Tag Archives: literature

Books, Dog Sweaters, Talented Sister-in-Laws, and a New Gig

Four things.

  1. Ermahgaad! I’m so excited, y’all! I stayed up half the night finally reading (under the covers with a flashlight, grade school style, so as not to wake Tyler)

    All the books I’m reading and plan to read soon, minus Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, which I need to pick up from the bookstore. I need to get going!

    The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Lead the Revels There. I am exactly half-way through, and though an official review will come in the next few days (duh), so far I love it every bit as much as the first. Also, I finally bought Shadow of Night, the second installment of Deborah Harkness’ All Souls trilogy. I need to hurry if I want to finish them both before NaNoWriMo starts a week from today. (Eeeek! One week! I’m excited and nervous and scared and thrilled and really unsure what to expect. And excited. Speaking of NaNowriMo, am I crazy to expect to get any reading during November? I’d like to read one of three books next month. Is that unrealistic?)

  2. Oscar got a sweater. The cuteness is overwhelming my soul!

    You’re welcome.

  3. I’ve meant to write about this for a while now. I have four sister-in-laws, ranging from my age to 9 years-old. I adore them all. They are smart and funny and creative, but today I want to talk about Charity. Charity is 16, and she’s a writer. A legitimate writer whose getting a story she wrote in a local magazine! She entered a local library writing contest, and won first place! This is fantastic by any standard, but I’m even more proud of her because she choose to submit a story that shared her faith even though New England isn’t exactly a bastion of Protestantism. She won anyway, and now a local Berkshires magazine will be printing her story this winter! So, yes, I am incredibly proud of Charity and her mad writing skills. But I more proud of her for being willing to share what she really believes through her writing, and there are many adults who need to take a leaf out of her book and do the same. writing truth, for the win! (And yes, as soon as I can get my hands on a copy of the story, I will share!)
  4.  I have a new gig. A friend of mine recently started a life-style blog for 20-something women, and asked if I’d like to contribute. I said yes, of course! My first post on Miss Grown Up,  5 Tips for Writers, went live today, and we’d all be grateful for your support as we start this little blogging endeavor. I’ll be writing various articles about writing and marriage and other occasional whims, as well as book reviews that I’ll link to here.
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Filed under Books, Odds and Ends, Oscar

Gone Girl is Just Okay.

I’m just now getting around to the summer blockbuster book of this year, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. This is a little backwards of me, I know, seeing as I write a blog that consists largely of book reviews telling other people what to read, but when a book suddenly becomes so popular that even that one friend you’ve always secretly thought might be illiterate has read it, I loose all want to explore it for myself. It’s like all my pent-up strong-willedness comes bubbling to the surface, and I just can’t make myself read that one gotta-read book. (I still haven’t read Girl With a Dragon Tattoo for this very reason.) Often times that means that I finally read it a season or two late and then realize why everyone was so gaga about it in the first place.

This instance was like that. Sort of.

This book review is Cambria approved.

I probably wouldn’t have picked Gone Girl up if my book club hadn’t selected it this month. Suspense isn’t usually my thing, but this one was intriguing. The female half of a seemingly idyllic couple, Amy, disappears on the morning of their fifth anniversary. With a messy scene left at the house, the police start investigating the abduction and possibly homicide. As the evidence starts rolling in, all signs point to Nick, Amy’s bar-owning, ex-journalist husband. Cleaned-up blood, his lack of emotion, their marital and money problems, and a bombshell secret make it seem like Nick is a man with something to hide. But as Nick lawyers up and both his family and the public turn against him, something still seems off. What really happened to Amy Elliot Dune? Did Nick kill her, or is there a much more sinister force at work?

Let’s start with the good. Gillian Flynn is an incredibly gifted writer. Although I don’t think she fully understands the meaning of the word poignant (How does one smell or look poignant?), her prose is expertly dealt out and she captures the voice of her various characters well. In addition, the plot is well delivered, fast paced but never rushed,  and I like the way she organized the chapters, flipping back and forth between Nick and Amy’s perspectives, and using diary entries to catch the reader up on the couple’s background. I like the little clues that she left the reader in the first section that later made much more sense in the second and third. This was, overall, a creative and original offering on Ms Flynn’s part.

Now for the bad. It’s rare for me to be engrossed in a book that I don’t end up liking, but that’s exactly what happened here. All of her characters- from Nick and Amy to their families and the police- were singularly unlikable. Sure, I understood them. I understood why Nick cheated, why her parents turned on him, why the Ozark rednecks were thieves, why Amy (to a point) was like she was. But I couldn’t like any of them, even in the beginning before I knew Nick’s secret and when Amy was supposed to be likable. The only one I really liked was Nick’s mom, and she is a periphery character. I’m not some modern Pollyanna who only enjoys books full of sunshine; I enjoy Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie and my fair share of drama and true crime and human messiness. But while I was enthralled, like a train wreck you can’t look away from, I can’t say I enjoyed this book. I felt about it the same way I feel about Ernest Hemingway, or certain movies like Mr. Holland’s Opus- I can appreciate the craftmanship, but it left me felling a bit hollow.

Also, I didn’t like all the cursing. I’m not a prude by any means, I know curse words exist and I’m not opposed to them in literature if they serve a purpose. They could have served a purpose here, but I think they were overplayed- a few too many f-bombs dropped, and suddenly no one cares about the damage anymore, they just want the noise and shrapnel to stop. And I never ever, for any reason at all, approve of the c— word. Ever. If offends me down to my very marrow. It’s almost worse when it’s uttered or written by a woman. I know someone out there will think it’s empowering or very feminist, but it’s almost like a betrayal; even if it’s not true, every use of that word by a woman feels like some sort of collusion with the misogynist of the world, like a small admittance that maybe women aren’t really worth more than that. The argument could be made that it’s usage here fits the profile of the characters, but I feel like any usage in any context says it’s okay in other contexts. I just…no. You can’t convince me it is ever okay.

So there you have it. Gone Girl is not bad, but it’s not dazzling. It earns a solid three-out-of-five stars from me.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books

What I’ve Been Reading, Part 2.

I think it’s only fair to warn you that these are mostly books that I have started but not finished yet. Some of them will be finished very soon, though, because I’m doing another week of trying to read a book every day. My writing has been slumpish this past week, and a good dose of vigorous reading usually helps me un-slump. Anyway, all that to say that my opinions may change by the end. We shall see.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynn Jones: A reader recommended this book to me several months back after a post about comfort books. I finally picked it up at my local Barnes and Noble last month, but just haven’t gotten around to really diving into it. I have dipped my toes in, though, and so far I’m intrigued. A girl who is turned into an old woman? A castle that moves about like it’s alive? If this book doesn’t absolutely tickle my brain I’ll be shocked.

Afternoons With Emily by Rose MacMurray: I’m about a fourth  of the way through this chunkster challenge book about a fictional girl who becomes close friends with the ever eccentric Emily Dickenson. I like it, but I have to be in the right mood to get into it otherwise I find myself reading the same pages over and over. I’m waiting for the perfect afternoon to curl up with some tea and really get into this promising story.

I Capture the Castle by Doddie Smith: I love going to a book store without any specific book in mind and just perusing until I find some unexpected treasure. I almost always find something fantastic, like this book which I first discovered in 2008 on just such an expedition. Doddie Smith is most famous for her classic The Hundred and One Dalmatians, but I can’t figure out why she isn’t better known for this coming of age novel, which is narrated by 17 year-old Cassandra who lives with her impoverished family in a rundown old castle. Witty, charismatic, and just the right amount of quirky, I immediately fell in love with this book. I am sorely overdue for a re-read.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett: Y’all, I’ve joined a book club! I’m fairly new to San Diego, and making friends takes time. We were lucky that Tyler joined a company full of wonderful people that we have become true friends with, but outside of that I have yet to meet many people, and almost no book-ish ones. Them I met Gina. Her husband also works for Tyler’s company, and I think she may be my long-lost twin. And she has asked me to join her book club, where I am hoping to meet many more kindred spirits. This is the book club choice for the month of September, and  also my book for today. Why on earth have I never read anything by Ann Patchett before?! I could barely force myself to put it down long enough to write this post. An official review will follow soon. (Also, book club meets for the first time this coming weekend. I will definitely let you know how it goes.)

Half Broke Horses by Sheila Walsh: I read Walsh’s dynamic debut, The Glass Castle, in a single afternoon. Her sophomore offering has sat on my shelf for a while, often passed over for newer prospects. But after reading just 30 pages yesterday, I already know that this is going to be a new favorite. Walsh’s voice is pitch perfect and her story is, thus far, captivating.

Lit by Mary Karr: May Karr may very well be the perfect writer, if not the perfect person. Her word choice, the tone she strikes, and her honesty have all turned this into one of the best memoirs I’ve read despite the sometimes difficult subject matter. And I’m not even finished yet. I plan to do a full review when I’ve completed it, so I won’t say too much more, except I will be reading much more of Mary’s work in hopes that some of her genius with the English language rubs off.

New and Selected Poems, Vol. 2 by Mary Oliver: I bought this book during a Modern Poetry class in college, but I could never get into Mary Oliver’s work, and then I discovered Denise Levertov and officially shelved this poet. But then yesterday I was looking for something to read for my book of the day, and nothing was really grabbing me. So I took Mary off the shelf again and what do you know, I feel in love. She writes a lot about nature, but her poems are so much deeper, about so much more, than just simply animals and plants. I read all 172 pages of poems yesterday. My mind in blown and my soul is opened. I think I’ve discovered a new life-long favorite.

On Writing by Stephen King: Like I mentioned before, I had a rough time in regards to writing last week, so I thought it was the perfect time to break out this highly recommended memoir/writing advice book. I’ve tried to read a few pages every day, but I’m so fascinated that I’ll probably end up reading it all in one big chunk later this week.

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi: I first read this book in a World Literature class in college. That was my favorite college course ever, and this tied with Dr. Zhivago as my favorite book from that class. Nafisi is a literature professor who used to teach in Tehran. She and seven of her most dedicated students started reading classics from the Western canon in secret, and this is the story of that experience. It is a true testament to the power of literature as well as a fascinating exploration of womanhood in the face of tyranny. Like with I Capture the Castle, I’m simply itching to read this fantastic memoir again.

So, after I finish all these up, I’ll have a few weeks worth of books that I actually own to read and then I’ll run out of books! I’m sure I don’t have to explain to you why I simply cannot EVER let that happen! So I need some suggestions. So far I plan to get:

  • The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
  • In the Garden of the Beasts by Erik Larson
  • Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2) by Deborah Harkness
  • What We Talk About When We Talk About Ann Frank by Nathan Englander
  • Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson
  • Where I Was From by Joan Didion
  • Love, Life, and Elephants by Daphne Sheldrick
  • Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything by Geneen Roth

I know that seems like quite a list, but if these are all as good as I anticipate, they will last we a few weeks at best.  Plus, I think my reading is getting faster. That means that in a month, I may not own any books I haven’t read. Eeek! And though I have a long to-read list, nothing else is jumping out at me. So, dear friends, give me your suggestions! What books do you love, what are you dying to read, what great new tomes would my life be incomplete without?

And finally, I leave you with a gratuitous animal picture. Because I just love my little furballs oh-so-much. And because they aaaaalmost like each other, and it’s starting to get cute!

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Cambria, Oscar, Poetry, writing

What I’ve Been Reading, Part 1

The funny thing about making resolutions is that you never know what the future will bring you, so you never really know if your resolution will be practical, or even possible. I mean, a girl can vow to lose fifty pounds, but if she gets pregnant that just is not happening. (No, no! Don’t do it! I can see you doing it- your brain is jumping to conclusions! I’m not hinting at anything, mom and various baby-crazed friends!) You can vow to travel more, but if you break both of your legs in a skiing accident you’ll probably be more home-bound than expected. Or maybe your priorities will shift and your resolution to write a new chapter in your book every day won’t matter as much as making what you do write really good.

As I’ve stated in earlier posts, I’m probably not going to meet my goal of reading 104 books this year, and I’m okay with that. Instead of continuing my obsessive reading habits of years past, I’m spending a lot more time with my husband and friends, and I’ve made time for some other stuff in my life, like cooking more and adopting a dog and writing more and taking really long, refreshing walks.

But lest you think I’ve given up on my great love of reading, here are a few of the books I’ve read since the spring:

The Magicians by Lev Grossman: I really wanted to love this book. The premise is everything I adore. I love fantasy oh-so-very-much, and the prospect of a book about a sort of Hogwarts for grown-ups seemed so promising. (And this book is for grown-ups. Like, pay-all-their-own-bills grown-ups. Anyone under legal voting age need not apply.) The world Grossman built at Brakebills was fascinating, and the story was solid and well told, but I just couldn’t love it. It was, in a word, stark. Cynical and jaded would also have sufficed. And I am none of those things. I can normally stand them in doses, but even Grossman’s wordsmithing genius could not sweeten the morose tones enough for me. I probably won’t read the sequel.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness: Move over Twilight. This is a story that has Vampires aplenty, but it’s actually well-written, and it won’t make your teenager think a boy secretly watching her sleep is romantic and desirable. Diana Bishop is a witch who doesn’t want to be, Matthew Clairmont is an old vampire of great power, and Ashmole 782 is the magical manuscript that draws them together. And also attracts he attention of some of the most dangerous and influential members of the underground world of magic. No big deal. Harkness takes all the preconceived notions of magic and modern fantasy and turns them on their ear so effectively that it creates a wholly unique experience. I really enjoyed this book, and I will definitely be reading this sequel.

The Death of King Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory, retold by Peter Ackroyd: Any Arthurian fan or folklore buff will enjoy Ackroyd’s modernization of the classic Le Morte d’Arthur. He remains true to the spirit of the original stories while making the language more digestible and taking out some of Malory’s superfluous repetitions. Not a text-book retelling, but perfect for the layman enthusiast.

100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson: This delightful little young adult fantasy is a quick but good read. It’s not as deeply developed as say, the first Harry Potter or The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Seriously. If you haven’t read that one yet, do it!), but it’s the first of a trilogy, so I’m hoping Wilson will broaden and deepen the story as we go. It really annoys me when authors don’t fully develop the potential of a story just because it’s for kids. Children aren’t stupid, they can handle a real story and probably do it better than many adults. So please, Mr. Wilson, please develop this well. There is so much potential here! End impromptu rant.

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White: Speaking of a well-developed children’s story, I just have to re-visit this beloved classic every now and then. As the term “beloved classic” implies, it does not disappoint. In fact, it’s so well-loved that this little blurb was probably unnecessary.

The Story of Charlotte’s Web by Michael Sims: I started this book last year, but never got past chapter three. It just wasn’t the right time. Until now. I’m about three-fourths of the way through this book that is both the story of the creation of one of the worlds best-loved books and a biography of its brilliantly eccentric creator. I have long loved all of E.B. White’s children’s books, but now I’m falling in love with the man himself. I’m going to have to read some of his essays very soon.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman: I’m about half-way through this novel which follows the lives of various reporters at an English-language newspaper in Rome. Written with a journalistic sensibility, but still somehow plump with detail, I am really loving this book. So far my favorite chapter was the second, in which a lazy obituary writer goes to interview a famous, dying intellectual…without telling her he’s interviewing her for her own obituary. One of the best things about Rachman’s writing is the one-liners. My favorite? “If history has taught us anything, Arthur muses, it is that men with mustaches must never achieve positions of power.” Hipsters beware.

I’ve read several other books as well, but I’ll turn them into a part two for the sake of time and space and not getting bored.

Wait. What’s that? Adopted a puppy you say? Tell us about him, you say? Well, okay. I guess I can do that before I skadaddle out of here.

This is Oscar.

He’s the Boston Terrier we adopted a few weeks ago. We think he’s about two years-old, and despite the fact that he always looks like he’s frowning, he is actually very cheerful and snuggly and sweet. He loves every one, including Cambria, who is okay with him being here as long as he leaves her food and toys alone. And as long as she does not get left out of anything and is still the Queen of everything. Naturally. I’m sure you’ll be seeing a lot of our new boy in the future. Those goggly eyes and scrunchy face are so adorably photogenic that I may or may not have used up all the memory on my phone and had to erase a bunch of duplicate shots. Oooops!

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Oscar