Friday, August 30, 2013

When To Give Up

I've been a little quiet in the last week. I finished up two books and am working on their reviews. They should be up next week. I have been working ten hour days and the last thing I want to do during work days is sit in front of my computer when I could be outside or spending time with family and friends. I'm also trying to declutter my home. We have way too much stuff for our tiny cozy house. If I want to get everything done, I'm not going to be stepping over piles of stuff. Not that my house looks like Extreme Hoarders. It just has no pieces of furniture with a flat surface that don't have piles of stuff on it. Our dining room table functions as a gigantic shelf. At least there aren't pathways going from room to room.

I'm reading. I have been attempting to read more literary fiction. You know, so I can look like I'm smart. Actually, I just want to broaden my horizons bit. I usually read fun, quick reads. I picked up The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides as my first choice because I loved The Virgin Suicides.

I've been trying to read it for six days now and am only forty-three pages in. The author is very talented; I won't deny that. I just cannot get into this book. It is just too wordy. It wears me out so much that I'm falling asleep within a few pages. This makes me ask: Should I continue to read it or should I put it down?

I used to be the kind of girl who had to finish every book I picked up. Sometimes this meant taking months to read something a little at a time while simultaneously reading books I actually liked. And then a thought smacked me across the face.

Life is too short to spend it reading books you don't like.

I gave myself permission to give up on a book when it wasn't holding my interest. As I have figured out where my interests lie, I have done a much better job at picking books I like and some that I love. (That's why you probably won't see too many bad reviews here.). I quit reading fewer books. Best of all, I don't feel like finishing a book is a burden that I have to slog through.

Which brings me back to The Marriage Plot. I really want to finish all the novels on the Pulitzer List. I know I'm not going to continue reading it. Should I just leave it for good? Should I come back to it sometime later and hope it doesn't bore me to sleep next time? I will probably revisit it but probably not until I get further into this list.

Next up will probably be A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. I own this book and have put it aside for one reason or another and haven't finished it. I find the main character disgusting and fascinating and really look forward to seeing how he develops.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Here I Go Again

Title: Here I Go Again
Author: Jen Lancaster
Published: 2013, New American Library
Genre: Fiction, Chick-Lit, Humor
Source: Library
From Goodreads:
Twenty years after ruling the halls of her suburban Chicago high school, Lissy Ryder doesn't understand why her glory days ended. Back then, she was worshipped...beloved...feared. Present day, not so much. She's been pink-slipped from her high-paying job, dumped by her husband, and kicked out of her condo. Now, at thirty-seven, she's struggling to start a business out of her parents' garage and sleeping under the hair-band posters in her old bedroom.

Lissy finally realizes karma is the only bitch bigger than she was. Her present is miserable because of her past. But it's not like she can go back in time and change who she was...or can she?
I love the movies Mean Girls and Peggy Sue Got Married so the concept of combining the two stories into one really appealed to me. That is the general concept behind Lancaster's novel, Here I Go Again.

This book basically boils down to the fact that Lissy Ryder is another version of Regina George.  She was the popular, pretty head cheerleader in high school who ruled the school through terror and manipulation.  She grows up and finds her life isn't as great as she thought it would be.  She loses her job.  Her husband (former quarterback of their high school) gives her the heave ho.  She ends up back under her parents' roof and to top it off, gains some extra weight from her mother's cooking.

Just when things can't get any worse, the invitation arrives for her twentieth class reunion.  Lissy, however, sees this as an opportunity to pick up a few clients for herself.  Her plan backfires when she discovers her former, now super successful classmates won't have anything to do with her because she was such a biotch to them in high school.  When she gets the chance to change things, Lissy discovers that some things are not fixed by a simple friendly attitude.

The thought of going back in time to fix mistakes seems like a great idea.  There are plenty of things I wish I could take back.  This book references the butterfly effect and that is a good premise for the book.  I hope I didn't already give too much away.  It's also filled with so many cliches that I rolled my eyes quite a bit.  I also saw how  Lissy's story would end pretty much early on in the book. 

If you judge this book based on Pulitzer Prize winners, this book will fall short.  If you judge this based on the sheer fact that this is chick-lit and meant to be fun and easy on the brain, it is a great read.  While the story does have a romantic story line, the meat of the story is how Lissy learns to treat and appreciate her friends and family.  It is a mean girl story with heart. 

I picked this book up because I wanted something a little more light-hearted.  I read it in a twenty-four hour period and maybe cried just a bit.  I started to care about whether or not Lissy would learn a lesson.  I found myself reading this at the dinner table just to find out if I was right about the ending.  I ended up giving it four stars because it is engaging and fun as long as you remember that it's not supposed to be serious.

This book is a fun, quick read.  It's great for those boring moments like waiting at the doctor's office.  I would recommend this to women who want the literary equivalent of rocky road ice cream. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Kings and Queens of Roam

Title: The Kings and Queens of Roam
Author: Daniel Wallace
Published: 2013, Touchstone
Genre: Fiction, Magical Realism
Source: Library
From Goodreads:
Helen and Rachel McCallister, who live in a town called Roam, are as different as sisters can be: Helen older, bitter, and conniving; Rachel beautiful, naïve – and blind. When their parents die an untimely death, Rachel has to rely on Helen for everything, but Helen embraces her role in all the wrong ways, convincing Rachel that the world is a dark and dangerous place she couldn't possibly survive on her own … or so Helen believes, until Rachel makes a surprising choice that turns both their worlds upside down. 

 I picked up this book because it's cover caught my eye even though it was at the back of the new books display at my local library.  I don't know if you ever get a book because of the cover but I do it a lot.  I've been exposed to and liked many different books that I would never have picked up just by reading the cover blurb.

This is a story of two different times.  It shifts from the time when Roam was being built up into a great town known for silk and the days when Roam is quickly becoming a ghost town.  Each chapter switches narration between the sisters, the two founders of Roam, and a few other characters. 

As the description states, Helen is the older, ugly sister and Rachel is the young, beautiful sister.  As children, Helen tells Rachel a lie that snowballs as their life passes, continuing even after their parents die young.  The story centers around the relationship of these two sisters and their perceived need of one another.  Their story is not a healthy one, but as it progresses the sisters learn so much about their places in the world.  

While the story focuses mainly on the sisters, the secondary characters flesh out the story wonderfully.  The sisters' great-grandfather who allows his ambitions to affect the greatest relationship he's ever had.  The great-father's reluctant traveling companion who only wants to be with his family.  The quiet lumberjack who loves his dog more than anything.  The lonely bartender who keeps company with ghosts.  They all have their unique storylines that add a depth to the town of Roam.

I did enjoy this book, however  I lost interest towards the end of the story and was disappointed with the ending. Even though the story started to fall flat towards the end, Wallace's writing was still descriptive and filled with magic.  I wouldn't buy this book but it was a fun, fanciful read that I would recommend.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Author: Neil Gaiman
Published: 2013, Harper Collins
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy
Source: Library
From Goodreads:
 A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

If you are unfamiliar with Neil Gaiman, you are really missing out.  I have read American Gods, it's sequel(ish) Anansi Boys, The Graveyard Book, and Coraline.  His writing style is a kind of fantastical realism that is completely twisted, but in a good way.  He writes fiction for both adults and children.  So when I found out he was releasing a new book in June, I waited impatiently for it to be available at my local library.

I was not disappointed.   Gaiman has a way of writing that makes the events in this book seem like it could actually happen.  I ate up this story in two evenings of reading.  It's pretty short at only about 180 pages (or if you read the large-print edition like I did, 246 pages).  Even though I was exhausted after working ten hour days, the story was engrossing enough that I had trouble putting it down so I could get enough sleep.

Without giving away too much, when this boy and his father head down to see about their stolen car, Lettie Hempstock offers to keep him busy at her family's farm.  He meets Lettie's mother and grandmother and shows the boy the pond out back, which she claims is the ocean. Two days later, the boy has a strange dream with a very real result and decides to ask Lettie what is happening.  After eating breakfast with the Hempstocks, the boy tags along with Lettie as she sets off into the woods to do a task.  One small movement during this task sets off a chain of events that throw the boys life for a strange and magical loop.

This book is dark and weird.  It reads like a fairy tale for adults.  I loved the way Gaiman was able to make the reader feel like you are getting a true glimpse into how a child's mind works.  These are some of my favorite quotes from the book.
"Grown-ups don't look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they're big and thoughtless and they always know what they're doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. Truth is, there aren't any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world."
 "Small children believe themselves to be gods, or some of them do, and can only be satisfied when the rest of the world goes along with their way of seeing things."
"Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences."
"I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else."

I loved this book more than American Gods or Anansi Boys.  Probably because I prefer that innocent point of view that could only come from a child.  It is a refreshing change from my own pessimistic, jaded viewpoint.  It would also make a good introduction to Neil Gaiman's writing style to someone who is not familiar with magical realism in fiction.

I am going to buy my own copy of this book.  I definitely think it will be a good addition to my overflowing bookshelves.


Monday, August 12, 2013

The Weed That Strings The Hangman's Bag

 Title: The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag
Author:  Alan Bradley
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Year Published: 2010
Source: Library
From Goodreads:

Flavia thinks that her days of crime-solving in the bucolic English hamlet of Bishop’s Lacy are over—and then Rupert Porson has an unfortunate rendezvous with electricity. The beloved puppeteer has had his own strings sizzled, but who’d do such a thing and why? For Flavia, the questions are intriguing enough to make her put aside her chemistry experiments and schemes of vengeance against her insufferable big sisters. Astride Gladys, her trusty bicycle, Flavia sets out from the de Luces’ crumbling family mansion in search of Bishop’s Lacey’s deadliest secrets.

Does the madwoman who lives in Gibbet Wood know more than she’s letting on? What of the vicar’s odd ministrations to the catatonic woman in the dovecote? Then there’s a German pilot obsessed with the Brontë sisters, a reproachful spinster aunt, and even a box of poisoned chocolates. Most troubling of all is Porson’s assistant, the charming but erratic Nialla. All clues point toward a suspicious death years earlier and a case the local constables can’t solve—without Flavia’s help. But in getting so close to who’s secretly pulling the strings of this dance of death, has our precocious heroine finally gotten in way over her head?

I loved the first book in this series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.  Flavia de Luce is the daughter I wish I had.  She's smart, observant, and incredibly morbid.  I knew from that book I would have to read the whole series.

This book wasn't quite as exciting as the first.  The story didn't pull me in like the last one.  Once again, Flavia the suspicious death of a travelling puppeteer and is determined to solve it.  As she finds clues and attempts to solve another mystery, she learns new things about the death of a young boy that happened about five years earlier.   As with the last book, there are connections between the two deaths. 

While reading this book, I was not as engaged as I was with the first.   The mystery part just seemed a bit cluttered and confusing to me, which may explain why I had trouble speeding through this book.  However, Flavia is still herself and completely charming.  Even though I wasn't absolutely in love with the storyline, everything tied together in the end and resolved the story without seeming to end like that because Bradley just wanted to end the book.

Even though I was slightly underwhelmed by the second book in this series, I still recommend reading this.  Bradley creates memorable, likable characters that make his books a joy to read.  This book can be read alone with no worries of following the story line.  It is definitely a must read if you loved the first book.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

I have been trying to make sure I have regular content here but sometimes life gets in the way.

I started a new job and have been training and getting used to my new hours.  When you haven't worked more than four hours in a day for over two years, it's quite a change to go to ten hour days.  Luckily I only work seven days out of fourteen.  I think I'll like this job but I'm not used to it yet.  So on my days off I have done absolutely nothing because I'm wore slap out.  It will get better and I'll have more time to get to the things I want to get done.

I have a few book reviews coming up next week.  In the mean time, do something that makes you happy.