Monday, October 15, 2018

What I'm reading this week (10/15/18)

Last week I finished:

I looked into Rush after seeing it on Modern Mrs. Darcy's website, and after hemming and hawing, I finally bought a copy. I tend to enjoy stories set in the South, and that's what sold me on it. The story focuses on a fictitious sorority at Ole Miss and the struggles of various characters to belong, in one way or another. There are past decisions and hurts to be overcome, racism to address, and a community of 400-some girls to keep together. When Miss Pearl, the housekeeper of the sorority house for the last 25 years wants to move up to the job of House Manager, the snooty, moneyed, House Corp President tells her she isn't qualified (which is literally true). The girls band together to make some changes. I enjoyed this book quite a lot. It's long (about 400 pages), but it's a fast read. Its tone is rather light though it addresses some big issues. The writing is good, nothing superfluous. While the characters are good, they are a little 2-D. The good are too all-around good, and the bad are too evil. This grew more and more annoying, but it never really stopped me from enjoying the reading experience. The setting of Ole Miss almost served as another character, which I loved. Knowing what I know about campus politics, and being attuned to the national discourse on race, I did feel that many of the plot points are much too simplistic and rather idealistic. But all in all, this was a nice, fun read, with a strong sense of community and a message about our next generation moving us forward. If you're sick to death of social justice-themed books, you'll probably still like this one as it isn't too preachy, and pretty much everyone agrees on everything. My rating: 4 stars. 

Speaking of social justice, I happened into buying and immediately reading a Kindle copy of The Other Wes Moore. I'd been interested in the book since it came out in 2010, but it took me these eight years to get around to reading it. This is the nonfiction account of two black boys named Wes Moore who grew up in the same rough neighborhood but ended up living two wildly different lives. One ended up in prison for armed robbery, the other became a military veteran, Rhodes scholar, and White House fellow. Neither really had advantages over the other and both were raised without fathers, but one escaped and one was consumed by violence, drugs, and street life. The book gives the biographies of both boys (the author is one of the Weses), alternating between the two. It often got hard for me to follow or remember which was which, until they got older and their paths diverged. The book was told with warmth and impartiality. Where it failed was in bringing everything together. The question every reader will ask is "what was it that made the difference for one Wes Moore and what was it that doomed the other?" Our author doesn't really want to touch that question, and while that can spur good discussions, having no one to discuss it with, I was left with a "ho hum" feeling. We can all identify the problems, but until we are able to identify the solutions, we're bound to live in a repeating cycle of violence, drugs, gangs, and incarceration. Who better than a veteran of that environment to give us some clues? I know that some inner-city kids prosper and some perish--and that it's not due to luck that some get out--but I wanted to know why from someone who lived it. I do wish the author would write a more in-depth analysis of the issue. I'd welcome that. Perhaps his more recent book, The Work, is what I'm looking for. My rating: 4 stars.

I'm always looking for good books to listen to on audio. I can't remember where I first heard about Dear Mrs. Bird, but I quickly added it to my audio TBR. Emmy wants to be a journalist war correspondent covering World War II, and when she lands a job at a newspaper, she thinks she's on her way. What she's really landed, however, is a job reading letters to old-fashioned Mrs. Bird for a women's advice column. She is told to discard any letter that touches on anything unpleasant--and she's given a long list of what constitutes unpleasant. But Emmy wants to help those women, girls her age who are in difficult situations hoping for some advice, so she takes to secretly answering some of the letters, and even covertly publishing some of her replies under Mrs. Bird's name. This book failed me in a couple of ways. First, although the book is billed as being about the letters and the replies, that's less than half of the plot. The literary world does not need another book about the World War II air raids over London and the mortal consequences of it. I thought I was getting a WWII story of another stripe, but I got the same rehash. It wasn't a bad rehash, but it certainly wasn't anything new, either. Secondly, Emmy's replies to the letters are never shown in the book. Why would I care that she replied unless I knew how she replied? (It is totally possible that a reply was included in the book and it was so bland and unmemorable that I listened right through it.) Lastly, I absolutely detest it when books try to drum up feminist outrage. Real girls and women are being raped, beaten, tortured, sold, and denied human rights all over the world, that's what we need to be getting outraged about. I refuse to get outraged that during World War II women didn't want to respond to other women's letter about getting knocked up by a soldier she barely knew, or whatever. I'll save my outrage for something a little bigger. Frankly, it wasn't a bad book, but following so many stellar WWII books, it wasn't good enough to stand out--and I think it was mis-marketed. My rating: 3 stars.


Last week I abandoned:


I was looking SO forward to reading The Bride Price, but after getting about 50 pages in, I just decided it wasn't for me. Something about the tone, I think. I wanted to learn more, but it felt too negative, not quite personable enough, and poorly paced. It's like the book didn't quite know what it wanted to be.


And I finally settled on:


I'm enjoying this one, which has been on my TBR for months and months.


My nighttime reads:
 
 

I'm still enjoying all of these, though it is one too many. The decorating book is getting short shrift.


My audiobook:



You can't walk into a bookstore or thrift shop in Eau Claire, Wisconsin without finding multiple copies of this book. I finally picked up a copy, then decided to listen to it instead. It's wonderful. I'll post a review next week.


Monday, October 8, 2018

What I'm reading this week (10/8/18)

Last week I finished:

Biographies are very hit or miss with me. I either end up loving it or hating it, with very little gray area. But I trust Lisa McCubbin from her wonderful collaborations with Clint Hill in books like Mrs. Kennedy and Me and Five Presidents, which are two of my absolute favorite books. And my trust was not misplaced. I loved every word of her latest book, Betty Ford. Biographies can so easily be stale and boring, or almost worse, impartial, but this book was so fresh and lively and balanced. I frankly wasn't terribly interested in Betty Ford before this book, other than my baseline curiosity for learning more about any first lady. And this read reinforced the importance of trying things, because you can never be wonderfully delighted by a book if you never pick it up. Here, McCubbin tells the story of Betty Ford's life, including her dancing career, her marriage to Gerald Ford, raising four kids while her politician husband was seldom present, becoming Second Lady and then First Lady after the disgrace of Nixon's last years in office, campaigning for her husband, her support of the ERA, her battle with breast cancer, her addiction and recovery from prescription drugs and alcohol, the establishment of the Betty Ford Center, and the death of her beloved Jerry. It was quite a journey, and she was quite a remarkable woman. What struck me most about Betty Ford was her strength, her good humor, her ability to change, her willingness to attempt hard things, and how healthy the Ford marriage was. This felt like a whole picture of Betty Ford, with nothing suppressed or downplayed, and likewise, nothing touted too highly or blown out of proportion. It was honest and respectful without being a fawning love letter. McCubbin had the support of the Ford children when writing the book, and was not asked to remove anything before publication. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in American history, first ladies, or just strong women with flaws and tremendous grace. I loved this one, and I cried when it was over. My rating: 5 stars.

James Herriot, English country veterinarian in the 1930s (and beyond), captured his tales of animals and the humans who love them in a series of books published in the 1970s. All Things Bright and Beautiful is the second in the All Creatures Great and Small series. I liked this installment just as much as the first. I listened this this on audio, and it really is a performance that way. The country accents are fun, and you really get a sense for the place where Herriot and his characters hail. The stories are a mix of humor and poignancy that is just irresistible. They're well-told and likely a bit embellished (no one knows that many odd folks or has that many remarkable interactions). If you enjoy stories about animals or stories about people, and especially if you need fresh breath of a read, pick up one of Herriot's books. I don't think you can go wrong. If you're sensitive to scenes of live animal births, be forewarned that there are some. He's frank, but never gruesome. My rating: 4 stars.
 

This week I'll finish:
 

I'm so glad I bought a copy of this book. I was wonderfully surprised.
 
 
My Kindle read:


Another good surprise. I'll finish this one this week and put up a review next week.


Last week I began:


This is a re-read for me. It's very good.


My nightly reads:
 

I'm enjoying all of these, but I currently have seven books going, and that may be one too many ways to be splitting my attention.


My current audiobook:


I just started this, and it's a good, relatively light story. More on this one next week.

 
 

Thursday, October 4, 2018

October 2018 reading list

October. It really feels like September was October, so I'm nervous about what October might hold. The weather here was much colder than usual, and I've all but given up what we'll have a few more hot days before winter. The temps are dipping down to the 20s at night, and it won't be long before the leaves are down. This month, I've chosen a number of moody books--at least they feel that way to me. Once again, a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Lots of fiction and lots of memoirs.


Memoirs & Biographies




Fiction & Mysteries
 



Nonfiction
 


"Other"
 


Poetry (re-read)

 
 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

September 2018 wrap-up

September was a good reading month, if crazy in every other way. I finished 15 books, many of which were wonderful. My favorites were Upstairs at the White House, Everything I Never Told You, and Pardonable Lies, but most were above average. One-word reviews below are linked to full reviews.

5 stars

3 stars

4.5 stars

4 stars

4 stars

4 stars

4 stars

3.5 stars

3 stars

4 stars

3 stars

4.5 stars

4 stars

4 stars
 
3.5 stars
 

Monday, October 1, 2018

What I'm reading this week (10/1/18)

Last week I finished:

If there's one thing I love to read about, at least in small doses, it's farming. I grew up on a farm, it's in my blood, and every book I read about living on a farm brings me back "home." Jane Smiley has written many wonderful books set on farms including Some Luck, part of a trilogy, and others. A Thousand Acres came out in 1991, won the Pulitzer Prize, and was adapted into a movie staring Michelle Pfeiffer and Jessica Lange in 1997. It's an adaptation of Shakespeare's King Lear, in which a king descends into madness after giving away his kingdom to two of his daughters, leaving a third daughter out. In Smiley's book, a prosperous farmer with a thousand acres suddenly decides to give the farm to his two older daughters, Ginny and Rose (and, by connection, their spouses), leaving the younger, Caroline, out of the bequest. Slowly, things start to unravel. Tragedy is right! It all comes to a head after a court case to decide the farm's future. Marriages fail; adultery happens; infighting drives the family apart; there are deaths, suicides, an attempted murder, and a public scene at a church supper; and painful, long-buried abuses come to the surface. I just can't decide about this book. On the one hand, I loved the writing, the phrasing, the characters (even the unlikable characters were good). On the other hand, it was all wrong. The pacing was too quick for the amount of drama. There was too much ugliness and deception, and bitterness. Perhaps the book was written with such a high threshold of chaos and tragedy because it was modeling itself after King Lear. I don't know the play well enough to comment intelligently on that. I do remember seeing the movie when it came out and disliking it, and there's no way I'd see it again after reading the book. I don't need this one to come to life any better than it does in the book. I listened to this on audio, which was perfectly narrated. Do I recommend the book? I'm not sure. If you have a high tolerance for trauma and mayhem, go ahead, if not, try one of Smiley's other wonderful books. My rating: 3.5 stars.

When The Two-Family House came out in 2016, I remember vetting the book, but something made me decide against reading it. Since then, a blogger I respect has raved about the book. And very recently, in fact I think it's still on, it went on sale for Kindle, so I decided I'd take a $2.99 gamble. As is often the case, when I was looking for a new book to start on Kindle, I chose among the last I'd downloaded, and the book sucked me in immediately. It's simply written; it would never win an award for beautiful language or wonderful writing. I don't remember a single description or more than a short scene-setting. But sometimes books like this are great palate cleansers, because another part of the book gets to shine, or you get to engage in a book in a different way. This book is incredibly engaging. It's hard to give the plot without giving away the surprise (though you'll likely have a hunch as to the revelation very early on). It's about two brothers, Abe and Mort, their wives, Rose and Helen, and Mort and Rose's three daughters and Abe and Helen's four boys, who all share a two-family house in Brooklyn. It begins with the two sisters-in-law giving birth to babies on the same night in 1947 during a blizzard that has kept their husbands away. It takes the reader through several decades of the family and the deterioration of the once-close relationship between Helen and Rose. While the characters are sometimes flat, the book is one that is very difficult to put down. The story is told so simply, you want to keep reading. Although this isn't high literature, and I saw the twist coming, I really enjoyed the book. The simple domestic story is reminiscent of Alice McDermott's work like The Ninth Hour and Someone. I recommend this one. If you like domestic fiction, I think you'll like it. My rating: 4 stars.

Carry On, Warrior is a re-read for me. I'd always meant to read the paperback version when it came out, because it had new material. Several years later, I finally got around to it. It was nice to return to it, but in the middle of my re-read, I saw Glennon pop up in an anti-Brett Kavanaugh ad, so I went to her Twitter feed for more information on her stance, and what I found there was so disappointing, I'm not sure I'll ever read another book by her again. While her message used to be love for all, she has changed course, apparently. I wish her well, but I'm over and out regarding the hateful things she's written recently. It's the kind of thing she used to rally her readers against, and I'm heartbroken and disillusioned by her change. So, I don't really feel like reviewing this wonderful book right now. Read the book, not her Twitter feed. My rating: 4 stars.
 

This week I'll finish:
 

This one is even better than I anticipated. I'm love, love, loving it.


Last week I abandoned:


By page 70, I decided I couldn't stand another page of Lyndon's bullying or Lady Bird's enabling. Their marriage worked for them, but I had to bail.


My Kindle read:


I bought this on a Kindle sale last week and decided it would be a good one for my current mood. I'm only about 35% in, but it's quite good.


What I started last week:
 
 

Yay for books about books! And for pretty decorating book eye candy.


My audiobook:


Book two in the All Creatures Great and Small series by James Herriot. It's the perfect thing to listen to in right now--touching, funny, and so well-told. These are especially good on audio.