books

Bookworm: December 2018

"Although she was a logical, practical person, she believed that in books there existed a kind of magic. Between the aging covers on these shelves, contained in tiny, abstract black marks on sheets of paper, were voices from the past. Voices that reached into the future, into her own life and heart and mind, to tell her what they knew, what they'd learned, what they'd seen, what they'd felt. Wasn't that magic?" - Christi Phillips

Loved:

Educated, Tara Westover: I could hardly put this down - the story of a young woman’s upbringing by a bipolar father and submissive mother in a Mormon fundamentalist family, without education, healthcare or even a birth certificate had me riveted from pretty much the first chapter. Her meteoric rise from a childhood of abuse and deprivation to her current status - a PhD from Cambridge, Harvard masters, best-selling author - is a story that’s equal parts fairy tale and American dream.

Enjoyed:

Becoming, Michelle Obama: I really liked this extremely au courant choice - Michelle Obama has a lovely literary voice that is candid, uncompromising and unapologetic. While I loved the behind-the-scenes glimpses into her life as First Lady, I felt that the book focused almost too much on the pre-Presidential chapters of her life - fascinating though they were.

One Day In December, Josie Silver: This was charming and sweet and exactly the kind of chick lit that one wants to read around the holidays - the story of a young woman who spots her “one true love” through the window of a bus unspools over the course of ten years or so, and illustrates both romantic relationships and female friendships in a way that is sweet without being saccharine. Perfect for those of you heading into long, cold, dark winters.

Winter Storms, Elin Hilderbrand: I was hospitalized at the tail end of the month, and extremely cranky about that fact, so I self-medicated with chick lit. Elin Hilderbrand is a new-to-me author who I’ve had on my “Books To Read” list for the better part of a year, and I really enjoyed this one. I think it was the third in a trilogy, but that said, I still jumped right in and liked the various plot threads of a well-heeled Nantucket family dealing with a POW situation and complex interpersonal dramas.

Nantucket Nights, Elin Hilderbrand: Another Hilderbrand offering I enjoyed - a mysterious disappearance of a mysterious woman off the coast of Nantucket on Labor Day, rife with people sleeping with people they shouldn’t and generally bad but deliciously dramatic situations. A quick, salacious read to power through.

The Royal Runaway, Lindsay Emory: This was truly the nadir of my hospitalization - I read it overnight while kept awake, and it was actually pretty delightful. A princess of a fictional country in Europe teams up with a sexy, mysterious Scottish spy to find out what actually happened to her vanishing fiance, and ends up on a dark and twisty path of murder and intrigue and espionage. SUPER light, super fast, super entertaining. Pretty much Netflix’s “A Christmas Prince” in movie form, but with murder and spies and fraud!

Tolerated:

Nothing - super nice month of reading things I actually enjoyed (or at least was in the right frame of mind for!).

Re-reads:

 Fake Plastic Love, Kimberley Tait: I revisited this in the hospital as well, and it was just as frothy and visually evocative as the first time around. The story of two erstwhile best friends, one a romantic blogger, one a pragmatic banker, growing apart and surviving their twenties together, is sweet but provides an interesting social commentary on the worlds we live in (and construct for ourselves).


Bookworm: November 2018

I had always found comfort between rows and rows of books: some familiar, some foreign, stacks of old friends and piles of new friends to be found.

-Emery Lord, “The Start of Me and You”

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I cracked up at this Italian version of “Green Eggs and Ham” in Florence a couple weeks ago - I think Sam I Am would definitely have enjoyed prosciutto ;)

Loved:

Cork Dork, Bianca Bosker: I picked this up in Colorado and ended up staying up my entire late flight home reading it - I’m fascinated with the wine world (which is news to nobody), and this chronicle of a journalist’s decision to attempt to become a certified sommelier - in just a year - was beautifully written, told a unique and riveting story, and taught me so much! Definitely worth a read if you’ve watched any of the “Somm” documentaries on Netflix or have a more than passing interest in wine.

Bel Canto, Ann Patchett: Another CO purchase - I somehow never read this despite its incredible critical acclaim, and I’m so glad I remedied that. The story of a high-profile political/corporate birthday party turned terrorist hostage situation sucked me in after the first chapter. Weaving in so much of the opera world that I love (the only female hostage is a world-famous soprano), the characters were beautifully drawn and the story’s gut-wrenching conclusion rocked me.

Every Note Played, Lisa Genova: This was a random find on Scribd - for serious readers, I really recommend/enjoy the site - telling the story of a world-class concert pianist’s diagnosis and illness with ALS. It additionally chronicles his broken marriage, frayed relationship with his daughter and struggle with his father and siblings - a fiercely intense, gorgeously-written novel. The way Ms. Genova illustrates the ravages of the disease was at times hard to read, but I think good writing sometimes isn’t easy to read…isn’t that the point?

Enjoyed:

Girl, Wash Your Face, Rachel Hollis: Kels recommended this after she read it this summer, and it came at a great time for me to read it. A delightfully witty, self-deprecating self help book, geared at identifying the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves and breaking them down/reframing them to work through or overcome them.

Tolerated:

The Proposal, Jasmine Guillory: I should have liked this more on paper, but I kept finding myself thinking as I read it - “I could’ve written this, and better.” It’s a fairly insipid love story, good for a beach read, nothing to write home about and not particularly memorable.

Re-reads:

Welcome to Temptation, Jennifer Crusie: I had a severe need for some smart chick lit early in the month, and this fit the bill - it’s a typical smutty romance novel, but it’s also witty and incredibly entertaining, with a fresh plot that never really devolved into cliché. There’s also a murder mystery woven in, which I think is why I not only stomached this admittedly atypical read, but returned to it and enjoyed it just as much the second time.

Faking It, Jennifer Crusie: The sequel to “Welcome To Temptation,” and I may like it even better - again, it’s a love story/romance novel, but there’s also plotlines of art forgery and murder, and the characters are anything BUT perfect - quirky and relatable and fun to read. I think that’s maybe what sets Ms. Crusie’s writing apart from the Danielle Steels of the world (ugh, yuck) - her novels, while clearly written to appeal to romance readers, never rely on hackneyed tradition and are well-written and genuinely interesting reads.

The Hopefuls, Jennifer Close: I really enjoyed this novel both the first and second time - the story of two young political families in DC, and their ultimate efforts on a campaign in Texas to get one of the husbands elected to office, paints a fascinating and flawed picture of the political world.

Bookworm: September/October 2018

"Books, the good ones, the ones you hold on to and come back to, they never disappoint. They're the best kind of escape because, instead of leading you away from yourself, they end up circling you back to yourself, nice and easy, helping you see things not just as they are, but as you are too." - Sally Franson

Loved:

Everyone Brave is Forgiven, Chris Cleave: I first read Chris Cleave nearly a decade ago when I studied in London, and I remember being stricken to the core by the brutality and beauty with which he wrote. This latest offering is no exception - a gut-wrenchingly lovely, painful, breath-stealing World War II love/friendship/hate/endurance story that I could not put down, even through the haze of NyQuil. Absolutely gorgeous, a true must-read for anyone who appreciates being simultaneously warmed and burned by literature.

Dear Evan Hansen: The Novel, Val Emmich: Oh my god they turned one of my favorite musicals into a novel, and I adored it. Honestly, this isn’t writing that’s going to set the world on fire or win a Pulitzer - I loved it moreso for the expansion of the characters’ backstories, for the glimpses into the motivations, causes and effects that just can’t be illustrated in a musical. Definitely recommend for fans of the musical, for young adults, for anyone really. (Bonus: it’s an incredibly fast read - at under 300 pages, I finished it in about 3 hours with breaks!)

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Taylor Jenkins Reid: This was SUCH a charming read - mashing up aspects of Marilyn Monroe’s film career and Liz Taylor’s myriad marriages, this story of Hollywood’s golden age and a movie star who played the game better than anyone was a quick, unique and delightful read.

Enjoyed:

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, Jenny Han: I had to read it after the Netflix movie-fication became the breakout hit of August. It was charming, sweet, undemanding young-adult chick lit, with a good female role model and well-drawn love interests and supporting characters. Sweet.

P.S. I Still Love You, Jenny Han: Who knew this was a trilogy? Pretty much more of the same - I would have loved this series a decade-plus ago.

Always and Forever, Lara Jean, Jenny Han: In which our characters finish senior year and prepare to go to college. Again - written SO for teenage Lizzie it’s not even funny.

Three Wishes, Liane Moriarty: I’ve always been a fan of Liane Moriarty’s particular universe of writing - it’s different and interesting while simultaneously unchallenging and quirky and kind of escapist good fun. This offering wasn’t my favorite of hers, but I enjoyed the story of three adult triplets seeking their own identities while dealing with myriad personal and familial demands and complications.

Wideacre, Philippa Gregory: A sort of Georgian horror/mystery/murder/insanity novel chronicling the lengths to which a young gentlewoman will go in order to inherit/keep her family’s estate. Lots of grisly incest-y murdery darkness - it fucked with my head quite intensely and I can’t say I loved it.

The Favored Child, Philippa Gregory: The next generation of the Wideacre story - again, more incest, murder, insanity, screwiness. A good suspenseful read, but it really messed with me.

Meridon, Philippa Gregory: I preferred this to the first two installments of the Wideacre trilogy - the third generation, and the only one with a happy ending.

A Simple Favor, Darcey Bell: I read this because I haven’t yet managed to see the Blake Lively-Anna Kendrick moviefication of the book, and it was DARK, campers. Twisty and rife with plot points I didn’t see coming, and yet at the same time, somehow not actually that well-written. I feel like it was kind of a cheap rip-off of “Gone Girl” and its ilk…hmm.

Tolerated:

The Confession of Katherine Howard, Suzannah Dunn: Eh - this was terribly insipid. I read it in the thick of my Tudor phase, and it hammered home how much more masterful Tudor experts like Philippa Gregory, Jean Plaidy, and Hilary Mantel are at painting a vivid (albeit slightly historically inaccurate) world.

Re-reads:

After my little delve into the world of well-written YA literature, I revisited a favorite YA writer, Emery Lord, who I’ve followed for nearly a decade (she used to write on a blog I read, and was one of the few original and lovely voices there). Her books are just beautiful YA lit - complex characters, unafraid to tackle weightier issues, and deeply textured and specific and place-aware, if that makes sense.

Open Road Summer, Emery Lord: Two best friends on a concert tour deal with their demons.

The Start of Me and You, Emery Lord: A junior in high school works her way back to being okay after her boyfriend’s death.

When We Collided, Emery Lord: Bipolar disorder and depression in a coastal town in Northern California - beautifully handed.

The Names They Gave Us, Emery Lord: Crises of faith and stage 4 cancer. I’m aware I’m making these books sound really uplifting, but I think that’s one of the really great things about YA lit - when it can take things that teenagers actually do face and deal with, and make them both relatable and…tolerably packaged? I always really did well when books captured and distilled a particular intersection of my angst and inability to express myself, essentially doing that work for me. I think Emery Lord is a master (mistress) of that and that’s why I would recommend her highly, whether you’re a young-adult reader or not.


I also continued on my binge of Philippa Gregory in chronological historical order and finished out:

The Boleyn Inheritance: Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and nasty Jane Boleyn - one of my favorites.

The Taming of the Queen: Katherine Parr, and another of my favorites.

The Queen’s Fool: Judaism, the reign of Mary I, and the loss of Calais.

The Virgin’s Lover: the early years of Elizabeth I’s reign, very Robert Dudley-heavy.

The Last Tudor: Eh, I re-read it to complete the cycle and regret that - this story of the three Grey sisters is just as insipid the second time around.




Bookworm: August 2018

"I've a feeling you're one of those people who finishes every book she starts." 

"You're not?"

"If you know how a book is going to end, why keep on with it?"

- Kimberley Tait, Fake Plastic Love

Loved: 

1984, George Orwell: I have absolutely read this before, so don't judge me for putting it in a "new read" category. The issue was, I read it for the first time in third grade (I was highly precocious) and the second time in a seventh-grade gifted course centered around the themes of utopia and dystopia...so I didn't really have the context either time of reading this with an adult lens. Additionally, how can you not read this during the current political/media climate and think really long and hard about our world? A timely, incisive, necessary read for just about anyone right now, I would say. 

Enjoyed: 

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, Balli Kaur Jaswal: This was such a funny, heartwarming, charming summer read. Centered around the culture clash between generations of British Indians in London, I laughed out loud several times reading. Caveat: there are sex scenes, but they're written from the perspective of elderly Indian women, so I found them entertaining rather than super-smutty. 

Tolerated: 

The Last Tudor, Philippa Gregory: Her newest release left me significantly underwhelmed. I've always enjoyed Ms. Gregory's writing for its (very, very) relative historical adherence and the good balance of politics, sex, and feminism (yes, feminism!). This, however, felt one-note, kind of whiny, and repetitive. Eh. 

Re-reads: 

I got the bright idea midway through the month to re-read all of Philippa Gregory's Plantagenet and Tudor novels in chronological historical order, instead of in the haphazard order in which they were published. Given I had a crazy work month and also that they average 500+ pages, I'm only about halfway through the re-read...but here you go! 

The Lady of the Rivers, Philippa Gregory: perspective of Jacquetta of Luxembourg, the mother of Elizabeth Woodville.

The White Queen, Philippa Gregory: perspective of Elizabeth Woodville, wife of King Edward IV and mother of the Princes in the Tower. 

The Red Queen, Philippa Gregory: perspective of Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII. 

The Kingmaker's Daughter, Philippa Gregory: perspective of Anne Neville, wife of Richard III. 

The White Princess, Philippa Gregory: perspective of Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV, wife of Henry VII, and mother of Henry VIII. 

The Constant Princess, Philippa Gregory: perspective of Katherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII. 

Three Sisters, Three Queens, Philippa Gregory: perspective of Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII and Queen of Scotland. 

The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory: perspective of Mary Boleyn, sister of Anne Boleyn (wife #2 of Henry VIII duh). 

 

So that's like...halfway through the re-read and, frankly, I'm crapping out a little bit on it because I really want to read something light and frothy and fun during close...eek! We'll see if I make it all the way. 

 

 

Bookworm: July 2018

I started gathering up my list of what I've read this month and did a bit of an incredulous double-take - how the heck did I possibly power through as much as I did this month? Then I realized it's been a super-stressful month which, for me, triggers acute insomnia, which in turn means I'm often up reading for an hour here or there over the course of a night when I get frustrated with my own inability to sleep like a normal human. So there you have it - a ridiculously robust July reading list! 

Also, I dog-sat Leia the first weekend of the month, and pretty much all I did was this, because Leia is my favorite dog in the world and I mostly want my entire life to be cuddling and playing with her (ideally while also reading a plethora of books).

Loved: 

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, Matthew Desmond: Dave recommended this to me almost immediately after we moved in, and I picked it up recently in a darling local bookstore. Guys, I couldn't put it down. The author wrote an ethnography, essentially, on life below the poverty line in the rental market of Milwaukee, WI. The stories he illustrates are deftly told and left me simultaneously frustrated, saddened, and grateful for my own good fortune. I need to unpack this further in its own post - such a fantastically impactful read, proving (once again) that Dave has surprisingly excellent taste in literature. 

Next Year in Havana, Chanel Cleeton: I half-heartedly read along with the Reese Witherspoon Book Club from time to time, largely because her books are generally popular (or become generally popular, once selected by her). This one sucked me in right away - set in Havana during the Cuban Revolution and in present day, it's a love story to both people and places, and highlights how once we love either, they never really leave us. 

Fake Plastic Love, Kimberley Tait: I liked this much more than I was expecting after a very lukewarm first chapter - two college friends take very divergent life paths, one into the world of banking and one into lifestyle blogging. As I straddle both worlds (sort of?), I laughed and grimaced in equal parts. The characters and settings are so idealized as to be nearly caricatures, but that just added to the excellent beach-read tone of the entire work (I read this in an afternoon in the pool). 

My Oxford Year, Julia Whalen: Kels recommended this to me and I'm so glad she did! Loosely based on the Ali McGraw classic "Love Story," Verdi's "La Traviata," and Alexandre Dumas's "La dame aux camélias," our protagonist, Ella, receives a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford for a year. She must balance love, her professional career, and her own best interests along the way among a series of dramatic (and unforeseen by me!) twists and turns. Super enjoyable and a very quick read. 

Enjoyed: 

When Life Gives You Lululemons, Lauren Weisberger: The author also wrote "The Devil Wears Prada," and this is told in part from the perspective of Emily Charlton (portrayed by Emily Blunt in the movie) from that iconic chick-lit classic. It's escapist, frothy, fun, and everyone comes out happy in the end, which I think makes for a perfect July insomnia read, don't you?

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recomment, Katarina Bivald: A friend from college recommended this on one of my numerous "what are you reading?" posts on FB, and it was sweet and wholesome and lovely in every way. A young, socially awkward Swedish woman comes to rural Iowa to meet her elderly pen pal, only to find said pen pal has died. The ensuing events are the stuff of a Nora Ephron movie waiting to happen, I swear. Read this over tea when you're having a cranky day and it will make you smile! 

The Devlin Diary, Christi Phillips: The sequel to "The Rossetti Letter" (see "Re-reads" section, below!) finds our young researcher at Oxford solving mysteries with her hot professor, falling for another hot professor, said other hot professor ending up mysteriously dead, and all the while a parallel story about codebreaking and serial killers in Restoration England is raging like, every other chapter. Again, this is historical fiction with very little history and VERY much fiction, which is fun and escapist and enjoyable. Think "The Tudors," not the BBC! 

Jane Austen: The Secret Radical, Helena Kelly: I loved this, as I've been going through a bit of a Jane Austen renaissance and I enjoy just about anything that explores her life and writing further. The book picks apart a different Austen novel every chapter and peels back the layers, revealing (hypothetical) critiques of everything from social class stratification, primogeniture, the clergy, the military, and censorship embedded in Austen's works. A fascinating, if not entirely convincing read!  

Georgiana Darcy's Diary, Anna Elliott: I love a good "Pride and Prejudice" spinoff, and this perfectly fit the bill for an e-reader book to pick up and put down on my phone while waiting in lines. Picking up after P&P and told through diary entries by Mr. Darcy's younger sister, it's sweet and Hallmark-trite but still warm and fuzzy. 

From Pemberley to Waterloo, Anna Elliott: See above - same premise, just further into the action. 

Kitty Bennet's Diary, Anna Elliott: See above again - this time reforming noted flibbertigibbet Kitty Bennet and pedant Mary Bennet. Big fan. 

Tolerated: 

A Lady's Guide to Selling Out, Sally Franson: EH. This was such a letdown because it was recommended publicly by a Minnesota writer I adore, and she recommended it largely because it was set in Minnesota - and yet there was absolutely zero Minnesota in it. I wanted a MN version of Curtis Sittenfeld's lovely "Eligible," specific and tangible and indelibly of a place, and this was not that novel. Also the plot was insipid, the heroine didn't inspire me, and I found the entire novel simultaneously predictable and irritatingly convoluted. 

Re-reads: 

The Precious One, Marisa de los Santos: I've waxed rhapsodic about Marisa de los Santos so many times here, but as I'm sitting here the phrase "lighting truths like candles" popped into my head, and that's from this gorgeous story of screwed-up families, failed and budding relationships, and how we all somehow come together. The best read for anytime you need new faith in love, language, or life in general. 

The Rossetti Letter, Christi Phillips: A young researcher in Venice teams up with a sexy Oxford professor to solve a centuries-old mystery about the Spanish Conspiracy of 1618. There's also a parallel story set during the Spanish Conspiracy, and it's all deliciously frothy, Philippa Gregory-esque historical fiction - light on history, heavy on fiction, which is exactly as it should be for a good escapist read. 

Titus Andronicus, William Shakespeare: Such such such a good tragedy, one that I think often gets overshadowed by "Macbeth," "Hamlet," and "Othello." Even "King Lear," for that matter. It's DARK. Pick it up! Although I don't recommend it for the car dealer - it doesn't pair well with Muzak and sales pitches.