Monday, October 17, 2016

Summer Reading: How Did You Do? Here's How Karen Did!

The days are getting cooler, and our intrepid fellow reader, Karen, has updated us on her reading.

Karen reported that she, too, has veered from her reading list. (Unlike anyone else I know who adheres so well to the list constructed with best intentions and good wishes.)

Back to Karen: her reading was off the list, but also off the charts!

Well, I will let her tell it herself.

I ended up way off my reading list this time, but I enjoyed the adventure. In fact, I think this is the longest list I have completed.  I really love my Amazon Kindle Fire.  I am having some vision issues-oh my aging eyes! Luckily the lighted screen on my Fire makes it so much easier to read.
Books read: 

  • Lord Grenville's Choice 
  • A Love That Never Tires 
  • The Red Tent 
  • 32 Going on Spinster 
  • Somewhere in Time 
  • Slim Pickins in Fat Chance, Texas 
  • Salmon Fishing in the Yemen 
  • Tuesday Takes Me There: The Healing Journey of a Veteran and his Service Dog 
  • The Girl With all the Gifts 
  • Clapton: the Autobiography 
  • The Lincoln Penny 
  • House of Reckoning 
  • The Long Walk 
  • Zoo 2 
  • Deep Summer 
  • Chez Stinky 
  • Finders Keepers 
  • Hard Listening: The Greatest Rock Band Ever (of Authors) Tells All 
  • Lightning Rider 
  • Ellie Jordan Ghost Tracker 
  • The Heartbroker 
  • The Waiting Booth 
  • Thursdays at Coconuts 
  • The Haunting of Blackwood House 
  • Learning to Ride 
  • The Bone Labyrinth 
  • The Midnight Watch 
  • Genesis 
  • Exodus 
  • Leviticus 
  • Numbers 
  • Deuteronomy
  • The Mating Season 
  • Highland Archer 
  • Sacking the Quarterback 
  • The McCullagh Inn in Maine

My favorites were Ellie Jordan Ghost Tracker and The Haunting of Blackwood House.  They were exciting and scary.  I did have to leave on lights to sleep.  I liked the satisfying endings in both books.  Everyone ended up getting what they deserved and/or needed.  The characters were believable.  I felt like I was in the story. 

My least favorites were Slim Pickins in Fat Chance, Texas and Thursdays at Coconuts.  Both were boring to me.  The characters were dull and uninteresting.  Especially in Thursdays at Coconuts; I was annoyed by the characters' behavior.  Drinking and driving and infidelity.  Not to my liking at all.

 By my count, Karen read 36 books this summer. Not bad, slugger: you beat me!

For her hard work of reading, Karen will receive a book of her choice, in the format she chooses. Karen, just let me know!

So, how about you: what did you read this summer? Let me know what you read and how you liked it, and you may win a book!

I will report on my reading soon! Until then

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Review: Fates and Furies

Marriage is unknowable to anyone but the couple — and, in Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff illustrates that even they may not know the complete story.

In her third novel, Groff created an interesting, complex view of a marriage between two very different people who appear deeply in love and totally committed to each other.

The first half of the book, "Fates," captures the tale of Lancelot "Lotto" Sutterwhite, a walking contradiction who finds his calling in the theater. The second half of the tale, "Furies," is told from Mathilde's wifely perspective.

The sections brilliantly capture the characters: "Fates" is careless, while "Furies" is tight and angry. (I picture Tilda Swindon as Mathilde; strange I don't have the same bead on Lotto's Hollywood counterpart.) 

I like the retelling of tales, so to have the same life story told from two different perspectives is brilliant, and a very good demonstration about how little we truly know others.

Lotto kept many friends around him so he would feel well-liked, even loved. He let them ebb and flow as they needed, drawing all of his energy from them, but primarily from Mathilde. In contrast, Mathilde kept people around to satisfy Lotto and for an almost business-like relationship that never quite reached friendship. Lotto skimmed across the top of life, paying attention to things outside himself when they interested him; Mathilde was always looking out — looking out for Lotto and their survival.

The tone and energy of each of the halves was deliciously different. The author thought of the stories as two books (à la Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge), but I agree with the editor: putting the volumes together was the right move. Not only did it require both halves to be read as a single tale, but it also required them both to be spare enough to comprise a single novel.

This interesting tale, a "he said/she said" story full of contradictions, was not flawless. The third-person narrator is unnecessarily interrupted by a Greek chorus, omnipotent and occasionally foretelling (which, only on a rare occasion, was welcome). The author used very specific words, which I looked up with a click on my Kindle — and I am still pondering the value of that specificity against the distraction. I love new language, but I almost felt as if Groff handed me a box of vocabulary words.

The ending felt abrupt, so I overthought it and completely misread it. Thankfully, the author was able to set me straight after I met her at her lecture, and I could enjoy it even more.

I am a fan of Groff and enjoyed this novel. I would recommend it, and her other two novels: The Monsters of Templeton and Arcadia. I'll soon be reading her short story selection Delicate Edible Birds, too.

So, are you more Lotto or Mathilde?

Monday, September 12, 2016

Summer Reading Winding Down — Or Is It?

Well, summer readers, how goes your reading list?

Personally, mine has gone as cattywampus as possible (which should not surprise anyone who reads this blog with any regularity). I make a list, I ignore the list, and summer just keeps spinning out of control.

Let me count how many from my published reading list I have consumed since Memorial Day weekend.


I have, in the past three and a half months, read six out of 35 of the books I planned to read. Oh, I've read 30 books, but I haven't read but a few I planned to read.

Why? Well, blame authors who place tasty morsels in my path that distract me. They're good "distractions," I assure you. One of them was The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, which you want to read. Well, "want" is a tricky concept. You  will be glad to have read it when it's been read, but it won't make you feel as giddy as, say, Ghostly Echoes. Or Farewell, Dorothy Parker. It is an important and great read, so don't miss it. Just know you're getting into something bigger than words.

When you read a book about a Broadway musical, such as In the Heights, have the soundtrack queued up, even if it's playing in your head, so you can listen to it in real time (not brain time).

I will finish another two books on my reading list before the weekend of the autumnal equinox — but my average won't get much higher. I am at peace with that, if only because lists are just guidelines, not contracts.

How is your summer reading going?

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Review: The Bookseller

An independent single career woman in Denver during the Cuban Missile Crisis doesn't stand a chance in Cynthia Swanson's novel The BooksellerPerhaps I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish the novel last night, but — man, I feel a little cheated by the story's resolution.

The premise of the story is intriguing. Kitty, a 30-something bookshop owner living in Denver in 1963, begins dreaming about a fictional life with a husband and children. It's a far cry from her current life in a cheerful duplex with Aslan the cat and her struggling bookstore she runs with her childhood friend Frieda.

 The dreams are vivid and appear to have an actual (albeit tenuous) connection to her waking hours. Most importantly, her dreams are perfect. Her husband is handsome, loving and supportive. Her children are charming, well-behaved and beautiful. Her home is custom-built, her wardrobe just-so. She is not disappointed when she goes to the Denver of her dreams.

At first.

The more time she spends, the more she wonders which world is real. Is she Katharyn, wife and mother, or is she Kitty, single gal and entrepreneur? Both worlds have their charm and pitfalls. Which will she choose?

For me, the stumbling point of this tale was the introduction of a character with a very modernly recognized ailment. The symptoms are extreme and the character is almost a caricature. There are other era-appropriate elements, such as smoking cigarettes in public places, large cars without car seats (but, inexplicably, seat belts in constant use), lots of liquor and intoxicated behavior, treatment of women like fragile dolls (if they're of means) and workhorses (if they're not). If the author's intention was to place it in time, Swanson did a thorough job. And yet it felt out of place.

The trigger for this dream confusion, when it's revealed, is almost a let-down. Granted, Swanson tries rather hard to build her case, that a woman who is living such a life based on certain decisions must reconcile her life with her dreams, and vice versa. Yet it feels artificial, as if the author herself is reprimanding Katharyn for those very decisions.

The characters are real, but they're not. Readers will feel a tug: just as they start to solidify, the characters shift. Yes, Kitty/Katharyn is herself confused, and readers must be in the moment to experience The Big Reveal. Yet the author keeps us all off-kilter and uncomfortable too long.

In the end, I can't say I would recommend this book. It's not a bad book, and Swanson is a good writer. Yet the ending was formulaic and disappointing, a let-down after the long road of reading about two very different and valuable lives.

If you have read it, do you agree with this assessment? Let me know!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

August: Let's Get Reading!

It's August. Let's get reading!

Looking for a good book? E-mail me for suggestions, or pick a title or two from my summer reading list:

  • Hamilton: The Revolution
  • Wolf Hall
  • Bone Season
  • Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits
  • The Gun Seller
  • Wolf Hall
  • Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter 
  • The Sixth Extinction
  • Revival
  • Bellman and Black
See you in September — let's compare our reading list successes then!

Monday, July 11, 2016

U.S. Poet Laureate: @ the Crossroads - A Sudden American Poem

@ the Crossroads - A Sudden American Poem

RIP Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Dallas police
                       officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith,
                       Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa—and all
                       their families. And to all those injured.
                                               Let us celebrate the lives of all
As we reflect & pray & meditate on their brutal deaths
Let us celebrate those who marched at night who spoke of peace
& chanted Black Lives Matter
Let us celebrate the officers dressed in Blues ready to protect
Let us know the departed as we did not know them before—their faces,
Bodies, names—what they loved, their words, the stories they often spoke
Before we return to the usual business of our days, let us know their lives intimately
Let us take this moment & impossible as this may sound—let us find
The beauty in their lives in the midst of their sudden & never imagined vanishing

Let us consider the Dallas shooter—what made him
                                                            what happened in Afghanistan

                flames burned inside

(Who was that man in Baton Rouge with a red shirt selling CDs in the parking lot
Who was that man in Minnesota toppled on the car seat with a perforated arm
& a continent-shaped flood of blood on his white T who was
That man prone & gone by the night pillar of El Centro College in Dallas )

This could be the first step
          in the new evaluation of our society    This could be
                the first step of all of our lives

by Juan Felipe Herrera, Poet Laureate of the United States, July 8, 2016Copyright © 2016 by Juan Felipe Herreracourtesy

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Poetry Wednesday: Wilfred Owen, Graphically Rendered

Wilfred Owen: Dulce Et Decorum Est,
Graphically Represented

One century ago, the world was stunned and wounded by The Great War.

Poet Wilfred Owen, a casualty of the war himself, tried to tell us the cost. here is one of his most well-known poems rendered graphically by Nathan Gelgud.

courtesy Signature