July Reads

In July, I finally started to get my reading mojo back. I’m still not tearing through books at the same pace as I did before the baby, but audiobooks have helped me get back into the swing of things. Bossypants and Anna and the French Kiss were both welcome diversions while washing bottles and pump parts every night.

With the help of Dan’s Kindle Fire (which I have commandeered for the foreseeable future) I am now reading while I nurse at night since it syncs through Amazon’s Whispernet with my Kindle Touch. For this reason, I’m sticking to ebooks since I can read them in the dark and with one hand. The Summer We Read Gatsby was a nice light fluffy read that helped me feel like I could finish books again. It was a bit of a nothing of a book though as there wasn’t much substance. 44 Scotland Street was reminiscent of the Tales of the City series by Armistead Maupin and just as fun to read. I loved McCall Smith’s characters, especially young Bertie. My favorite read in July was The Absolutist by John Boyne, although it was a tough book to read emotionally. (I received a free review copy from NetGalley.)

I’ve just started reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian, and I’m listening to two audiobooks – Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani and Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. We shall see what August brings! What are you reading?

Book Reviews, Part 3

Seven Up by Janet Evanovich – It’s hard to review these books because they are pretty much exactly what I expect when I pick them up – funny, fluffy, and predictable. I enjoyed Seven Up and still love Lula and Grandma Mazur. I read this in one sitting during Hurricane Irene last year, and it was a pleasant diversion from the sounds of wind and rain that can start to drive you crazy after a while.

The Debutante by Kathleen Tessaro – Tessaro is one of the few writers of women’s fiction that come close to Marian Keyes in style and substance. This was a fun read where we get to see a modern romance blooming as the main character uncovers the sordid history of the Blythe sisters, famous British heiresses in the Twenties. The story goes back and forth between the present day and letters from the Blythe sisters, which kept the pages turning. The modern day romance could have been fleshed out a little more so this gets 4 instead of 5 stars. Her first book, Elegance, is still her best by far.

For the Win by Cory Doctorow – This book was supposed to be a story about gamers that teaches about economics, unions, and labor relations. I can tell that Doctorow is a very smart man who is passionate about these things, but For the Win needed another round of editing. As soon as the action starts to pick up, the story is halted by an economics lesson that I did not need. Doctorow needs to learn to show and not tell. Either that or he just needs to write a nonfiction book about economics and not try to package it into a novel. I would still like to try some of his other works, but this was a disappointment after the praise I had heard about his writing.

The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender – I picked this short story collection up since I enjoyed The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. There were some excellent stories and some lackluster ones. I like Bender’s writing style and penchant for the unusual, and I am interested in reading Willful Creatures, her other story collection. The librarian story was interesting, but yet again librarians are either stodgy old ladies or sex crazed (as in Bender’s story). That might seem original to some but was more of the same for me.

Beautiful Days by Anna Godbersen – This is the second book in the Bright Young Things series, set in Prohibition Era New York City. What can I say except that I love this series? The descriptions of the clothing and setting completely engross me in the time period. I can’t wait to read the others in the series, and I hope Godbersen continues to write historical teen fiction.

OK, one more post of mini-reviews tomorrow, and I’m all caught up with my 2011 reading list! Then I can post full reviews since I will be able to remember the books a bit better.

Book Reviews, Take 3

I’m determined to catch up and start posting more detailed book reviews, but here are some more mini-reviews of books I read last year. My plan (assuming the arrival of BabyFab allows it) is to start posting full-length book reveiws when I get up to 2012 on my reading list.

This Burning Land: Lessons from the Front Lines of the Transformed Israeli-Palestinian Conflict by Greg Myre and Jennifer Griffin – I found this nonfiction title to be a page turner. By focusing on the effects of this never-ending conflict on the people living in Israel and Palestine, Myre and Griffin created an engrossing look into current events. I came away with a better understanding of the issues at hand, and I felt that both journalists were successful at showing the faults of both sides. Myre is a reporter for NPR and Griffin for Fox News so they were certainly covering different aspects of the conflict while they were there. They are married with children, and their descriptions of raising children in the midst of the conflict were very interesting.

Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan – This started out promising but turned into a pretty chauvinistic and overly simplistic idea of what would happen if women were left alone to rule the world. I am curious to know what happens next but not enough to wade through Vaughan’s portrayal of women.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel – This was a book club book and a quick read since it was in graphic format. I thought it was a fun read in that the storytelling style was unique, but I admit I was not as impressed as some people with the work as a whole. As I noted in my Goodreads review, I enjoyed reading it, but some unknown factor keeps me from giving it that fifth star.

Batgirl: Year One by Scott Beatty – This was a fun origin story, but ultimately not the most enjoyable comic I’ve read so far. Admittedly, there have been few.

Undeniably Yours by Shannon Stacey – This is the second book in Stacey’s romance series on the Kowalski brothers. This book employed the pregnancy trope, which I have learned I do not enjoy in romance. The character development in this one was seriously lacking in comparison with the first book in the series. Also, the main character’s reason for not wanting a relationship was because her parents “loved her too much.” There is never any proof that they were anything but normal and loving parents. The reader also leared about things happening after the fact rather than being shown what was happening in real time. I hear the next book is much better so I’ll keep an open mind and read it.

The Pyramid: and Four Other Kurt Wallander Mysteries by Henning Mankell – These were enjoyable stories. I have not read any of the other Wallander mysteries, and this is meant as a prequel to those for fans who want to know more about Wallander’s past. I still found it riveting and will definitely pick up the first Wallander mystery when I’m in the mood for some good Scandinavian crime fiction.

Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris – I always enjoy these, even though they have been going downhill in quality. There were some really good parts, but there was a lot of filler and too many secondary characters that barely had anything to do with the plot. I don’t need to know ALL of Sookie’s inner thoughts, every time she brushes her hair, or the details of her planning a baby shower. And I’m tired of her worrying about being a good Christian. Girlfriend, you have slept with several supernatural beings and killed someone. It’s time to stop worrying about that now, I think.

I’ll keep reading these, but they haven’t been great since book 4.

Book Review Catch-up, Take 2

Jonathan Tropper – This is Where I Leave You – This was a book club book. The whole group really enjoyed it. A dysfunctional family must all deal with each other while they sit shiva for their father. The story was simultaneously hilarious and sad. Tropper really gets the nuances of family relationships. Highly recommended.

Joss Whedon – Astonishing X-Men, Volumes 1-4 – This is the first time I’ve actually read an X-Men comic, even though I’ve been a longtime fan of the cartoons and movies. Whedon was the perfect person to write for this series, and I thoroughly enjoyed these four volumes. The illustrations are nice and not so hyper sexualized that I felt myself rolling my eyes all the time. (Earth to comic artists, women read comics too.) Whedon’s signature wit and sarcasm fit these characters well, especially Wolverine. Unfortunately, Whedon only penned these four so the series reportedly goes downhill from here.

Bill Willingham – Jack of Fables, Volume 1 – This is the first in the spinoff series to Fables, with Jack (of beanstalk fame) as the main character. I enjoyed it, but not quite as much as the main series. It is still fun and worth a read if you like Fables.

Ernest Hemingway – For Whom the Bell Tolls – I was happy when one of my book club friends selected this title. I’ve always been a big fan of Hemingway and never read this, supposedly his seminal work.  I appreciated the novel for what it was supposed to be and the interesting way he wrote the dialog (basically transliterated from Spanish), but it didn’t grab me the way A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises did.

Paula McLain – The Paris Wife – It was a complete coincidence that this book came in on hold for me at the library right after I read a Hemingway novel. The Paris Wife is about Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson, and the time they spent together in Paris before he cheated on her with a mutual friend. I loved the setting and the descriptions of all the literary and artistic greats who were in Paris at the time. Of course I knew that Hemingway was a chauvinist going into the story so I expected that, but I was frustrated with Hadley’s reaction to him. I don’t know how close that was to the truth since this was fictionalized, but the fact that she let him go on for so long married to her and having his mistress in the same house really made me want to strangle her! Still, this was a very quick and fun read set in a time period and location that I love to read about. Unrelated side note: I love the name Hadley, but couldn’t convince Dan of the greatness of the name for our baby.

Playing Catch-Up

Oh yeah, I have a blog… Here are some catch-up reviews for you. I’ll do several catch-up posts and see if I can keep up a little better. My bad blogger excuses are being pregnant and tired coupled with the fact that I write a lot of blog posts for work. I actually read these books at the beginning of 2011! Bad blogger!

The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis – This book was a bit of a disappointment. I had heard so many great things about it from various bloggers, but it just didn’t do much for me. The parts of the novel that took place in the past were good, and I really loved some of the characters. Unfortunately, I didn’t get interested at all in the story for about 250 pages, and that is too long to read the boring story that took place in the present day. The present day scenes were also all telling and no showing, which makes for quite the dull reading experience.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien – This book was excellent. I can’t recommend it enough. This is a fictional novel in the form of shorter stories that was inspired by O’Brien’s own experiences in the Vietnam War. Everything about the story and O’Brien’s writing style was absolutely perfect. I plan to choose this as a book club selection because it is very thought provoking. Please read this book.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett – I was worried after the awesomeness that was The Things They Carried, that no book could follow it. I was wrong. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett is a moving and beautifully written story of a hostage situation in an unnamed South American country. The captors get in over their heads, and the situation goes on for longer than they had planned. The story of the relationships formed through a translator, Gen, make up the brunt of the story. Aside from a strange and unnecessary epilogue, everything about this novel was excellent. I chose it for book club, and it was very well received.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote – I think my Goodreads review pretty much sums it up: I need to read more Capote. I have always loved the movie with Audrey Hepburn and had heard that it is significantly different from the novella. I think it’s best to treat them as separate entities. Hollywood left out all of the darkness and unlikable aspects of Holly and turned the story into a romantic comedy instead of the sad friendship between a glorified call girl and a gay man. I love both stories. Capote’s prose is wonderful.

Suze Orman’s Action Plan: New Rules for New Times by Suze Orman – I read this for work, but mostly on my own time so I’ll list it here. This is a good book if you need a financial cheerleader, but don’t expect much depth or explanation of how to achieve the outcomes she suggests. Anyone looking for a good basic personal finance book should check out The 10 Commandments of Money by Liz Weston. This has loads of practical advice that Orman never touches. So I guess I don’t need to review that one now. Done!

Stay tuned for more mini-reviews soon!

Mini-Reviews

Here are two more romance reviews from my romance reading goal this year.

What the Librarian Did by Karina Bliss – After a coworker jokingly left this book in my box, I decided to read it and see how bad it would be. I’ve never read a Harlequin before and was prepared for a horrible read. I was surprised to really like it! The librarian stereotypes were a bit annoying, and the college age students acted very young. But, as a librarian, I can get behind a librarian/rock star romance any day. 🙂 This was like the book version of candy.

Undeniably Yours by Shannon Stacey –This seemed like a safe pick because I liked the first in the series, but it was a disappointment. I’m not a fan of pregnancy plots in romance, but I thought Stacey might bring something different to the story. The heroine was really annoying because her reasons for not wanting a relationship were not believable. She’s afraid of getting too close because her parents loved her too much, but Stacey never shows us that. From this book, her parents seem completely normal and not smothering at all. The secondary romance was much better, but not enough time was spent on it.

My main problem with this title when compared with the first Kowalski romance is that Stacey forgets the rule of good writing, “show, don’t tell”. The reader spends the whole book reading conversations about what happened instead of actually seeing things for themselves.

I hear the next one is better. I hope so.

30 Days of Books: Tearjerker

30 Days of Books: Day 06 – A book that makes you sad

The most recent book that comes to mind is Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. The characters felt so real, and I had come to love them even though I knew what would happen to them. I will leave it at intentional vagueness for anyone who hasn’t read this or seen the movie (which also made me cry).

Love is in the air

This year, one of my reading goals is to read more romances. One of the reader’s advisory questions that strikes fear into my heart at the reference desk is, “I love [romance author], can you recommend other authors I might like?”

I’ve also been doing a lot of reading about the romance genre, including book blogs and the Romantic Times, to which my library subscribes. I feel much more confident about my knowledge of subgenres and authors now, but nothing really replaces reading the books yourself. I have found that the genre is pretty unfairly targeted for derision among literary types and other genre readers. I was one of these people before I started reading up on the genre a bit more. As a public librarian, I’ve always held the belief that you should read whatever the hell you want and ignore anyone who suggests otherwise, but I still held some misguided beliefs about the genre. Yes, some adhere to a formula, but so do many mysteries, thrillers, and science fiction/fantasy titles. There are varying degrees of quality as with any genre.

So far, I’ve read two romances this year (excluding the awful vampire one for my book club). Here’s a review of the first one.

Exclusively Yours by Shannon Stacey – This book is a double whammy when it comes to my preconceived notions. It is a romance and it was only released in ebook format (although I think Stacey’s titles might be coming out in print soon due to her success).  It was published by Carina Press, a Harlequin imprint that releases digital-first titles. I read a good review of this book on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and decided to try it out since it was only $2.99 in the nook store.

Keri Daniels is a journalist who heads back to her hometown to dig up some dirt on her high school boyfriend, Joe Kowalski, who is now a famous author. He agrees to do the interview with her if she will come on a camping vacation with his family. Some of his family loves Keri, but his sister has never forgiven her for breaking his heart. I think you can guess what happens when she agrees to the trip.

This book put a smile on my face the way a really good chick flick would. I love stories about people in small towns. I think it comes from living in more urban areas for so long now. These stories feel like an escape, even if they are unrealistic about small town charm. I grew up in one so I know! Stacey’s characterization of the Kowalski family was great, and it paved the way for a book about each brother. As an aside, there is definitely a disproportionate number of families with several brothers in this genre. There was also a good amount of humor, and the relationships between the brothers were believable. There were a few plot holes, but they didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the book as a whole.

Highly recommended if you’re in the mood for a light summer read! I will be reading the others in the series.

Put on your big girl pants.

Shortly after winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Jennifer Egan made some disparaging remarks about other authors’ writing being banal:

Anyone can say anything, that’s easy. My focus is less on the need for women to trumpet their own achievements than to shoot high and achieve a lot. What I want to see is young, ambitious writers. And there are tons of them. Look at “The Tiger’s Wife.” There was that scandal with the Harvard student who was found to have plagiarized. But she had plagiarized very derivative, banal stuff. This is your big first move? These are your models?

I read several book bloggers’ responses to this comment and couldn’t decide whether I should weigh in on the comment or let it lie. Well, Egan has now apologized, and I just had to say something about this. I had decided not to do this because I wanted to say it nicely, but I’m just going to be blunt. No offense is meant to bloggers who voiced their displeasure with Egan’s comments.

Edited to quote Egan’s apology directly (from the link above):

“I have nothing to defend in what I said,” she said. “I really wish I hadn’t said that, and was incredibly and immediately sorry that anyone was hurt by it. I don’t blame anyone for being mad about it.” Though she does believe there’s an interesting conversation to be had about genre and gender and literary culture, she doesn’t see her comments in that interview as any kind of effective contribution to that discussion. “I’m all for criticizing; I’m not saying that no one should ever criticize anyone else,” she continued. “But if you’re going to criticize, you should do it intentionally and thoughtfully and carefully and know whom you’re criticizing and for what. And I didn’t meet any of those criteria.”

Authors do not always like each other’s work and are sometimes vocal about it (see Mark Twain, Stephen King, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway to name a few). So what? I don’t like Nicholas Sparks or James Patterson, and I am quite vocal here and on Twitter about that. No one has demanded my apology. I’m beginning to think that Egan is the victim of a double standard here. She is a woman criticizing women authors rather than one of the men listed above.

See, the thing about free speech is that it sometimes hurts people’s feelings. Those people need to buck up and put on their big girl (or boy) pants and get over it. I’m sorry, but not everything public figures say has to be nice. If you would rather not read or buy any of Egan’s work from now on, that’s fine. That is how the free market works.

Egan is a brilliant writer. A Visit from the Goon Squad is now one of my favorite books of all time. She thinks some YA authors write work that is banal. That is her opinion, and no one should expect her to apologize for it. I don’t want to live in a world where no one criticizes anything for fear of retribution.

Day 5: Happy Happy Joy Joy

30 Days of Books: Day 05 – A book that makes you happy.

I’m cheating because it’s a tie between Little Hoot by Amy Rosenthal and Smitten by David Gordon.

Little Hoot is a bedtime story about an owl who desperately wants to go to sleep, but his parents make him stay awake all night because that’s what owls do. The illustrations are really cute, and I always want to curl up and take a nap at the end. This reverse psychology is supposed to lull your child to sleep, but I don’t know if it will work as well for them as it does for me!

Smitten is about a sock and a mitten who have lost their matches, and they need to keep each other company in the big city. Knitters will love this one because they end up knitting when one of them gets a snag. Too adorable for words! It’s very colorful, and the friendship between the two makes me smile.