Still here!

Has it really been since February that I’ve posted … and since NOVEMBER that I’ve given any sort of life update? Wow. After all of you were so kind to be there for me when I was going through such a difficult time, I am so sorry to have dropped off the face of the earth. I guess it’s safe to say that a lot has happened in my life since November. Long story short – moved out of the house I shared with my ex (although we still haven’t sold it – even longer story that I don’t need to get into now), have taken several trips to Chicago to spend time with family, have taken a few other trips (St. Augustine, Savannah, New York, and ARUBA!), and here’s the big news … I met someone! I’m currently in a relationship with someone I have known for about two years, as acquaintances, and we connected recently after learning that we both went through a similar personal situation at roughly the same time. This relationship has been fantastic in every way and at this point, I’m just incredibly happy and enjoying how great that feeling is.

Oh and also – that surgical procedure I was going to have? It is coming in August, although I am going to be undergoing a much more minor procedure than I thought I would have to have originally, and it should buy me 5-10 more years until open heart surgery. So while the fact that a procedure with a hospital stay is on the immediate horizon is scary, I am grateful that technology has advanced so much in just a few short years to afford me the opportunity to basically buy extra time until I must have major surgery.

I’ve been reading, although not nearly as much as I had in the past. I think I’ve read something like twenty-four books this year, which although I know is more than most people read for sure, I think most of you bloggers would say that’s not very many. But whatever, I’m enjoying what I’m reading and I’ve pretty much stopped any type of review copy acceptance so I’ve only been reading for fun. And I’m okay with that.

I have actively contemplated closing this blog down, as it’s clear that my posting over the past year has been erratic at best. I took some time to think about this over the past few weeks and while I’m still not 100% committed, I don’t see myself closing the site any time soon. I’d like to get back into sharing what I’ve been reading with all of you, and chatting and interacting on all of your blogs, so my goal is to do this in a more casual manner. If I post, I post, if I don’t … oh well. I have a backlog of books to talk about since I’ve barely shared a thing I’ve read this year, so I’ll start there and see how things go.

Anyway. Thank you all for being there, for understanding when things got difficult for me and when I disappeared, but I am still here, I am still reading, and hopefully I’ll be a more active presence in the community.

Happy Sunday! 🙂

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I’ll Take You There by Wally Lamb

I'll Take You ThereI’ll Take You There by Wally Lamb
Published by Harper

From the publisher:

I’ll Take You There centers on Felix, a film scholar who runs a Monday night movie club in what was once a vaudeville theater. One evening, while setting up a film in the projectionist booth, he’s confronted by the ghost of Lois Weber, a trailblazing motion picture director from Hollywood’s silent film era. Lois invites Felix to revisit—and in some cases relive—scenes from his past as they are projected onto the cinema’s big screen.

In these magical movies, the medium of film becomes the lens for Felix to reflect on the women who profoundly impacted his life. There’s his daughter Aliza, a Gen Y writer for New York Magazine who is trying to align her post-modern feminist beliefs with her lofty career ambitions; his sister, Frances, with whom he once shared a complicated bond of kindness and cruelty; and Verna, a fiery would-be contender for the 1951 Miss Rheingold competition, a beauty contest sponsored by a Brooklyn-based beer manufacturer that became a marketing phenomenon for two decades. At first unnerved by these ethereal apparitions, Felix comes to look forward to his encounters with Lois, who is later joined by the spirits of other celluloid muses.

Against the backdrop of a kaleidoscopic convergence of politics and pop culture, family secrets, and Hollywood iconography, Felix gains an enlightened understanding of the pressures and trials of the women closest to him, and of the feminine ideals and feminist realities that all women, of every era, must face.

Okay, so I like the idea of what Lamb has done here. We have a feminist man who truly loves and respects all of the women in his life, who sees them as independent from their relationship to him (for example – his daughter is not just his daughter, she’s this independent, incredibly smart, talented person who he admires AS A PERSON not just as his daughter), who gets a rare peek into aspects of their lives that he never really considered before. I like that Lamb, who clearly has a ton of respect for women and I would hope considers himself a feminist, decided to explore the topic of the difficulties that women face simply for the fact of being born with a vagina and explore it through the eyes of these fictional characters. As I said, I like the idea here. I was definitely looking forward to the book.

I would say that the actual execution of Lamb’s great idea was successfulish. By that I mean, I liked the book well enough but I certainly didn’t love it, and overall thought the feminism contained within was fairly benign and the main character didn’t have much in the way of revolutionary thoughts or any real lightbulb moments, if you will. The start of the book was incredibly slow for me and I almost put it down a few times – in fact, I would have given up on it had it not been my book club read. However, once I got going and the book started delving into Felix’s past, my interest was piqued and I sped through the second half of the book in a matter of a couple of hours.

A good chunk of the book was focused on Felix’s older sister, and for fear of spoilers, I won’t explain why but let’s juts say that his fairly average looking family had its share of secrets and those are revealed through the portions of the book about his sister. She was actually the character I was most drawn to, even though she’s portrayed in a pretty negative light in the beginning of the book, Lamb carefully crafts the picture of her life and makes it very clear to readers why she’s got the hard edges to her personality that make her seem unlikable on the surface. I really felt for her and it made me immensely happy to see Felix begin to understand her and feel for her in a way he seemingly never did before this little adventure of his.

While I liked I’ll Take You There, I didn’t love it, and I think it’s probably Lamb’s least successful novel. Most of his books are sweeping, all-encompassing, emotional stories with tons of characters and complicated stories, and this was a much simpler, more relaxed novel. I guess it’s a departure for Lamb and shows a different side to his writing, but for me personally I like his other stuff much better. Still a fun read, just nothing to write home about compared to what kinds of masterpieces I know this author is capable of creating.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

CommonwealthCommonwealth by Ann Patchett
Published by Harper

From the publisher:

One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.

When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.

Commonwealth was the first book I read in 2017, and what a fantastic choice it was. Ann Patchett is one of those authors for me who can do no wrong, and this novel was no different from the others I’ve experienced. What she is able to do with character development and intricate dynamics between characters is something I’ve seen very few authors do with as much brilliance as she does. Getting to know these characters, understanding their hopes, fears, the relationships between each of them, was such an incredible ride and so fun to read.

Something I absolutely loved about this novel is that Patchett tells the story in a non-linear fashion. The first chapter sets the whole thing up – that kiss between the two major players in the story that causes the end of two marriages and the joining of these two families in the marriage between these two adults – but each chapter for the rest of the novel takes place in some different time and place and features different characters. This format was incredibly interesting to me, as it kept me on the edge of my seat, waiting to fill in the gaps between what Patchett has shared with the reader and what the characters have already experienced and know about their lives, but it also was such a cool literary device and I wish more books were written this way.

When I look at each individual character, I’m impressed with Patchett’s ability to write these people who I didn’t like all that much but still found myself captivated by their personalities and mundane details of their lives. The two parents in this situation exasperated me to no end, but by the end of the book, I kind of liked them. Same with several of the children (who are adults in their fifties when the book ends) – some of their decisions were just insane to me, yet I still compulsively read this story, desperate to get to know them even better as the book progressed.

What else can I say? Ann Patchett is so great in so many ways and I loved her latest offering. She just does so much with so little, is the only way I know how to explain it, and I am entranced by everything she writes. Highly recommended.

Mini-Reviews: Last Books Read in 2016 part 2

Behind Closed DoorsBehind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris
Published by St. Martin’s Press

This book was one HELL of a ride. It’s about this couple, Jack and Grace, who appear absolutely perfect from an outsider’s view: beautiful home in the suburbs, both physically gorgeous and fit, they host the best dinner parties in town, and his affluence and professional success allow her to be a stay-at-home wife and perhaps mother in the near future. But it is obvious from the first few pages that things with the two of them are nowhere near the image they project for their friends and neighbors to see. Once the reader is clued in to what’s really going on here, the novel picks up the pace and I couldn’t stop turning the pages, desperate to find out what would happen with the insanity that I was reading about. I don’t want to give too much away, but this is one of those unputdownable books that everyone raves about for good reason. Read it!

Leave MeLeave Me by Gayle Forman
Published by Algonquin Books

Maribeth is the stereotypical working mother who spends absolutely all of her time on everyone else – between work, her kids and her husband she barely has time to make sure she eats, let alone takes care of her own health needs. So when she goes two days avoiding the pain in her body only to realize she’s been having a heart attack that entire time, after a few weeks of recovery during which she was still responsible for taking care of absolutely everyone except for herself, she does the unthinkable and leaves her family.

Okay, so I really liked this book even though I can say that it definitely had its issues. For me, I enjoyed getting to know Maribeth and I really felt sorry for her. There was very little appreciation shown by anyone in her family for what she sacrificed for them on a daily basis, and while I know that’s the plight of many women, working mothers or otherwise, it was taken to another level here, with her having to take all responsibilities back on herself just five days after having open-heart surgery. There were several things she needed to understand about herself, her past, and what she wanted for her future (and what she was willing to put up with in order to get it), and I enjoyed spending time on this journey with her. The one thing I will say that disappointed me was the ending – it was wrapped up just a bit too neatly for such a difficult situation. There were other things about the book that weren’t perfect, but overall I really enjoyed it.

Cruel Beautiful WorldCruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt
Published by Algonquin Books

Lucy is sixteen in 1969 when she decides to run away with an older man, one of her teachers, to live in an off-the-grid tiny home in rural Pennsylvania. As Lucy’s older sister, Charlotte, and their guardian, Iris, come to terms with Lucy’s disappearance (although they have no idea where she went or why), the three of them must learn to forge ahead in their new lives independently, while never losing hope that Lucy will reunite with the other two again in the future.

I thought this book was so phenomenal, it truly blew me away. Lucy’s decision to leave her family and home for the “security” of this older man had far-reaching consequences, not just for her own life, but for all the people who knew and loved her as well. The way Leavitt crafted this story, while it’s not intended to be a page-turner by any means, kept me on the edge of my seat, frantically wishing and hoping that things would turn out okay for Lucy, Charlotte, and Iris. Leavitt perfectly captured the unique balance of crushing loneliness and feeling like you’re on top of the world and can do absolutely anything that is so unique to certain teenage girls – Lucy struck this balance in such a way that she was the perfect target for her teacher to take advantage of, and he certainly did. Leavitt gave the reader the opportunity to get to know all of the major players, not just Lucy, giving an even more complete picture of what forces propelled Lucy throughout her life to make this seemingly insane choice. Also the writing – SOOOO good. I loved this book so much.

Mini-Reviews: Last Books Read in 2016 Part 1

I think it’s safe to say that 2016 was a crazy year for me in a lot of respects. One thing that happened towards the second half of the year, due to a lot of personal stuff, is that my reading slowed down a LOT. But there are still a few books that I managed to get through these past few months that I haven’t told you guys about. So I thought I’d start 2017 by wrapping up 2016 in the form of mini-reviews of my final six reads of 2016. Here are the first three.

The Trespasser (Dublin Murder Squad, #6)The Trespasser by Tana French
Published by Viking

This was one of my most anticipated books of the year and, as expected, the genius of Tana French did not disappoint. I really loved detective Antoinette Conway – there’s something so incredible about French writing a female character, as she wrote Cassie in The Likeness. Of course, all of her characters are fantastic, but I have been particularly drawn to those two out of the six she’s written so far. In this book, Conway and her partner, detective Stephen Moran, are assigned to a murder case that seems pretty simple at first – a young woman is found dead from a head injury after it appears that she had a dinner date all set up and ready to go – but it becomes clear right from the start that things are not what they seem with the victim and those around her. As only French can do, she pulls together all of the different threads of this story, mixed in with intricate character development and snappy dialogue, and she had me riveted throughout the entire novel. I absolutely loved it and am ready for the next book in the series.

I'm Just a PersonI’m Just a Person by Tig Notaro
Published by Ecco

I’d heard of Tig Notaro before picking up the book from watching the Ellen show and seeing her talk about her HBO special, but I didn’t know too much about her before picking up her memoir. She’s a fascinating woman with an incredible story about going through so much personally with her own health, losing her mother at a relatively young age, dealing with heartbreak and professional setback, and she dealt with all of that by using humor and a positive attitude to mostly make it through unscathed. She’s got a dry, sarcastic kind of humor that I am drawn to and really appreciate, so I really enjoyed her take on her own life story. Also, I listened to the audio, which she narrates, and I thought it was definitely the way to go. I found myself admiring her and I really enjoyed getting to know her through reading this memoir.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany, Jack Thorne, and J.K. Rowling
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books

I FINALLY got around to reading this one, months after it was published, and while I liked it enough, I definitely wasn’t wowed by it. I’ll admit that it took me a bit to get into the format of reading a Harry Potter book as a play instead of a novel, but even with that issue aside, I didn’t love this like I had hoped that I would. It was definitely an interesting take on where these characters’ lives went, years after the final book in the series concluded, and I certainly appreciated getting to know the children of the characters I fell so deeply in love with while reading books 1-7, but I felt just meh about where the plot went and the choices that were made about how these characters would have reacted to certain events throughout this experience. I don’t know – on the one hand, I was grateful to get another look into these characters’ lives and to spend “extra” time with them, but on the other hand, I was disappointed with exactly how everything turned out here. Meh.

Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam

Rich and PrettyRich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam
Published by Ecco

From the publisher:

As close as sisters for twenty years, Sarah and Lauren have been together through high school and college, first jobs and first loves, the uncertainties of their twenties and the realities of their thirties.

Sarah, the only child of a prominent intellectual and a socialite, works at a charity and is methodically planning her wedding. Lauren—beautiful, independent, and unpredictable—is single and working in publishing, deflecting her parents’ worries and questions about her life and future by trying not to think about it herself. Each woman envies—and is horrified by—particular aspects of the other’s life, topics of conversation they avoid with masterful linguistic pirouettes.

Once, Sarah and Lauren were inseparable; for a long a time now, they’ve been apart. Can two women who rarely see one other, selectively share secrets, and lead different lives still call themselves best friends? Is it their abiding connection—or just force of habit—that keeps them together?

Everyone had been raving about this book for quite some time when I finally decided to pick it up. I figured I’d be able to relate to this novel as I’m about the same age as the characters and understand what it is to be friends with a person for such a long time that while your interests may differ over time, shared history keeps the friendship alive.

Unfortunately, I was wrong about my being able to relate to the novel. I just could not understand or sympathize with these characters in any way. I didn’t like either Sarah or Lauren and it was almost a chore to read about them. I also didn’t get the friendship – for the most part, they didn’t seem to even like each other, much less be close enough to be considered best friends. WHY they kept this “friendship” alive for so many years, when it seemed to be a hassle for either of them to even consider spending time with the other person was so beyond me. It made the entire book feel inauthentic.

One thing I can say about the novel is that I enjoyed the writing style and did have some interest in seeing where things turned out for these two women. Ultimately, it was a let down, but I didn’t HATE the journey I spent with it. I couldn’t get past my feelings on the characters and my lack of understanding their motivations for things but I did finish the novel, so that’s something. Overall I was disappointed by this novel but I can see why some might have enjoyed certain aspects of it.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

What Alice ForgotWhat Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
Published by PanMacmillan Australia

From the publisher:

Alice Love is twenty-nine, crazy about her husband, and pregnant with her first child.

So imagine Alice’s surprise when she comes to on the floor of a gym and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over — she’s getting divorced, she has three kids and she’s actually 39 years old. Alice must reconstruct the events of a lost decade, and find out whether it’s possible to reconstruct her life at the same time. She has to figure out why her sister hardly talks to her, and how is it that she’s become one of those super skinny moms with really expensive clothes.

Ultimately, Alice must discover whether forgetting is a blessing or a curse, and whether it’s possible to start over.

Okay, so Liane Moriarty can do no wrong. Every time I read one of her novels I find myself saying, “now THIS one is my favorite of hers!” only to remember that I keep saying that … turns out they are all pretty awesome, including What Alice Forgot.

What is interesting about this novel is that Alice is almost an unreliable narrator, a thing I like a lot in books, but her unreliability is far from intentional. In fact, throughout the book it is clear that she’d like very much to be a reliable source on her own life, but that simply isn’t possible, what with the amnesia and all. What this does to the reader is forces you to get to know Alice through the eyes of people who know her as well as what she’s telling you about her thoughts and feelings and find a way to sort of pair those two things together to come up with a complete picture of this character who doesn’t even know herself. It was strange and interesting and made the novel a ton of fun to read.

I liked her so much, though! As I continued to read the novel and piece together aspects of her life and personality, I continued to like her more and more. I continued to feel empathy for her situation and hope desperately that things would work out in her favor – although what that meant exactly was unclear for most of the book.

Moriarty does an amazing job at giving the reader hints and clues throughout a novel that slowly get at the real picture of what’s going on without revealing too much, too soon. She excels at this particularly in What Alice Forgot, because since Alice doesn’t remember the big events that made up her life for the past ten years, neither does the reader have that information. Slowly, as Alice remembers things and as her family fills in the details, the reader gets to fill in the gaps right alongside her. There were frustrating moments when I just wanted someone to TELL me about a particular person or situation, but I loved that because it truly got me inside Alice’s head and I understood exactly how she felt – the immense frustration at not knowing your own life, can you imagine? Moriarty did this SO well.

I really loved What Alice Forgot. Moriarty crafted an intense, compelling and ultimately heartwarming story featuring a flawed but very real and wonderful character in Alice. I will continue to be here for whatever Moriarty wants to deliver.