Monday, June 30, 2014

Confessions of a Book Snob

My husband always accuses me of being a book snob.  And a music snob.  I hate being called a snob, but I have to confess that the 2014 TBR Challenge may have proven him right.  

Because with that challenge, I had all these big heavy tomes on my shelf (heavy in one way or another) that I needed to read.  Even I knew that it would be Too Much, so I decided to throw in something light and easy.  Something just for fun.  Naturally, there isn't much on my shelf that fits that.  Especially not with all this darn contemporary literary fiction. 

So I grabbed this one and threw it in the mix.

The Lincoln Lawyer (Mickey Haller, #1)That's right.  The Lincoln Lawyer.  The movie that I didn't watch.  The book that I didn't even buy, the one that my husband read and kept telling me to read.  

I always gripe at him for the fact that he doesn't ever put the law down.  Why watch all those crime shows when you live it every day and know how wrong they are, and how they have given juries a false sense of how it happens and should happen?  No, no, no, no, give me escape!

I don't think I've voluntarily read a lawyer book since Presumed Innocent (which I read  while putting off studying for a criminal law exam, that I aced, thank you very much) or A Time to Kill (my favorite, favorite, favorite contemporary lawyer fiction), or The Firm (yeah, so not real but so fun)  and the best of all time To Kill a Mockingbird, whom some argue was the best book of the 21st century (move over Ulysses, sorry Red Roof Reader I'm just reporting what they claim).  

So, after the pure drudgery of slogging through  Bleak House (the first on my 2014 TBR Challenge ), I decided to go for some fun.  I read this way back in April, and was too stumped to write about it.  

I'm still thinking about it.  

Because I loved it.  

I love these lawyer fiction books!  Why did I quit reading them?  

(Oh, yes, you are right, it didn't hurt that Mathew Himself is on the cover. Alright, alright, alright.)

We Americans have such a love / hate relationship with lawyers.  Can't live with 'em.  Can't live without 'em.

This book nailed so much of the lawyer -we-are-all-so-screwed-up (yes, I do believe that), psyche to me. 

Is that why I loved it?  

I dunno.  I dunno that I care. 

I just want to read the sequels.  

My husband didn't even know that there were sequels.  (Did you?)

There is really nothing of literary import to report other than this:  

Let's just be honest.  Let's face it.  You, the American public, you love you some lawyers, yes, you do.  And you should.  We stand between you and tyranny.  Yes, we do.  Whether Shakespeare said it or not, there is a reason that "First let's kill all the laywers" is so true in a coup d'etat and is so lovingly repeated without even thinking of that. 

So keep on hating us, and keep on loving us. I'm pretty sure you'll keep on calling us at all hours of the night and day, especially on our vacation days (!!) with your "drop everything else, this is an emergency" situations. And we'll talk calm to you, and we'll likely help you, and by jove yes, we'll charge you, and  we'll make you mad somehow, and then you can go back to hating us again, while watching all those lawyer shows, and movies, and reading all these crime/lawyer gone wrong books.  

I vow to read them some more.  Maybe I'll figure myself out.

Now here are you a couple of Haller truths  (there are way more in the book, but only very few made it to Goodreads):  

"You know what my father said about innocent clients? ... He said the scariest client a lawyer will ever have is an innocent client. Because if you fuck up and he goes to prison, it'll scar you for life ... He said there is no in-between with an innocent client. No negotiation, no plea bargain, no middle ground. There's only one verdict. You have to put an NG up on the scoreboard. There's no other verdict but not guilty."

* * * 

"There is no client as scary as an innocent man."

* * * 

“You're a sleazy defense lawyer with two ex-wifes and an eight-year-old daughter and we all love you.” 

* * * 

Yes, we do, Haller.  God help us, we do.  

P.S.   Red Roof Reader  -- oh ye that thought up this little exercise.  It's a good one.  Thank you. 

June Reading: Yes! No! and So So

The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #2)The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

(Via Audio and Hardback). This is one of my son's favorite authors.  He grew up on Harry Potter, so I read the first book in the series and thought it was excellent, so I shared it with my then young teenager.  I also said in my mind that Rothfuss could be as talented as some of the fantasy greats, but I would have to read the second book to know whether he is. Husband and son loved this book, and while I liked it, the first was better for me.  Still, I will read the third which just came out, and then I think I'll be ready to proclaim Rothfuss a great, great fantasy writer?

This quote sums up Book Two to me --

“Knowing your own ignorance is the first step to enlightenment.”

Without giving anything way, book two is quite the journey for enlightenment.

Kvothe is still in school, and is getting a little bit cockier, a little bit richer, and a lot bit still in need of enlightenment. Just in the way that Kvothe learns to split his mind in order to win battles, Rothfuss kept splitting my mind with the endless stories in this book that spun off of the main story.  Kvothe has to go on a journey, goes on another journey, goes on another journey, goes on another journey. . . I just kept wanting it to quit splintering.

Also, I wasn't all that in love with the sex nymph journey, but while I was reading I was keen enough to think:  "I bet the men love this.  Maybe that is what it is like for them to read my favorite romance/historical romps, such as the Outlander series."  Sure enough, when I mentioned to them where I was and that I was ready for that part to be over, they both looked at me dumbfounded.  Of course, it was essential to the story, I just didn't love it.  I also, sadly, got a little tired of the writing style, which I loved the first time.

Still, I like the story enough that I will read the third book, so that says something.  In the end, I am glad that the 2014 TBR Challenge put this back in my line up, rescued from my languishing pile of books on the bookshelf.


Written in My Own Heart's Blood (Outlander, #8)Written in My Own Heart's Blood by Diana Gabaldon

(Via Audio).  I purposefully didn't rush through this. Love these books, and getting to enjoy a new one is like slipping into a warm blanket on a cold winter's night.  Just where you want to be, with Jamie and Claire and the kids.  Chill moments,  Aha moments, Tearful moments. Just right, no spoilers here.

Also an easy short read is (Shocking that Herself does write short novellas!  Not shocking that they are great.)

The Space Between (Outlander, #7.5)The Space Between by Diana Gabaldon

(Via my eReader).  Fun and satisfying novella in the Outlander world.  New and old characters.  I'm such a fan and this little book demonstrates why.  Gabaldon is a modern Dickens.  Lots of stuff always going on in her books, many characters, big picture points, a bit romantic (but smart), and safe but wild at the same time. I also like that her characters are like real people -- you get it all, for example, not everyone is a Christian and not everyone is an Atheist, and life questions abound.  Getting ready for the new Outlander series on Starz and the new book, both magically released this summer, this is the perfect teaser.


All the Light We Cannot SeeAll the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

(Via Audio) Very good book, literary and historical fiction with enough of a hook throughout most of it to keep the pages turning.  The ending really got to me, not to give anything away, but it really drove home how the generation that saw WWII is passing, leaving us all in the dark once again.  Light, and even radio waves and the house are additional characters in this book.  It also reminded me how few books are told with a blind POV, that was very interesting. Here is a haunting quote from the book:

“Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.”


Strangely, I had TWO BOOKS that I put down!  I never do that, is it me or does the fault lie  somewhere else?

Frog MusicPUBLISHER'S BLURB -- From the author of the worldwide bestseller Room: "Her greatest achievement yet...Emma Donoghue shows more than range with FROG MUSIC--she shows genius." -- Darin Strauss, author of Half a Life

Summer of 1876: San Francisco is in the fierce grip of a record-breaking heat wave and a smallpox epidemic. Through the window of a railroad saloon, a young woman named Jenny Bonnet is shot dead. 

The survivor, her friend Blanche Beunon, is a French burlesque dancer. Over the next three days, she will risk everything to bring Jenny's murderer to justice--if he doesn't track her down first. The story Blanche struggles to piece together is one of free-love bohemians, desperate paupers, and arrogant millionaires; of jealous men, icy women, and damaged children. It's the secret life of Jenny herself, a notorious character who breaks the law every morning by getting dressed: a charmer as slippery as the frogs she hunts.

In thrilling, cinematic style, FROG MUSIC digs up a long-forgotten, never-solved crime. Full of songs that migrated across the world, Emma Donoghue's lyrical tale of love and bloodshed among lowlifes captures the pulse of a boomtown like no other.

The Steady Running of the Hour
PUBLISHER'S BLURB -- In this mesmerizing debut, a young American discovers he may be heir to the unclaimed estate of an English World War I officer, which launches him on a quest across Europe to uncover the elusive truth.

Just after graduating college, Tristan Campbell receives a letter delivered by special courier to his apartment in San Francisco. It contains the phone number of a Mr. J.F. Prichard of Twyning Hooper, Solicitors, in London and news that could change Tristan's life forever.


Monday, May 26, 2014

Simply Soul Food

Everybody's Got SomethingEverybody's Got Something by Robin Roberts

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Click link or picture for your copy from BookPeople in Austin, Texas, or Paris Public Library has this in book format (you might want to get your name on the reservation list, it is checked out and I imagine it will stay that way for awhile!).

(Via Audio ) Robin's mother anyways told her that regardless of who or what you are in life, regardless of what you do or don't do, you'll go through hardship, "Everybody's got Something."  She also told her to "Make your Mess your Message."  So Robin proceeds to do just that in this book as she shares her hardship of going through a bone marrow transplant at the same time her elderly mother faces failing health.

I've always just loved Robin Roberts.  She is a breath of fresh air, a ray of sunshine,  a heart of compassion (and a spice of the Southern woman!) in morning news.  I'm so glad she read this book, which is so her voice even though it was co-written.  Whether you are going through hardship or not, there is so much wisdom shared here - I grabbed hold of some new game plans for many different situations in my life.  I was just going to read it as I wanted to, the way I do most nonfiction,  but I couldn't put this one down.

Being a part of #teamRobin on Twitter from the day of her announcement of her new battle, and being a part of my own team for very close friends, this book helped me so much and reminded me how I am a part of a larger community.  Highly Recommend.

P.S.  This book feels personal to me.  Having been through similar situations with close friends of my own, this book demonstrates to me the real need for a world of support while facing cancer.  If you don't have that something going on right now but do have a friend going through it, read this book. You'll get some good ideas. 

View all my reviews

Color Me Ballet - a Novel of Life and Excellence

Astonish MeAstonish Me by Maggie Shipstead
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
 Click cover art or title to order your copy from BookPeople in Austin, Texas.  Not in Paris Public Library yet, but surely soon!

See it, Astonish Me!
(Via Hardcover from BookPeople, while listening to Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty, which is what my very sneaky mom used to play to put me to sleep. Ok so, Swan Lake would have been more appropriate on the surface, but Sleeping Beauty is, understandably, one of my favorite symphonies and the stuff of dreams, and exactly right for this book, especially because we wouldn't have this book without the author's mom, who shared with her the love of ballet).

In a sea of blue covered books which I can't for the life of me keep straight, this one stands out. (I may have to boycott blue covers this year- book world hear my plea - except Jimmy Carter's book, I'll make an exception for that, thank heaven I have already read John Green).  The cover deserves attention.  Simply deceptively perfect.  Look at it, what do you think you will get?  Ballet. Not overly done, not lost in romance, but determined ballet at the cross roads of life, on a crisp white platter,  with a demanding presence - The teacher? The audience? The star? The reader? Life? You? Me? Astonish me. Astonish me.  Astonish me.

Meet Joan who has a secret which perhaps is why she has never danced as well as she danced tonight.  Joan is good enough to dance in the corp, but is not a star.  Yet, the star chose her to help him defect.  And off we go, through a world that I'd long since forgotten and don't know - ballet,  the barre, tutus, and the Cold War (remember White Knights?), and through relationships, which are always changing in predictable and unpredictable ways. This is a world of a much different kind of performance art than I'm used to,  a world the book penetrates with seeming truth.  But even there,  it's a world where determination and love are what matters, in the end.

View all my reviews

A Bookseller, a Book Seller, and a Baby

The Storied Life of A. J. FikryThe Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Click the link or the picture for your copy from BookPeople in Austin, Texas.  Also, the Paris Public Library has this book in many formats.

(Via Audio). First, if you have lived in America for the last twenty years, beware that the cover feel is not what you get. It basically looks like Harry Potter (come on, tell me you agree) but this is not a magic bookseller story.  Instead, it's a magical story - aka well written page turner- about a bookseller and what happens when he finds a baby in his store.  Now don't spin off from there into "Three Men and a Baby," it's not that either.  Rather, the story is about real life situations that are interesting and difficult, and characters that you care about (a bookstore that is going under, a new book sales rep with a favorite little book, a widower faced with the challenge of going on, a surviving sister with difficulties of her own, a cop who starts a bookclub, an abandoned baby who grows into a bright young girl).  It's one of those sneaky books that take literature and life situations and put them in front of you for your consideration, such as is demonstrated by these little quotes:


“You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question, "What is your favorite book?” 

"We aren't the things we collect, acquire, read. We are, for as long as we are here, only love. The things we loved. The people we loved. And these, I think these really do live on.”

"Sometimes books don't find us until the right time.”

 “Do you like Moby Dick?" he asks.

"I hate it," she says. "And I don't say that about many things. Teachers assign it, and parents are happy because their kids are reading something of 'quality.' But it's forcing kids to read books like that that make them think they hate reading.”

View all my reviews

Oh Los Alamos! Easy and Essential

The Wives of Los AlamosThe Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Click picture or name to link to BookPeople in Austin, Texas.  The Paris Public Library does not have this book yet. 

(Via Audio) -- Very interesting book.  I used to go to Church Camp in the New Mexico mountains, from which I garnered a pen pal from Los Alamos.  I had NO idea about this place.  I loved the literary style of this book -- in the collective we, which managed to show the many many experiences of the wives, the families, and even the views of the scientists -- the lives of the creators of the atomic bomb during those years.

View all my reviews

Intense Coming of Age WWII Spy Novel

Code Name Verity

by Elizabeth Wein

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Click the picture or title for your copy from BookPeople in Austin, Texas, or Paris Public Library has this on CD.

(Via Audio, but now I now want to read it!) Well written unique book about two young English women who become friends despite social class difference because of World War II, which took them to their destinies.  The book is told through their journals, so you get to see the story unfold through different view points.  I was hooked from the first couple of sentences, which, along with the title, tells all:


I wanted to be heroic and I pretended I was. I have always been good at pretending.  I spent the first twelve years of my life at the Battle of Stirling Bridge with my five big brothers, and even though I am a girl they let me be William Wallace, who is supposed to be one of our ancestors, because I did the most rousing battle speeches."

(Now just try to put that down!) A true spy-coming of age novel, chalk full of historical and literary references.  I cannot for the life of me figure out what book this is like, but I would say that if you liked "The Book Thief" and if you like intrigue, you will like this. 

Get Your Summer Read On!

SO -- I've been busy as my senior approaches the big day.  I haven't had time to write about what I'm reading, but I have still been reading, of course!  I'm finally able to  post a string of book recommendations for you, because summer is coming, and you don't want to be caught without a book!

I've noticed so many people who are as sad as I am that there is no book store in town anymore.  And I've noticed many of the books I want are checked out at the Paris Public Library  (I don't know whether to be happy or sad about this. LOL).  We are all going through book withdrawal.
I don't know . . .

I tend to read in all formats (e, audio, paper and hardcover).  Check out the BookPeople links I'm providing.  If you are going through withdrawal like me, you'll be glad you did! I've got a number of different books to recommend for all types of readers, so be sure and check them out, and make sure and tell me what you've read that I have missed!

A Recent BookPeople Order

Monday, April 21, 2014

Do you know your English Lit? "My Life in Middlemarch"

I've stumbled onto a brilliant book for English Lit lovers -- only half way through it, but I am enjoying it enough that I want you to know about it.  I read George Elliott's Middlemarch several years ago and just had to shrug at it, I had a hard time understanding what was so wonderful about it, or what in the world Virginia Woolf meant when she said:  "the magnificent book that, with all its imperfections, is one of the few English novels written for grown-up people."   

 This book is helping me get there, plus it is a very good exploration of the Elliott's amazing life.  She was definitely her very own person.  If that sounds intriguing, then by all means order your copy today.  (Click the Highlighted Title).

Friday, April 18, 2014

Life Choices: To Hope or Not to Hope?

Today is Good Friday.  It is good, because even though this is the Friday that we Christians annually remember Christ on the cross, we also know that Sunday is coming.

I began writing my review on Things I've Learned From Dying  before the recent accident that left us all so heart broken and rebroken.  Up until that time, in the space of 3 1/2 months, my small circle of treasured girlfriends and I have grieved the passing of a cherished husband and pastor (Paul), and through our tears, we have praised God for the life of one of us (Lisa).  Both  had cancer.  Paul attempted radical treatment (the only choice really) for several years then discontinued treatment.  For almost seven years, Lisa fought for and received treatment until her body just could not take it any more.  They made completely different choices, but we respected both of their choices and loved them through their journeys.  For nearly seven years, this close circle of friends stayed in constant contact with text messages at any time, consisting mostly of:  How do you feel, What do you need, Pray for me, I love you, I need help! Praying for you!  We made it a priority to have what we called "Facetime" -- hard when you are busy working moms raising families, but we did it. Even our families are pulled into our friendship.  We made every birthday a big deal (even when we were a month late), and we prayed and cried together, but most of all we laughed and loved each other (and still do).  We lamented that we couldn't have Facetime everyday, and why oh why didn't we take more pictures?  So we were surprised at Lisa's memorial service just how often we did get together and remember to take pictures.  

We longed for "How to" books and never really found any, so we made our own path. That is what I want to share with you soon, what we did and what you can do when it isn't you and you want to help.

But even while this was happening to us, and while we have finally come to the end of this part of our journey, the same thing was happening in our community.  Many many leaders and loved ones have also passed away.  This is the way of life but it seems to have struck our community particularly hard lately.  

Then our world was rocked last weekend with the loss of more dear teenagers.  Lamar County is 50,000 plus strong, but I can't go anywhere without people needing to talk through our sadness and questions.    This review will not deal with all of that.  But at least maybe you'll understand what is going on behind the scene.  And maybe it will be of help to you in some way. 

Every life is different, but every death is the same. We live with others. We die alone. And what is important to this story is that the moment we die is not the same as the moment we are perceived as dead. Our lives end before others notice, and the time that spans the difference is the inverse of the grief your loved ones will suffer when you leave them behind.” 

 I have a signed edition first copy that I picked up during my visit to BookPeople earlier this year (click the highlighted bookname link above for your copy).  I also had the pleasure of hearing author David Dow speak about his book.  

When I was finally brave enough to read it, when I could finally face it, I couldn't put it down. The book is based on David Dow's journey through the representation of several of his death row clients, particularly one who really got to him, during a time that his father-in-law was going through his own cancer/ death journey and while his dog began dying from a mysterious debilitating condition. This book did what I love books to do:  it invoked many deep thoughts.

I felt drawn to read this because of my experience as an appellate lawyer, because cancer is one of  my (our?) holocausts with no answer, because I'm currently going through a season of great loss, and I know there will be other such seasons, and because I've also loved and lost pets, and while this is far different from the loss of a beloved homosapien, it still really hurts. 

Dow says:

 "Time does not heal all wounds.  Some pain becomes a part of who you are."

So true.

No matter how it comes, death is painful, ugly, impossible to "deal" with in anyway but the way through. I was one of those people who saw a good deal of death and dying from an early age.  Maybe that is why I am comfortable talking with many people about life and death.  But all of this experience does not make me special, nor did it give me super powers to deal with my own grief when the time came.  It just makes me pragmatic and open about it.  I don't see the point in hiding from it, because it is coming, one way or another.  I must look at it from every possible angle, over and over, even knowing I won't ever be fully satisfied with the answers.  That is part of why I have read the Bible, over and over.  It is why I have read so many books on the holocaust.  It is why I am starting to read many books on cancer.  It is why I will continue to read books about life and death.  I'm glad I added Dow's book to the read list.

On its surface, this book is philosophically heartbreaking regardless of whether you believe in the death penalty, euthanasia, cancer treatment, and God.  

The underlying theme is this: is there any point to hope?   The life celebrations of so many recently have shouted an affirmative yes to me. 

But here is Dow's father-in-law Peter's dissection of the argument:

"One drawback of being a scientist is I am aware of its hopelessness. If I elect to do nothing further, Irmi and I can drive out west. We can hike and camp and live. I can die on a mountain. If we remain here, I will die in diapers in an air conditioned room."

The question seems to be whether there is any point in the hope offered by cancer treatment. 

Peter thought no.   

Interestingly, Peter's daughter thought yes.  She chooses hope.

Here is one quote to prove it: 

"And so, just in case I had not heard her the first time, she looked into my eyes, and she said them again.  

You are getting another chance." 

Where does Dow fall in this spectrum, a death penalty lawyer carrying the weight of the crimes and lives of the world on his shoulders? Where do you?

I enjoy seeing life through other's experiences and opinions, even if they are different from mine.  Life would be very bothersome if we were all the same pesky weed.  But we aren't.  We aren't all going to agree on death and life and God.  The only thing we are all definitely going to do is actually experience life and death.  And we are all going to think about God in one way or another.  We are all going to have to decide if there is a reason for Hope.  Here is a quote from the Bible that was Lisa's favorite.   

"For I know the plans I have for you,” 
declares the Lord,
 “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, 
plans to give you hope and a future. 12 
 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, 
and I will listen to you. 
13 You will seek me and find me 
when you seek me with all your heart. 
 14 I will be found by you,” 
declares the Lord
“and will bring you back from captivity.[b] 
I will gather you from all the nations 
and places where I have banished you,” 
declares the Lord
“and will bring you back to the place 
from which I carried you into exile."

Jeremiah 29:11 -14 NIV

Lisa believed this verse through and beyond her dying day, and Paul did, too.  Through their own unique cancer journeys, Paul and Lisa both not only did not lose their hope, their hope grew and they shared it with many, many others in very real and non-judgmental ways.  Hope Now was and continues to be a mantra.

 Now, please excuse me while I enjoy a lament of Hope.  I like to sing this when I am sad.


P.S. Professor Dow, your son is brilliant.  Continue to be good to him.  :)

P.S.S.  If you are interested in learning more about the Texas Death Penalty system from the Innocence Project side, here is Dow's execution book.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Why I've become an Affiliate with BookPeople in Austin

Last year, Hastings closed its doors in Paris, Texas.  Luckily, we have a great Public Libary  that carries new books and classics.  Unluckily for me, I'm not the world's best at returning or rechecking books on time.  And I'm not so great at getting on the waiting list for the books I want.  So I don't read every single book from the Library.

Recent selections at the Paris Public Library
I have a kindle, and I have kindle apps on my phones and tablets, and I can always read my kindle books on cloud.  I also listen to books on my ipod, or ipad, and phone.

BookPeople in Austin, Texas
 Even with all those choices,  I want a real book to read at all given times. But I am very scared of the possibility that soon there will be only one huge universal bookstore and ten authors who actually get published.  I don't like having to buy from one universal store as my only option for the books I want to purchase.  So I felt very lucky to visit BookPeople in Austin earlier this year where I was able to by a stash of books to last awhile.  Some, like the Hilary Mantels and The Iliad,  I had already read or listened to but liked them so much I needed them in hard form. 

BookPeople winter stack, from hotel view in Austin
The Amy Tan is a signed first edition!

I'm thrilled to announce that BookPeople in Austin has approved me to Affiliate with them on my book reviews on my blog.  This book store works hard at all the things bibliophiles and bookworms need to be able to get from their bookstores:  a great selection of hardback and paperback books, signed copies, author lectures, a coffee store and hangout place, clerks who know their books and the store, and who actually make recommendations, an online presence, and even a signed first edition club if that kind of thing floats your boat.  Perhaps most importantly, they don't just order and push the blockbusters.  I am convinced that it is because of indies that most authors even get published.

I'm in the process of converting my book reviews to all link to their online store.  Of course, all of those going forward will be linked for you.  I hope you'll consider buying some of your books through this great store, or maybe other indie bookstores.  Why does it matter?  Well, because without indie bookstores, there are basically one or two large companies making all of the choices for which books get pushed and which don't.  And I am concerned that just means that who ever spends the most money gets the most push, right? Be forewarned that when that happens, basically, the whole sky will fall. 

(For more on this line of thought, see this Huffington Post offering on independent bookstores.)

Maybe someday I'll retire (yeah right!) and run a cool indie bookstore in Paris, Texas.  Or maybe someone else will.  But until then, I'm happy to give you all links to books from  BookPeople in Austin.  And by all means, when traveling, please go visit them and other bookstores in person!

Here are links to the books in my winter stack:

I've loved Amy Tan a long time.  This book was a different offering from her, but is a worthy read.  True to its title, it is a new look at multicultural Shanghai, its courtesans, and the men who "love" them. 

(See below).

Bring Up the Bodies

Hilary Mantel jumped way up on my favorite author's list, and resparked my love of history with her political literary explorations of Henry VIII's lawyer, that infamous Cromwell, and his maneuverings to serve his king while keeping his head.  How often have you ever heard of anyone who won two Booker Prizes? 

I'm shocked I haven't read this yet.  Thanks to BookPeople, I will soon be able to.  I, Claudius, is named by many persons as the best historical fiction book ever written.  We'll just have to see about that!

A Year of Writing Dangerously: 365 Days of Inspiration and Encouragement

This is a daily offering, about a paragraph or so long, of inspiration on writing.  I love it and have about half of the pages dog eared so I can go back and refresh my writer's soul.  Rather than type out one of my favorite quotes, here is a picture of it, to entice you:

So remember, if you are interested in purchasing these right now, in almost any format, click the picture or hyperlinked title, and you can go shop BookPeople!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Escape! History, Mystery, Art, Epic Tales, Inspiration, Drug Abuse and Romance AND BOOKPEOPLE LINKS!!

Let's just say March has been a month.  I'm going to tell you about it just as soon as I can make myself sit down and write about it.  I didn't think I had finished reading any books, but low and behold, Goodreads has reminded me that I have actually listened to a good number.  Here they are, they were great! And even better, I am now affiliated with BookPeople in Austin, Texas, so you can buy every single one of these books (in multiple formats) through that great indie bookstore by simply clicking the book link! (More on that later, too, but just trust me on this one, they are awesome and totally in sync with my reading choices and likes, and we want to keep them around at the same time that we feed our reading fettish).

So check these out, I think there will something of interest to you:

by Bruce   Holsinger    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher's blurb: In Chaucer's London, betrayal, murder, and intrigue swirl around the existence of a prophetic book that foretells the deaths of England's kings London, 1385.

(Via Audio & Ereader). Very enjoyable twisting historical mystery set in the time of Chaucer, chalk full of famous personalities, written by a professor who obviously knows his stuff. If you are much on historical fiction, you'll probably have read Kathryn, as in the mistress of John of Gaunt who has some famous Henries in his line of descendants. I had to read along with the audio to keep all the names/ events straight at first.  There are many memorable characters that aren't always what they seem. Very good book for those who love to visit historic worlds and who like a bit of a thrill in what they read.

by Donna Tartt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Publisher Blurb:  A young boy in New York City, Theo Decker, miraculously survives an accident that takes the life of his mother. Alone and determined to avoid being taken in by the city as an orphan, Theo scrambles between nights in friends’ apartments and on the city streets. He becomes entranced by the one thing that reminds him of his mother, a small, mysteriously captivating painting that soon draws Theo into the art underworld.

(Via Audio).  My best description of this is Pulp Fiction meets Dickens.  Yes, while reading the book, you'll be reminded of Oliver and Great Expectations, but you'll also see a thoughorly modern mash up and you'll wonder throughout how it will end.  I think modern fiction does a much better job of starting with a bang, but ending poorly; while classical fiction starts slow but ends brilliantly.  This book is one of those rare books that delivers in a modern way, while also ending just right, and while making a big statement.  I see what all the fuss is about now and I'm glad I took the time.   It's a big tome, but worth the read.  Would also make a great book club selection, despite its length, because there will be plenty to discuss.  

And just for the record, I'm with you, Hobie!
  by Graeme Simsion

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher shortened blurb: 
Don Tillman, professor of genetics, must concede to the statistical probability that there is someone for everyone, and he embarks upon The Wife Project. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which he approaches all things, Don sets out to find the perfect partner. She will be punctual and logical—most definitely not a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker, or a late-arriver. 

 (Format: Audio) Very cute easy read. Picture an Aussie Sheldon /Spock who logically deduces that he should marry but hates wasting his time on incompatible women so he designs the perfect test to find the perfect wife.  In walks the delightful Rosie with a project of her own, who, if she were taking the test, would utterly flunk it. When you are in the mood for something that will make you smile, read this!

by Homer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Via Audio and book, yes it took me forever, and I'm still reading the book, which I found at Bookpeople.  Troy was not destroyed in a day).  So wonderful.  If you've never fallen in love with the Iliad, stop what you are doing and listening to this audio version right now and marvel at the skill of the narrator, translator, and Homer.  Marvel that you are listening to something in the format it was heard thousands of years ago.

by Elizabeth Camden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Format: Audio).  I kept seeing this book pop up for me so I finally went for it. At first I thought I was going to be disappointed, but then the layers kept building and it turned out to be satisfying,  with good characters who had believable dilemmas, plus a fun thriller aspect.  It was also a subtle inspirational book, which was a pleasant surprise.

Lydia's traumatic childhood leaves her with lasting needs, yet she is surprisingly resilient.  She overcomes great odds to make a life for herself, a life with seemingly great order. Then she meets a man at work who likes to subtly throw chaos into her order,  and off we go. This book explores the themes of drug abuse and addiction, redemption, love,  and recovery. The historical setting makes the addiction and recovery theme safe, so that we can really experience that reality without our modern day prejudices.  It also explores the human need for connecting with God and our tendency to try to do it all on our own, killing ourselves in the process.  Thumbs up!

NOTE: I felt there might be some historical inaccuracies, but being from the south I wasn't sure so I was able to look past them.  In the end the drug addiction theme was very well explored, and not commonly found, so I think the book is a worthy offer. Also the historical aspect is pretty minor so not terribly distracting unless maybe you live in the area.


Remember, if you want to check out ordering any of these books,  in many formats, click the book picture or title, and it will take you directly to the BookPeople online link to order the book.  Thank you BookPeople for making it so easy!  

Monday, February 24, 2014

Does Violence Ever Discount Artistic Mastery? Further 2014 TBR Musings

Reading Challenge Update --

I have finished two more books of the twelve I picked from my bookshelf for the 2014 TBR ChallengeOnce again I am glad I read them.  I liked one of them a great deal.  I hated the other a great deal, although it was more masterfully written.  So I am wondering more about literary mastery than book details here.  

The Passing BellsThe Passing Bells by Phillip Rock

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Here is the Goodreads publisher's blurb:  

From the well-kept lawns, rich woodlands, and gracious halls of Abingdon Pryory, from the elegant charm of summer in London's Park Lane to the devastation of Ypres and the horror of Gallipoli, this is the story of the Grevilles - two generations of a titled British family and their servants - men and women who knew their place, upstairs and down, until England went to war and the whole fabric of British society began to unravel and change.

Here is my Goodreads review:

I read / own a first edition of this book.   Good historical fiction, with great detail about many aspects of WWI: societal changes, the battles and politics of the battle "plans", the care of the wounded, and the battle for free Press.  Right up there with Birdsong (but not as character  specific) and Fall of Giants (but not as broad and sweeping).  Glad Downton Abbey and 2014 reading challenge inspired me to read this little treasure that was languishing in my bookshelf.  Having said that, the ending was rushed, as if the writer had reached his limit. Still, I'm looking forward to reading the sequels. If you like historical epics with war, politics and romance, you'll enjoy this.

What I find interesting is that I liked this book and look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.  It wasn't fluffy or senseless, but told some things about World War I that other books haven't explored, and I was pulled into the story.  Being a WWI book, it had plenty of violence, but it was content with context.  

I don't feel that way about the next book I forced myself to finish, even though the context can certainly be debated.  I just felt the content went too far.  Does that make me unworthy?  Or, if more than half of the population feels that way, does it bring the worthiness of the book down a notch or two?  And why does this debate even matter?

I guess the last question is easiest to answer.  The debate matters because this book has been put on a very high pedestal as a literary masterpiece.  Now that I've read it, I can firmly say that it is my opinion that it does not belong there.

Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the WestBlood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Here is the publisher's summation:  

An epic novel of the violence and depravity that attended America's westward expansion, Blood Meridian brilliantly subverts the conventions of the Western novel and the mythology of the "wild west." Based on historical events that took place on the Texas-Mexico border in the 1850s, it traces the fortunes of the Kid, a fourteen-year-old Tennessean who stumbles into the nightmarish world where Indians are being murdered and the market for their scalps is thriving.

Here is my immediate reaction after I finished it, my Goodreads review:

Thank God this is over.  Yes, the allegory is a mind quest and the descriptions of the land are amazing, but they compromise 30% of the book. The rest is blood and guts. I don't see how that combination makes for the praise this book gets, although I do see how violence is arguably a must to make the point.  I think people like the book just because it's difficult to attempt to figure out.  It's the whole emperor's clothing posing as violence in literature.  

What neither of those reviews tell you is the whole mystery of "the Judge," one of the pivotal characters in the book.  Is he Death?  Is he God?  Is he a Prophet?  Is he War?  Is he the Bile of our Souls?  The Pestilence of Mankind?  Is he a Fallen Angel?  Is he the Devil?

He is definitely eloquent.  For example, here is a quote from the Judge that is a summation of his prophetic bent in the book:

“This is the nature of war, whose stake is at once the game and the authority and the justification. Seen so, war is the truest form of divination. It is the testing of one's will and the will of another within that larger will which because it binds them is therefore forced to select. War is the ultimate game because war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence.War is god.”  

Many have read the book over and over, proclaiming it brilliant and spending much time debating the Judge.  I honestly don't much care what the Judge is.  And I can't believe I am saying this, but I really don't care how wonderful the writing is either.  The bigger question to me is something that readers are discussing on Goodreads about this book, and that is this:  most women hate this book.

I don't like to think in generalities like that, so I am trying to figure out why I hate this book, why I have no use for it.  Is it because I am a woman?  I don't think so.  Maybe it is something more fundamental than even that.  Is it because I have given birth and this book is violently opposed to life?  I'm just not sure.  But that hasn't stopped me from enjoying many other war books.  (See my review above, or my War Book Reviews in November of 2012, or my enthusiasm for The Iliad).  In fact, I have pretty much figured out that if you give me a politically charged historical fiction with war in it, I'm going to love it.  So it isn't war.  

No, it is the overabundance of violence in general.  I can take a bit of it, see it on the news everyday, see it on television, and in movies, and read it in books.  I'm planning to go see MacBeth this weekend at PJC (and you should, too).  But I don't go for horror, I don't enjoy a  slash fest, I don't long for escape in violence, whether by devilish books, TV, or movies.  It isn't my cup of tea.  I don't gain anything from it and I don't see how society does either. 

Maybe even more important is that over the course of my profession I have seen the aftermath of lethal violence.  Murder and mayhem really happen to people.  When it does, absolutely nothing in the legal system can ultimately make it better for the victims. Why glorify it?

So, I'm going to pass on going in depth and studying the gift of this writer.  I've read enough of his books to know that I need to just move on.  I'm not saying that this book should be pulled off the shelf, but I do think it should come off of its high pedestal.  Accolades for literary masterpieces should be saved for those rare books that have something great to offer for society through the ages.  This book does not.   

Does this mean I should never read Lolita?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Not the Secret Lives of Bees, but Much More

The Invention of WingsThe Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really wanted to rate this audiobook a 4.5.  It is a compelling story of several women  and how they eventually break from very stringent Charleston convention and laws that upheld slavery and  bridled women.   It is based upon a true story of very early abolitionist /feminist. Kidd did much research and kept this quote on her desk during the process: "History is not just facts and events.  History is also a pain in the  heart.   We repeat history until we are able to make another's pain in the heart our own."

This is a different type of offering for Kidd, so if you think you are going to get another "Secret Lives of Bees" you aren't. Still, if you had the heart to love that book, please read this one and remind yourself, or find out, how we even got to the sixties, and where we are going now. It is huge that we are finally finding the strength to tell and hear these difficult stories. As much as I wish that slavery and the lack of women's rights were not a part of our history, they are. It is important that we look back, so that we can continue to move forward.

View all my reviews