Reading Roundup: Yikes

It’s that time again.  That’s right, Reading Roundup!  Wha, wha!  So, in accordance with the current state of affairs in this world this post is dedicated to being negative.  These are the books I’ve wasted time on recently.  Will I be recommending them to anyone?  Spoiler: no.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Thank God I got this from the library because I’d be demanding my money back.  I thought this might be an enjoyable read for a long weekend what with its magic and lost manuscripts and forbidden love.  It might have been if I was really into descriptions of dusty manuscripts and libraries and wine and yoga and wine and tea and more wine.  If he’s a vampire and all he really likes is blood, why does he have so much wine?  And why does this author think we want to read about characters doing nothing but drinking wine and going to yoga and riding horses and hanging out in the library and drinking WINE?  Our main character is pretty chill for somebody who’s in immediate danger.  Is she in danger?  Yeah, I couldn’t really tell so I gave up.  Don’t waste your time and please don’t waste your money.

The Hilarious World of Depression by John Moe

The title is ironic because depression isn’t hilarious.  Or is it?  Let me tell you what isn’t hilarious: this book.  If you’re looking for funny memoirs by people who suffer from mental illness, allow me to direct you to Carrie Fisher or Jenny Lawson.  While this book does have some good info about depression and it may help those “normies” out there understand our old friend “Clinny D” a little better, it just wasn’t that interesting.  He really lost me in the middle when he spent a lot of time on how his brother’s suicide affected him.  I’m sympathetic, but I just didn’t get how that really had to do with his depression.  All of his reactions sounded just like any person dealing with something that horrific.  I’ve seen BuzzFeed articles with tweets and Insta’s about depression that are way funnier than this book.  And if you’ve been there, you know you need a sense of humor to get through it.  A dark sense of humor, but a sense of humor, nonetheless.

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

I usually love Lisa Jewell’s books and I bought this one thinking I’d like it too.  But it just didn’t cut it.  It was a strange book.  There was a family, but they didn’t live upstairs.  They lived locked in a house and they were a cult or trying to be a cult.  And a baby disappeared back then and now she’s an adult playing the violin on the street in France… or something?  Yeah, this book was just a mess.  It was really hard to follow and not very interesting.  I’m surprised I made it all the way through actually.  For a good time, see other Lisa Jewell books.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

I’m puzzled as to why this is getting made into a TV series.  I know Big Little Lies is awesome and deserves an HBO series, but this book really isn’t thought-provoking or funny or even interesting.  The characters come together for what they think is a wellness retreat but actually it’s the experiment of a wacky Russian-Australian doctor who started to resemble The Brain from Animaniacs more than a legitimate villain.  Don’t think that was what Ms. Moriarty was going for.  I didn’t make it through this one.  Just watch Big Little Lies.  Trust me.

All right, you kids be safe and don’t watch the news.  See you next time and happy reading!

Social “Meania”

Media may keep us all connected, but it isn’t making a better world.  It isn’t making us more enlightened.  It’s just making us meaner.

The news since February has been bad.  And I don’t mean the events they’re reporting on, I mean the things that are said, the way they say it, and the way it’s skewed.  Everything is geared toward making you afraid of your environment, your federal and local governments, and your own neighbors.  To hear the news tell it, we’re all bad people.

And it isn’t just official news media.  All of us regular people are doing it to.  Whether it’s on your Facebook page, your Instagram, your Twitter, you can’t say anything at all without someone somewhere letting you know that you’re the problem.

YOU are a bad (or whatever insulting, demeaning word you want) person.  YOU are this country’s problem.  YOU are your neighbor’s problem.  YOU are responsible for the actions of everyone else.  There is no personal responsibility.  We are all just a lump sum of whatever people group we’ve been assigned to by the media and we are to be judged as such.

The ugly truth is we’ve made ourselves afraid.  The news may have started it, but now we’re all culpable in spreading the fear.  And we’ve got to stop.  Take a breath and stop talking.  There is no voice of reason right now, not yours not mine not theirs.

This rant doesn’t apply to one side of politics or the other, one news media outlet, or any one person or people group.  It applies to everyone.  Me, you, everybody.

We are all hypocrites in some way.  We are all flawed.  We’re all just people doing the best we can.  We all need to give ourselves a break and give everybody else a break.

Reading Roundup: Out on a Limb

It’s that time again.  That time when I realize I haven’t written anything for this blog in a long time and I start kicking myself.  It’s also that time when I realize no one’s actually waiting for this blog so I stop kicking myself.  But all the same here’s some reviews.  I chose to cover the ones over the past six months that I went out on a limb for, meaning they aren’t my usual fair.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

A girl gets a free ride to Yale because she can see ghosts.  Um, what?  I took a chance on this one from Book of the Month and I’m really glad I did.  Trust me it all makes sense when you get into the world of Alex Stern.  She reluctantly takes a position monitoring the secret societies of Yale who don’t just party.  Alex has the ability to see ghosts which is really useful when you’re policing frat boys dabbling in the occult.  And when a town girl is murdered, she’s the one with the heart to pursue the case.  This is intended as a series and I actually can’t wait to see what happens to Alex and Darlington.  It’s a little bit Harry Potter and a little bit Veronica Mars and I’m in.

The Banker’s Wife by Cristina Alger

This one is half whodunit and half international espionage.  I’m not usually a big spies and governments fan but this one was okay.  Our character Annabel is a naïve wife of a banker who goes missing.  Determined to find out what happened to him, she’s pulled into a web of high finance and offshore accounts.  Unknowingly aided by Martina, an intrepid journalist, she risks her life with terrorists and blood money.  I listened to the audiobook and enjoyed it.  I would recommend it, but I enjoyed Alger’s new novel Girls Like Us more.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katerine Arden

In January I was in the mood for something completely different, so I got this one from the library.  Set in a fantasy medieval Russia, this story reads like a fairy tale where a girl must fight for her identity and to save her village.  Like all fairy tale stepmothers, Vasilisa’s is cold and unloving and against anything having to do with the old magic.  But it’s the old magic that Vasilisa must tap into to stop the evil that’s threatening her home.  Rich language and tons of atmosphere make this a fun read for a cold winter night.  I recommend it if you’re looking for something off the beaten path.

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

I love the Big Little Lies series on HBO.  So, I decided to see what else Liane Moriarty had.  I have to say I was bit disappointed.  This one started out good with the non-linear timeline circling the events of a barbeque attended by three couples.  We gradually learn their secrets and motivations culminating in a traumatizing event.  I think this book just went on too long.  I kept waiting for it to end and it seemed like it just wouldn’t.  Are we going to just keep following these people forever?  Some editing would have helped.  I don’t think I would recommend this one.

Beartown by Frederik Backman

This is another one that’s pretty out there.  I loved Backman’s A Man Called Ove, so I wanted to see what else he had.  He spends a good bit of time introducing his characters which works here because then he hits you over the head with tragedy and it hurts.  It really does.  It’s really impressive how he makes you care so much about what happens to this tiny town in the woods and about hockey.  This is a book about people and no matter what sports we’re playing or where we are in the world, we can relate.  I recommend it and going in knowing as little as possible.

That’s it for now.  Until next time, happy reading y’all!

If You’re Reading This…

If you’re reading this, I’m not going to rehash all the things that are going on in the world right now.  You already know.  You know too well.

I’m going to weigh in but only to say this: We will overcome.

I believe we will overcome because Our Savior has overcome the world.  We don’t have to be afraid.  There will always be adversity in this life, and this is just another one.  I reject the notion that this one thing is going to change how we as people have operated for centuries.  We’ll still go to sporting events and concerts and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other fans.  We’ll still shake hands with business associates and acquaintances.  We’ll still hug our friends and strangers.  Because we’re humans, and humans were created for community.  I reject the fear mongering and the rhetoric.  Listen to that still small voice.  What is He telling you?

This is aggression from the enemy and that aggression will not stand.

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33 NKJV

Israel and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Have you seen The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon Prime?  If not, that’s a shame because it’s awesome.  It was created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, who did Gilmore Girls, which I watched in high school with my mom.  In my opinion, Amy was ahead of her time.  Gilmore Girls was fast-paced, clever, emotional, and chock full of cultural references.  It had its issues with characters and story development especially at the end, but it was one of the best shows on TV at the time.

And now we’re in the Golden Age of television and enter Amy’s newest creation, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.  It’s like Gilmore Girls on steroids and I love it.  It’s so fast, you blink, and you’ll miss a joke.  But why would you want to blink?  I could go on and on about what I love about this show but there’s one aspect I’d like to focus on.

Midge is a typical 1950’s housewife.  She loves cooking brisket, shopping for fancy clothes, and living on the Upper West Side with her successful husband and two kids.  Then her husband leaves her, and she embarks on, of all things, a career as a stand-up comedienne.  And then the show becomes about how Midge was a repressed woman and a comment about how women were treated in the 50’s and Midge changes her entire personality because she’s a new woman!  A liberated woman!  A career woman!  Right?  Wrong.  Midge is the same person she’s always been.  She still loves her clothes and going to the expensive all summer resort in the Catskills and living the posh upper-class Jewish life she has always enjoyed.  She’s just added a career.  A career she’s perpetually late for and travels with a ridiculous amount of luggage for.

And this I believe is revolutionary in TV.  Here we have a heroine who is comfortable in her own skin, despite living in the 50’s and being a housewife.  Her circumstances changed.  She didn’t.  And that brings me to my recent trip to Israel.

I won’t bore you with a run-down of all the things we saw.  But I will say this.  Everyone expects you to come back from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land changed.  And how did this experience change you, they want to know.   I think we should look at it another way.  Midge added stand-up to her life, and she was able to become more of who already she is.  Not a different person.  I think going to Israel has opened up some things for me.  I feel like I’m becoming more of the person I already am.  I’m not changing but becoming.  And that is very exciting.

God made each of us the way we are.  Maybe we should be less concerned about changing and more concerned about how to become more.

The Pursuit of History: The Monarchy

I’m on a mission.  I’m attempting to learn about all the English kings and queens from the Battle of Hastings to Elizabeth II.  Why?  No idea.  It’s just something I’ve become interested in.  Probably because of all the shows they’ve been creating about different historical figures.  There’s The Crown, The Tudors, Victoria, The White Princess, The Spanish Princess, and my personal favorite, The Hollow Crown.

PBS’s The Hollow Crown is approximately fourteen hours of Shakespeare history plays spanning the Middle Ages from the deposition of Richard II to the death of Richard III at Bosworth Field.  (A lot of Henrys in between, by the way.)  I guess that’s what got me interested in knowing what the story was, all the kings and the players in between.

That led me to Dan Jones last year.  I started with The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England.  It’s a great overview of the Middle Ages up to the Wars of the Roses.  Dan Jones is fantastic at making history palatable for the lay reader.  So many non-fiction books are dry, but he definitely has a gift.  This volume gives insight into the time and condition in England and explains some of the things I had only glanced over before like the Crusades and the legend of Richard the Lionheart and the stories of Robin Hood.  (He wasn’t real, sad to say.)  And the stories of the people involved were fascinating.  If you can keep them all straight.  Between the Richards and the Henrys and the Catherines and the Marys I wasn’t always sure who was plotting against who, but it was a great read.  It definitely got the lineage of the monarchy straighter in my head than it’s ever been.  The sequel, The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors, was just as good.

 I understand not everyone wants to read 1000 pages of Medieval history, but I did.  And I thought I would share because there might be some other person out there who wants to make the British monarchy their new obsession.  Now all I need is for Dan Jones to get out of the Middle Ages and write a history of the Stewart dynasty and the Georges who ruled in the 18th and 19th centuries because that’s where my gap is right now.

Anyway, whatever literary pursuit you take on next, happy reading, y’all!

Reading Roundup: General Fiction

I am sooooo behind on my book reviews.  I know you’ve all been clamoring for one.  Not really, but I’m going to say that because it makes it sound like I have real readers.  So, without further ado (or needless self-deprecation), here it is.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

This one has been hovering around my Want To Read shelf for a while.  I kept putting it on and taking it off and putting it back on again.  Finally, this summer it stuck.  I love stories told in unique ways and this one is really clever in that it tells its story through a dossier of emails, letters and news stories.  Bernadette Fox is a reclusive genius architect who runs away when her daughter wants her to go to Antarctica on a family trip.  Her daughter is desperate to find her and she’s the only one who doesn’t think her mom’s crazy.  I thought it was amusing and a light read.  I recommend it for squeezing in between those Scandinavian thrillers.  You know the ones.

The Golden Hour and The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams

I’m endlessly impressed by Ms. Williams’s productivity.  Her new one-off historical novel The Golden Hour came out this summer and the follow-up to The Wicked City will be released in December.  I’m lucky if I get a blog post written every two months.  But anyway, The Golden Hour, set in the Bahamas during WWII, was a bit of a disappointment.  We’re following a gossip journalist in the inner circle of the former king of England and his wife Wallace Simpson.  What I didn’t get was that our POV character has the inside scoop, but she doesn’t share it with the reader.  I always felt like I was missing something, and I didn’t like that.  In preparation for the next installment of the 1920’s series, I picked up The Wicked City.  It’s got an interesting main character and I look forward to seeing more of her, but the current day storyline seemed extraneous.  Just because it’s historical fiction doesn’t mean we always have to have two timelines.  Just saying.  It wasn’t the best Beatriz by any means, but I have a soft spot for the 20’s so I’m going to continue the series.  Bottom line, I wouldn’t recommend The Golden Hour because it just couldn’t keep my attention.  I thought The Wicked City ran a little long, but it’s got potential for the series.  If you love Art Deco like me, pick it up.

The Garden of Small Beginnings and The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

I picked up Abbi Waxman this summer and I’m so glad I did.  She’s hilarious, y’all.  In The Garden of Small Beginnings we meet Lillian, a widow with two little girls.  She’s an illustrator who’s sent to a gardening class to get up-close and personal with her subject.  Not everyone could make a story about moving on from the loss of a spouse funny, but Ms. Waxman does it brilliantly.  She has a wry wit that really speaks to me.  And that wit was on full display in The Bookish Life of Nina Hill.  I loved this book.  Nina is a bookworm who doesn’t like people and has no problem not having any family.  So when the father she never knew dies and leaves her with a ton of relatives and a mysterious inheritance, she’s thrilled!  Just kidding.  I recommend both these books with relish.  You can read Nina Hill without having read Garden but the characters overlap and I thoroughly enjoyed that.

Until next time.  Happy reading!

The Pursuit of History: Northern Ireland

I recently spent a weekend absorbed in Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland.  I love a good nonfiction and when I saw this book advertised, I realized that even though I had heard U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday, I had no real knowledge of the time in Ireland known as The Troubles.  I decided that needed to change.

I found the book fascinating and informative.  One complaint about it was that it doesn’t explain where the sectarian discrimination came from and I think at the is point no one really knows anymore.  It’s there and it’s crazy and lives have been lost and destroyed because of it.  This book is not for the faint of heart.  The 1970’s were particularly brutal and are described in detail.  The story details the activities of the IRA and one woman who was “disappeared” for being an informant.  It was a sad and effecting story.  I would recommend it for anyone who wants an overview of the Troubles especially with the controversy surrounding Brexit.  Many believe the UK’s exit from the EU will threaten the tenuous peace in Northern Ireland.

Happily, Derry Girls, the Netflix series from Ireland supplemented my study of the Troubles with wit and humor.  Say Nothing can be a bit of a downer but combining it with a comedy series helped to take the sting out.  Not that we should ever forget what those people went through and God forbid it should happen again.  But that show is hilarious, and I recommend it too.

Whether you claim Irish heritage or not, it’s history worth knowing.  So, if you have a weekend to kill, curl up with it.  But remember: whatever you say, say nothing.

Back on the Road Again

When I was in college, I had the opportunity to go on a Maymester to Scotland.  That was in 2008.  It didn’t travel internationally again until 2018 when I went to Taiwan.  I prayed that it wouldn’t be another ten years before I travelled again.  And that prayer was answered.  In January I’m headed on a pilgrimage to Israel with the church.

When I was preparing to go to Taiwan last year, I felt led to read Wild by Cheryl Strayed.  It’s not the typical book you’d pick up before a mission trip.  It’s not even approaching “churchy,” but it was just what I needed.

Because at its core, the book is about mental toughness.  Cheryl Strayed hiked the Pacific Crest Trail by herself with little knowledge of hiking and camping.  She endangered herself and got a lot of things wrong.  She could have turned back countless times (a few times she probably should have) but she didn’t.  She simply refused to give up.  She had reached a point in her life, mentally and emotionally, where she didn’t have any other option.  It was hike or die.

I really needed that message.  Not so much for the time I was actually in Taiwan but for what has come after.  On my job, as a writer, in my personal life.  I get tired and discouraged.  And angry.  So angry because I’m doing what’s asked of me and yet it’s just so damn hard.  But I’m not giving up.  It’s not an option.  It’s not in the vocabulary.  This is a no-fail mission.

I have no idea what will come out of the trip to Israel but I’m going.  Because, really, there just isn’t any other option.

Reading Roundup

I’m currently in a “book hole.”  You know that place where you’ve finished a book and you just can’t settle into a new one?  It’s frustrating.  So instead of reading, I thought I’d write about the ones that have recently moved to the Read shelf on Goodreads.

The Hiding Place by CJ Tudor

I was really excited to get CJ Tudor’s second book since I liked her debut The Chalk Man.  I picked this one up expecting the unexpected because she seems to do that pretty well.  It started out fine.  I was intrigued by our less-than-truthful narrator and the eerie English setting.  We had a mysterious setup and I was onboard, but I found myself disappointed at the answer to the mystery.  Maybe I was just expecting too much but it just wasn’t enough for me.  I hesitate to recommend it because it didn’t do anything for me, but people are different.

Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams

It pains me to say it, but I didn’t really like this one.  I know, I know, I sing Ms. Williams praises a good bit on this blog and she really is great, but this one just, well, isn’t.  For starters it’s too long.  There are very few people who have any business writing books that are over 400 pages.  There was a story there, but I think it was just drowning in all the words and descriptions and introspections.  I personally didn’t connect with the narrator and it was never definitively explained why she refused to see her husband for the three years leading up to the book’s events.  Not to mention if you’ve read A Certain Age, you already know the story of her sister and father so you’re stuck treading water for the benefit of all those who haven’t.  I’d say skip it and wait for her new one The Golden Hour coming out next month.  I’ve already pre-ordered it.  I know I have a problem.

How Not to Die Alone by Richard Roper

Book of the Month’s latest offering is a book about death and life and…well, death.  A book about a man who works tracking down next of kin for people who die alone in their homes sounds pretty depressing.  And he lies about having a happy family life while living like the very people he investigates for.  Again, depressing.  Except for the delightfully quirky love interest and the off-the-wall co-workers, right?  Sadly, this book just didn’t come together for me.  It’s one of those that was good enough to finish but not really that good.  Book of the Month has always been hit and miss and I think this one goes in the miss category.

The Huntress by Kate Quinn

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably thinking “Does this girl like anything?”  Yes, actually, I do.  I loved Kate Quinn’s new historical fiction novel The Huntress.  If you have the least bit of interest in historical novels and WWII, do not miss this one.  Like I said, very few can write a 500 pager, but Ms. Quinn is one of those few.  Intriguing characters, Nazi hunters, unorthodox love affairs, and female bomber pilots.  What’s not to love?  No one writes a battle ax character better than Kate Quinn.  I was enthralled by Eve Gardiner in The Alice Network and now Nina Markova.  I’ll be pre-ordering her next one for sure.  I do not need an intervention.

Happy Summer reading, y’all!