Saturday, August 27, 2016

"Every Exquisite Thing"

my take: "Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic."*

Nanette and Alex meet through their encounter with an out-of-publication novel, The Bubblegum Reaper. Each is a loner in their own way. They try to discover what happens to the hero of the book after the final chapter - much like The Fault in Our Stars.

Exquisite celebrates the different, the wall-flower, the marginalized, the odd-bird, the lonely as seen through the eyes of a high schooler.

Helping teenagers see we're not all the same ... and yet we are all the same. Feeling apartness - other-ness is part of the human condition. As Nanette discovers her own apartness, she looks to the 'herd' of high schoolers as being the same - wanting to conform to what success and 'happiness' look like: popularity, sports achievements, drinking, sex, being considered 'normal'.

Ultimately, Nanette's choice can not be everybody's choice - going to find a different group of people. Some of us need to stay in the pool we're in ... and realize that though we may not fit in, we're still valuable. I heartily applaud Mr. Quick's philosophical allusion that the unexamined life is not worth living. I would add that there are layers of examination ... after all, what we learn so much after those brutal teenage years.

my source: popped up after I ordered The Memory of Light from Amazon

my verdict: Great YA read. I also loved his The Good Luck of Right Now

*Quoted in Every Exquisite Thing from Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray.

If you are read the hardcover edition, check under the dust cover when you're done.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

"My Name is Lucy Barton"

my take: I borrowed this from the virtual library to read on my Kindle ... not a super big fan of reading on devices. Okay. Not a fan. AND I've been buying waaaaay too many books lately. I mention this Kindle thing because it's hard to gauge how big a book is on the Kindle ... they all feel the same. After I'd read a few pages the level indicator thing said 2 hours and 38 minutes ... so I think this isn't a very long book.

A fast read in that sense, and not a breezy read. Haunting is the word I'd use to describe Lucy's account of her life and relationship with her mother. Lucy grew up the youngest of three children when they were next to homeless: living in the garage of a relative. 

There are many haunting images in the story and the one that sticks out is while Lucy is in the hospital for six weeks trying to recover from an undiagnosed illness, she's on a gurney in a hallway outside of a room that has yellow tape on the door - indicating a patient with AIDs. As Lucy looks into the room she can see a gaunt man looking at her and he does not look away. 

Ms. Strout has written a novel(la) that does not look away from pain and suffering. It's hard to look. It's easy to turn away. This message seems crucial in our divisive times as we all look to be heard, and seen, and to belong. 

I give it 4 out of 5 stars on the Kindle app ... I can see that if the reader were in a certain mood Lucy might seem sappy-ish. I was in the mood to be moved and it was a well-timed read for me.

my source: big Elizabeth Strout fan - especially after hearing her at FF&W some years back. Also love her Olive Kitteridge and Amy and Isabelle.

my verdict: good to great read

Sunday, August 21, 2016


my take: Waaaaay back in my childhood, we watched the "Roots" mini-series on television...a riveting account of an African man enslaved and brought to America and how his family fared through the generations. Some of those images are seared into my memory.

Homegoing is a similar experience. The novel opens in Africa to follow one family's generations in two daughters. Each chapter is another generation - sometimes giving a glimpse of the previous generation - just enough to let the reader know whose line is being followed.

One line is soon shipped off to America and one line stays in Africa. And life. is. hard. everywhere.

This is a timely read. With the Black Lives Matter movement and racial tension in the news, this is part of the back story of how Whites have treated Blacks for generations. An excellent walk-in-my-shoes literary work.

my source: Bookriot's Best Reads of 2016, So Far

my verdict: Highly recommend.

Friday, August 19, 2016


my take: Finally! A Pride & Prejudice inspired novel that is great. If you love P&P and you enjoyed Downton Abbey (or long ago Upstairs, Downstairs), this is a read for you. Also, if you loved the A&E version of P&P, and you can mentally hear Mrs. Bennet yelling for "Hill" ... now you can read the story of Mrs. Hill.

From the servants' areas we can hear Mary playing the piano (achingly poorly) and Lydia and Kitty arguing over ribbons and bonnets and trouncing around the house. As Sarah fixes their hair and helps dress them, we get some intimate moments with Jane and Lizzy. And every so often we get to encounter Mr. Darcy. Sigh.

In addition to spying our favorite Bennet family members, we learn of the hard work it takes to launder their petticoats, feed them, get their letters to the post, shuttle them to dances, and the extra work caused by visitors such as Mr. Collins and Mrs. Bennet's nephews and nieces.

The middle section of the book goes back in time to Mrs. Hill's earlier life and James Smith's experience in the Spanish War - adding some historical perspective to our beloved Jane's era. Ms. Baker weaves in a intriguing tale off the estate, and then returns us to Longbourn to see how it all plays out.

By the end of the novel, we experience a bit of the empty nest that Mr. and Mrs. Bennet arrive at after three daughters are married. And a well-deserved rest for Mrs. Hill.

my source: Daughter Anne had read and I spied it in the used section at Schuler's ... hardcover for cheap! Available for loan.

my verdict: Well-done P&P spin off. I loved it.

Monday, July 18, 2016

"A Man Called Ove"

my take: If we consider that there are only so many plot lines, then I hope you won't take this as a negative: the plot line for Ove falls along the line of the movie Up. I like Up. I cried at Up.

Ove is the story of love and death, heartbreak and joy, what's lost and found after great tragedy. It fills out the plot line with a grumpy aged man in a Swedish housing development. Old friends now rivals, new neighbors with weird habits, people breaking the association rules ... the subdivision is going downhill according to Ove. And it's these crazy, weird people who help Ove have purpose and meaning.

My only disappointment with the book is that it didn't feel very Swedish. I'd just visited Stockholm before reading the book and was relishing the idea of re-living part of my travels. I think the visuals of a movie would help to get the setting to be particularly Swedish. I see there is a film adaptation and tried to watch a trailer of it on youtube. It's in Swedish with German subtitles. And looks great. Perhaps they'll throw me an English version bone.

I laughed, I cried, I came away a better person.

my source: Book Chicks June 2016 pick

my verdict: good feel good read

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

"Good on Paper"

my take: I picked this book based on a review that mentioned it was about language/translation which seemed like a subject I don't know much about or have read about. Let's just say maybe the book looked better on paper ...

The very flawed heroine is working temp jobs raising her out-of-wedlock child with her seemingly homosexual best friend when she is contacted out-of-the -blue to translate a Nobel winning poet's new work.

What ensues is a diatribe on Dante -  perhaps the author studied in grad school? So. Much. Detail. I took Milton for a semester in college - so I kind of get studying a poet in depth -  and, wow,  I cannot remember that much about Milton. I gamely tried to get through the Dante bits to get to the plot. Es.O.Teric.

The plot had a twist I wasn't expecting - far too distracted trying to see if any of the Dante bits were relevant to the heroine - so it was a satisfying read in that sense. I did enjoy getting the behind-the-scenes look at how translations can miss the essence or change the essence of the author's meaning/intention. I chose it for beach reading; I'd like to think my lazy reading of this book is due to vacation-mode and not that it's just over my head. Sigh.  Moving on.

my source: Book Riot's Best Books of 2016, So Far

my verdict: An okay read. Unless you LOVE Dante.  

Sunday, July 3, 2016

"The Memory of Light"

my take: Thank you, Francisco X. Stork for writing this book. I cried when I read your author's note at the end. It hurts me to know you also hurt. Your book will help people. Your carefully crafted words resonate and give hope. Your characters are windows and mirrors into the minds of so many of us humans.

Thank you for this coming of age tale of mental illness and holding out the light for others to remember. I won't soon forget Vicky, E.M., Mona, and Gabriel.

my source: Saw this on BookRiot's Best Books of 2016, So Far list ... reminded me that I met Mr. Stork at Calvin College's Festival of Faith and Writing a few years back. He is a kind, curious man who radiates a warmth and child-like wonder. I was thrilled to say hello to him and he seemed delighted to be attending the other authors' presentations and almost surprised that he was an author among authors.

my verdict. Excellent read - young adult literature can talk to you in special ways - especially because you can read them in the span of fewer hours and let the whole book - all the characters and words - pour over you. If you haven't read Marcelo In the Real World, it's definitely worth your time.