Book Review: The Circle

This image must have been used for promotion since it pinpoints the release date (which was in 2013), but I included it in this post because the description of The Circle is dead on.

the circle

Imagine that Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Google decided to mesh their businesses into one. They set up one account that’s entirely YOU – all of your information in under one name, one file, floating in the cloud. They set up closed-circuit cameras everywhere and encourage expect you to post photos and videos from all of your daily activities, because it would be selfish of you not to share every aspect of your life with others. You are to comment on other’s posts and invite everyone into your network. Everything you do online is tracked, sorted, tagged, and rated in the business’s database for easy access. This is all so we can be in community with one another, connected in every way possible, and entirely invested in each other’s lives.

Yes, I’m feeling claustrophobic too. But I tell you what friends, you need to read The Circle. It is the best cautionary tale of our time.

Mae Holland is twenty-four years old and just landed a job at The Circle, a company designed to meet your every need online and otherwise. Of course it’s based in northern California. Its campus is all-inclusive – meals, dormitories, lecture halls, health clubs, and everything else one might need to enjoy life. In between all the perks are the work stations and glass walls – because everything at The Circle is transparent. Transparency, according to the The Wise Men who created the company, is the only way to live. If we’re all laid bare, no one can keep secrets and then no one can get hurt.

Mae immediately buys into the notion that The Circle’s ideology is sound. If our best interests are at the center of these programs, where’s the harm? And sure, she’ll swallow a sensor so The Circle’s medical team can monitor her vitals 24/7.

Oh friends, if I could implore you to read one book this year, it’s this one. It feels blasphemous to type this review on a blog, knowing I’ll post it on my Facebook page and then link it in my Twitter feed. Everything about The Circle makes me want to go off the grid and go back to a time of snail mail and passing notes and not needing a single password to conduct my life. If ever there was a story that makes me question the power of technology and social media, it’s this one.

Conceptually, The Circle is a home run. The characters, however, are straight up archetypes. They are as predictable as they come, though in this case that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I found myself so wrapped up in the company and its on-goings that the characters were secondary to the plot. That almost doesn’t make sense, but if you consider that companies like The Circle already exist, you”ll spend all 497 pages wondering if this level of insanity will exist in your lifetime.

And then you want to delete every social media account you have.

Buy The Circle here. 

Book Review: The God of Animals

thegodofanimalsAlice Winston is a pensive girl and the entirety of this book is an outpouring of her thoughts throughout a snippet of her childhood. Her family owns a horse ranch in Desert Valley, Colorado, and at the start of the book her mother has secluded herself in the bedroom in a deep depression, her older sister, Nona, has run off to marry a rodeo star, and her father is scraping together every penny to keep the stable in business. Also, a classmate of Alice’s was found dead in a canal. A gray cloud hovers over Desert Valley and spirits are low.

I’d like to say that everything turns around and all is well in the end, but this book is so true to life that it would be disingenuous to tie up every loose end with a bow. The reality is that Alice is deeply lonely. Her mother is emotionally unavailable, her big sister abandoned her, and her father is entirely focused on the farm. What’s a young girl on the cusp of adulthood supposed to do with all that restless energy?

Whatever she wants, apparently.

There’s an inappropriate relationship with a teacher, the beating of a horse with a hammer, and an entourage of rich women who congregate in the stable to visit their horses and drink wine. Alice cannot make sense of any of it.

Of the books I’ve read so far this year, The God of Animals ranks high. The narrative is equally heartbreaking and beautiful. It may not be the most cheerful story, but that doesn’t mean is isn’t dripping with sentiment and relevance. This was Aryn Kyle’s first novel, born out of a short story called Foaling Season. Both were well-received. I’m not at all surprised.

Buy The God of Animals here.

Book Reviews: The Longings of Wayward Girls and Help Thanks Wow

The Longings of Wayward GirlsI found this book at a discount store for $2.99, and after reading it, I would’ve paid more. That in itself is a good plug.

The Longings of Wayward Girls follows two seasons of Sadie’s life – in early adolescence and post-marriage/kids adulthood. We go back and forth from her snobby neighborhood pranks to her brash decision making as a wife and mom, both of which lead to chaos. As a young girl, she and a friend play a horrible prank on a less popular girl, just before the girl goes missing. Fast forward to adulthood, Sadie realizes that many games are still in play. We’re all a bunch of children when whittled down. None of us, it seems, ever really grow up.

It’s hard to speak about a book like this without giving away details that matter. I can tell you that Sadie’s mother killed herself and left a scar in her so deep that you have to wonder how any of us ever heal from childhood tragedy. And even though Sadie’s husband is lovely and her two children are darling, sometimes it’s just not enough. There’s something to be said of our longings, even the ones we don’t understand.

The New York Times quote on the front cover says, “Enthralling… Once you’ve discovered this haunted world, you won’t want to leave it.” I found that statement to be accurate.

Buy The Longings of Wayward Girls here. 


 

Help Thanks WowIn keeping with my Lent reading, I finished Anne Lamott’s Help Thanks Wow and have moved on to A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor.

Anne Lamott is a great writer. Frank, to the point. She doesn’t waste time and space, which I appreciate. She’s also humorous, which is always a plus.

Help Thanks Wow is brief, and though I normally appreciate brevity, I think this book could use more meat. Her intent, I believe, was to strip down prayer to its most honest, meaningful purpose – to appeal for help, to live in a state of thanksgiving, and to marvel at all God does for us. I agree that those three points serve a plumb lines for our prayer life. Lamott offers anecdotes to support her position, most of which are delightful stories, some more moving than others.

At the end, I expected to feel like I’d encountered a new way of viewing prayer but I have to be honest and say instead I thought, “This is nothing new.” It’s Philippians 4:6 without the “Wow.”

Don’t get me wrong – it’s a nice read, but it wasn’t groundbreaking. More than anything, it was a reminder that sometimes being brief with God is enough, especially when you just can find any other words to say.

Buy Help Thanks Wow here. 

Book Reviews: Seventy-Seven Clocks and Dark Places

seventy seven clocks coverI have no experience with Christopher Fowler books, but based on Seventy-Seven Clocks, I won’t be trying out his work again anytime soon. I picked up the book for two dollars at a used book store in Georgetown last September. A crime novel? Okay. A Peculiar Crimes Unit? I’m intrigued!

Right away you know Christopher Fowler is a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle fan, and while I’d like to think this series of crime stories is an homage to Sherlock Holmes, it failed to hook me in every way. Where Doyle was succinct and clever, Fowler was repetitive and predictable.

London Detectives May and Bryant of the Peculiar Crimes Unit have to figure out who’s behind a string of bizarre deaths – rat poison, snake venom, spontaneous explosion – and catch the guy before another member of a large, prominent family dies. The peculiarity of the story is interesting enough to keep reading, but the space between crimes is long and the constant retelling of the facts is boring. I wanted to like this book but indeed I didn’t. I was even tempted to quit halfway through, but there’s something very unnatural about that. I’ve only done it once – with A Casual Vacancy – and it still feels like I abandoned someone.

Buy Seventy-Seven Clocks here.


Let’s move on to a book that rocked my socks off. Dark Places. Good golly.

For all the ways Gone Girl made me question denouements, Dark Places left me wondering what goes on in Gillian Flynn’s head. Does she sleep with a nightlight on? Does her husband keep a constant eye on her, you know, just in case?

Dark placesLibby Day lives in a very sad reality. She was seven years old when her teenage brother, Ben, murdered their mother and two sisters. Quite violently, in fact. The family was losing their farm, their jerk of a father only came around for hand-outs, and Ben had begun dabbling in devil worship. Two decades later, she’s living on the fringe. Nearly broke, the kleptomaniac has no real relationships, no self-respect, and no hope. She only thinks of suicide casually now, so there’s a plus.

In a desperate need for money (and a subconscious need to find out what really happened all those years ago), Libby agrees to do some detective work on the murders on behalf of the Kill Club, a group of obsessed people who role play and plead innocence for the incarcerated. They all say Ben is not guilty.

Seriously, they’re all so messed up.

The truth finally surfaces, and once I was on the cusp of that truth I couldn’t put down the book. Gillian Flynn – again – tells a completely CRAZY story of people whom I can barely imagine, but she does it so beautifully that you sort of don’t care that Libby isn’t lovable or that the Kill Club people should find other ways to spend their time. Her storytelling is impeccable. Five stars for sure.

Buy Dark Places here. 

Book Review: The Patron Saint of Liars

PatronSaintofLiarsI’ve not read anything by Ann Patchett before but I’m going to remedy that soon. She’s a lovely storyteller and The Patron Saint of Liars was her debut novel.

The story begins with Rose from California. She’s married and newly pregnant and decides to leave her husband in the night and drive to St. Elizabeth’s in Kentucky. It’s a home for unwed mothers, run by nuns, and by definition a place you stay until the birth of your baby, who is subsequently surrendered to adoption, and then you leave.

But Rose doesn’t leave and she doesn’t give up her child. By the name of the book, you can presume that Rose is full of lies and pieces together stories to make herself more comfortable. Eventually her past catches up with her and the people she’s become close to want answers.

The book is split into three points of view: Rose, Son (the groundskeeper at St. Elizabeths’), and Cecilia (her daughter). Patchett did well to create three voices that are clear and distinct, therefore drawing a collection of emotions fueled by the inner thoughts of each person. I’m curious to know how her other books stacks against this one, so I’m off to research her other works and see which one I should read next.

An interesting fact – it was made into a TV movie in 1998.

Buy The Patron Saint of Liars here.

I’m just like Wally Lamb.

That’s a stretch, I know, but hear me out.

I just finished reading We Are Water, Wally Lamb’s latest piece of brilliant storytelling, and stumbled upon an interview with him printed at the end of the book. Two paragraphs into the interview, I gasped. He described the first time a character arrived in his brain. It was unsolicited and strange and exactly the way it happened to me. It occurred the night his son was born.

He says, “I was up all night in the room with my wife, and she went to sleep and Jared went off to the nursery. I’d counted all his fingers and toes and everything looked good, so I went back to our home to take a shower and I was going to call the relatives — and while I was in the shower, this voice that wasn’t exactly my voice started complaining about his summer job as a Mister Softee ice cream truck driver.”

He continues, “Now at the time, I didn’t know that I wanted to write fiction. I didn’t know that it was a character who was speaking. But I did have the impulse — I got out of the shower, and even before I got dressed, I wrote down the two or three lines that the voice and said. And then I forgot about them.”

He rediscovered the lines a month later, tended to them, and ended up writing his first short story. Eleven years later, he published She’s Come Undone, which is in my Top Ten favorite books of all time.

It’s a dose of reassurance to know that other writers experience the bizarre manifestation of characters the way I did. Quite unsolicited, if I may add. One day, Leona was not here, and the next day she was. Have I ever mentioned her name before? I can’t recall. Leona Fisher. She’s my first protagonist, the one who started all of this upheaval in my brain. She showed up, introduced herself, and talked about her family. Once I realized I was meant to tell her story and was not suffering from schizophrenia, I listened clearly and typed.

I’m up to eight rejections now. So prickly it hurts. I’ve not lost all hope and I’m not quitting. Instead, I’m continuing with Novel No. 2 (unrelated to Leona) and trying very hard to not to take every little thing so personally.


 

we are waterA quick review about We Are Water:

If you are a fan of Wally Lamb, you will likely read this book on your own accord. You won’t be disappointed. Everything is just as it should be.

For others, I offer a brief description: The story surrounds one family and is told by each member’s perspective.  After nearly 30 years of marriage, Annie and Orion have gotten divorced. No one saw it coming, especially their three children, twins Arianne and Andrew, and the young impetuous Marissa. At the crux of the story is Annie’s decision to remarry – this time to Viveca, a wealthy art dealer in New York City, just as gay marriage becomes legal in Connecticut. Dipping back and forth in time, Lamb pieces together everyone’s point of view, including others from the past, to weave a story that explains why we do the things we do. Painful truths come out in desperation, a reminder that nothing can ever be fully buried.

There is such sadness in this story, but it isn’t without bits of redemption in the distinct voice that makes Wally Lamb’s work so unique. To weigh it by comparison, it’s not as good as She’s Come Undone, but I enjoyed it more than I Know This Much is True and The Hour I First Believed.

Buy We Are Water here. 

Book Review: Nightwoods

NightwoodsSmall town North Carolina, early 1960s, two children who light fires and kill chickens. Unspeakable things happen when a crazy person infects your family, dipping his poisonous finger into your tranquil country life.

Luce lives at an old lodge that used to serve as a vacation spot. She lives simply, quietly, and uses her small stipend from the lodge’s owner to keep her afloat. No one comes to stay at the lodge anymore, so she tends to her garden, sits on the porch, and thinks. All is disrupted when her sister, Lily, is murdered and her niece and nephew come to live with her at the lodge. They are disturbed children, not only from witnessing their mother’s death at the hand of her husband, Bud, the children’s stepfather, but also from years of presumed abuse also at his hand. Luce, ever patient, must learn to mother the children, to communicate with them without violence, and continue living peaceably in her Appalachian sanctuary.

All is upended when Bud returns to town looking for money.

Nightwoods is so tightly written that you cannot skip a sentence. I picked it up thinking it would be a quick read at 250 pages, but no. Each sentence is important. Nothing can be skimmed. There is no punctuation to indicate speech, something that was initially hard to get used to but eventually became a pleasure to read.


When the coffee was ready, the sisters rowed themselves opposite Luce on the settee. Each one drowning half a cup at one go and then firing up a smoke. Three difference brands.

The unaccustomed caffeine came on like a vibration in Luce’s back teeth and frizzed static into her thoughts.

She blurted out some of what she’d come prepared to say. I’ve been thinking a lot about when I was in school, and about the care of children. Lily’s girl and boy live with me now. My mother wasn’t a model for anything but crazy. And it’s not like I’m thinking back and trying to force any of you into being sweet ladies. You had hard expectations. If we were called upon, you made us step up and answer for ourselves. These children aren’t easy.

The eldest sister cracked two notes of smoker’s laughter, indistinguishable from a TB cough. Said, You want us to tell you how to be a mother? If so, you’ve come to the wrong place.


Sometimes I had to read a sentence twice to make sure I didn’t miss anything, and if that sounds like too much work for you, I get it. However, Frazier is nearly poetic with his writing, so much that it makes me think my own work is elementary. Despite its complexity, Nightwoods is not a story you can leave unfinished. The last quarter of the book flies because it’s hard to put down. Everyone’s in the woods and you want to know who makes it out alive.

Buy Nightwoods here.

Book Reviews: The Execution of Noa P. Singleton and American Sniper

NoaNoa is on death row in Pennsylvania for the murder of a girl her age. In a few months, she’ll be dead and she’s come to terms with it. She doesn’t even argue about being guilty or not guilty. Then the mother of the victim comes to visit her in prison and starts talking about applying for her clemency. They have five months to sort it out.

The story is written in first person but none of it is in chronological order. In between Noa’s accounts are letters written from the mother of the victim to her dead daughter, a strange but useful way to reveal information about the murder to the reader. By the last third of the book you know everyone is hiding something and it’s a quick race to the end to find out Noa’s fate and whether or not justice is truly served.

Unlike In the Woods, also a murder mystery told out of order, The Execution of Noa P. Singleton doesn’t weave so tightly that you have to pay attention to every single sentence. You can just read it and not spend time overthinking or trying to piece together the crime because the author is making you work for it. You know what’s up by the half way point, or at least you know the people in play are fishy. Yet, the ease of the narrative doesn’t take away from the thrill. You read fast because you care about Noa and you want to know if her X-day ever arrives.

Buy The Execution of Noa P. Singleton here.

AMERICAN-SNIPER-CoverPrior to starting Noa, I ended up reading American Sniper. Even though it’s a thick paperback, it was the quickest read ever because the writing was on a fifth grade level. The content is fully mature, but the writing was entirely like reading Dick and Jane. Plus, in the interest of full disclosure, when Chris Kyle got lengthy about describing the different sort of guns he used, my eyes glazed over and I skipped paragraphs. (I categorize guns by color, size, and weight. Is it black? Is it long and heavy? Short and gray?)

I’m glad I read it because it solidified that the book and the movie are separate entities. Sure, it’s the same Chris Kyle, the same wife, the same wars, but American Sniper The Movie is Hollywood script and therefore required a character arc, a plot, a climax, and a resolution. American Sniper The Book is Chris Kyle’s full account of his experiences growing up a cowboy, his experience in BUD/S, his definition of what it means to be a SEAL, and his overall intense passion for and focus on defending his fellow soldiers. You get the bigger picture, not just a glimpse of four tours and a career-long vendetta to kill an enemy sniper.

The movie was entertaining, provocative, and important, but the book is far more telling of who Chris Kyle really was. Upon finishing it, you knew Chris Kyle was anything but a coward.

Buy American Sniper here.

Book Review: In the Woods by Tana French

It’s important to note that In the Woods was Tana French’s first novel. Not only was it warmly received, but it spurred another four murder mysteries that also did well on the market. I’m encouraged by this, especially since the word count of In the Woods surpasses the average for first time novelists.

inthewoods_usOverall, the narrative is beautifully written. French’s ability to capture the emotion of the moment and convey it to the reader is on point and at length. Told in first person by Detective Rob Ryan, you feel as if you’ve sat down for an interview with him, a secret conversation where he tells you things he can’t tell other people. It’s intimate that way, but it’s also deeply disturbing.

Two crimes occur in Knocknaree, Ireland, one in 1984 (the disappearance of two children) and one in present time (the murder of a twelve-year-old girl). At first the crimes don’t seem related, aside from both occurring in the wood near town.

Yet there is a big connection and his name is Detective Ryan, but his memory is shifty and his nightmares are vivid, so it’s only a matter of time before his secrets implode.

There are only two negatives about this book. One, some of the narrative was too long. It’s important for us to be in Detective Ryan’s head, sorting through his memories and processing evidence, but sometimes his inner sermons were really long. Sometimes he conveyed important information pertinent to the crimes, but most of the time it was an emotional outpouring that eventually became unnecessary. We knew the guy was suffering. We didn’t need to continue beating that horse.

Second, I had a pretty good hunch who was involved in the murder early on. I’m not sure if that’s because the character was too archetypal or if I knew it on my own senses. Still, I read most of the second half waiting to see how the character was going to be revealed, which I supposed was a mystery inside the mystery.

Other than those two things, the book was thrill.

Next up: The Execution of Noa P. Singleton.

Buy In the Woods here.

Two days in Horrorstör

I don’t normally finish books in two days, but this one was a quick read. The short page count helped, but it was primarily the tension in the story that kept me enthralled. Once I was in ORSK, I couldn’t leave until the mystery was solved.

First, the cover. If you’ve been in an IKEA, the design concept is entirely familiar to you. In every way the book is designed to make you think of IKEA. The author even references IKEA just in case you’re not sure. The store, in this case, is ORSK, the American version of IKEA and it’s designed to entrap its customers in a counterclockwise maze of home goods and office furniture (just like IKEA). You can eat meatballs in the cafeteria and peruse the make-shift kitchens and living rooms and pretend they’re your own  (just like IKEA). Everything is hard to pronounce so you can’t call anything by it’s actual name (just like IKEA). You get the gist.

Gotta love the back side:

Horrorstor

The story begins with Amy, a dissatisfied ORSK employee, who’s asked to participate in a secret overnight shift to help determine why strange things are happening at the store – odd smells and stains, broken pieces of furniture, other unexplained occurrences that aren’t being caught on the security cameras. Along with Amy’s boss, a third employee agrees to the overnight shift and thus begins the adventure. The entire book lasts one full night in ORSK.

I cannot overstate the brilliance of the book design. Every chapter is named after a piece of furniture that applies to the content of the story. In keeping with the horror genre, the chapters (and furniture) become more gruesome.

Horrorstor chapter

The front matter of the book offers you a showroom map so you can keep track of where the characters are throughout the story.

Inside Horrorstor

This is not just about the solving of a crime. It’s a true horror story with blood and pus and other things that made me squirm. I don’t normally read this sort of fiction but aesthetics of Horrorstör captured me. I love IKEA, with its cheap batteries and meatballs with gravy. I read this book if only to enjoy the parody of the Swedish box store. In the end, it was a thrilling and creative read.

Buy Horrorstör here. 

Edge of Eternity and the 50 Book Challenge

So I finished the third and final installment of Ken Follett’s Century trilogy, Edge of Eternity, and I can say with certainty that he’s still one of my favorite fiction writers. However, this was my least favorite of the three (Fall of Giants and Winter of the World), but that’s only because the pacing of the book was imbalanced, as were the politics of the characters. The bulk of the book is spent in 1960s – a huge chunk just in 1968 – and then all of sudden we jump to the mid-70s and get a short whiff of the 80s. Then boom – the Iron Curtain falls and the book ends. It was a glorious end, but we arrived there swiftly, which is odd to say about a book that’s more than a thousand pages.

The political persuasions of the characters would’ve been fine had there been a better balance of sides, however the only conservative Republican character was a self-centered, deceitful white man who was distasteful in every way. The only other characters that were equally despicable were the Communist leaders. It was an obvious slight that became annoying in the end.

Still, Follett is a beautiful writer and, per usual, I’m left feeling sad that his characters and I have parted ways. I’m mourning appropriately by starting a new book, Horrorstör.

Speaking of books, I’ve joined a group of BookTubers and thousands of fellow GoodReads members by taking the 50 Book Challenge – reading 50 books in one year. Click on the image in the sidebar to keep track of what I’m reading.

One down, 49 to go.

Book challenge start

Buy Edge of Eternity here. 

Book Review: Left Neglected

The synopsis of Left Neglected prepares you for the accident. Sarah is a busy working mother of three, living the high life in Boston, working her tail off to give her children private school, a house in a prestigious neighborhood, and a vacation home in Vermont where they ski in the winter months. Her job demands her attention all day, every day, so much that she’s doing business in bed at night and in the car on the way to the drop-off line. And so it goes: Sarah crashes her car while fiddling on her cell phone and suffers a traumatic brain injury.

Left Neglected

Originally I thought Sarah would have the sort of brain injury that led to paralysis and perhaps she’d end up neglected by family members or hospital staff, but that’s not how it turned out. Her injury resulted in what’s called Left Neglect, a condition in which your brain quite literally does not recognize the left side of anything, including your own body. You don’t eat the food on the left side of your plate, you don’t see the left side of a room, and your left arm and leg become lifeless (not paralyzed, just ignored). It is a condition closely connected with stroke victims, but it’s entirely possible to have Left Neglect as a result of illness or a traumatic brain injury.

But back to Sarah. Of course her life is turned upside down from this event. She was speeding through life and it was brought to a complete halt. The book chronicles the year following her accident as she navigated rehab, relationships, and accepting the inevitable: her life was never going to be the same.

The story is written in first person, so we spend a lot of time in Sarah’s head, an essential component for a story about brain injury. Though there’s a bit of predictability at the end, I thought it was a well-writing cautionary tale about what life could look like if we all don’t slow down.

Buy Left Neglected here.

Conclusions on Gone Girl

GoneGirlWhen I read this book last year, I was hooked on every word, relishing the twists and giddy over all of the things I didn’t see coming. It was brilliant – right until the end. Then, like a sucker, I had fallen for a story that left me unsatisfied and ripped off, like I’d been taken on a fabulous date only to be dumped on the doorstep. I took to the internet and found solace with others like me who rejected Gillian Flynn’s ending. I also discovered that there was another group, just as strong, who defended the book in its entirety. We were at an impasse.

Before I dig in, I’m going to give you an out. For those who’ve not read the book (or seen the movie), turn away NOW so you aren’t exposed to spoilers. If you don’t care either way, go ahead, but I’m going to talk plainly about this story so consider yourself warned.

Continue reading “Conclusions on Gone Girl”

Book Review: May We Be Forgiven

May We Be forgivenThis is perhaps the most unusual book I’ve read in a while. I’ve tried to nail down a better adjective, but unusual always comes back around – unusual and unique.

I bought the book while I was in Santa Fe with Michele, and after reading the first three pages, I wanted to read more. Of course, the first three pages did not prepare me for the next 477.

Frankly, I’m not even confident I could write an informative synopsis, but what’s the harm in trying?

Written in first person and present tense, we go alongside Harold Silver whose life used to be predictable and mundane. But after his brother, George, commits a violent crime, Harry’s day-to-day becomes one impossible situation after another. He becomes responsible for his niece and nephew, whom he hardly knows, as well as aging parents that aren’t his own. The web he weaves through internet sexcapades don’t help matters, and then the cat has a mess of kittens. All the mediocre college professor really wants to do is finish his research on Richard Nixon and forget his brother ever existed. Buying him an iPad was a really wrong move. Who knew you could start so much trouble through Amazon?

The book spans one year exactly, and after 365 days have passed, Harry’s life is on completely different trajectory. May We Be Forgiven is a dark comedy – emphasis on dark – and it earned A.M. Homes the 2013 Women’s Prize for Fiction.May We be forgiven Cranberry edition

A note about the cover: The first image reflects the cover of the book I own. However, I have to say the updated version is pretty clever too. You will understand the significance of both the lamp and the canned cranberry sauce within the first ten pages. I would say the first chapter, but there are no chapters.

Did I mention this book is odd? The fact that I’m still thinking about it tells me something important about the author. Despite the number of times I shook my head while reading it, or turned to Chuck and said, “This book is so weird,” the story left an impression on me, and in the arena of art, that’s a good thing. Whether or not you like a piece of art is almost irrelevant. If you’re still talking about it weeks after seeing it (or reading it), perhaps the artist (or writer) did her job. After all, where’s the inspiration in indifference?

Buy May We Be Forgiven here.

My ten most influential books

I was tagged by our cousin, Annette, to list the ten books that have had the greatest influence on me or have presented me with some sort of challenge. To use her words, these are the books I’d grab if the house set fire. It’s hard to list only ten, but here goes.

1. She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb (fiction) – Impeccable writing, inspiring story. I loved every word. (Buy it here.)

kiterunner2. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (fiction) – I think I read this in two or three days. Many tears. Amazing storyteller. Unfortunately, I can’t find it on my shelf, so I must have lent it out. Thank goodness this book has made it into classrooms alongside the likes of Jane Eyre, King Lear, and Catcher in the Rye. (Buy it here.)

3. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (historical fiction) – This was the gateway book to reading all of Follett’s work. He is by far my favorite fiction writer. If only I could be half the storyteller he is… (Buy it here.)

4. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling (fantasy fiction) – Though I could easily say the entire Harry Potter series is a favorite, I thought it best to pick the one I love the most. The Half-Blood Prince taught me that things aren’t always what they seem. (Buy it here.)

5. One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (fiction) – Laugh-out-loud hilarious. (Buy it here.) 

6. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (memoir) – When read in the proper time and context, this one is enlightening and reflective. (Buy it here.)

7. Daring Greatly by Brené Brown (non-fiction/inspirational) – I’m still reading this one very slowly, but that’s only because every page is worth inhaling and digesting. (Buy it here.)

Middlesex8. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (fiction) – Once I got use to his writing style, the story poured out like paint on a canvas. Simply beautiful. (Buy it here.)

9. Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans (non-fiction/memoir/spiritual) – I could’ve have written this book, though not in the same esteem. Rachel is definitely more qualified to tackle religion, but we share similar experiences. (Now call Faith Unraveled, buy it here.)

10. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (non-fiction/memoir/instructional) – Essentially, this is my writing bible. (Buy it here.)

 


 

School update and a book review

We’ve begun our second week of school and if the boys keep at this pace we’ll be finished by March. Not really, but they are zooming through the first few units of math. Things will slow down when we hit fractions and multiplication hard core. Jackson dances around saying, “Multiplication is easy peasy,” but he’s only started with zeros and ones. I’m letting him enjoy the little victories.

As for my school, I’m loving it. Genre writing is the perfect class to take while finishing the novel for my capstone. Right now we’re reading a brainless romance novel, but next on the list is Gone, Baby, Gone. It won’t be a fresh read since I’ve seen the movie, but I expect it to be good.

The Girl You Left BehindSpeaking of books, prior to the start of the fall semester I finished The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes. It was recommended to me a few weeks ago when I asked friends on Facebook to suggest their current favorite reads. The story is a lively mix of historical and contemporary fiction that revolves around the portrait of a French woman, titled appropriately The Girl You Left Behind.

The book begins with Sophie Lefèvre, who runs a hotel in a small French town in 1916 during the German occupation. Her husband, Édouard, is away fighting in the war but has left his wife with a sweet reminder of their love for one another – an informal yet irresistible portrait he painted of her. The painting is all well and good until the German Kommandant takes notice of it. Subsequently, Sophie and the Kommandant become uncomfortably intertwined.

Fast forward nearly one hundred years and The Girl You Left Behind hangs in Liv Halston’s house, a comforting yet cruel reminder of her dead husband who bought the portrait for her as a wedding gift. Liv is in a pit of mourning and complacency when she is threatened with losing the portrait on account of restitution.

Though there’s a bit of predictability with how the book will end, the mystery is all about discovering how the portrait went from hanging on a hotel wall in 1916 France to an unrelated widow’s home in London a century later. There’s also a some suspense when it comes to finding out what happened to Sophie, who disappeared the same time as her portrait.

Overall the book was an enjoyable read and it was the first I’ve read from Jojo Moyes. Her writing is fluid and descriptive, and even though a few of things I suspected early on came true, my attention was kept until the final page because the unfolding of the portrait’s story was so interesting.

In other news, is it autumn yet?