Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Non-Fiction Round-up

 I much prefer fiction over non-fiction, but every once in awhile, I do pick up a non-fiction book.  They tend to be memoirs or books written like fiction - I'm not big on historical tomes - but here are a few I've read in recent months!

  • Girl Walks out of a Bar by Lisa F. Smith (Memoir): This book was recommended to me by a law firm partner who wondered if I'd ever encountered something like this as an associate.  The profession is certainly one that is marred by alcoholism and drug abuse, but I had no first- or even second-hand experience with it.  It never surprised me that the stress of the work could lead someone to this life, but I wondered how it could be possible to get the work done while struggling with addiction.  This book helps show the fine line between drinking and drug-use as a vehicle for enjoying a good time after working so hard and spiraling out of control.  
  • The Fact of a Body by  (True Crime):  This a non-fiction memoir/true crime book about Ricky Langley, a known child molester sentenced to death in Louisiana, and the Harvard 1L (the author) who learns about his case.  The case causes the author – herself a survivor of childhood molestation – to learn more about the defendant, as well as to delve more deeply into her own family’s history.  The author is honest about her own destructive coping mechanisms and how her experiences made it difficult for her to see Mr. Langley as someone deserving of mercy (and in turn how feeling that way made her question her worth as an attorney).  
  • How Not to Get Shot and Other Advice From White People by D.L. Hughley (humor):  While Hughley is a comedian, and he definitely puts a comic twist on the topics covered in this book - the underlying narrative is that Black lives in this country are consistently and persistently under attack.  I read this at the same time as Biased by Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt - which focuses on the need for discussions about implicit bias.  The two books cover much of the same landscape, with Eberhardt approaching it from a scientific analytical perspective, and Hughley just putting out the cold hard reality of it all.  I appreciated having both presentations simultaneously - and highly recommend both books for accessing issues that are ever-present but often difficult to find the words to talk about.

Monday, December 21, 2020

What I've Read This Week

December tends to be a solid reading month for me - with the days getting shorter and the temperatures a bit colder, I give myself permission to get in bed and read a little earlier than usual.  Here's a little of what I've been reading this past week:

I kept seeing Fredrik Backman's Anxious People on various to-read lists and at the bookstore - with a cheery bright yellow cover the title didn't quite seem to match, but I decided to check it out.  The story revolves ostensibly around a bank robbery turned hostage situation gone decidedly wrong.  The story is told through police interview with the hostages, and flashbacks to the open house where all the victims were congregated when the crime took place.  As the police attempt to home in on the robber, various threads of the story are revealed, with connections (known and unknown) between the characters made.  This book is by the same author as the also popular, A Man Called Ove, and a I found significant similarities among the characters - namely that they are concrete and often obtuse in a way that is certainly off-putting but with a bit of narrative backstory you come to understand the motivations or reasoning behind their behavior and as a result they become (or are supposed to become) endearing.  I found the characters in these books aggravating - along the lines of Eleanor Oliphant in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.  While I did find the stories themselves compelling from a plot point of view - I did want to know what was going to happen and where the characters would end up - I didn't find the journey particularly enjoyable.

Winter Counts by : A thriller/mystery that takes place on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota.  An enforcer who distributes justice when the police fail to do their job, Virgil Wounded Horse is hired to ferret out who is bringing heroin to the young people on the reservation.  When his own nephew is caught up in the chaos, Virgil finds himself unsure of who to trust, and reexamining the Native beliefs he thought he was better off leaving behind.

Musical Chairs by Amy Poeppel: This type of book must have a genre named for it.  I don't know what it is, but it's among my favorites - middle-aged woman with semi-dysfuntional family (kids and parents) come together for milestone event (wedding, funeral, 50th birthday party) - old wounds are reopened and potentially healed, old misunderstandings are righted, certainly romances of some sort ensue, and many lessons are learned.  In this one, Bridget, a cellist, plans to spend a quiet summer in her country home with her writer boyfriend - only to find that he has other plans, her grown twin children are moving back in, and she has no idea where her career is going.  A fast-paced enjoyable read with charming characters.

I also got in a few very different YA/middle grade books this week:

  • Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds:  After enjoying Reynolds' Track series, I've been eager to read more by him.  This book - told in 10 separate vignettes about 10 separate kids (some intertwined by circumstance) who have to find ways to survive and thrive after the school bell rings and they are set free into a world full of distractions, dangers, and detours.  While we all may wish for carefree childhoods - these are the fears and realities kids face every day - and the courage they hold that many adults don't quite give them credit for or even realize.  I read this in one sitting - but think it is certainly worth a slower re-read.
  • Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins:  When Anna is sent to a French boarding school for her senior year of high school, she laments leaving behind her best friend and a blossoming romance...but when she meets the charmingly handsome Etienne St. Clair, she thinks maybe the City of Lights may have  bright side after all.  If only he didn't already have a girlfriend.  A standard teenage romance - this one is filled with all the sappy conversation and romantic hope a teenager craves.
  • No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen: Felix Knutsson is a middle-school kid with nowhere to lay his heavy burden.  He and his mom have been evicted from their apartment and living in their van.  As Felix distracts himself from reality with his favorite trivia game show and his beloved gerbil, he navigates friendship and hunger knowing he is always one misstep away from foster care.  Is it possible for him to lean on someone else without betraying the person he loves most?  

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Romance in the Air, Part I


I never thought of myself as someone who read romance novels - but lately I have come to think that maybe I didn't appreciate the breadth of novels that fall under the romance umbrella.  I pictured the dime-story novels with Fabio on the cover.  But, thanks to my recent shortened attention span, and a few friends who are staunch defenders of the romance genre, I've spent the past year broadening my horizons a bit and learning that a little romance is good for the soul.

A year or so ago, I discovered local writer Jasmine Guillory as part of the Read Harder Challenge.  The category was a romance by a person of color.  And so, I stumbled upon her Wedding Date series.  I read the first three, and was happy to have two more from to read recently.  In Royal Holiday, Maddie is invited to England for Christmas to work as a stylist for a royal wedding.  She invites her mother to join her, and while she's busy working away, her mother meets the royal family's private secretary whose offer to take her on a private tour of the royal grounds turns into much much more.  In Party of Two, the action returns to Los Angeles where Olivia Monroe has recently relocated to start her own law firm.  Determined to focus on her professional life, she of course finds herself tangled up with California's attractive junior senator.  Unsure if she - or their romance - can withstand the media scrutiny, Olivia is forced to confront her past and acknowldge is really important to her.  Typical romance with opposites attracting and secrets threatening to break up the romance - you know they'll find their happy ending, but getting there is full of surprises and entertainment!

After reading Taylor Jenkins Reid's most recent novels Daisy Jones & The Six and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, I was eager to go back and read her earlier novels.  Daisy and Evelyn are very different from each other, and they are both a departure from the stories Reid starting out telling, which I would place in the romance category.  I went back and started with Forvever, Interrupted, about Elsie who gets married after a whirlwind several month romance, only to have her new husband die in an accident less than two weeks later.  Elsie is left to reexamine the meaning of her relationship, in the face of a grieving mother who wonders how important someone her son never mentioned could actually have been.  This book presents the interesting premise - given that so many relationships fizzle over time, how would you know if this would have been the love of your life, or if the person was simply taken before the relationship had the chance to get to that point.  And, even assuming the relationship would have fizzled, does that diminish the value of the relationship as experienced?  While I didn't find either Elsie or her mother-in-law particularly likeable, this book did raise many questions for me about the importance of moments and the value of time.  The next Reid novel I picked up, Maybe in Another Life, was a pretty well done version of Sliding Doors - which asks the question of what would happen if at a seemingly insignificant decision-making point in your life, you made a different choice.  When Hannah returns to her hometown after feeling like she's failed in both her personal and professional life, she runs into her high school ex-boyfriend.  He asks her to come home with her.  In one version, she goes.  In the other, she says no.  I wondered throughout the book if no matter which choice Hannah made if she would end up in the same place - how much of a role fate would play - or if perhaps she could end up having her happily ever after no matter which path she chose.  With chapters alternating between her choices, I found myself staying up late into the night to finish this one and find out where Hannah ended up.  And finally, I picked up One True Loves - yet another one that focused on the idea of your one true love.  Emma marries her high school sweetheart, but shortly after their wedding, he disappears and is presumed dead.  As the years drag on, Emma slowly finds herself able to reengage wth the world, and even to fall in love again.  But what happens when she discovers that her husband is still alive?  Which true love is for real?  This book raises a lot of questions about who we are when we fall in love, and how much life events can change us, and the nature of that love when we're no longer the person we used to be.