Monday, March 12, 2012

30 Second Book Review: Where's the Snow? Edition

Hey there, my friends, since I've been blogging so little lately, of course I've been up to no good over here filling my head with silly stories. Reading books with bare nipples on the cover, then books about black and white themed traveling circuses, the circus that is the Catholic sainthood process, the bold and questionable adventures of white settlers in Africa, the nightmare of a cold Danish serial killer and then time travel delights; one a windswept 1700's Scottish romance and then a dark vision that wonders what if JFK hadn't been assassinated in 1963? This is a varied list, and as usual there is something for everyone. Though I will admit my reading tends toward the fiction and the lady-centric. No apologies, that's what I like.  Yet once again there are three books on this list that I just couldn't quite make myself finish. There are too many good books in the world to waste time on those that don't keep me engaged. So dive in and pick a winner for yourself!

The Secret World of Saints by Bill Donahue - While I'm not Catholic, I find the whole saint making process intriguing. I liked this article, but it certainly wasn't an unbiased report. A more casual, anecdotal long form essay filled with interesting tidbits, stories and facts about the sainthood process. I feel like I learned some new information, but as I figured before, sainthood is often a very expensive marketing and recruitment tool that the church deftly uses to its advantage. I have no doubt that many of the faithful find solace and hope in prayer and focus on the saints, but as a fairly lazy Methodist I can't relate. The writer doesn't seem to have a specific agenda but he certainly brings his biases and assumptions to the table and it shows.

The Lake of Dreams by Kim Edwards - Eh. I skimmed the last 75 pages of this one just to be finished and know what happened. I wanted to like this book, but it wouldn't let me. Some lovely passages with descriptions of stained glass and the artistry around that, but overall too much description not enough action in this one. Plus the main character irritated me. And too many subplots.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline - A fun bit of fiction geekery. 1980's nostalgia and trivia wrapped up in an epic dystopian quest. More like 3.75 stars out of 5 for me, quick, clever and meticulously researched.

The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg - This was an audio book that I got sucked into immediately. Telling the story of a small Danish town hit with one then two then three possible murders, linking back to a missing persons case in the 1970's. I love a good serial killer murder mystery especially when it's peopled with believable characters, unexpected twists and an unfamiliar culturally interesting setting. Creepy chilly, yet has a warm little love story subplot to keep you from freezing to death in all that gray blue winter.

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown - I simply adored this book. Adored it. Here's the link to my real review for Blogher's Book Club. Go get this book. You will be charmed and swept up in its story, characters and writing style. Somehow wholly original and familiar at the same time.

Crazy Love by Leslie Morgan Steiner - I had to stop listening to this audio book about 1/2 way in when I found myself growling angrily in the car by myself. Whether it was the high-pitched whiny voice of the audio actress or the fact that this core story is all about the violent and dramatic abusive relationship of a wealthy affluent white people in New York City, I was feeling unsympathetic from the get go. Ugh.

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller - First I should say that I read Fuller's earlier memoir Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight and enjoyed it deeply. This one was good with some beautifully written sections, impressively brave foolhardy people and lives filled with intense joy and equally intense tragedy, a great tale, but I still prefer Fuller's first book which felt clearer, more complete and more connected. Still a pretty engaging read, especially if you have any interest in southern African history since the 1930's.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern - Spectacular. Entrancing. With such strong visual imagery that I can still have scenes from this book unraveling in my brain like a twirling beautiful gift. Best book I've read this year.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman- Stopped 1/2 way into this one too. Though many of my wonderful reader friends loved this one, it didn't grab me. I felt bored. I felt like I was reading a disgruntled, ennui-filled misanthropic college student version of Harry Potter. And not in a good way.

The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley - Exactly the type of book I needed to read on this particular weekend back in February. Solidly well written, but not spectacular. Plenty of romance, a nice bit of political intrigue, time travel and several twists, turns and a satisfying conclusion.  A perfect book for a three day lazy weekend at home.

Forgive Me by Amanda Eyre Ward -Another audio book for my commute, this one telling the story of a journalist working in war zones and political hot spots all over the world, with no real friends, tragedy in her past and no close family. I liked aspects of this book, particularly the parts set in Nantucket and South Africa but the ending left me frustrated and some writerly slight of hand irritated me. But mostly it has left me looking forward to reading Absolution by Patrick Flannery, which is also set in South Africa after apartheid and looks to tackle many similar issues.  Patrick is a high school friend of my husband's that I've had the pleasure of meeting, and he is a spectacular young writer. His book has received some staggeringly good reviews and press, particularly for this his first novel, so look for my review after it comes out in April/May. I'm excited to dive into the world Patrick has created.

The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood -Atwood's first novel written in the 1960's, I think I felt detached from the book and could never really sink in and get comfortable because I think Atwood wanted the reader to feel unsettled and passive and confused much as Marian, her main character, did through out. Atwood just gets better and better and better over time.

The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch - Agh, this book. And Lidia. And everything about this book. Somehow I both love it and hate it. This is not a book that evokes lukewarm, "oh, it was pretty good" comments. I loathed it, and it made me cry and furiously underline gorgeous evocative passages, and then scream at it, and curse the author, and throw it down. So I can't tell you if you should read it. I don't know if I'm glad or angry about having let it into my brain, but having just written that line, if a simple book can stir up this much emotion, then I'm grateful for it at a minimum. Lidia is a force and her writing is delightfully inconsistent and unique and infuriating, just as I imagine she is. Reading her story makes me feel like a rigid-rule-following-happy-good-private-girl, and at 36 I like that about myself. But reading about someone as deeply different from me was enlightening. Plus, damn, the woman can rip up a sentence like a grenade and reconfigure it into something raw and pointed and heartrending. So maybe read this book, I don't know. I don't think Lidia wants you to think she cares one way or another.

11/22/63 by Stephen King - Actual quotes from me while reading: "Did I actually just say out loud that I wish we had the Kindle version of this book instead of the hardback? I don't even know who I am anymore. But the hardback is heavy, dang it." "This is such a great read already, page 4. Why don't I read fun books more often, just for the sheer pleasure and fun of the story?" I loved this book. Time travel, action packed, romance and the deep questions of what is time and who are within it. Rip roaring chaotic and left me in tears. These multi-layered beefy stories remind me again why I love Stephen King.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Greene - You'd think the fictional story of two teenagers with cancer falling in love would be trite and maudlin, not funny and wry. This book is actually all four, and that's ok. I've got a big ol' Blogher Book Club review coming soon for this one, for now let's just say 4 stars.

Happy Accidents by Jane Lynch - Listened to this audio book on our long drive back from Madison a couple of weekends ago and totally enjoyed Jane Lynch's honesty and her heartfelt journey to health, happiness and success. She's a funny, bright, unique woman and she charmed us for 7 straight hours.

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFever - I stopped 1/3 of the way into this one. Just not in the mood for young adult medieval marshmallow fluff right now. Maybe later. Maybe not.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood - This book scares me, because much as it did in the mid-1980's when it was published, it feels like the US is just a couple of short decades away from the nightmarish theocracy that rules in this novel. This is just a novel, right? The fears and sweaty palms that this book stirs in me make up part of the reasons why there will be an Obama sign in my yard this fall.

So there you go, that's what's been sitting on my nightstand in January and February. March brings The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian, which I started last night and it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up for a half an hour straight on through the first chapter. Locked doors and haunted houses always get me. Then Tender is the Night, the classic semi-autobiographical novel from F. Scott Fitzgerald that I somehow never read in college and then it's a toss up between these beauties:

All these treasures for under $6 total. I love used book stores.

What are you reading right now?

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