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!

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Love and Hate in the Time of Audiobooks

Back in the fall I got a new car, the result of an accident involving the Jaws of Life, a night in the hospital, and a hematoma that just won’t quit.  On the brighter side, my shiny, purple RAV4 has brought me into the 21st century with Bluetooth capabilities and a nice sound system.  Eventually, I realized that these could be used to listen to audiobooks on my commute thanks to Libby, the amazing library app.

I was pretty stoked until I remembered that I don’t actually like listening to audiobooks because my mind wanders, and I miss things.  But I gave it a shot anyway.  I started with Julie Shumacher’s Dear Committee Members, a novel told through a series of letters.  I thought the format lent itself to audio because it’s told in only one voice.  I was reminded of the other reason I don’t listen to audiobooks when I tried French Exit by Patrick deWitt.  The narrator worked for the voice of our protagonist, an aging New York aristocrat, but when she read as the male characters, it was not a pleasing auditory experience.  Also, I wasn’t into the story, so I abandoned it.

I thought I would give up on the experiment until Aha! Of course!  Non-fiction!  This will solve the problem of multiple voices since it’s merely recounting the true experiences of others.  It won’t, however, solve the problem of my attention span, but we can’t have it all.  So, I settled on Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker.  It was pleasing to the ear but not the best true-crime I’ve read/listened to/absorbed/whatever.  That brings up another issue.  What do you say when you’ve finished an audiobook?  I listened to Insert Book Title?  Does that count as “read” even if you didn’t actually eyeball the book?  Do I need a separate list on Goodreads?

Sigh.  I suppose that’s a personal choice, how you classify your audio/reading experience.  I definitely prefer the reading of a book to the listening of one but when you’re trapped in a car (regardless of how nice) for an hour a day, we beggars can’t be choosers.

Happy reading/listening/whatever, y’all!

Magnolia Run Available Now

Hello, happy readers!  Just wanted to let everybody know that my book Magnolia Run is now available via Christian Faith Publishing.  Find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes.  You can also follow me on Goodreads.

This has been a singular experience.  It’s been nine months since I was told my book would be published and there are still days when I can’t believe it.  I guess I just don’t know how to handle that dream-come-true moment.  The idea of getting published was always more of a daydream than an actual this-will-happen-someday dream.  If I’m honest, I never thought I could write a book that someone else would actually read.  But I did.  And I’m here.  And it’s available.  Check it out and let me know what you think.  Happy reading, y’all!

Dreading the Soggy Bottom

Have you ever made a pie?  You work so hard making the crust and preparing the filling, only to have the middle of the bottom come out wet and yucky.  It ruins the whole pie.

There’s such a thing as the soggy bottom of a book too.  It’s that point about two thirds in where the author starts circling.  You know that book, the one where you’re loving the characters and you’re caught up in the mystery and then nothing happens for a hundred pages.  We keep going over the same clues and our characters spend a lot of time doing irrelevant things.  It’s enough to make you throw the book across the room.

I’ve been enjoying Michael Connelly’s new series about Renee Ballard and I really liked the recent crossover with Bosch, Dark Sacred Night.  I’m a big fan of the Amazon series but this was my first experience with Connelly’s writing.  I recently borrowed one of his called The Poet, a one-off from the mid-nineties.  At five hundred pages, this book had the soggiest soggy bottom I ever did see.  I skimmed the last two hundred pages and by the end I didn’t even like the characters anymore.  It was quite disappointing.

Of course, a book doesn’t have to have a soggy bottom to get ruined.  Case in point, the one I just finished, that will remain nameless, that had the granny menacing everyone with a blowtorch before revealing why she did it.  No, really.

So, it has not been the best few weeks for me in reading.  I hope y’all are faring better with your endeavors.  Maybe next time I’ll have better news and recommendations to share.  Until then, happy reading, y’all!

Book or Movie?

As I was facing a Saturday night alone with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, I turned to the interwebs for something to entertain me.  It turns out that they recently adapted the Nick Hornby novel Juliet, Naked.  Last April when I went to Taiwan I bought that novel to read on the excruciatingly long flight.  (No, really, it was thirteen hours.)  I was drawn to the off-beat plot of a woman in a dead-end relationship who starts up an accidental correspondence with her boyfriend’s musical idol.  But I found it to be pretty boring.  The writing was bland and it dragged, not really giving me anything to connect to.  I got through maybe a third before moving on to something else.  That’s why you always put multiple books on your Kindle before flying to the other side of the world, am I right?

So, why would I want to watch the movie you ask.  The book is always better than the movie, right?  They even have t-shirts that say “The book was better,” so everyone knows it.  Well, call me crazy but I’m squarely in the camp of Not Necessarily.

Books and movies are different mediums.  Some stories work really well in book form and lose something in translation.  I’m sure you can find many a rant online about why your favorite book didn’t fare well in Hollywood.  And a lot of times that’s true.

I heard great things about that movie The Notebook.  Everybody loved it and it was just the most romantic and beautiful love story.  As any good reader I said, “I’ll read the book first.”  So I did and it was…terrible.  Oh, M. Goodness, so overblown and melodramatic.  I was expecting more from Nicolas Sparks, having seen the film version of Nights in Rodanthe, which was pretty good if you’re into that kind of thing.  So what was I missing?  I came to the realization that some authors and their stories are just better suited to film.  I think Nicolas Sparks is one of them.

So that brings me back to Juliet, Naked.  I watched it and really enjoyed it.  Everything that was flat on the page was bright on screen.  The connections between the characters were genuine and not overdone.  I particularly connected with Annie.  She felt real and believable.  It’s not your typical rom-com and if you find yourself with a Saturday night in, I recommend it.  I also recommend High Fidelity, another Nick Hornby novel that was adapted in 2000.  I’ve never read the book so you’ll have to make your own judgement there.

I have seen some really bad adaptations (I’m looking at you, It) but I’ve also seen some good ones.  I may be standing alone, but I’ll stand up for those films that are truly better than the book.  Always is a strong word, but life has taught me that there are always exceptions that prove the rule.

A Year in Reading

It’s that time of year again.  When we start looking back at the events that shaped the last eleven and half months and if you’re like me, the books that delighted us during that time.  I’ve been pouring over my stats on Goodreads and marveling at how many thrillers and mysteries I read.

When I was in Taiwan earlier this year hanging out with Rhonda, the lady of the missionary household, she asked me what people are reading right now.  I raddled off some names, you know, Ruth Ware, Tana French, the new Paula Hawkins.  It was only after the words were out of my mouth that I realized she meant church people.  What are they reading in Christian self-help, Kim, not the latest in chick thrillers.  Oh.  No wonder she was looking at me funny.

The year saw my introduction to historical fiction thanks to Beatriz Williams and her marvelous novel The Summer Wives.  I have a huge author crush on Ms. Williams and I’m current delving into her Schuyler Sisters series.  I admit it, I’m addicted.  I also enjoyed The English Wife by Lauren Willig and The Alice Network by Kate Quinn.  I had high hopes for The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton but it was disappointing.

This was also a big year for true crime.  I recently read I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara.  That’s an incredible story made even more remarkable that the Golden State killer has been caught and Ms. McNamara is not here to see it.  It’s a sad story all around and one I’m going to watch as it develops in the news.  Other well-done true crime was The Dark Heart by Joakim Palmkvist and the Bloodlands series by Harold Schechter.

Memoir was down this year.  I usually have several under my belt by this time but in 2018 only two made the list, Hillbilly Elegy by J.D Vance and Cheryl Strayed’s beautiful story Wild.  I recommend them both.

A highlight in general fiction was Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove.  It’s a delightful story that strikes that difficult balance between poignant and amusing.  I also enjoyed Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.  She’s at once off-putting and relatable, making for a page-turning romp that’s also like watching a train wreck.

Here’s to the great reads of the past year and all the great ones yet to come.  Merry Christmas, y’all!

Bridge to Nowhere

Have you heard about Markus Zuzak’s new book Bridge of Clay?  You probably have because the whole world loved The Book Thief and have waited forever.  No really, it’s been thirteen years.  That’s the first red flag.

When I heard Mr. Zuzak was publishing a new book I was excited because I loved the writing of The Book Thief.  I thought the plot wasn’t that original or exciting but the style was awesome.  I also loved I Am the Messenger because the story was so off beat and interesting.  If we could have a book that married the amazing prose of The Book Thief with a charming plot like I Am the Messenger, we might have a contender for Favorite Book.

But it was not to be.  I read an interview on Goodreads where Zuzak said he had been trying to write this book since he was really young and he agonized over everything, making sure it was perfect.  Uh-oh.  Red Flag number two.  Something that personal does not usually translate.  Mostly it’ll resonate with, well, you.  Despite this reservation I gave it a shot.

What we have here is a failure to communicate.  I read about half of the book and I have no idea what we’re supposed to be getting from it.  We start out with five boisterous teenage boys taking care of themselves with a bunch of animals running around.  That was actually the part I liked.  They were interesting, I liked the way they interacted, each with his own unique personality.  Enter the deadbeat father who asks them if they’d like to come with him out to the middle of nowhere and build a bridge.  Um, okay.  So one of them decides it’d be a good idea to quit school and go to the middle of nowhere with a man he hardly knows to dig holes in the hot sun so they can put a bridge over a mostly dry river bed.  Um, okaaayyy…

Most of the 250 pages I read didn’t even have anything to do with Clay or his brothers.  It was all about their mother’s childhood behind the Iron Curtain and how she got to Australia and their father’s childhood and how he married one girl and then got divorced.  Why do I care?

I’m sorry, but you introduced a whole group of really interesting characters and then left them for half a book to talk about their parents’ pasts?  What does that have to do with anything?  Not to mention this is supposed to be a first person narrative.  The narrator is the oldest brother who isn’t seeing any of this first hand and yet writes like he has intimate knowledge.

To me, this book was a mess.  I think this is what happens when a story marinates too long in the writer’s head.  He gets too close and loses perspective.  Zuzak wanted to convey some awesome family saga with great points about healing and forgiveness but really it’s just a bunch of sound and fury signifying nothing.

As much as it pains me to say it, I think Mr. Zuzak missed the mark this time.  I would give this one a wide berth.