Category Archives: Fiction

At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

At the Water's EdgeAt the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wish Sara Gruen wrote faster. I always like her books and the multiple year wait between them is just too long. Maddie’s gradual transformation from party girl to responsible woman is painful, but ultimately very satisfying. The backdrop of Scotland during World War II is also interesting. If you liked The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, you’ll like this too.

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Some stuff I’ve recently read

Although I haven’t been posting much lately, I have been reading. I’m seven books behind on my GoodReads challenge though. Good thing I have a week off at the end of June. Maybe I can catch up.

Here’s a roundup of some of the books I’ve finished recently along with the GoodReads rating I gave them.

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Lies We Tell OurselvesLies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a difficult book to read, but it was completely worth it. The point of view switches between Sarah, a black teenager who is one of the first to attend Jefferson High School and Linda, a white teenager who is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of integration. Forced to work together on a school project, Linda and Sarah eventually become to see beyond the color of each other’s skin to the person underneath.

Sarah’s descriptions of what the black kids endure from the white students are incredibly painful, as are Linda’s justifications for the behavior of both white kids and adults. Talley does a really good job of writing from both points of view. Both Linda and Sarah have very strong, unique voices and both changed as a result of knowing the other. I think it would make a great addition to reading lists relating to both identity and civil rights.

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Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour BookstoreMr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5 stars. I really enjoyed this. It defies description or characterization. It’s a slightly weird combination of quest, fantasy (without swords, horses, or dragons), and literary fiction (which I tend not to like because it’s more about the writing than the plot and characters).  I’ll be thinking about this one for awhile.

From the jacket copy:

The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls.

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Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

AttachmentsAttachments by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book and finished it in two days because I felt such a strong connection to the characters. As with Eleanor & Park, I was sad when the book ended because it meant I wouldn’t be able to spend more time with the characters. The semi-epistolary format was really interesting and I thought it was clever to set it in late 1999, when organizations did have people monitoring individual e-mails.

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Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler

Breathing LessonsBreathing Lessons by Anne Tyler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Meh. I kept reading, but couldn’t really identify with the characters. I found it hard to believe that these people are less than ten years older than I am. Either my mental age is a lot lower than my chronological age or forty-seven is a lot less middle aged than it used to be.

It also felt to me like the story really didn’t go anywhere. The characters didn’t change and the narrative didn’t move forward. If the intent was to show a slice of the characters’ lives, then it succeeded, but I didn’t get the sense that anything in their lives was going to be different after the book ended.

I still want to read some of her other books so that I can see if it’s something about her writing style that bugs me or if was just these characters.

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Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

Dear Committee Members: A NovelDear Committee Members: A Novel by Julie Schumacher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this and the epistolary format was fun, but I wish the main character had been…nicer, I suppose. I just didn’t connect very well with him.

This doesn’t reach the heights of Jane Smiley’s Moo or Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim, but sadly it’s a pretty decent portrait (albeit sarcastic) of today’s university.

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October/November books

It’s mid-December, so I’ll hit the highlights for October and November. I’m also happy to report that I hit my GoodReads Challenge goal to read 100 books in 2012 on December 6. Not that my To Read shelf has any fewer books on it. No matter how fast I read, I can’t seem to make a dent in that list. There are just too many good books and not enough hours in the day.

Freeman by Leonard Pitts, Jr.
Takes place in the first few months following the Confederate surrender and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Upon learning of Lee’s surrender, Sam–a runaway slave who once worked for the Union Army–decides to leave his safe haven in Philadelphia and set out on foot to return to the war-torn South. What compels him on this almost-suicidal course is the desire to find his wife, the mother of his only child, whom he and their son left behind 15 years earlier on the Mississippi farm to which they all “belonged.” At the same time, Sam’s wife, Tilda, is being forced to walk at gunpoint with her owner and two of his other slaves from the charred remains of his Mississippi farm into Arkansas, in search of an undefined place that would still respect his entitlements as slaveowner and Confederate officer. The book’s third main character, Prudence, is a fearless, headstrong white woman of means who leaves her Boston home for Buford, Mississippi, to start a school for the former bondsmen, and thus honor her father’s dying wish. This book was heartwrenching in the best way possible. Pitts is a wonderful writer who draws you into the world of suddenly emancipated slaves in the South immediately after the Civil War and hooks you completely.

Redshirts by John Scalzi
If you’re a Star Trek fan you know about the Redshirts. They’re the unnamed crew members who go on away missions and never come back. So, what happens when the Redshirts realize that there’s a pattern? That’s the premise of the book. I’m about 175 pages into the 638 on my Nook copy and I’m loving this. Scalzi does a great job of moving things along and clearly had a lot of fun with the concept. The characters are pretty well-drawn, although they’re clearly based on the stock sci-fi Crew on a Ship stereotypes. I clearly visualize Shatner as the ship’s captain and Dwight Schultz as the hapless (and incredibly lucky) Lieutenant Kerensky. Highly recommended for Star Trek fans or anyone with a basic understanding of the Redshirt archetype. Bonus for fans of listening to books: Wil Wheaton reads the audiobook. I don’t normally do audio, but I’m seriously considering an exception here.

Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow
It took me two months to finish this. It’s really interesting and well-written, but it made me so furious that I had to take breaks from it to read something less serious. Don’t let the subject matter deter you though. Rachel can write and makes a convincing argument for rethinking American foreign policy.

Live by Night by Dennis Lehane
Boston, 1926. The ’20s are roaring. Liquor is flowing, bullets are flying, and one man sets out to make his mark on the world. Joe Coughlin, last seen in Lehane’s The Given Day, the youngest son of a prominent Boston police captain, has long since turned his back on his strict and proper upbringing. Now having graduated from a childhood of petty theft to a career in the pay of the city’s most fearsome mobsters, Joe enjoys the spoils, thrills, and notoriety of being an outlaw. Lehane is a wonderful writer and this is a great story. Joe is a flawed, incredibly likeable anti-hero and a fascinating foil to his older brother Danny, who was one of the main characters in The Given Day. I highly recommend reading The Given Day, then Live by Night. They complement each other really well.

The Ten, Make That Nine, Habits of Very Organized People. Make That Ten.: The Tweets of Steve Martin by Steve Martin
Combine Steve Martin and Twitter and you get a very quick, very funny read. He’s warped, but brilliant.

M Is for Magic by Neil Gaiman
I love Neil Gaiman. These stories are weird, creepy, and well written. It was a perfect book to read in October.

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett
I came late to the Discworld bandwagon, but now I’m firmly aboard. This was really fun to read. I enjoyed the feminist twist.

American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee by Karen Abbott
Non-fiction that reads like a novel. Gypsy Rose Lee was interesting. Rose Louise Hovick (her real name) was even more so. And Mama Rose was a psychopath.

Take Big Bites: Adventures Around the World and Across the Table by Linda Ellerbee
I’ve been a Linda Ellerbee fan ever since I read And So It Goes while I was in college (at my dad’s recommendation). Nobody tells a story better and funnier. Each chapter centers on a specific place, time, and cuisine and includes a recipe at the end. I’ll read anything she writes, just because she’s so damned good at it.

The Perfect Hope (Inn Boonsboro, #3) by Nora Roberts
This is the third book in the Inn Boonsboro trilogy. I always enjoy Roberts’ books. Although I didn’t like this series as much as the Bride Quartet, it was still entertaining. I liked the ghost aspect, as well as the relationships between the women and the brothers. These books just seemed a little flatter than the ones in the Bride Quartet.

Judgment Call: A Brady Novel of Suspense by J.A. Jance
I have an approach/avoidance problem with this series. The plots are great, but I find myself editing instead of getting lost in the writing. I love J.P Beaumont, but am not as big a fan of Sheriff Brady.

The Lincoln Letter by William Martin
Wow. I loved everything about this book, especially the way the author moved back and forth between Civil War and present-day Washington, DC. That our family took a trip to DC last summer added a little extra something because I could visualize Ford’s Theater, the lockkeeper’s house, and other DC landmarks. He’s very skillful at weaving the present and the past together. It also complemented Lincoln (the film) very well. I liked it so much that I bought all of the author’s backlist (see the next title).

Harvard Yard by William Martin
Skillfully brings past and present story lines together into a fascinating history of Harvard. Historical thread was so vivid that I had dreams about Cotton Mather, which was a little disturbing. I’ll now read anything that William Martin writes.

A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell
Berlin in 1931 is a bleak place. Hannah Vogel is devastated when she sees a photograph of her brother’s body posted in the Hall of the Unnamed Dead. Ernst, a cross-dressing lounge singer at a seedy nightclub, had many secrets, a never-ending list of lovers, and plenty of opportunities to get into trouble. During her investigation into his death, she uncovers intrigue and political scandal at the top of the rising Nazi Party. She begins to fear for her own life, as well as that of Anton, a street urchin who has begun to call her “mother”.  Highly recommended for fans of the Maisie Dobbs series, which takes place in England in the same general time period.

Cold Days by Jim Butcher
Harry Dresden is back from being mostly dead and is introduced to life as the Winter Knight. His first assignment is suitably impossible: kill an immortal. Lots of twists and turns, snark, reunions, and Star Wars/Princess Bride and other popular sci-fi references. I read this in two days and can’t wait for book 15.

I’m currently reading book 5 in the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews. I’ll do a separate post about that series, because I think I’ve found something that I like just as much as Harry Dresden. I’m eternally grateful to my friend Charlotte Roh for recommending these. They’re stellar.