Monday, December 30, 2019

A brief foray into Stephen King

Stephen King's book about the craft of writing had been sitting on my shelf for years.  I can't remember who gave it to me or where I first picked it up, but I decided to finally read it.  I've read a little King here and there, and always been impressed with what I've read - I think he gets so little credit for being a true literary genius, and this book provided incredible insight into all he has done to develop and hone his craft.  Part-memoir, and part-how-to, I wouldn't say this book inspired me to do any writing of my own (King works WAY too hard, I don't think I'd have it in me - not to mention that whole talent part), but it did get me very interested in reading more of his fiction.  And so I did. 

I started with Carrie - and I should preface all of this by saying even though I know the basic story lines of many of King's novels, I have not seen any of the movies they have been turned into (except for Pet Sematary, which I loved and scared the daylights out of me).  Carrie is a teenage girl raised by a hyper-religious single mother who isolates and abuses her daughter, and has left her wholly unprepared to deal with the realities of the world she lives in.  As a result, she is ostracized and teased mercilessly by her high school classmates.  But, of course, Carrie is no ordinary teenager - and between her special powers, and her deep-seated desire for revenge, it's about to be a (pig's) bloodbath. 

From Carrie, I moved on to Salem's Lot.  I had no idea what to expect, but this one was so creepy, I had to keep all my lights on at night after reading it!  The main character, Ben, is a writer who returns to his hometown after 25 years to write a book about an allegedly haunted house in town.  His arrival coincides with the disappearance of a young boy - and the discovery that the boy's brother has turned into a vampire!  The town's residents are quickly being transformed while Ben reunites with old friends to combat the infestation.  The plot is so hokey that you'd think it'd just be campy and fun, but King's writing and storytelling is so intense, that I found myself legitimately frightened!  I knew nothing about the plot of this book before I picked it up, and find it so amazing that he wrote this in 1975, clearly inspired by Dracula, but well before the relatively recent craze of vampire novels - and yet, I have never heard King credited with being any influence on or godfather of the current literature, which I think is just another example of King not receiving the credit he deserves for being such a profound influence on our culture.

Finally, for this time with King, I turned to The Shining, another one that I kind of knew the basic story about from popular culture, but had never actually read or seen the movie.  Writer Jack Torrance takes a job as the winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel.  Located in the snowy mountains, the hotel is closed to visitors during the winter months, which Jack assumes means he will have lots of time to devote to the writing of his new book.  He brings along his wife and young son to stay with him.  While the hotel at first seems like a quiet but idyllic location, Jack's son Danny seems to sense an ominous presence.  As the weeks pass by, the family becomes more and more isolated, until madness (or perhaps something more supernatural) takes over.  This book is so creepy, that after reading it, I decided that I've had enough of Stephen King for awhile.  He is a brilliant writer - and a master storyteller.  But, my tolerance for horror and psychological thrillers is not very high.  I want to keep reading, but I know it's better for my own mental health to stick to happier endings.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Pairs of Mysteries All Around

I love a good mystery- and some bad ones too.

The Drop The Black Box (Harry Bosch #15 & #16) - Michael Connelly: The best thing about Michael Connelly is not that he writes a good detective novel, but that he does it with such speed that no matter when I decide to return to him, he has a new book out there for me!   In The Drop, Bosch finds himself embroiled in a political nightmare when the son of his nemesis, Councilman Irvin Irving's son is found dead and Irving demands Bosch investigate the death.  In The Black Box, Bosch matches the bullet from a current murder to a death nearly 20 years earlier.  In typical Connelly fashion, both books are page-turners with multiple crimes solved (including very cold cases) and internal corruption revealed.

The Girl in the Spider's Web & The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye (Milennium #4 & #5) - David Lagercranz: Following the death of Stieg Larsson, Lagercranz continues The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series.  I read the first novels in the series long enough ago that I can't make a great comparison between the authors, but seemed to me that Lagercranz did a fine job sticking to the basic formula - making the story suspenseful and having the reader pulling for Salander the whole way through.  Like all the others, these involve a little hacking, a little journalism, and a lot of espionage and double crossing. Thoroughly entertaining.

The Girl on the Train & Into the Water: Paula Hawkins: After Gone Girl, I admit I'm a sucker for any book that people tell me is basically like Gone Girl.  And so I picked up The Girl on the Train about Rachel (the girl on the train) who obsesses over the lives of a couple she is able to view from the seat of her commuter train each day.  One day, she believes she sees a crime committed and becomes unhinged in her attempts to prove what she believes she saw.  Rachel turns out to be an unreliable narrator, which I think is not a wholly new phenomenon in literature, but is one that has become more frequently used, and I think can often make a story more fun.  While Rachel becomes more frustrating and unlikeable as the story unfolds, I really enjoyed the twists and turns of this mystery and found it ultimately worth my while (but it's no Gone Girl).  Given my general enjoyment of The Girl on the Train, I was eager to pick up Hawkins's next novel, Into the Water which follows a town following the discovery of a dead woman at the bottom of a river.  I had a very difficult time getting into this book - it may have been that I had too much going on when I read it, but it felt to me that the book itself had too much going on - too many characters, too many narratives, and too much to live up to.  I may try it again in the future, but for now, this one was not for me.

Taylor Reid Jenkins

While I try my best to save money and get the majority of my books these days from the library, I still do derive a great deal of pleasure from visiting local bookstores.  I justify my visits by still buying way too many books, and convincing myself that it's good to support small businesses.  One of my favorite local bookstores is A Great Good Place for Books, where the owner always has a few excellent recommendations up her sleeve.  She introduced me to Taylor Reid Jenkins a couple months back.  I really enjoyed these two, and look forward to reading her other novels soon!

I picked up Daisy Jones & the Six several times in bookstores and just wasn't moved by the subject - sounds like a fictional version of Fleetwood Mac - a charismatic singer in the 70s caught up in drugs and relationships with band members.  I'm just not really a music person and didn't think I'd find it very interesting.  But, then Katheleen from GGP told me I should give it a try, so I went on faith - and I'm glad I did.  The book is told in vignettes of recorded interviews from the various bandmates, producers, and other people involved in the Band, The Six, and revolves around their lead singer - Daisy Jones.  While at times I found myself getting exhausted with the hedonistic lifestyles of the various characters, and their poor decisions, I really enjoyed the way the story was told, and did find myself invested in the characters and caring about how they all turned out in the end. 

Evelyn Hugo is one of the biggest stars Hollywood has ever made, so when she finds herself at the end of her life wanting to tell her story, and she calls a young no-name journalist to write it up, questions and intrigue abound.  As Evelyn's life story unfolds, she reveals the true nature of her seven marriages, and the true love of her life.  I enjoyed the way this book was written - with Evelyn telling her story through each chapter, and then various breaks in between as the journalist's own backstory (not as interesting) came through.  The mystery of the relationship between Evelyn and the journalist was a bit heavy-handed, with Reid trying too hard with cliffhangers and creating a bit of melodrama about what might be revealed, but all in all, I found this to be a very entertaining read, with a lot to think about in terms of who makes it in Hollywood and the price people are willing to pay for fame.

YA/Middle Reader Books

As my children get older, I find that there are more of these titles on my TBR list - because I'm reading to them, I'm trying to get ahead of what they might be reading soon, and because I just generally enjoy books aimed to the 8-14 range (though some YA tend to be more in the 14-17 range it seems, or maybe I have really forgotten what it's like to be a kid!)

Piecing Me Together - Renee Watson: Jade has a bright future ahead - she's one of the few students from her neighborhood attending a fancy private school.  She's been given the opportunity to participate in a youth mentorship program, and she is a talented artist.  But not everything seemingly being given to her seems worth having.  As a young black woman, she feels torn between a world that tells her she should be working hard to leave the place she came from, and feeling proud of her family and her upbringing.  She is caught among many worlds - thinking things are often black and white, but learning as time passes, that there is so much gray in the middle.  She struggles with relative privilege, the intersectionality of race, gender, and class, and learning to find her voice even in a world that wants her to just appreciate what she's been given.  Every chapter of this book had a story in it worthy of discussion.  I'd love to read this book in a book group, but more importantly to believe that young readers are reading it as a part of their curriculum or among their group of friends.

Book Scavenger - Jennifer Chambliss Bertman:  I read this one to my 8-year-old son.  In the vein of Mr. Lemoncello's Library, Book Scavenger centers around the legendary book publisher Garrison Griswold, who is known for his quirky scavenger hunts and games.  Twelve-year-old Emily is his number one fan, and when she discovered a strange book in a San Francisco train station, she is convinced that it has something to do with Mr. Griswold's recent disappearance.  New to town, she befriends her neighbor, James - also a lover of clues and ciphers, to figure out the clues, and avoid the dangerous men who will do anything to prevent them from solving the mystery!  The first in a series, we're looking forward to reading the next installment!

Darius the Great is Not Okay - Adib Khorram:  Teenage Darius struggles with clinical depression.  Instead of being supportive and compassionate, his father shames him constantly and derides him for seemingly not trying to just be better and act "normal."  When his grandfather in Iran falls ill, the family travels to with them.  While Darius finds himself trying to come to terms, not just with his depression, but now with being even more different in another country, he meets Sohrab.  The two play soccer together, and Sohrab allows him to just be.  So much of this book was awkward and painful to read - but in that way, it was so much like coming of age.  As Darius tries to figure out how to trust and lean on a true friend, he also figures out that he has a lot more to offer - himself and the world - than he'd ever believed possible.

The Night Diary - Veera Hiranandani: After her mother dies in childbirth, Nisha grows up with her twin brother, her quick-to-anger father, and her grandmother in India.  Her dead mother was Muslim, but her father is Hindu.  The year is 1947, and the country has just been separated into two- India and Pakistan.  With hundreds of thousands of people crossing borders to avoid the violent conflicts over religion, Nisha's family flees in the middle of the night for a safer home.  Nisha chronicles the confusing journey in her diary - which she addresses to her dead mother.  Through it she attempts to understanding the nature of the conflict between Muslims and Hindus, but also between her father and brother, herself and her lost mothers, and to make sense of the world around her where no one has the time to stop and explain anything.

Friday, December 27, 2019

A Few Quick Entries

With 50 books to update on this blog before the end of the year - I have to keep my summaries quick!  Here's a list of a bunch I read during the year that I enjoyed, but weren't particularly noteworthy (I rarely, if ever, finish a book I hate these days, so anything that makes its way here is usually not the worst!).

Gray Mountain - John Grisham: I'm always a sucker for the latest Grisham novel - I think I've come to have fairly low expectations and to expect them to be formulaic, but I still find myself more often than not quite pleasantly surprised.  In this one, Samantha, a big firm lawyer, is offered the chance to work pro bono for a legal aid clinic in lieu of being laid off.  She finds herself in the heart of Appalachia taking on Big Coal.  This is quintessential Grisham - David v. Goliath - what's a few death threats when you're on your way to exposing corporate greed?  As always, an enjoyable page-turner.

The Silent Wife - A.S.A. Harrison: In the vein of Gone Girl, this psychological thriller tells the story - from alternating viewpoints - of a husband and wife destined for disaster.  He's a cheater, she's vengeful.  Both are determined to have their way, even if it means the other loses their life.  Engaging and creepy - I left all the lights on while reading this one.

Station Eleven - Emily St. John Mandel: For awhile I felt like I was surrounded by the end of the world - from The Road to The Passage, I admit I started to get a little tired of books about abhorrent illness and looters around every corner.  And, so I may have picked this one up already feeling a little exhausted.  Station Eleven focuses on the life of a Hollywood actor, going back and forth in time from his heyday on stage, to many years in the future when a mysterious illness appears to have decimated most of the population.  I enjoyed seeing how the lives of various survivors intertwined - from their pasts and into their futures, but the ominous subject matter left me a little worse for the wear.

Funny Girl - Nick Horby: I absolutely love Nick Hornby. I find him heartwarming and clever, and have enjoyed nearly all of his fiction and non-fiction.  Funny Girl is actress Sophie Straw's journey from latest "it" girl to television phenomenon - and all the quirky characters she comes across along the way.  I don't think I completely bought Hornby's attempt at a female main character, but it was predictably enjoyable.

Fiction Selections

Every once in awhile, I make a real push to read books that have just been sitting on my bookshelves at home for years.  Sometimes I'm left wondering why I ever bought the book in the first place - where was I in my life that this sounded at all interesting?  Other times I love the book so much I kick myself for letting it sit on the shelf unread for so long!  Here's a mix of the latest flurry from the bookshelves:

The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier: After The Girl with the Pearl Earring, I never pass up a Chevalier novel when I see it at a used bookstore.  But that's not to say it won't sit on my shelf for awhile.  This book alternates between the present day - telling the story of Ella Turner who upon moving to a small town in France, decides to research her own French history.  This leads to the story of Isabelle du Moulin who lived in the same area more than 400 years earlier.  Of course, the two women are linked in some way, but the detective story that emerges as Ella attempts to find herself through her research is a definite page turner.  I should read a bit more of those Chevalier books on my shelves..

Dreaming Water by Gail Tsukiyama: I've enjoyed a number of books by Tsukiyama, including The Samurai's Garden, The Street of a Thousand Blossoms, and The Language of Threads.  I always find her stories engaging and her writing beautiful and straight-forward.  In Dreaming Water, Cate steel grieving the loss of her husband, has to face the fact that her adult daughter, Hana, is dying from a rare disease.  As Cate and Hana come to terms with their pasts and the future they don't want to face, one of Hana's old friends comes back into the picture - and the book explores their friendships and how each one deals with the end in their own way.
In The Language of Miracles by Rajia Hassib:  This story asks the question of how accepted into an "American" community a family of immigrants can be - what happens when a tragedy occurs?  Who will take the blame?  How will each member of a family deal with their loss, grief, and isolation?  The Al-Menshawy family immigrated to a NewJersey suburb from Egypt - they appear to be living the American Dream - their own home, stable jobs, and seemingly true friends in their school and neighborhood.  This book explores the painful reality of how much more it takes, both physically, mentally, and emotionally, to find one's place - especially in a place hell-bent on exclusion.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

More Jasmine Guillory

Earlier in the year, I read Jasmine Guillory's The Wedding Proposal as part of a reading challenge that called for a Romance by a Person of Color.  I don't read much romance in general, but I found Guillory's writing fun, and I enjoyed getting to know her characters.  Then I found out she's from the area where I live, and it seemed only right to keep supporting her novels.  So, I picked up The Proposal.  In the sequel to The Wedding Date, Nik finds herself in a rebound relationship with Carlos - neither of whom are looking for anything serious.  So, you know where this is going - lots of late-night meet-ups and casual dates that eventually lead to someone falling in love, but no one wanting to admit it.  In many ways these types of books are so frustrating - if people would just say what they're thinking and stop being idiots, a lot less time would be wasted.  But, then there wouldn't be a book.  So, every time I found myself aggravated and wanting to throw the book against the wall, I just told myself to breathe and enjoy it.  And I did.  The Proposal is also fun - nothing earth-shattering here - except maybe an appreciation that people of color can be desirable and human and full of flaws but also loved and beautiful and worthy.  And that's definitely a message worth picking up.
And so, I picked up the third in the trilogy - The Wedding Party - with Alexa (from The Wedding Date) planning her wedding in the background, her best friends Maddie and Theo find their mutual hatred of each other developing into a *surprise* full-fledged romance.  But, of course, it starts out as a casual fling for both of them, and as they're hiding their meet-ups from Alexa, they're hiding their true feelings for each other from themselves.  Same basic formula successfully used as a vehicle for romance.  It was fun to see this story line through, but I still wouldn't say that I'm sold on romance as a genre.  Again, I haven't read many, and my guess is that Guillory probably does it better than most.  I'm a fan and will keep reading her books as the come out (I know Royal Holiday is waiting for me at the library at this moment).

Diversity Book Club: African-American Authors/Experiences

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones: This beautiful book has been on display at so many bookstores I've visited over the past year, and I finally made time to read it.  Newlyweds Celestial and Roy believe they have it all - a home, jobs, love...but when Roy is imprisoned for a crime he did not commit, their loyalties and strength are tested in ways they never imagined.  As the years pass, the nature of the love between Celestial and Roy necessarily changes - what he needs in terms of support and belief exist separate and apart from what Celestial needs on the outside for her life.  This book is clearly about racism, but also highlights the heartbreaking realities of mass incarceration - and what separation does to families.  I read this book close in time to Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow which is a non-fiction education on how the United States' current system of criminal justice is the functional equivalent of modern-day racism, and how systemic and institutional racism have fundamentally decimated African-American communities.  An American Marriage also reminded me in many ways of Jesmyn Ward's haunting novel Sing, Unburied, Sing in which a young boy is raised by his black grandparents. His white father is in prison and his black mother is so consumed by her love for him, and unable to function in a world without him, that she remains ill-equipped to take care of her own child.  All of these books together really painted for me this painful world in which our ideas of retribution are so tangled up in our racism and blindness toward the next generations.  They books aren't full of much hope - though they are a testament to what families endure, and perhaps an illustration of the huge price we pay when we turn a blind eye to our so-called justice system.

Fiction: Jean Kwok

I kept seeing Jean Kwok's novel Searching for Sylvie Lee on recommended book lists, but alas the queue at the library was quite long, so I decided to try out her previous novel, Girl in Translation first. I'm glad I did - this is the type of Asian-American fiction that is squarely in my comfort zone - young Asian girl - recent immigrant or child of too-hard-working to be around much immigrants, succeeds in school, but never quite fits in, finds herself and her passion, but at the expense of love or the approval of her parents.  While Girl in Translation follows this formula, it is in no way rote or unimaginative.  There's a reason this story line is so popular - who doesn't love the struggle of a beautiful girl caught between two cultures, with so much promise, and so much obligation?  The writing and storytelling are easy to follow in a "beach read" way, but certainly not mindless.  This book left me wanting to read more by Jean Kwok, so I was quite happy to find Searching for Sylvie Lee waiting for me at the library.

When I was in college, I took a poetry class that was not my favorite.  I found I always wanted some background on the poet - what was s/he going through when they wrote the poem?  What was going on in the world they were living in at the time they wrote the poem?  What was the poem in response to?  What was the poet trying to say?  But every time I wondered these things, my professor - or other more sophisticated students - would inform me that a poem had to stand on its own, and it wasn't about what the poet intended, but what we took from the poem, without all of that background information.  I understood the point, but it didn't make me enjoy or understand the poems any better.  And so it often it when I read novels.  I wonder if the "fiction" is really "fiction."  Why did the author write THIS book about THESE characters?  People say "write what you know," and what is it that the author knew about the characters and places in this particular book?  And so it is with Searching for Sylvie Lee - about the perfect wife and sister who suddenly goes missing.  Her not-as-perfect sister, travels internationally not just to find her, but to find out more about the real life no one ever understood her sister was living.  After thoroughly enjoying Girl in Translation, there were parts of this book that just didn't seem right to me.  I couldn't quite connect to the characters, and felt uncomfortable about some of their relationships with each other - at the risk of including a spoiler, I won't go into it more, but I just could not relate.  But, it was because of this that I just did some brief internet research about the book - to see how it had been received, and it was there that I learned more about Kwok's background, and that she had suffered the disappearance of a sibling.  That she would then write this book is incredibly brave to me - I know it means that the book no longer stood on its own for me - but I don't care.  It made it fascinating and real, and so much more incredibly painful.  I cared more about what happened to Sylvie Lee, and what would become of her sister.  On its own, I don't think I would have appreciated this book as much as I did Girl in Translation, and maybe I didn't read it the way I was supposed to - with a little background - but that did help me connect better, and I do hope the process of writing the novel brought Kwok some much needed peace.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Obsessed with Ruth Ware

While browsing at our school's Spring Book Fair, I came across The Death of Mrs. Westaway.  I'd never heard of Ruth Ware, and the back cover of this book didn't exactly provide a summary of the book - which normally irritates me.  I don't like when it's just a bunch of endorsement quotes from random authors (though I admit that I have bought books in the past based on endorsements from random authors).  But, I think I liked the cover, and was in the mood for a creepy mystery.  So, I took my chances.  And, I'm very glad that I did.

The book opens with the passing of Mrs. Westaway, and a strange letter to a girl named Hal telling her that she is a beneficiary in Mrs. Westaway's will.  Hal is convinced they have contacted the wrong person, but deeply in debt following the death of her mother, with only her income as a tarot card reader to rely on, Hal responds to the letter in the hopes of swindling her way into an inheritance.  When she arrives at the will reading purporting to be a long lost niece, she finds that she hasn't just be given a small amount of money - instead, Mrs. Westaway had bequeathed her an entire estate.  As Hal attempts to come to terms with her deception, she finds that nothing is quite as it seems, and as her own lies begin to unravel, so do the secrets kept by her own mother and her connections to the strange Mrs. Westaway.  This book was suspenseful and creepy - not the kind of thing I wanted to be reading on my own late at night, but completely unable to put down.  When it was finally over, I requested all of Ruth Ware's books from the library right away!

The Woman in Cabin 10:  This one seems to be the most well-known of Ware's novels.  A young travel writer is assaulted in her apartment on the eve of one of her biggest assignments.  Still reeling from the trauma, she boards a luxury yacht and begins mingling with the exclusive clientele.  On her first night at sea, she's convinced she seems someone in the cabin next to her throw a body overboard.  And yet, everyone on the boat appears alive and accounted for.  As she insists on convincing others that a tragedy has occurred, her own sanity is called into question - and she begins to wonder if she really saw something, or if it has all been a trick of her hypervigilant imagination.  As with many of these books, there was some sense of irritation as a reader - the main character is incredibly unlikeable - while she has a right to be distrustful and shaken due to the traumatic experience in the opening chapter, her rudeness and social awkwardness seem unrealistic.  Or maybe completely realistic - just obnoxious.  She also makes some odd choices in terms of who to share information with, and what information to share -but given the circumstances and her increasing paranoia, perhaps this makes sense.  It just becomes a little frustrating.  From an entertaining/thriller perspective, this was another enjoyable read.

The Lying Game: The premise of this one is a bit annoying from the start - a group of four private school girls play a game to see who can get away with the most lies.  From the start you know these girls are mostly self-centered brats...but they've grown up and suddenly one of them needs the others to come to her rescue. It's clear some sort of death/murder/foul play has occurred, but no one is telling the complete truth.  The four women spend several days together in a remote beach house, reliving their pasts, and trying to understand what or who is out to uncover their darkest secret (which we only understand in bits and pieces through the book).  If this had been my first Ruth Ware novel, I may not have come back for more, but while not particularly liking any of the characters, I found it to be a generally good story - a bit creepy, as with her others, always a few moments of dread to keep the story going.  And, I did want to read to the end to find out how it all wrapped up.

In a Dark, Dark Wood: Nora wakes up in the hospital one day and can't quite remember what's happened.  It's clear there's been an accident, but why is there a police officer sitting outside her room?  The book flashes back to Nora agreeing to attend the bachelorette party of a friend from school that she hasn't seen in over 10 years - why she's been invited is a mystery, but her curiosity gets the better of her.  She trudges out to a house (in the dark, dark woods) with the bride to be and several other friends. Nora is a runner, who doesn't seem to mind running alone at dusk in an area she's not at all familiar with - an area that doesn't appear to get very good cell phone service - clearly a recipe for impending disaster.  With Ware's usual twists and turns, this one kept me guessing until the end in a fun (and creepy) way. 

I read through these four books in less than a month, so it may be time for me to take a break from Ware.  I think she has one more available for me at the library, The Turn of the Key.  I've requested it and look forward to reading it in a well-lit crowded area when it comes in.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Diversity Book Club: Books about Crossing/Mexico/Mexican-Americans

The Diversity Book Club in my office seeks books that will help open up our discussions with each other about race.  We've mostly chosen books based on recommendations from members or books that seems to be in the news.  In my quest to find good choices, I've also picked up a few books that I might not otherwise have read.  Here are just a few on the top of crossing the Mexico-United States border, and families living lives in the in-between:

The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande: This is the memoir of Reyna Grande, whose father left her, her mother, and her siblings behind in Mexico, while he crossed the border in search of a better life.  Shortly after, he sends for his wife, but Reyna and her siblings are left in the care of their seemingly unloving grandmother.  Unable to care for them, Reyna's grandmother is dependent on the money sent to her by Reyna's parents in the United States.  Reyna is made to feel like a burden to her family in Mexico, while she lies awake at night wondering if she has been abandoned, or whether her parents will ever come back for her.  Ultimately, Reyna makes her own journey to "El Otro Lado" (the other side), with all the trauma, heartache, and unfulfilled promises that brings.  This is a true story of what it means to be a child left behind, and raises the questions - so prevalent in all these books about crossing - of what price is too high to pay for the destruction of family bonds, and how desperate must a parent feel to be willing to give up so much - or to feel like there is no other choice.

Across a Hundred Mountains by Reyna Grande:  After reading her memoir, I was interested in reading Grande's fiction.  It's clear that she writes what she knows, and even after reading the emotionally exhausting The Distance Between Us, I was still moved by this fiction account of two women - one crossing to the United States to find her father, and one following her husband across the border into Mexico.  Like her memoir, this book raised even more questions about the journeys people make for love.

Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario:  This memoir begins in Honduras, but ultimately requires the brutal crossing from Mexico into the United States.  Like Reyna Grande, Enrique's mother leaves him behind when he is only five years old, so that she can make her way north to a better life.  She promises to send for him, but the years pass, and his mother can only tell him to be patient.  Life without his mother is excruciating, and at the age of 16, Enrique decides to take matters into his own hands.  With only a phone number for his mother (in North Carolina), Enrique sets off to make the dangerous journey.  What becomes clear through this narrative is not just the conditions that one chooses to leave behind when they make the decision to cross, but truly the horrific trauma that people endure in the journey alone - from extreme weather conditions to physical and sexual assault to brutal robberies and near starvation, there is nothing glamorous or easy about getting to the border, much less across it.  This is an incredibly written account - one that I wish everyone would read - particularly anyone who just thinks people are coming across without exploring every other option available - for those who think for even a second that the decision is easy or that the separations of family isn't completely devastating and detrimental for generation upon generation. Enrique's Journey was first published in 2005, but it is an important book for understanding and better developing a conversation about immigration issues, and how greatly our humanity is implicated in our treatment of children and families.

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight - Jennifer E. Smith

I used to be a big fan of YA fiction - and I still am, but I think I'm moving more and more into the "Middle Reader" book section - books that I think are more for 8-12 years olds (or so), and don't focus much on young love, which is a topic that I don't much have the stomach for - but of course is all-appealing and all-consuming for actual real YA readers.  So, while I'm glad these books exist for the readers for whom they are intended, I shall keep my distance in the future (I think).

I don't recall why I picked this one up - probably the cover, and the font on the cover.  It reminded me somewhat of the movie "Before Sunrise" with Ethan Hawke.  In this version, an American girl misses her flight to her father's second wedding in London.  She happens to meet Oliver - a charming British teenager sitting in her row.  They spend the evening talking and connecting and (maybe?) falling in love.  But, when they finally arrive in London, the chaos of the moment causes them to lose each other.  Is that the end of this budding romance?  How can they possibly find each other again in a bustling city with millions of people?  Is it possible that Oliver just might turn up at this infamous wedding?  Only time will tell what fate has in store for these two.  It's a book filled with cliches and a pretty predictable ending, but it's very cute - and just right medicine for any teenager out there who just needs a little hope when it comes to finding the love of their life.

Wild Robots!

As my kids are getting older, I'm discovering how many wonderful books there are out there to read out loud to them.  While I've loved sharing some of my childhood favorites with them (anything by Roald Dahl), it's been wonderful to discover new books together.  While shopping at an independent bookstore in Truckee, Word After Word Bookstore, I purchased The Wild Robot, a book I'd seen many times before.  Of course, I love the cover - and I am a sucker for an enticing bookstore display!

The Wild Robot is a beautifully written story of a robot who finds herself shipwrecked on what appears to be an uninhabited island.  The Robot (who comes to call herself Roz) is a quick study, as she finds herself adapting to survive in her new environment.  She learns how to acclimate to the ever-changing weather, and how to win over the animals on the island - teaching them also how to adapt to their surroundings.  The book explores the constant struggle between nature and machine - how they can each help each other to become more "human" and more "humane" - and how becoming more wild is the secret to living one's best life.  I read this to my 6-year-old daughters who loved all the animals in the book and their interactions with Roz, but also felt the profound sadness in Roz's desire to belong.

After falling in love with Roz in The Wild Robot, my girls and I were eager to see what happens next in The Wild Robot Escapes.  The factory robots that created Roz has finally located her on the deserted island, and they are not leaving until she is destroyed or she comes back with them to the factory to be reprogrammed.  In a heart-wrenching scene, Roz is torn from her animal family and brought back to civilization where she is ripped about and reconstituted to become a service robot for a farmer and his two young children.  But, despite the forced changes, Roz remembers who she once was. She works to win over the trust of the children, and to formulate a plan to return to the island.  This book wasn't as fun for my girls - not as many wonderful interactions with animals - but there were some tender moments between Roz and the children.  My girls also feared that Roz might not make it back to the island, and how sad it would be if she were separated forever from her family - even if she managed to make a new family.  Throughout, this book created an overwhelming sense of dread, which was a bit tough to read through night after night.  But, again, it explored some interesting themes about industrialization and society's (over)reliance on machines.  Roz is a wonderful and easy to love character - we were rooting for her all the way!

Reading through an oeuvre: Liane Moriarty

It's comforting to find an author who tells a good story, but isn't a slog to work through - someone with quite a number of books that you can rely on in times when you're in a reading slump.  Years ago, before the show came out, I read Liane Moriarty's novel Big Little Lies and loved it.  It's the story of a group of women whose children all go to school together - and they represent the best and worst of a small community with too much wealth and too much time.  They each have their secrets - the small lies they tell each other to get through the day, and the big lies they tell themselves to get through their lives.  I loved the backstories of each individual woman - and seeing how their relationships with each other and their partners came together - of course in a tragic conclusion.  It was a definite summer read page turner, and yet when I was done with it, it didn't really occur to me to looks and see if Moriarty had written any other novels. 

Then more recently, I overheard a few people talking about her other books - and that led me to the fiction shelves at the library.  And another strange fact occurred to me.  I rarely just look through the stacks at the library - I mostly hear of books I think I want to read and then I request them.  Unlike when I go to a bookstore and I tend to roam around and pick up what looks good.  I should do that at the library more often.  But, anyway, I went to the "M" section, and decided I would pick up whatever Moriarty book(s) they happened to have...and there were a few.  The first I read was The Husband's Secret.  This book starts out with Cecilia's discovery of a letter written by her husband divulging his deepest darkest secret.  The revelation, of course, causes Cecilia to question everything she has assumed about the quality of her spouse, as well as the life she believes she deserves to be living.  Understanding the nature of the letter leads her to become intertwined with a number of other women - each dealing with their own secrets - as Cecilia grapples with whether it's more important to reveal the truth or to protect her own seemingly perfect life.

Next, I picked up What Alice Forgot, which a few Moriarty fans assured me is her "best" novel.  The book begins with 39-year-old Alice, slipping at the gym and knocking herself unconscious.  When she comes-to in the hospital, she believes it is 10 years earlier - and thinks she is happily married and expecting her first child.  The reality is she is in the middle of a nasty divorce, and her three children can't believe she can't remember them.  It's clear that the years have changed Alice - and she has to figure out how to navigate her current situation and figure out if she can start all over again.  Parts of this book were incredibly painful - just the idea that one might not remember - both the good and the bad - of such a large period of time.  But, also the realization that one's outlook on life can change (for the worse) in such as short period of time.  It did get me thinking quite a bit about where I am, where I thought I would be.  While I'm not someone who ever possessed youthful optimism, I wonder if there are still things we accept as we grow older that our younger selves would have been better equipped to overcome.  As promised, this probably is my favorite of the Moriarty novels I've read - definitely the one I've thought about most after finishing - always a good sign!

Next, I moved on to The Hypnotist's Love Story.  I tend to enjoy books with a little supernatural suggestion.  While hypnotism isn't exactly fortune telling, it still lends a bit of the creepy factor to any story.  You never know what memories - true or false - are going to surface.  Ellen O'Farrell is the hypnotist in the story - she runs her business out of her home on the beach.  Just as she finds herself falling in love, she has also started seeing a new patient that she finds herself connecting well with.  As her new boyfriend tells her that he is being stalked by his ex-girlfriend, Ellen thinks she can handle it - and is in fact just slightly amused by the concept.  But, as strange things start happening all around her, she finds that perhaps the stalker is a little too close for comfort, and that it's not just fun and games when people take their obsessions a little too far.  I find the concept of a stalker slightly frustrating - it's annoying that the object of the stalking can't simply be left alone to live their life.  And while I feel heart-broken for a stalker who seems intent on believing that they can get the object of their fantasy to fall (back) in love with them, I also of course find them incredibly invasive and rude in their willingness to ruin another person's life for their selfish idea of happiness.  All in all, it's a tangled situation, and certainly no book premised on a stalker relationship can end well - so I think I felt that dread throughout reading this book.  But, it was suspenseful and engaging - not my favorite of Moriarty's but certainly entertaining.

My final Moriarty read (for awhile, but not my final of all her books that are out there) was The Last Anniversary.  I took a break after this one because I found myself having trouble keeping track of all the characters. While not all of her novels are this way, Moriarty's novels do tend to have lots of separate characters who then find themselves coming together throughout the book.  It is a clever storytelling technique, and it is fun as a reader to wonder how it will all come together.  But, it can also get exhausting keeping track of everyone, and how everyone knows (or doesn't know) each other.  In this book, Sophie finds herself strangely and unexpectedly inheriting the small island home of her ex-boyfriend, Thomas.  Sophie moves to the island to start a new life amidst many of Thomas's relatives - many of whom are suspicious as to how she inherited the home, and all of whom have secrets of their own.  The premise of this one was a bit far-fetched, but it did make for some interesting twists and turns.  Again Moriarty played with the themes of "what if" - what if Sophie and Thomas had stayed together?  What if each family member had revealed their secrets at an earlier moment or to a different person/group of people?  How might their decision trees have changed and ultimately affected (or not affected) their lives?

Monday, March 11, 2019

A Few Non-Fiction Reads

Lately, I've been having trouble getting into the fiction books I've been picking up - I find my mind wandering and I can't quite keep track of the plot and all the characters.  When this happens, as it does from time to time, I find that taking a break and reading non-fiction seems to help.  Here are a few I've picked up lately to try to get myself back on track:

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo: Written by a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, this book is a three-year look into life in the poverty-ridden settlements of Mumbai.  The author delves into the lives of the people struggling to survive in unsanitary conditions, making ends barely meet as garbage sorters, negotiating amidst unending political corruption, and yet still focused on striving always toward a better life.  This book was in so many ways horrific and tragic - to know that there are people living in these conditions is inhumane to me.  But, at the same time, it is obviously a depiction of the brilliance of the human spirit.  I couldn't shake the feeling as I was reading this that it was all so exploitative and voyeuristic - that this author profited professionally by her invasion of the lives of these people.  It's hard for me to reconcile this with the knowledge that it's also important to have these stories told.

The Distance Between Us  by Reyna Grande:  Given all the debate recently about Trump's border wall, this book (and so many memoirs like it) was a timely read.  That so many people would risk so much, and give up so much in terms of their family and safety, to come to the United States, speaks volumes to me of what this country must represent in terms of hope and opportunity.  Grande's memoir begins with her father making his trek to the United States, leaving behind his wife, along with Grande and her siblings, with promises to send for them when he is financially able.  Her mother then makes the journey, leaving Grande and her siblings behind to be cared for by their grandmother - until it's time for Grande to make the journey of her own.  This book gracefully retells the challenges of living two lives  of hoping for a better future,  and of dreaming of reuniting with parents while the years pass without them.  It is the story of families torn apart under the guise of seeking a better life - and raises the question of what price we pay - or more accurately what price our children pay - when we build walls further criminalizing and separating families, rather than addressing the underlying problems of why.

Akeelah and the Bee

Akeelah and the Bee by James W. Ellison & Doug Atchison:  My second grader was interested in starting a gathering with a few folks from his class - to read a book and then watch the movie based on the book.  A book/movie club of sorts.  His best buddy chose this book as their first read.  It's technically a book based on a movie - rather than a book that a movie was made about - but they are 8-years-old and I wanted to encourage the independent spirit.  This book turned out to be a perfect selection, as spelling in the second grade seems to be quite an obsession.  Akeelah and the Bee is the story of a girl from a low-performing school in Los Angeles - a place where no one has even heard of a spelling bee, much less competed in one.  But Akeelah has a gift for spelling - and her principal is counting on her to bring some much needed positive attention to their school.  While Akeelah struggles with finding her confidence and pride, and learning that being a "smart" kid doesn't have to mean turning your back on old friends or who you thought you were.  My son and I read this book together - reading level-wise, I think this is perfectly appropriate for a second grader to read on their own.  But, I'm glad we read it together because there were so many themes to tease out - and the book lead to some wonderful discussions between us.  I'm looking forward to talking about the book with a small group of second graders, and can't wait to see the movie.  I'm also hoping to do a screening of the documentary Spellbound which explores the real world of the National Spelling Bee - one of my old favorites that I think my son will really appreciate.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Recommended Fiction

I often feel like I go through phases in my reading - times when I can't seem to find anything that I want to finish, and other times when I'm just reading one fantastic story after another.  Often I think perhaps it has to do with my mood at the time, and very much with my ability to focus.  Here are a few books that I read on vacation or times when I feel like I had a bit more ability to real.  I enjoyed them all - and recommend them - with the caveat that perhaps I was just in the right mood when I read them!

All the Light We Cannot See  by Anthony Doer:  There probably aren't many folks out there who haven't read this one - yet another novel set during WWII recommended by my mother-in-law!  In terms of plot, I felt like this was a pretty standard WWII quest for survival story.  A blind French girl flees France with one of the Museum of Natural History's most valuable jewels. A German orphan with a penchant for tinkering is enlisted to track down the resistance.  And of course their paths collide in each individual's effort to survive in the most humane way possible.  I loved the storytelling and the writing, and it was a good book for curling up with for hours at a time.

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler:  Books about books are one of my favorite genre.  This one had a bit of a creepy undertone throughout - Simon, a librarian, is the son of a circus mermaid who made her living holding her breathe for long periods under water, and yet died by drowning.  Simon's sister has run off with the circus and hasn't been in touch for years.  Simon mysteriously receives a book from an antique bookseller.  The book is inscribed with the name of his grandmother and chronicles the events of a traveling carnival.  As Simon reads the book, he becomes concerned that the women in his family are cursed, and he must determine whether and if he can save his sister.  The book has hints of the magical, which I enjoyed, along with the fantastical circus/carnival stories.  It reminded me The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern in all the good and fun ways that came with that story.

The Orchardist by Amanda Copin:  I randomly came across this book on my mother-in-law's shelf.  It had a Cold Mountain feel to it to me in terms of the cover and book jacket summary.  It centers around the life of an orchardist named Talmadge who lives on his own raising fruit.  Two young girls appear in town - desperate for food, and one very pregnant, and begin to live on his land.  The girls disrupt Talmadge's solitary and seemingly uneventful existence, and in fleeing their prior circumstance, they have brought danger along with them.  All the characters have endured tremendous hardship in their lives, grieving the loss of parents and siblings, as well as learning how to live off the land and watch out for themselves.  Watching them continue to grow and change in each other's midst was my favorite part of the overall story, but everything about this book (even the parts where you know something bad is going to happen) was truly engaging and entertaining.

Friday, January 4, 2019

A Couple YA/Juvenile Fiction Selections

I'm still trying to figure out how non-adult books are classified - obviously, there are picture books, but there is also YA (young adult) that seems to be shelved with books like Hatchett that in my opinion are YA, but seem to be read by kids more in the 8-12 rage, which I suppose is considered juvenile fiction.  I don't know, but when categorizing on my blog, I'm probably overly inclusive about what I consider YA...and I'm starting to read more chapter books intended for a slightly younger audience, so I may need to rethink my labels soon.  In the meantime, here are a few fiction reads for the younger set:

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen:  This book was written in 1986, but I never read it or even heard of it as a kid.  As an adult, many people recommended it to me - or suggested that my 7-year-old son read it.  It's the story of a young boy named Brian whose parents have recently separated.  He lives with his mother, who puts him on a prop plane to go visit his father for the summer.  She also provides him with a hatchet, which he initially finds oddly juvenile.  The plane crashes and Brian is the lone survivor.  The book follows his 50+ days surviving in the wilderness - building shelter, finding and hunting for food, repeatedly failing and learning from his mistakes.  There were some basic aspects of this book that I feel make it not quite appropriate for my 7-year-old - namely the reason for Brian's parents' divorce, which centers around an affair that Brian is aware of but keeping secret from his father.  It is a small but recurring part of the story, and not something that Brian himself fully understands, and I think was presented strangely for a reader younger than about ten or so (not that younger readers haven't themselves been children of divorce or can't understand what it means for parents to separate - I just felt the way in which the subject matter was presented was better suited to an older audience).  But, Brian's adventures and the psychological and physical struggles he endures and overcomes are inspiring - especially for my own children who have zero wilderness survival skills, I'd be interested in seeing how they react to this book in the near future.  I was recently in a bookstore and saw a five-book series by Paulsen that follows Brian after this adventure.  These seem like they could be fun - but also a bit scary - I'm keeping them on my son's to-read list perhaps for this coming summer!

Holes by Louis Sachar:  Sachar is one of my son's favorite authors - but for his Wayside Stories from Wayside School series.  Many teacher friends over the years have recommended Holes to me, but I didn't get around to reading it until just recently.  Stanley Yelnats is a young boy with rotten luck.  He's arrested for a crime he didn't commit and sent to a juvenile detention camp where he and the other inmates are forced to dig holes in the blazing heat all day.  Why are they digging and what are they looking for?  The answer brings together Stanley's incredible family history and sets him on a wild adventure.  This book is clever in its storytelling and just a fun read.  I'll be passing it along to my kids soon.

I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez:  This book is definitely YA - with some pretty complex themes about mental illness and identity.  Julia is not her parents' perfect Mexican daughter.  She can never quite do anything right.  So when her perfect older sister is killed in a freak accident, Julia is caught between needing to follow her own plan, and feeling obligated to become the daughter she believes her parents have always wanted.  As Julia navigates her own grief, she learns more about her sister's life - and realizes she wasn't as perfect as she seemed. But what does this mean for her relationship with her parents?  This was a painful read - as an adult reading YA even though I can often feel or understand the intense emotions, I feel like because of the way it's often written things seem overly-dramatic.  I can put myself back in those shoes and think about how I might have felt as a teenager, but as an adult looking back it isn't as emotional.  This book actually made me cry at points, and was quite powerful in its ability to capture the  feelings of being trapped that feel so common for so many teenagers.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Books in a Series

I have a thing for books in a series.  When the characters and story are wonderful, of course, it's nice to be able to keep going.  But, even when they aren't that great, it's really hard for me to just let go - though I was very proud of myself for just saying no to the third book in the Fifty Shades of Grey series.  So, here are a few that brought back some familiar characters and a little comfort - some much more than others:

Inferno by Dan Brown (Robert Langdon #4): Part of the series that started with The Da Vinci Code, these are always good for a quick page-turner and a little mystery - albeit always eventually quite far-fetched.  This time around, Langdon wakes in an Italian hospital with a bout of amnesia.  There is an assassin after him, and he flees with a doctor.  They are forced to solve a series of clues which take them through Florence and stretch their deepest knowledge of Dante's Inferno.  I put this one in the category of "great airplane read."  Entertaining and clever, and worth a few hours to help pass the time.

The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman (The Magician's #3): This series began with The Magicians and The Magician King - both of which I loved.  But, I find with any science-fiction/fantasy book, as the series progresses things tend to get a little out-of-hand, and so it was with this one.  One of the main characters has been cast out of their utopia, and he has to return to his beginnings to figure out what went wrong, and perhaps to strike out on a new utopia, which could mean sacrificing everything his friends are a part of.  While I didn't love this third book - it did make me want to go back and read all three again in quick succession.  I think the story lost some of its momentum between books, which I think could be regained by going back again.  Which I'm sure I will...soon.

The Days of Anna Madrigal  by Armistead Maupin (Tales of the City #9):  I love love love love love this series about friends who make their own family in San Francisco - the series started with the first six books published between 1978-1989 (which I binge read when I discovered the series in college).  It is a wonderful soap-opera set against the backdrop of the AIDS epidemic with every relational combination you can think of coming together to live on Barbary Lane and share their lives (and deaths).  In 2007, Maupin published the seventh book, and then the eighth, and now finally the ninth which wonderfully brings so many of the beloved characters back to San Francisco to pay their last respects to Anna Madrigal - the one who brought them all together.  For anyone who loves this series, this is a must-read - to see where the characters end up.  And for anyone who loves soap-operas, colorful characters, and just a lot of fun - I highly recommend this series.  I hope Maupin has a secret tenth book up his sleeve!

The Secret Place by Tana French (Dublin Murder Squad #5):  The books in this series are good for anyone looking for a little creepy mystery.  While they sometimes involve characters you may have met in an earlier novel, each book is a stand-alone story and you don't have to read anything else to follow the story.  This one takes place at a girls' boarding school, as the Dublin Murder Squad re-opens an unsolved murder case.  The relationships among the students - including who actually were and were not friends and enemies - makes for a suspenseful tale full of gossip and intrigue.  I have French's next book in the series The Tresspasser  in my nightstand - I'm a little frightened to read it at night, but eager to get to it!

The Great Alone - Kristin Hannah

I had a difficult time getting into Kristin Hannah's acclaimed novel, The Nightingale.  So much so that despite so many people telling me that it was incredible, I just never finished it.  So when several more people recommended this one to me, I was skeptical to say the least.  But, I figured I'd try it out - and I'm glad I did.  This is one of the best novels I've read in quite awhile.  The Great Alone is the story of a teenage girl named Leni.  Her father has returned from Vietnam, suffering from nightmares and all the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.  Her mother, desperately in love with her husband is willing to do anything to appease him.  And so, the family moves to the Alaskan wilderness where the father, Ernt, is certain his family can make it out their own without any reliance on the Outside.  The family builds their community in Alaska, but Ernt's paranoia and violence isolate the family more and more.  This was a difficult read given both the actual violence, and the threat of violence always lurking, but it was a definite page-turner.  I enjoyed it so much that it might actually give me the push I need to give The Nightingale another try!

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Eligible - Curtis Sittenfeld

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld: I'm a fan of Sittenfeld's previous novels, Prep and American Wife.  I'm also a fan of Jane Austen.  So, it made sense for me to pic up Eligible, a modern re-telling of Pride and Prejudice.  I read Pride and Prejudice years ago in college and have since seen several movie and mini-series adaptations.  I love them all.  And yet, I couldn't exactly re-tell the plot to anyone if they asked.  I know there's a bunch of sisters whose annoying mother wants to marry off, and there a rich guy named Darcy who starts out as a jerk, but basically wins over the most clever Bennett sister.  But beyond that, my memory is terrible.  So, this was a nice way to be reminded.  In this version, the semi-prominent country club attending Bennett family lives in Cleveland.  Three of the younger Bennett sisters are still living at home when Mr. Bennett suffers an injury.  Mrs. Bennett, an obsessive shopper, is too consumed with the planning of a charity luncheon to tend to her husband, and so the two older Bennett sisters, Jane and Liz return home from New York.  All sisters are unmarried, and approaching that age.  Mrs. Bennett is determined to marry off her children, and when the country's most eligible bachelor, Chip Bingley returns to town, she has the highest of hopes.  Her meddling is the most irritating, and the two youngest Bennett sisters are so annoyingly crass, it's difficult to believe that people like this actually exist.  Liz herself is so smug and determined to be right that her inability to listen to others and stop making assumptions about every situation (which definitely makes an ass of her and no one else) was incredible off-putting.  It made it quite difficult to understand why any man (or woman) would ever be interested.  And that, is the crux of my problem with this book- and maybe every 19th century Victorian romance out there.  Beyond physical attraction, these characters are all so self-centered and ridiculous that the hopes of pairing anyone up with anyone else is simply inconceivable.  And yet...I do like a seemingly happy ending - no matter how ridiculous.  This was a fast read about a dysfunctional family.  It is a truth universally acknowledged that no matter how banal or trite, Jane Austen knew how to tell a story - and any retelling of her tales is sure to please.

A Few Read Harder 2018 Challenge Selections

At the beginning of the year, I read this article about the Read Harder Challenge, which challenges people to get out of their reading comfort zone and check out some different genres and different authors than they might otherwise gravitate toward.  A few of the categories covered books I'd already picked out to read for the year, but here are a few I probably wouldn't have read but for the challenge, and that's kind of a cool thing (I think!).

Romance by a Person of Color

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon: I'm not too familiar with the Romance genre.  When I think of it, I imagine books with Fabio on the cover, but like any genre, I'm sure it spans a wide spectrum - isn't Pride and Prejudice basically a romance?  I have no idea - but When Dimple Met Rishi was a nice "introduction."  Dimple Shah is headed to Stanford - she has big dreams, including spending her summer at an elite web development program - and not including any arranged marriage.  Rishi is headed to MIT - he's not so sure about the summer program, but his parents have told him that his future bride, Dimple, is set to be there - so he's in!  Of course, the two inadvertently meet, hate each other, find themselves stuck together as partners in the program, and hilarity frustration and love ensue.  I can't say that I loved this book - it was silly and predictable.  But, it was super cute and feel-good.  I do love a happy ending - and seems like this genre is poised to give that to me!

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory:  Ms. Guillory is a local author, so I've seen her book cover around - because I'm a judge a book by its cover kind of person, I was drawn to it.  The book starts out with the implausible scenario of two strangers stuck in an elevator together - and one invites the other to be his date at a wedding set to take place the next night.  She agrees.  Predictably, they attend the wedding together, experience an attraction, but have no idea where to go from there.  Both individuals seem to have an incredible amount of relationship baggage, destined to sabotage the relationship before it even gets started.  But, of course, they stay in touch and attempt to keep things going long-distance.  Ups and downs and miscommunications follow, as they are both forced to discover what really matters.  A perfect romance!  Again, as with When Dimple Met Rishi, it was predictable, frustrating, and ultimately happy.  Ms. Guillory has another book out (The Proposal) and one on the way in 2019 (The Wedding Party) and both have been added to my to-read list.

A sci-fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author: The Power by Naomi Alderman

I recently re-read The Handmaid's Tale, and found myself so infuriated - not simply because of how infuriating it is to consider the women in that novel, but because there are too many parallels to the actual world we live in - with men in power attempting to control the bodies and minds of women.  So, I think I welcomed with open arms the concept in The Power which is that girls and women suddenly wake up one day with the power to generate electricity from their bodies - with differing abilities to control their power - they have the unexplained and unpredictable ability to harm and control others (read: men).  The book then follows several characters as they navigate this strange new world - one that flips gender norms, and of course, maybe gives men just a glimpse at the actual world that many women live in every day.

A celebrity memoir: Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes is the incredibly successful mastermind behind television shows like Grey's Anatomy and How to Get Away with Murder.  Before reading this, I didn't know a thing about her - except my assumption that she must be an incredibly talented and driven individual.  After reading this book, it is clear that these things are very true - but the impetus of this book is the fact that Ms. Rhimes is a self-proclaimed introvert.  Despite her presence in the media industry, she herself has no desire to go to elaborate Hollywood functions or to socialize at the many many events she is invited to each year.  And so, she found herself repeatedly saying "No" to people who asked her to attend such events.  But then, she decided that for one year she would actually say, "yes," to everything that came her way and see where life took her.  Rhimes has a lovely sense of humor and while this isn't the best written book out there, it is a really interesting look at how a seemingly small shift in perspective can dramatically change one's entire outlook on life.

A one-sitting book: We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Adichie is an absolute genius. I have read and loved all her novels, and saw this one on display at the library.  We Should All Be Feminists is adapted from her TED Talk (, and is her call to arms - and argument for why, indeed, we should all be feminists.  She talks about her own experiences in Nigeria, in the United States, and abroad, to highlight the existence and the dangerous power of sexual politics in our time.  In speaking of the institutional sexism that pervades nearly every area of our lives, she makes the obvious, but not so widely accepted, case that we are all harmed by the existence of these systems in our world.  And that we all need to take steps to eradicate them.