. I heard her speak at our library lunch after Olive Kittredge came out, and at the time I was not sure if she would be able to top the success of that book. At the event, I grabbed copies of Amy & Isabelle and Abide with Me, which I greedily read not long after. There is something soothing and almost intoxicating about Strout's writing; she draws you in effortlessly, lulls you into complacency, and then shatters it all with a painful reality you might not have even imagined. Her characters are, at first glance, nondescript, often eking out a meager existence; but in her caring hands, they are stalwart, earnest, and beautiful. When Lucy Barton reappeared in this book, it was like catching up with an old friend, and I'm sure I judged her siblings harshly because I defended her. And that is the heart of it, really. I care about these characters. Strout pulls away the curtain, and we see what makes these people tick; we care about them because she makes us care, her words inspire empathy. And, given the state of things around here right now, we could all use a little more of that.

Review
3 Stars
Sympathy
Sympathy - Olivia Sudjic

And now, for something completely different. This debut novel, which I agree evokes the writing of Haruki Murakami (in a good way), among others, was one of those where I'm not too sure if I am actually too old to read it. (answer, yes, that's correct) When I find myself relating more to the poor decrepit grandma dying, wholly ignored, on the couch than to the 20-something protagonist, I have to figure that maybe this one wasn't meant for me. Having said that, I thought the writing was strong, I just didn't really care about the characters all that much. To be fair, they didn't care about a whole lot either, except for some over-the-top obsessive longing that never really feels honest. "Tormented efforts to connect" from the summary, though, seems apt, the idea that there are connections of any kind here seems grossly overstated.

 

Based on the fact that the book was compared to Murakami, I expected a different dimension to the book (not quite literally, though certainly his stories go there); I felt like the plot sort of teased the edges of a line I expected to be crossed. I'm not sure if that makes any sense, but I think that is kind of how I feel about this — sadly, I didn't have a lot of sympathy. But I will say that it is still an impressive debut, and I wouldn't hesitate to read what comes next.

Review
3 Stars
My Last Lament
My Last Lament - James William Brown

Ok, so I'm back on the "World War II books from rare perspectives"... is that a genre? This novel was not what I thought it was going to be, given the title, and the concept that the main character is one of the last remaining "lamenters" hired to mourn and celebrate a life in Greece. I was drawn to this idea, and the fact that attending a funeral and offering a eulogy is a paid position in some cultures. But this book's focus is not so narrow, and Aliki's lament is much longer than a funeral and more complicated. Telling her tale into a researcher's cassette recorder, Aliki describes an amazing journey, that is, in turn touching and almost barbaric. This is not the sweet tale the cover would have you imagine, there are events recalled here that are disturbing and decidedly lamentable. Aliki's voice is strong and her story is compelling, though the plot dragged at times and I didn't care about some of the characters I was probably supposed to be worried about or cheering on. But reading it, I could imagine I was in the company of an old soothsayer: wise, thought-provoking and perhaps a little controversial.

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