What I Read: April/May 2017

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Hi, bookish friends. Life has been nutso. We are moving this coming weekend to another space on campus (a house!), the kids are home for the summer, and, well, I have a 7-month-old baby who is crawling, pulling up, and being a baby. I wanted to stop in and share some quick reviews for what I read the last two months, though!

Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy – I have to admit, I read this initially because I thought it was the same author as The God of Small Things. Nope, that is Arundhati Roy. You can call me Stupid American.

It’s one I came across on Overdrive, looked interesting, and when I checked I saw it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Sleeping on Jupiter is the intertwined stories of three older women and a young documentary filmmaker. Their paths cross as they ride the train to Jarmuli in India, an ocean town with a famous temple. The three friends have come on a long-anticipated vacation; the young woman, Nomi, has come back to make a movie and research her own past.

It was a heavy read. I appreciated the excellent writing, but I felt like it tackled a lot of hard-hitting topics all at once and just left me deeply sad.

Can’t Let You Go by Jenny B. Jones – My love for Jenny B. Jones is well-documented here, and I am surprised I waited as long as I did to read this extra book in the Katie Parker series, given how much I LOVED the original trilogy. I did enjoy delving back into Katie’s world and seeing her as a grown woman; I just felt like this one was less believable, more romance and less personal growth. Jenny is still funny, her characters vivid, but something in it didn’t quite work for me.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders – The buzz about this book was so interesting I felt like I had to try and read it! What I found was that it is more of a screenplay instead of a novel: a cast of lively ghosts narrate the action going on in the graveyard (bardo is a Tibetan word for the space in between death and afterlife). We go back and forth between action in the graveyard and what happened before, leading up to and through Willie (Lincoln’s son) dying and the mourning. Those parts are told in series of quotes from different sources. (I heard someone say some of these were made up. I am not sure. The New York Times calls them “facts and semi-facts.”)

On one hand, I really like to read something that is different. And this sure is. The pages of quotes that all deal with the same event from different eyes are so interesting, pointing out that you can pretty much make history whatever you want depending on what sources you find. The action in the graveyard is so creative. The ghosts take forms of their stories – some are big or small, performing certain motions, or joined together. And nearly two months later, I can picture all of what happened very vividly in my head, which is not my norm for reading.

On the other hand, though, I felt like it was inventive just to be different. It seemed more screenplay than actual novel. And I thought Saunders included some crass stuff just for shock value. So do I recommend it? It totally depends on the person. I think those who have studied history would be especially interested in this.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly – I picked this book up at a consignment sale and decided to read it before I passed it on to my kids. It’s a middle grade novel, and I think a little beyond what my daughter would enjoy at the moment (she’s 8 1/2 and doesn’t love books that are difficult for her). I loved the story of Calpurnia, who is 11 in the year 1899. She loves science and begins studying the land and species around her plantation home with her grandfather. It’s a great story of a girl who doesn’t feel like she fits into the right mold; Callie Vee doesn’t want to learn cooking, piano, or cleaning – she wants to dig in the mud. A great view into the turn of the twentieth century.

For the Love by Jen Hatmaker – I think Jen Hatmaker’s mix of truth-telling with flat-out funny is a breath of fresh air in “religious” writing. I love her heart, and I enjoyed listening to this on audio. (Except the recipes. It’s impossible to enjoy recipes read aloud.)

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Frederick Backman – I’m not sure I have the right words for this book. I love Backman as a writer; here, he nails a precocious 7-year-old instead of an elderly humbug. But the element in this story of relating fairy tales Elsa’s grandma used to tell her with the real people she lives around lost me a little bit. I kind of wish the entire fairy tale had been told at the beginning and then Backman had dealt with the rest of the novel. It felt a little disjointed to me. I still don’t think I completely got where he was going there, although that might be a cultural/language issue.

Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout – This is the third book Anne Bogel recommended to me when I was on her podcast, What Should I Read Next? It didn’t come out until April, though, and I managed to get it from the library in late May. I’ve been bogged down in Middlemarch for most of May, but I took a break to read AIP, and I am so glad I did! It’s a collection of stories taking place in Lucy Barton‘s small Midwestern hometown. Lucy is mentioned in many of the stories but only appears for one. Strout spins such beautiful tales, and these stories utterly captured me. I give it 4.5 stars, only because I didn’t feel like this will be an all-time favorite or be life-changing, but I did race through it in two sittings. It is great writing, and an excellent read.

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What have you been reading lately? Anything you would recommend?

This will be linked to Quick Lit at Modern Mrs. Darcy.

What I Read: December 2016

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I’m almost surprised at how many books I finished in December, given the harried schedule I felt like we were keeping and having a new baby. But I keep my routine of a hot bath and book before bed most nights (SELF CARE for the win), and it keeps me reading most days. Plus several of these were easy, two-sittings kind-of reads.

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick – In episode 40 of the What Should I Read Next Podcast, bookstore owner Holland Saltsman mentioned this book alongside The One-in-a-Million Boy and The Sparrow as favorites of hers. Since I love both of those latter two books, too, which are vastly different, and I thought the description sounded wonderful, I decided to pick up Arthur Pepper. 

Widower Arthur is fairly reminiscent of A Man Called Ove – he’s hiding from his neighbor, wondering what to do with the rest of his mundane life without his wife. But the stories diverge greatly. Arthur finds a charm bracelet that belonged to his late wife; he doesn’t remember ever seeing it nor does he understand where the charms came from. This book tells of his journey to discover the sources of the charms … and maybe some things about his wife he didn’t really want to know.

Although in some places his search just seems too easy and unrealistic, I liked the tale, especially his relationship with the neighbor and her son. It was sweet and fun, a little like Ove but maybe without the emotional pull being as high.

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior – I mentioned this book in my top 11 of 2016 post the other day. It takes a really interesting nonfiction book to catch my attention. This one is a parenting book that focuses on parents, not children. Senior tackles the question of how modern parenthood affects all kinds of parents with both research and her own firsthand observation of families. While she definitely finds that parents are stressed by the current definition of childhood and overscheduling, Senior isn’t judgmental at all. The whole book is easy to read, packed full of information, and a little too relatable for this mom.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch – Dark Matter was a big hit among the women of the book discussion Facebook group I’m in. It came out in July, and was an Amazon Book of the Month. This is the kind of book where it’s better to know very little going in and simply experience it; let’s just say that Jason, the main character, is whisked away on a trip to the grocery store and wakes up in a realm that isn’t his. The physics of this premise definitely go over my head (and my husband, the mathematician who was a physics minor, says, “It’s bad physics, but it doesn’t really affect the book”), but I still enjoyed reading this thriller. It’s incredibly readable; I think it took me three days and my husband two days to finish. I wasn’t quite as enamored with the book as some of my bookish friends (like Amy Allen Clark, who listed it among her favorites of 2016), but enjoyed it as a quick, interesting read. I’m always up for something a little different.

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon – I really loved Yoon’s 2015 book Everything Everything. It’s one of those books that I like even more the more I think about it. So I was super anxious to get my hands on The Sun Is Also a Star after it was released in November. In it, we meet Natasha, whose family is Jamaican and in the middle of an illegal immigration crisis, and Daniel, American-born of Korean parents, who is facing his future with confusion. These high-school students meet by chance, and the whole book takes place over the one day they spend together. Daniel’s poetic spirit and Natasha’s insistence on realism and science will both capture your heart. I loved it, and will quite happily read anything else Yoon writes.

My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout – This is not a book with a lot of plot. If you’re looking for something plot-driven, this is not going to be your book. But if you enjoy a good character study, you will probably delight in My Name Is Lucy Barton. Lucy, now in middle age, reflects on some weeks she spent in the hospital in the 80s. Through this reflection, we learn about her parents, her upbringing, her time raising her two daughters, and how these things influenced the rest of her life. Most poignant is her troubled relationship with her parents, coming to a head as her mother visits her in the hospital.

Strout does an amazing job really capturing a character. To me, this was well worth the short time it took to read.

Chains by Laurie Hale Anderson – I found this in the library while searching for something YA to read. And here’s the thing: I just don’t think it was the right time for me to read this book. My December brain was too frantic, and I just couldn’t give enough attention to this story. Isabel is a young slave girl during the beginnings of the American Revolution, sold from a kinder owner to an upperclass, Loyalist couple in New York City. The picture of slavery in NYC alongside the information about the Revolution was very interesting. The characters are vivid, and honestly, I would like to read the other two books in the series. I just need to wait until I have more brain space for them.

Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance – Strangely enough, once on Christmas Break I had plenty of brain space to dive into Vance’s 2016 memoir, extremely relevant to this election year. Vance grew up in Middletown, Ohio, pretty close to where my parents were born and raised. He tells the story of his grandparents, who left rural Kentucky for a better life in Ohio, but carried with them the “hillbilly” lifestyle. Growing up poor, with a single mother, among drug and alcohol abuse, Vance was destined to repeat the mistakes of those before him. And yet, Vance went to Ohio State and then Yale Law School and is a lawyer in California. How did he escape? What made it different? Can anything be done to help those in the same cycles of abuse, divorce, and poverty?

While his conclusions might not be especially hopeful, his story is powerful. I grew up middle-class with the knowledge I would always have meals, no one was going to hit me, and I was going to college. This election has, honestly, been really puzzling to me, as I know it has been to many. And this book did help me get a little clarity on how this all happened.

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I’m working on a few more books, but that’s what I finished this month. How about you?

This will be added to Quick Lit at Modern Mrs. Darcy