this week

•August 8, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Not sure how we got to August already, but here’s what I’ve been reading on the way there…

Recently finished: Yesterday, I wrapped up Liar & Spy, by Rebecca Stead (the Newbery Award winner for When You Reach Me).  I loved it so much I very nearly started reading it over again from the beginning.  I definitely intend to write a more extensive (possibly gushing) post soon.  Also, the always reliable Jennifer Weiner’s newest, The Next Best Thing.  A fun, quick, catching read, as her books usually are.  I don’t think this one was one of her best, but the insights into the making of a TV show were fun, and I loved the ending.

In progress: Ten Girls to Watch – I’m literally only about three pages in, so not much in the way of impressions yet.  But it feels like the right weight to wind down the summer months with.

About to start: Not sure.  I have the new Mark Haddon lying around, which I’m intrigued by, though apparently not enough to actually pick it up yet.  Though the same could be said for about 300 other unread books sitting on my shelves as well.  (300 might be an exaggeration.  But it also might not be…)

What are you wrapping up your summer with?

things that made me laugh today

•July 26, 2012 • Leave a Comment

This and this. Enjoy!

wife 22

•July 19, 2012 • Leave a Comment

My advance copy of Wife 22 opens with an introduction from the publisher.  In it, the woman writing compares her experience with Wife 22 to that of two other books she similarly loved: Bridget Jones’s Diary and I Don’t Know How She Does It.   This left me with mixed expectations – I love the first and have read it multiple times; it’s one of those books I own both in hard copy and e-book form for the sheer ease of picking it up at any time, wherever I might be.  It makes me laugh out loud every single time.  The latter, however, I only have a vague recollection of.  I know I read it, and I’m sure I enjoyed it, but it just didn’t stick with me.  So I was interested to see where in that spectrum Wife 22 might end up.

For better or worse, I get the sense that it’s going to be the latter.  Wife 22, by Melanie Gideon, gives us the story of a women who is searching for something, though she doesn’t seem to quite know what.  Nearing her twentieth wedding anniversary, she worries about her marriage, her children, her friends, her job, feeling as though the sands are shifting beneath her and she’s not quite sure how to stay upright.  One day, she receives an offer to participate in an anonymous research study (as Wife 22) and finds herself providing lengthy and sometimes intimate answers to questions asked by a complete stranger – and raising a number of questions for herself in the process.

I get the reference to Bridget Jones.  The structure of it – first person narrative interspersed with email exchanges and lists of answers to the research questions and text conversations – certainly prompt a comparison.  But the brilliance of Bridget Jones is the over-the top, laugh-out-loud absurdity.  The ridiculous sweaters and the blue soup and the bunny costume and the hundred other details that work their way into a cringe-inducing yet delightfully comedic romp.

That’s not to say that Wife 22 doesn’t have it’s moments of comedy, cringe-worthiness, or even absurdity.  It does.  But that’s not the overall tone. Ultimately, this is a book about relationships, and figuring out how to find your place in them, whether that be as a wife, mother, friend, or daughter.  And that search is a serious one, even if it’s built into a funny book.  Alice, our protagonist, is engaging and relatable, certainly.  Gideon establishes her voice well, and it’s easy to see Alice as a fully dimensional, dynamic character with real struggles and questions.  And most of her relationships feel authentic as well.  But there are mis-steps also, pieces (like her husband’s struggles at work) that are never well explained.  And some elements of the playful structure – the IMs, the Facebook statuses – feel forced at times.

In the end, Wife 22  a quick, engaging, enjoyable read.  It’s easy to get caught up in Alice’s anxieties, to sympathize with her struggles, to laugh at her son’s antics, to get swept away in her memories.  You want to know what happens next, and you want things to end well for her and her family.  But – and here’s the difference between a book I like and a book I love – once it does end, am I going to dwell on her story, or even revisit it?   In this case, probably not.

*This book was provided to me for review at no cost by the publisher.

libraries with purpose

•July 16, 2012 • 2 Comments

If you’re a sucker for libraries, you have to check out this slideshow of deserted buildings repurposed as libraries.

Just think how much better the world could be if more empty buildings were filled with books.

the house of velvet and glass

•July 5, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I wasn’t far into Katherine Howe’s The House of Velvet and Glass before it began to feel familiar.  The personal yet third-person narration, the shifting between perspectives and periods, the hint of the supernatural – all of these characteristics made Howe’s novel reminiscent of one of the first books I ever reviewed for bookhopping, Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden.

In The House of Velvet and Glass, we open with a scene aboard the Titanic of a girl and her mother basking in the luxury of the ocean liner.  Though the scene is brief, it doesn’t take us long to find out these particular members of the Allston family do not survive the awaiting tragedy, and our story shifts to the perspective of Sybil, the older sister whose prospects weren’t worth the expense of a grand tour of Europe.  Sybil is now the reluctant woman of the house, doing her best to maintain the home graces for her retired sea captain of a father and her wayward brother.  But she can’t help but continue to try to seek out a connection with her lost mother and sister.

Like Morton’s Forgotten Garden, Howe’s story is built slowly, and it was easy in the early parts of the book to wander away for a time.  The actions of the differing periods seemed unconnected beyond the relationship of the characters themselves.  But as the plot builds, the pace quickens, and the connections begin to become clearer.  Also like Morton’s, Howe’s novel becomes far more compelling in its second half as all of the pieces come together; it’s suddenly easy to become immersed in 1915 Boston and to suspend disbelief of Sybil’s burgeoning abilities.

Besides the plot development, Howe’s greatest strength is in setting the scenes – the ship, the great houses, the back alleys, the college campus – all become entirely real in her hands.  The characters, on the other hand, lack a certain extent of depth, and exposition at times takes the place of characterization; for example, we’re told more than shown that Sybil and her father share a close connection.   Back stories, too, feel underdeveloped, particularly in regards to a potential romantic interest of Sybil’s.

But overall, The House of Velvet and Glass makes for a great escapist read; I think fans of The Forgotten Garden in particular will slip comfortably into the turn of the century world Howe creates.

*This book was provided to me for review at no cost by the publisher.

this month

•June 25, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Summer is here!  And with it has come some serious reading time.  But somehow, not writing time.  Hmmm – funny how that happens.  I suppose, after spending all day staring at a computer screen at work, it becomes harder when it’s nice out to spend any extra time in front of it.  But that means I’ve got a lot to catch up with!

Recently finished – I’ve wrapped up two advance copies of books that I liked, though not necessarily loved, in recent weeks – The House of Velvet and Glass and Wife 22.  I am planning/hoping/intending to write up both of these in more detail soon, as long as I don’t let the summer get away from me again.  I’ve also recently listened to two charming (in completely different ways) YA books – Chasing Vermeer and Suite Scarlett.  The latter is by Maureen Johnson, who is quickly joining the ranks as one of my go-to YA authors.  She writes characters that feel fresh and genuine and down-to-earth and a little quirky all at once.  (She’s also absolutely hilarious on Twitter.)

In progress – I am on the verge of wrapping of a Little House binge, brought on by my continued reading of The Wilder Life – reading through the books (most of them, anyway) in tandem with McClure’s own expedition through “Laura World” (as she calls it) has been a lot of fun.  I’m in the final third of McClure’s book, and about halfway through These Happy, Golden Years, the last true book of the series. (The First Four Years is a different animal altogether.)  I imagine I will have a few thoughts once I come out on the other side.

I’m also listening to Maeve Binchy’s Heart and Soul.  Binchy was one of my favorite writers back in high school – there’s something warm and comforting about the characters and communities she creates.   It’s been years since I’ve kept up with her to the point of reading everything she releases, but dipping back into her work is always a little bit like visiting old friends.  Even some of the characters (who occasionally have recurring roles in otherwise unconnected novels) offer a sense of vague familiarity.

About to start – I’m looking forward to trying Mark Haddon’s The Red House, which is waiting for me at home, as is The Innocents by Francesca Segal and about a million other books.  So we’ll see…

What’s on your summer reading list?

this week

•May 23, 2012 • Leave a Comment

April was a slow month for reading (and the opposite for everything else in my life, it seems), but with May have come some travels, and with travel comes reading time…

Recently finished – Sadly, not much!  The last book I finished was the recently reviewed Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, but that was well over a month ago.

In progress – I’m winding my way to the end of The House of Velvet and Glass, by Katherine Howe, which has been an intriguing novel.  I’m still collecting my thoughts on it, but I’ll be sure to share soon.  I’ve also started the classic Betsy-Tacy children’s books, which I was thrilled to find were available for lending through my library’s digital offerings.  I’m working through these on ebook, and I’m only in the first one, but I can already tell these are books I’m going to want on my own shelves eventually.  So far, Betsy-Tacy is the type of book that is completely comfortable and familiar – it embraces the adventures of childhood in ways that so many other books do as well (I’m particularly reminded of the All-of-a-Kind Family books) – but at the same time it’s characters and stories are charmingly unique as well.

On the back burner – Somehow, I got distracted from The Wilder Life, though through no fault of its own.  I suppose not being a novel, it’s the type of book that’s easy to read in pieces and put back down, but I certainly have every intention of getting back to it.  And with it, my intention of rereading the Little House books has gotten waylaid as well.

About to start: I have Jennifer Weiner’s newest book (Then Came You) with me on this trip.  Since I’m looking at spending a good chunk of today in an airport and on a plane, it’s very likely I’ll wrap up the Howe novel and jump into this one.  Although there’s been one or two of hers I’ve liked less than the others, Weiner can typically be counted on for a good, funny, quick read, just right for traveling.  And a friend of mine just mentioned yesterday how much she liked this one, so I’m counting on it being a good one.

Has anything interesting crossed your path this spring?  What are you working on?