Sunday, January 31, 2021

January Review & Goals for February

January ended up being a pretty good reading month for me.  I have to admit I did prioritize reading in a way that I haven't in quite awhile, and unfortunately, will cause a few other things to catch up with me in February.  But, it was fun while it lasted.  Here are the books I managed to finish:
  1. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith (Mystery)
  2. You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria (Romance)
  3. Why Fish Don't Exist by Lulu Miller (Non-Fiction/Biography/Memoir)
  4. Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson (Juvenile Fiction)
  5. The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes (Fiction)
  6. The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans (Short Stories)
  7. Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker (Non-Fiction)
  8. American Dirt by Jeanine Cumins (Fiction)
  9. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (Romance)
  10. The Girl in the Mirror by Rose Carlyle (Mystery/Thriller)
  11. Real Life by Brandon Taylor
  12. Ripley Underground - Patricia Highsmith (Mystery)
My goal books for February are:
  1. A Children's Bible by Lydia Millet (Fiction/Book Club)
  2. Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America by Ijeoma Oluo
  3. The Last Mrs. Parrish (Mystery)
  4. Hamnet (Fiction)
February is a short month, so we'll see what happens!

Friday, January 29, 2021

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

I don't like it when people refer to reading certain types of books as a "guilty pleasure."  I want people to feel good about reading whatever they find entertaining and realize that even if it isn't considered a "classic," that if you enjoy it, there's nothing to be embarrassed about.  That being said, while I am enjoying learning more about this Romance genre, I have to admit that there are some book I can't imagine flaunting in public!

My understanding is that Helen Hoang is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  Her main character, Stella Lane, is a successful econometrician, but she can't quite seem to figure out the personal interactions appropriate to find a husband.  She also has an ASD diagnosis.  In an effort to better understand how to behave in a romantic relationship, Stella hires an escort to be her fake boyfriend.  But, of course, we know where this is headed!  I do really love these romances that normalize love in every way, shape, and form - making all people regardless of background capable of loving and being loved.  While I cringed at much of Stella's behavior, there were other parts I could definitely relate to - just like any other main character in these romances.  And, regardless of diagnosis, what I truly love about these stories, is they (for the most part) always have a happy ending.  Looking forward to reading more by Hoang soon.

The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans


I'm always a little hesitant about reading short stories.  I'm not sure why since when done well, like any other kind of writing, they are entertaining and thought-provoking.  I have this idea that a short story is too short to ever leave me feeling satisfied about getting to know the characters.  While I know there is so much skill that goes into crafting a successful short story, it's just not a format that I'm that comfortable with.  So, it's no surprise that I borrowed this book not having any idea that it was a book of short stories (and one novella).  But, I stuck with it and was reminded that I do in fact enjoy a short story now and again!

Each of the stories in this collection is about a moment in time and relationships among characters affected by race, culture, and histories - known and unknown to them and the people they exist among.  The stories made me realize just how much you can capture and raise in this short format - I had initially thought I would read one story here and one story there in between other books/activities.  I read the first story and then set the book aside.  Then I read the second...and moved on right away to the third...and the fourth...and then just finished the book in the remainder of that sitting.  I do think spreading it out and allowing the individual stories to sink in would have been a valuable way to approach this book. But, my inability to do that is a reflection of how compelling I found it.  I'm still not sold on short stories, but I'm working on it.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes


Sometimes you just have to give a book a few tries.  I borrowed this one last year - read two pages and my mind kept wandering.  I tried again this year and the same thing happened.  Then my mom told me that she'd read and enjoyed it.  So, I told myself I had to stick with it...and then by page three, I couldn't put it down!  I don't know what it was about those first two pages...

Set in the Kentucky mountains during the depression, this is a book about strong women making things happen even when many of those around them are physically holding them down.  Eager to escape her British home, Alice marries a handsome American and returns to his small hometown where she finds the honeymoon is quickly over.  Looking to escape yet another home situation, Alice signed up to deliver books as part of Eleanor Roosevelt's new traveling library.  The effort has its opponents in town - those who feel it is a frivolous waste of time, and that the only book anyone should be reading is the Bible.  But, Alice finds friends among the other women involved in the endeavor, and together the support each other through the difficulties of being women in this time.  There were a lot of moments of dread in this book, but mostly it was a quick read and a compelling story.  I found the bravery of these women incredible - and their willingness to just keep going despite having these truly hard lives with little recognition or reward.  Highly recommend reading this one curled up by the fire on a rainy winter evening.

Before the Ever After - Jacqueline Woodson


A juvenile fiction book written in verse is sure to be a fast read - the trick is slowing down to appreciate it and make sure that it's all sinking in.  Before the Ever After is about a young boy whose father is an NFL star and hero to everyone in their community.  Until he suffers one too many head injuries and is no longer able to play.  Suddenly the boy finds that his father is no longer himself, and even when he is himself, people don't seem to want to come around as much anymore.  There is a lot of sadness in this book - about seeing your parent at their most vulnerable, of being a child confused without all the facts, and just coping with change.  As usual, Woodson's words are beautiful - and this book, like her others, is worth a couple reads.  

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Ripley Underground - Patricia Highsmith (Ripley #2)


I wondered where Highsmith would take Tom Ripley in this second installment.  Would Ripley find himself on the run?  Would he have to commit yet another murder to cover his tracks?  At the outset, we find Ripley living in France, somehow married to a wealthy woman.  He doesn't work a regular job and spends his days gardening and brushing up on new languages.  And of course, he's found himself caught up in fraudulent art scheme - passing off new paintings as those of a long dead artist.  As the walls start closing in on Ripley, he's go to any lengths to protect himself, under the guise of protecting others.  His wife, having been away on some sort of holiday in Greece returns home - and while Ripley repeatedly describes her as lacking in morals and someone to whom he could probably confess all his crimes, it's unclear what her actual background is and what questionable decisions she has made (other than to marry Tom Ripley).  Ripley is a strange unlikeable man, and yet, I keep on reading wondering what senseless danger he will manage to get himself into next.  As a stand alone novel, I'm not sure I would have found this too intriguing but as a continuation of The Talented Mr. Ripley, this is worth picking up just to see where Tom has landed.  Looking forward to the third book in the trilogy.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Why Fish Don't Exist by Lulu Miller

Knowing only negative things about David Starr Jordan, I had zero (or even less than zero) interest in reading a book about a woman's hero-worship of him based on his classification of fish.  As a friend commented, "I can't imagine a book bringing together more topics I couldn't care less about."  When it was chosen for one of my book clubs, I considered just skipping the month - but eventually figured that might be a bad way to kick off the book club year, and the book seemed short.  So, I decided to take it for a ride - and what a roller coaster it was!  While I ran hot and cold on this book, I was definitely intrigued by the presentation.  The author presents herself as a bit of a lost soul, looking for meaning in a world of chaos - and intrigued by Jordan, a taxonomist who appears to exhibit incredible grit in the face of adversity.  But, it turns out that Jordan's views of a world in which everything has an appropriate place and classification - is also a world that finds itself ripe for destructive views in terms of eugenics.  And as the author uncovers his support of forced sterilization and other nauseating philosophies, she finds herself losing hope in what she believed would be her own answer to life.  An interesting way to present a biography intermixed with a memoir, I found this book worthwhile in that sense, and it was impressive how many different questions and ideas she fit into such a short book.  But, ultimately, I found the writing style challenged at times - and the lesson learned almost too forced.  Personally, I think I probably just couldn't get over the initial hero-worship of Jordan, but did find this book ripe for discussion and is certainly one I have thought about well after I finished it - which is always a mark of something positive.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

You Had Me at Hola - Alexis Daris


One genre I became more interested in reading in 2020 was romances.  I learned a lot about the breadth of romances out there - and allowed myself to just enjoy them as I would a television show - for pure entertainment.  What I also found exciting about this genre is that there are so many authors of color representing people of color falling in love with each other and having rich lives (both financially and metaphorically) being themselves.  It's a refreshing change of pace and really fun to see so many of these authors thriving and bringing their normal into the mainstream.

I received You Had Me at Hola for my birthday from a friend who reads almost exclusively in this genre, so I knew this would be good!  Jasmine Lin Rodriguez is a soap opera star whose recent break-up is all over the tabloids.  She swears off romance and intends only to focus on her goals as a Leading Lady, as she starts the filming on her new series - opposite the wildly popular telenovela star, Ashton Su├írez.  Ashton has his own reasons for wanting to stay out of the paparazzi limelight, and for keeping a few secrets from his co-stars.  But, of course, we know where this is headed!  The story is told, in part, through the script and plot of the show that Jasmine and Ashton are staring in - which I found fun and a nice break from the overall narrative.  It was fun to see the motivations and emotions of the characters on screen juxtaposed with the actors.  Definitely a fun story filled with both passion and humor.  Looking forward to reading others by this author.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

First Fiction Read of 2021: The Talented Mr. Ripley

Several years ago, I was really on a mystery kick - wanting to read all the old mysteries by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett.  At that time I learned that The Talented Mr. Ripley (I'd seen the movie) was written by a woman in the 1950s.  This intrigued me, so when I came across a collection of the Ripley trilogy in a local bookstore, I picked it up.  And, of course, it then say on my bookshelf for the next 10+ years.  But, I decided to pick it up over this winter vacation, and was immediately taken in by Tom Ripley - the slightly awkward and a bit annoying American who can't quite find his footing.  When the father of an old acquaintance, Dickie Greenleaf, tracks Tom down and offers to finance a trip to Italy so Tom can convince his Playboy trust-fund son to return to the States, Tom figures he might as well get an international trip out of it.  Once in Italy, it becomes clear that Dickie has no intention of returning home, and Tom finds himself infatuated not with Dickie, but with Dickie's lifestyle.  Unlike a typical whoddunit, there is no mystery here about who committed the crimes or where the bodies are buried- only in whether the murderer will get caught.  It is a fascinating examination of Tom Ripley's mind - and the guilt he sometimes carries with him (reminiscent of The Tell-Tale Heart).  And while he is not at all a likeable character, I did find myself anxious that he would be discovered - perhaps only because his life was so unbearably pathetic.  Clearly written and quite the page turner, I found myself pulled in to Ripley's world, and eager to read the next installment (Ripley Under Ground).

Friday, January 1, 2021

Kicking off 2021: January Picks

January 2021

Happy New Year!  I'm always hoping to be more organized about my reading.  At the same time, I do like the freedom of just picking up whatever moves me in the moment, or the latest one that a friend excitedly recommends.  That being said, I'd like to try to finish about a book a week this year.  I tend to read about 3-4 books at a time of different genres, as I like to have a variety to choose from each day depending on my mood.  My rough goal is read read a mystery each month, along with a non-fiction book, a book sitting on my shelves at home, and a fiction book.  Sometimes, of course, these categories may overlap. My picks for January are:

  • The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith (mystery/on my bookshelf)
  • You Had Me at Hola  by Alexis Daria (romance/on my bookshelf/gift from friend)
  • Why Fish Don't Exist by Lulu Miller (non-fiction/for book club)
  • Real Life by Brendan Taylor (fiction/for work book club)
May 2021 bring lots of time for relaxing with a good book!