Reading: Sept-Oct 2018

I read exactly the same number of books (seven) in two months of my busy season than I did in my slow-speed summer, opposite reactions to bad news. This summer, I felt too stunned to read much. Summer came and went and, other than our trips, I’m not sure what I did. This fall, I escaped inside books. A couple were light and fluffy; a few were for young readers, though that doesn’t mean fluffy; three were written by the same author; one was exceedingly excellent.

Surprise MeSurprise Me by Sophie Kinsella
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Dan and Sylvie have a physical on their tenth anniversary, the doctor tells them that, due to increasing lifespans and their overall good health, they can plan to enjoy another 68 years of marriage. Which sends them into a tailspin of dread over how they will possibly maintain a marriage for so long…

This one took me a while because I’d have quite the opposite response. When I said YES to “til death do us part,” I truly hoped it would be forever and then some.

But true to Kinsella’s style, they have more than a few LOL comic moments and eventually the story becomes bigger than the immediate crisis and, in the end, they grow as individuals and as a couple. Yay, them!

I'll Be Your Blue SkyI’ll Be Your Blue Sky by Marisa de los Santos
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Clare meets an old woman, Edith, who speaks such gently piercing truth that she calls off her wedding with only hours to go. Weeks later, Clare discovers that Edith has died and left her a house, a place of her own. Thus begins Clare’s adventure into unraveling the mystery of Edith’s life even as she discovers her way back to her own true home.

de los Santos is an excellent writer, and occasionally I read and reread a beautiful turn of phrase. But I found myself working too hard to recall her characters’ relationships in her previous books, Love Walked In and Belong to Me. And then when the big reveal happened in this book, again, I slowly pieced things together although the characters made it sound obvious. Maybe if you read the trilogy altogether it would work better.

Connect the StarsConnect the Stars by Marisa de los Santos
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The book jacket explains, “Sometimes you have to get lost to find yourself.” And this book beautifully illustrates that point in exquisite detail.

Audrey and Aaron are both middle school misfits. But then, just about every middle schooler I’ve ever met is a misfit during that time of life. It’s kind of the whole point. Anyway, they each find themselves on a journey through the desert and into belonging as The Fearless Foursome (alongside Kate and Louis).

They have an adventure I would never have undertaken at their age, nor would I knowingly send my kids on such an adventure. But then, that’s the point of adventure, right? If you knew, you might not go. No one intends to truly get lost. Yet that’s the very point of discovery.

I love Marisa de los Santos even more for providing me with a book I can put in the hands of my own middle school child. A book about family, friendship, the instructional power of the wilderness, forgiveness, and self-appreciation.

“‘If the four and a half billion years the Earth has existed were compressed into a single twenty-four hour day,’ said Aaron, very, very quietly, ‘humans would have appeared one minute and seventeen seconds before midnight.
“All that time, without us.
“A shiver went from my heels to the top of my head.
“Who cares if people lie? I thought. This–right here–is why the word ‘awesome’ was made.” (179)

All We Ever WantedAll We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book, like our current cultural/political climate, sits uncomfortably. While very readable, I wasn’t expecting to read a story that could have been ripped from today’s headlines.

The One-in-a-Million BoyThe One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not a perfect book. It meanders like the mind of an old woman recalling her 104 years of life in the company of an unusual Boy Scout. But it is a charming book, with characters unique and human, the best and worst of themselves on display as they bump into and around one another like pin balls. In the end, it’s a reminder that life can be hard and sweet and we need others with whom to share it fully.

“But certain [people], they move in and make themselves at home and start flapping their arms in the story you make of your life. They have a wingspan” (p199).

Saving Lucas BiggsSaving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love that books for young readers can take on serious issues and make them understandable and engaging. No smut, just great story. This one takes on corporate corruption and its effects on individuals and families over generations; fracking; murder and the death penalty; bravery and fear; love, friendship and family. All in one entertaining package.

Another one I’m passing on to my 14yo!

“…sure, the past matters–but the present? The present is here and here and here, a sky full of light, a path under your feet, your hair lifted by wind, the smell of flowers, green grass, red rocks, all of it tumbling toward summer, and all of it yours. All you have to do is set fear aside and stretch out your hand” (278).

Blood Water PaintBlood Water Paint by Joy McCullough
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you are a woman who reads, get your hands on this book. Do not let the verse intimidate you. It’s not difficult poetry, just carefully chosen words to convey the thoughtful reflections of a woman who prefers self-expression through paint over words.

This beautifully written book is art about art. The layers of women’s stories, the use of different writing styles to convey different voices, the truth it tells about what it’s like to be a woman in a man’s world, and an extraordinary woman in anyone’s world, all compelling.

September 2016 Books

I'll Give You the SunI’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jandy Nelson has written two great books; I’ve devoured both and eagerly anticipate whatever she’ll release next. Her writing is amazing! Both books deal with themes of family, death, love, and art. In other words, life.

JudeandNoah are twins; both serve as narrators, Noah at age 14 and Jude at age 16, with chapters jumping between voices/ages. They’ve suffered a tragedy which they deal with in their own ways, eventually discovering the courage to tell the truth and live more truthfully.

Sculptor/mentor Guillermo: “You will see with your hands, I promise you. Now I contradict myself. Picasso he do too. He say pull out your brain, yes, he also say, ‘Painting is a blind man’s profession’ and ‘To draw you must close your eyes and sing.’ And Michelangelo, he say he sculpts with his brains, not his eyes. Yes. Everything is true at once. Life is contradiction. We take in every lesson. We find what works. Okay, now, pick up the charcoal and draw” (p. 197).

Noah: “…most of the time, I feel like I’m undercover.”
Jude: “Me too. Or maybe a person is just made up of a lot of people. Maybe we’re accumulating these new selves all the time.” Hauling them in as we make choices, good and bad, as we screw up, step up, lose our minds, find our minds, fall apart, fall in love, as we grieve, grow, retreat from the world, dive into the world, as we make things, as we break things.”
Noah: He grins. “Each new self standing on the last one’s shoulders until we’re these wobbly people poles?”
Jude: I die of delight. “Yes, exactly! We’re all just wobbly people poles!” (p. 354)

First Comes LoveFirst Comes Love by Emily Giffin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sometimes a fluff book is just what I need, although this was fluff on serious subjects: what grief does to individuals within and family as a whole. It reminded me of Jennifer Weiner’s In Her Shoes, with two very different sisters-one flying by the seat of her pants, the other a frustrated lawyer-taking turns to narrate how they each try to move forward from family crisis. The story got progressively better and didn’t have the exact ending I expected, but I don’t expect to be mulling this one over for long.

Fates and FuriesFates and Furies by Lauren Groff
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow.

Golden Child weds Model Girl (alternately, Devil Girl, though he never knows). His fate/her fury a perfect match of the gods.

Groff writes these characters so larger than life they are god-like and yet so completely flawed that they are simultaneously truly human. Extraordinary, and so ordinary. We admire them, we know them, we are them. We don’t ever want to be them.

This novel could have been shorter, one-sided, and it still would have been remarkable. But in its fullness it tells the story of a marriage, nay, the stories of a marriage, the two lives become one, in such fullness that it’s breathtaking.

Truly Madly GuiltyTruly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I really liked Big Little Lies. Three Wishes was okay. I hear What Alice Forgot is terrific. I didn’t like Truly Madly Guilty.

One of the least guilty characters in this book describes herself as “deplorable,” and I thought, “That’s ALL of them!” The characters read like unlikable caricatures. The writing is overblown, especially at the beginning, where the ploy of moving chapter by chapter from “The Night of the Barbecue” to current day is meant to build suspense and succeeds only in being super annoying.

Well, except, I kept reading to find out what unimaginable thing happened at the barbecue…

And it’s kind of predictable, as are the character’s responses to it. I hoped for some honest soul-searching and healthy relational confrontation but didn’t find it.

DreamologyDreamology by Lucy Keating
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This isn’t a deep, discover yourself book. It’s a light and innocent YA version of a chick flick.

Sleeping Beauty, aka Alice (aptly named because she prefers Wonderland), has dreamed nightly of her prince, Max, since she was a child. When she starts a new school, she is shocked to find Max for real, the guy of her dreams in the flesh.

How is this possible? Of course it’s not, but that’s part of the fun.

The One and Only

one and only

I can get a little pretentious about which books I will read, not so smart my brain hurts (although even that’s fine on occasion) but nothing poorly written even though it may be wildly, flying-off-the-shelves popular. I had just read a gut-wrenching, wonderful book (We Were Liars) and picked up this little number as a completely light, no-thinking read.

But I almost gave it up as fast as you can say, “library return.” I’m glad I didn’t!

You see, I don’t give a hoot about sports unless my kids, or at least someone I know, is playing. And this book is about a young woman completely obsessed with football, and in particular, her college football team and its coach, her best friend’s dad. I wasn’t sure I could relate. At all.

Giffin is a better writer than most would give her credit, considering she writes what one might call “Chick Lit,” which tends to be just on this side of the line from full-on bodice rippers. But she’s one smart chica and writes characters with whom I could relate, sports aside. Even the sports scenes, which I should have wanted to skip entirely, read fast and bright, like listening to a great announcer at a pro stadium.

Two weeks after I finished the book, I kind of miss Shea and Lucy and Coach Carr. They’re likeable people, and an author who can write characters with whom I’d like to hang out is an author I will read.