Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Top Ten Tuesday: Books With Brightly Colored Covers

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! Continuing with the colors-type theme of last week, this week we're looking at books with bright covers. And why not? It's springtime! Here are ten books on my TBR list with vivid covers!

 

Here Comes The Sun

Looking for Alibrandi

Homegoing 

The Star Side of Bird Hill

Where The Line Bleeds

Trainwreck

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Foreign Gods Inc

Home Fire

The Impossible Fairy Tale

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Book 280: Once Upon A River


"For another hour they talked. Every detail of the day’s events was gone over, the facts were weighed and combined, quantities of surmising, eavesdropping, and supposition were stirred in for flavor, and a good sprinkling of rumor was added like yeast to make it rise."

Dates read: December 1-4, 2018

Rating: 9/10

What makes a good story? As a person who spends a lot of time writing about my reading, I think about this question a lot. It has to have compelling characters, and it has to have an interesting plot, and it has to be skillfully told. If one of those things doesn't quite come together, the experience of the story doesn't work as well as it could. But there will always be dissent on the best stories, because not everyone thinks the same things make them care about the characters, or get them involved in what's happening to those characters, or are pleasing from a audience perspective.

How to tell a good story is at the heart of Diane Setterfield's Once Upon A River. She sets her action in and around a tavern called The Swan, set along the Thames River in a generically old-timey version of England. This tavern, you see, is famous for its storytellers. One dark midwinter's night, when there are just a few people left at the tavern telling each other tales, there's a great commotion at the door. A man bursts in, bloodied and bruised, holding what at first seems to be a doll. Upon closer inspection, she's revealed to be a little girl, beautiful but dead. Her vitals are checked by Rita, a local medic of sorts, but there's no hope...until suddenly her heart begins to beat again, and her chest to rise and fall with breath. However, she does not respond to any questions about her provenance. 

Three families believe she could be theirs: Helena and Anthony Vaughn, a young couple whose little daughter was kidnapped and never recovered; Robert and Bess Armstrong, who believe the child could be the hidden offspring of their wayward son Robin; and strange, lonely Lily, who thinks the child could be her long-lost little sister. The girl silently accepts being initially placed with the Vaughns, and while Helena is ecstatic, convinced that this is her own child returned to her, Anthony remains skeptical. And Rita, who has long lived alone, finds herself drawn closer and closer to the girl she continues to monitor as she also helps the photographer who brought the girl into their lives recuperate. The tension between what all of these people want to believe and the truth keeps growing as the real history of the girl continues to elude everyone, until (of course) the stirring climax.

There's magical realism here, which isn't always my favorite, but it's applied with a light and nimble touch, serving the greater emotional truth of the story. And in a book focused on storytelling and the ways that a well-told story can entrance a reader, you're conscious of the emotional manipulation going on, but it's done so well and so satisfyingly that it doesn't matter. It feels very much like a fairy tale, with characters who manage to both be broad enough to be recognizable as archetypes and specific enough to get invested in. And there are callbacks to classic literature (Great Expectations comes particularly to mind) that add to the pleasure for the reader familiar with them, but aren't necessary to understanding or enjoying the book.

Setterfield's prose and plot work beautifully together to grab and keep attention. I honestly found it difficult to put down, but when I did and then picked it back up, it was easy to get reoriented and swept back up in it. If you're someone who's driven batty by a failure to get all plot points resolved, be warned that this book does wind up with some ambiguities. For my part, I thought it was refreshing to have a little mystery left. I really loved reading this and would highly recommend it to all audiences, it's a wonderful book that I think would have a lot of appeal to a wide variety of readers.

One year ago, I was reading: A Beginning at the End

Two years ago, I was reading: The Fever

Three years ago, I was reading: Sex at Dawn

Four years ago, I was reading: The Children of Henry VIII

Five years ago, I was reading: Dead Wake

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Top Ten Tuesday: Book Titles That Sound Like They Could Be Crayola Crayon Colors

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week, we're talking about books on my TBR with titles that also sound like they could be Crayola crayon colors. This was fun to think about, I've never really considered book titles this way!

 

Cinder (very dark grey)

Night (blue-black) 

Lagoon (dark blue-green)

Tiger Lily (rich orange)

Purple Hibiscus (light purple)

Silk (yellowish white)

Heat and Dust (reddish brown)

Midair (bright clear blue)

Gold Fame Citrus (golden yellow)

Oblivion (pitch black)

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Book 279: Messy

 

"On television, big, revealing statements always elicit loud gasps, and then a lot of background whispering with hands clapped to open mouths, while the truth-teller stands by looking refreshingly liberated. But TV is a dirty, dirty liar. Because there were no dramatic sound effects for Max's confession, no slow clap, nor a handy background music swell to let everyone know she'd just done something courageous. There was just silence. And then, fury."

Dates read: November 27- December 1, 2018

Rating: 6/10

As much as I aim for authenticity in this space, there's no denying that I think carefully about what I'm putting up here. Everything gets edited after drafting. There's plenty that I think that never even makes the draft. I don't have my whole name or the most pertinent personal details about myself on here, but it would probably not be at all difficult to find me if you put even a little bit of effort into it, and people that I know in my real life read it. So I have to be mindful of how I present myself, how it reflects on me and the people in my life. Thankfully, there's not much controversial about a book blog!

Curating an online presence is something basic to the life of a millennial. So when teenage wannabe starlet Brooke Berlin is trying to build her profile in Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan's Messy, she seizes on the idea of a blog. She wants it to be witty and dishy and make her seem like the kind of sassy and smart girl that people want to see onscreen. The only problem is that she's not an especially talented writer. She puts up an ad, prepared to pay a generous salary (with an action movie megastar for a father, she's got the resources to make it happen), only to find that the best applicant is her nemesis, Max McCormack...who just so happens to be her sister's best friend.

Max has no real interest in making Brooke look good, but she does need some funding for an NYU summer writing program, so OpenBrooke.com is soon up and running. In order to get the material she needs, Max is forced to spend quite a bit of time with Brooke, including on the set of the Nancy Drew movie Brooke has been cast in the lead role for. A flirty friendship develops between Max and Brady, who's been cast as Brooke's love interest, but when Brooke takes an interest in him, Max finds herself having a much harder time taking those checks and letting everyone think that Max's witty, irreverent personality is actually Brooke's.

This book is a kind of sequel/companion to Cocks and Morgan's debut, Spoiled, though that book's lead character Molly (Brooke's sister) takes a backseat in this one. While I found Spoiled a little too breezy for a book about a teenager who finds herself in the middle of celebrity LA after the death of her mother and the uprooting of her entire life, that same tone works much better here for a story without that kind of heaviness. Messy is funny, and packed with pop culture references that will delight those of us who grew up in the 90s. There's even a makeover montage! And in a nod to Cocks and Morgan's day jobs (they write GoFugYourself.com), we even get excerpts of the blog posts that go up, which are themselves a snarky treat.

The biggest downside here is how predictable it all is. Pretty much as soon as the plot starts to get set up, it's obvious where it's going to go. There isn't much in the way of subverted expectations, which could have elevated this from "fun fluff" to something more. That's not to say this isn't enjoyable, it very much is! But it's so light as to be almost completely forgettable. This is a perfect beach/airplane read...it doesn't require much attention and it's entertaining. If you're looking for that, you've found a great option! If you're looking for anything more, though, look elsewhere.

One year ago, I was reading: Amateur

Two years ago, I was reading: The Last Romantics

Three years ago, I was reading: Silent Spring

Four years ago, I was reading: Moonglow

Five years ago, I was reading: Suspicious Minds

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I’d Gladly Throw Into the Ocean

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week's topic is books we would gladly throw into the ocean. I'm not big on the idea of book destruction, I'll admit. Even if the book isn't really my deal, I'm not usually ready to condemn it for all time. These ones, though...these ones tempt me.


American Psycho: Truly the most disturbing thing I've ever read. It's a razor-sharp satire and I appreciate Ellis's talent, but honestly I don't think anyone should read it.

The Circle: This book had the potential to say interesting things about social networking and the way it has changed the way people relate to each other...but instead it told a very simple story about people who are awful in deeply boring ways.

The Sisters Chase: I read this for my book club, and found it manipulative and profoundly unoriginal, but I DID enjoy the experience of ripping it apart in discussion.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test: There are not words for how deeply and profoundly I loathed this book.

The Grapes of Wrath: If flat, two-dimensional characters, moralizing, and incredibly obvious metaphors are for you, you'll love this! I read it for AP English and it still makes me angry that I wasted my time on it to this day.

Atlas Shrugged: One of the few books I've ever given up on, during the like 100-page monologue by John Galt. I've actually read the rest of Rand's works and will argue that We The Living is actually pretty solid, but this book is just purely a piece of political propaganda.

Ask The Dust: That the author hated women was very obvious almost immediately, and I never really felt like there was a point to this story at all.

Crime and Punishment: Can you kill someone without feeling guilty? Spoiler alert: no. That's the book. 

The Sun Also Rises: Hemingway's writing just generally don't do it for me, but add in the relentless misogyny and it's a big "no thanks" from me.

Don Quixote: I don't love satire generally, but found this one in particular so very tiresome. It has like three jokes endlessly repeated over what felt like a billion pages.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Book 278: The Possibilities


"Afterward, I had touched my abdomen. I pinched my skin. I thought it was possible that that moment, that particular choice, would hurt me for the rest of my life. Or maybe it wouldn’t. I would never know. Everything just becomes a part of you. Gets woven into the tapestry. The next day was an ordinary day."

Dates read: November 22-27, 2018

Rating: 5/10

Even though it's now been nearly a decade since I practiced law, both of my parents still want me to go back to it. I feel extremely comfortable with my decision to leave it behind. I was so miserable, and while a significant portion of that misery was related to the exact situation I was in, I figured out enough about the general situation of your average litigator to know that it wasn't for me. Some people thrive under constant pressure, find it exciting and stimulating to never know what the next day will bring. Not me. I crack. Before it was over, I was crying in the shower every morning, terrified of what might be facing me at the office that day. Getting out was 100% the right call and I am very happy doing what I do now.

My parents just want the best for me. They want to see me put that legal education that I paid for to full use, to get to the earning potential that would make it easier to pay off those student loans. They want a life of success and comfort for me because they love me. But children have a way of turning into their own people. In Kaui Hart Hemming's The Possibilities, reporter Sarah St. John is struggling with the recent loss of her son, Cully. In his early 20s, he'd recently moved back in with his mom in their hometown of Breckinridge when he was caught in an avalanche while out on the slopes and killed. A few months after his death, as Sarah is trying to figure out how to start living in, she finds herself confronting the reality that she might not have known him as well as she thought.

First, she and her best friend, Suzanne, find evidence that Cully was selling pot when they're cleaning out his room. But more importantly, a young woman called Kit turns up on Sarah's doorstep out of nowhere. She's pretending to be making some extra cash shoveling snow, but it turns out she was the girl Cully was seeing when he died. And she's pregnant. As his family (Sarah, her father Jack, and Sarah's ex/Cully's father, Billy) prepares for a final celebration of his life, Kit's pregnancy and uncertainty about what to do about it stirs up powerful emotions.

Hemmings clearly has an area of interest in her writing: much like the Kings in The Descendants, the St. Johns in The Possibilities are a family coping with the loss of a loved one in a setting of intense natural loveliness. Each family has a quirky member who serves as empathetic comic relief (foul-mouthed child Scottie in Descendants, here QVC-addicted Jack), and each family deals with an outsider connected to the loved one as they grieve. Ordinarily I wouldn't think it quite fair to compare two of an author's works quite so closely, but the parallels between these books are so strong that it doesn't seem avoidable to do so. Hemmings is far from the only author who writes books that feel like variations on a theme (Jane Austen, for example, wrote wonderful books that aren't actually all that different from each other, plot-wise), but for these two to directly follow each other makes the feeling that this is a bit of a retread even stronger.

And to be honest, of the two, this one is worse. A lot of the elements feel a little half-baked, like Sarah and Suzanne's friendship, and the tension between Suzanne's desire for sympathy for going through a divorce and Sarah's continuing grief. And while the decision Kit wrestles with about her pregnancy is obviously supposed to be the source of great dramatic tension, I never really felt a great deal of suspense about how it would play out. The book does have highlights: Hemmings writes lovely, poignant prose, and for the most part she builds compelling characters and lets them shine. This is a perfectly pleasant book, and if I hadn't read and loved The Descendants before I picked it up, I would probably have liked it more. But it suffered for the inevitable comparison, and I'd recommend the other much more heartily.

One year ago, I was reading: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Two years ago, I was reading: All the President's Men

Three years ago, I was reading: Freedom

Four years ago, I was reading: Innocent Traitor

Five years ago, I was reading: The Group

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

A Month In The Life: March 2021

 


It's springtime in northern Nevada, which is actually a little worrisome...we didn't get as much snow as it would have been ideal to get in the mountains during the winter, and while the end of March in the Reno area certainly doesn't mark the final end of the snowy season, it's closer to the end than the beginning. We've already had our first 70-degree day! Meanwhile, my reading pace has taken a hit as the challenges of a remote session mean that I am super busy!

In Books...

  • Forget Me Not: I absolutely loved Alexandra Oliva's debut novel The Last One, so was really eager to get to her follow-up. It's in the general same kind of literary-minded thriller style, but it just did not grab me the way her first did. In part, that's a high bar to meet, but also I guessed a major plot development very early on and I am generally very bad at guessing these sorts of things. Definitely would make a very good beach/plane read!
  • The Romanov Sisters: I love Russian history, and I love royals, so this scratched two itches at once! It's well-researched and engaging, but I found it to be as much about Alexandra as it was about her daughters themselves. There were some historical aspects that went unexplained that I thought would have benefited from getting a little more attention. It's a solid read, but I was hoping to be wowed and I wasn't.
  • Black Tudors: When we think about or see depictions of Tudor England, it tends to be exclusively Caucasian. But though there were certainly lots and lots of white people, that doesn't reflect the real world at the time...Black people lived in cities, in the countryside, and participated in sea voyages. This book looks at the stories of ten different Black Tudors from all sorts of walks of life, and though it leans a little academic, I found it truly interesting!
  • The Grace of Kings: I was really excited for this fantasy epic, which instead of being based on medieval Europe like so many of them are, is based on the Warring States period of Chinese history. The plot takes a while to get going, and while I wouldn't have had an issue with that if the character-building was better, it's actually pretty weak (perhaps because there are just too many of them). It was reasonably engaging, but could have been so much better. 
  • Bad Feminist: I've always enjoyed Roxane Gay's writing, but this was the first time I'd read the essay collection that was a big deal a few years ago. I absolutely loved this book, she is so funny and smart and insightful.

 


In Life...

  • Session continues: We're just about halfway through session now, and as deadlines approach, the challenges of a digital format are becoming more and more apparent. We're all trying our best, but I for one will be glad when we can go back to being in person even if I have to admit that I do not at all miss the commute down to Carson City.

One Thing:

I don't know how much more bananas I would be if I wasn't still working out regularly despite not having stepped foot in a gym since last March. Since October, I've been using Team Body Project workouts, and I appreciate how many low-impact options they have because I have sensitive joints. They have several of their programs on YouTube, which is a good starting point to see if their style works well for you.

Gratuitous Pug Picture: