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: March 2017

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my Disclosure statement for more details.

Why hello there, little blog. It’s been awhile. Having a baby, a preschooler, and two elementary-school kids seems to be a lot of work and a lot of time in the car. For now, I’ll do what I can when I can! And I do enjoy putting together my book reviews here.

Here are the books I finished in March.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – I felt like this novel of slavery earned all of its accolades. In vivid imagery of heartbreaking scenes, Whitehead leads you through the escape from slavery of Cora, a young woman whose mother was famed for having successfully run away without a trace when Cora herself was a child. While there aren’t really any likable characters in this bunch, I still feel like you feel the hearts of the characters and start to understand them. While Whitehead inserts imaginative elements into his story (the Underground Railroad is an actual railroad here), it brings light to the cruelest elements of slavery in a very realistic fashion. I gave it 5 stars.

44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith – You might have heard Anne Bogel recommend this to me on my episode of What Should I Read Next?, which aired in mid-March. (It was so exciting!!) This book was published as newspaper columns, so the chapters are very short and fun. I enjoyed several of the vibrant characters, but wasn’t enchanted with the main character, Pat. There are quite a few books in the series now, though, and I’d like to see where the author goes with his motley crew.

(I read Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe soon after I recorded the podcast with Anne. And I ADORED it. There’s so much more to it than the movie, as much as I love that film. Again, 5 stars.)

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani – I listened to this on audio via Hoopla. The fantasy novel drops Sophie and Agatha into a place that only existed in their myths: the School for Good and Evil, where students are taught to take part in a fairy tale in the future. It’s a quirky book, maybe dragged a little, but it would make an excellent movie. (And I did see the film rights were purchased, but I don’t think that necessarily means anything.) The author tried to tackle a lot: creating a new world, the dichotomy of good and evil, friendship, beauty … Some parts worked well and some parts lost me. But I did get caught up in the story and will likely read the sequels.

Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe by Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson – This seemed like a good book to tackle while I was sitting and nursing the last couple months. It was interesting. I do really appreciate Sally Clarkson’s words and wisdom, although sometimes it seems like “pray and try harder” is the message given here. (Not that I am discounting prayer. At all.) As a depressed mama who feels desperate way too often, this just didn’t hit home for me.

Four Winds by Lisa T. Bergren – The follow-up to Three Wishes finds Zara, a modern woman from California, still stuck in 1840 Alta California, still a part of Mexico. She’s happy to be with Javier and his family … but quickly the tides turn and Zara is kidnapped by pirates and fighting just to stay alive in a land where she can’t wear pants. Even though the setting is different, the story felt very reminiscent of Cascade, the second book in Bergren’s original River of Time series. I couldn’t seem to get as attached to this set of characters.

A Taste of Heaven by Penny Watson – I came across this novella on Amazon; it was suggested as something I might like because of another book I read. I saw Watson is self-published and well-reviewed, and I thought for $3 I’d give her a try. She is a really, really excellent writer and I loved the main part of the story: a widow’s daughters force her to enter a cooking competition show. I can’t resist some good food fiction (or memoir). I didn’t realize, though, that this is a full-on romance novel with “romance” scenes that were way too much for me. I ended up skimming and skipping quite a few pages. So I read the whole thing, minus those pages, and I mostly enjoyed it. But I will probably shy away from the author’s other books, because, for multiple reasons, I don’t read explicit romance novels. (LOTS of salty language here, too, although that is much less likely to turn me off a book.)

Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle – This is one of the few books I started reading and immediately wished I had bought it instead of borrowed from the library. We don’t own a ton of books due to space constraints (and lack of rereading), but I NEED to own this memoir from L’Engle. I’ve actually never read anything by her, not even A Wrinkle in Time, but this little book is a memoir about writing, mothering, work, faith, small-town living, and more. I am 100% going to buy it and the rest of the series so I can highlight them up and return to them again and again.

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven – I wasn’t sure I was brave enough to read another Niven novel after All the Bright Places totally tortured me. (My review here.) Thankfully, this novel is less soul-crushing but just as well-written. It tells the story of Libby, once known as the Fattest Teen in America, and Jack, who has a face-recognition disease. Despite these characterizing quirks, Niven gives them interesting personalities outside their issues. This was a fun, fast read with several issues to think on.

I have found, though, that reading YA gets me dwelling on my own high-school experience. Which was mostly not that great, although it definitely had good points. I just had so little confidence it’s difficult for me to look back on those times, and some events still haunt me (and it has been over 20 years since I started high school – holy moly). I’m wondering if it’s wise for me to keep reading YA. I don’t know. Does it seem to affect you?

So that was my March reading. Happy to have finished so many great books! How about you?

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