Sunday, December 15, 2013

December 2013 Bookshelf


We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

I'm bummed.  I have abandoned the book at page 75.  It, in my opinion, just was not interesting at all.  The character development was slow and awkward.  The story wasn't moving along at a speed that kept me interested.
At 75 pages in the story wasn't going much of anywhere even though I know, from reading summaries of the book, it does go somewhere but I questioned how tedious the journey might be when I started scanning and flipping through sections of the book.  (This has become a sure sign that I am considering abandoning the title - I stop reading for a moment and start flipping and skimming to see if I can gauge whether it is going to pick up the pace or not.)  Bulawayo takes the reader, through 10 year old Darling, from a shantytown in Zimbabwe to America.  From my scanning the story line really never gained speed, nor did character development. I'm so bummed! I was super excited to pick up this book and I felt it held a lot of potential.  But it was a tedious read and the stack of books I have on my nightstand that I believe hold some good and engaging reads ultimately prevailed.




Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair by Anne Lamott

While it may be a "follow-up" to Help, Thanks, Wow this newest slim book packed full of wisdom from Lamott can stand up all on its own thankyouverymuch.  Really Lamott can do little wrong in her non-fiction and her last two have been perhaps the most profound of hers.
In Stitches Lamott shares patches of wisdom that helped her get through the pits, the sufferings of life, the wounds and she stitches those patches of wisdom together to create the most beautiful crazy quilt called Life.  She generously shares these patches of wisdom with her readers in the hopes that others will also learn how to live life stitch by stitch.
As in Help, Thanks, Wow there is too much beauty in Lamott's words to try and relay here.  I read it rather quickly as the wait list for it at the library is a mile long and I won't be allowed to renew it.  As with Help, Thanks, Wow I will simply just have to buy the book and give it the read it deserves.





Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away by Christie Watson

A beautiful first novel.  And I feel a little badly because I abandoned a novel written by a native African earlier this month and love a book written by a Brit adopting the voice of a Nigerian girl.  But not bad enough to not really like this title.
Blessing, a twelve-year old girl, is uprooted from her urban life in Lagos, Nigeria to her grandparents rural compound on the Niger Delta when her Father is caught with another woman and abandons her family for the new woman.  Together with her Mother and brother, Ezikiel, she goes back in time and technology to a strange way of life. What ensues is a struggle to come to terms with the person her Mother is, her Father is, who her brother is turning out to be, and who she would like to be. Helping her sort it out is her Grandma, who takes her under her wing, and helps her find ways to soar. Watson creates a colorful cast of characters with Blessing's voice taking the lead.  Through her eyes, and heart, we discover with her that things and people are not always as they seem and to be always learning and growing is ideal.  Watson also takes the opportunity to weave into the story some important topics of concern such as oil production, genders, faiths, family dynamics.  She doesn't camp on any of these topics but weaves them in to the story in such a seamless way that as the reader I felt connected to the topics and to the people they concerned and affected.  I quickly read but also savored the 431 page book in an amount of time that surprised even me!  The story flowed and kept me turning page after page as I wanted to see what each of the characters were going to do or say next.  And I personally loved learning more, through a fiction story, about some topics that aren't talked about much in my circles. I'm always glad for more awareness about things that affect people in this world and explore how I might be able to do whatever I could no matter how small it may be.
A beautiful first novel. I'm glad to have read it.





The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I had this book on my "to-read" list for about two years before I finally decided to move it up and read it.  It was only after I put it on hold at the library that I discovered a movie is out this season based on the book!  So I decided choosing to read the book now is perfect timing.  And it was.  When I put it on hold I was #37 at the time (which confused me then, now that I know a movie is out it makes sense) and a friend just posted yesterday that she is #267 on the hold list and we are in the same library system.  Crazy what a movie will do for the popularity of a book.
When I picked up my copy I was shocked at its weight!  550 pages of pure novel, nothing superfluous before or after the actual story. I thought to myself, "Oy. With my life the way it is these days it's going to take me *years* to get through this book and it will be basically the only one I read for the month!"  Well, I couldn't have been more wrong.
I picked up the book late one Sunday afternoon and by 11:30 pm (of the same Sunday), after having made dinner and watched the 2 hour Psyche Musical *grin*, I finished all 550 pages.  I couldn't put it down in my head and so I knew there was no way I could put it down without finishing it before going to bed.  That's right, I surprised even myself with how quickly I read the 550 pages.  I rarely surprise myself, btw.  While I mashed potatoes I thought about the story, anticipating where it was leading, thinking through was was happening at the place I had to put it down to mash the potatoes.  During commercial breaks for the Psyche musical I snuck in paragraphs, engaged and hungry for more of the story.  And if you are keeping track this was my second lengthy novel for the weekend.  Between Friday and Sunday morning I finished off a 430 page book (see above Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away for my review on it)!  Clearly my life needing a reading break in it.  But back to this book.
Markus Zusak gives us a wonderful story about a really dark time.  He uses the most interesting POV and in the most interesting way.  Another review I read called it "experimental".  I can see what they are saying, the POV and style of the book is very different than anything I have read before.  At first I wasn't sure if I understand the style, the layout, the content of the chapters but then by about chapter 2-3 I caught on and was fine with it.  The POV I caught on to pretty much by page 2 but it fascinated me and I kept turning over the POV's voice in my head.
The story is of Liesel and we meet her in Germany January 1939.  She is nine, almost ten, and her mother is taking her and her brother to a foster home in a town near Munich.  Tragedy has already struck Liesel's young life and more is about to come.  But as the POV says, that's later and we'll get there.  Liesel is our book thief and the thieving starts innocently enough but turns into something that empowers her.  She is indifferent to the politics of her day but as her understanding grows so does her anger and disgust and sadness.
Zusak crafts a beautiful story of Nazi Germany and some of its citizens during such a horrific and controversial time in history.  I am always drawn to books during this time period, I am always inspired by the stories of personal endurance, kindness, and bravery in the face of such evil happening during that time period.  He helps humanize the citizens of Germany, showing that not all of them - perhaps not even the majority of them - were out for Jewish blood.  He drives home the point that Hitler never needed to pick up an actual weapon himself, he knew how to craft his words to become the intended weapon.  Many themes are weaved into the 550 pages of this story about the book thief.  The compassion of the human spirit, words are life or death, the power reading can create, the value of a life not matter its skin color or ethic background, resilience, keeping a hold on what you know to be true in your heart, overcoming fear, and more. He did a beautiful job with an interesting choice for POV and an interesting style.  I loved it and I'm curious to see the movie now (I've heard great things about it) that I have read the book.  I'm curious if they have made the book's POV the POV of the movie as well.  This is one movie that I may be spending the big bucks on to see on the big screen. :)




Beneath the Night Tree by Nicole Baart

This was a lovely book, if not fairly predictable. And I didn't notice that it is actually the third, and final, book in a series by Baart.  However, I didn't feel lost at all so Baart did a great job at making this book, at least, feel like a stand alone.  Since it is a book 3 I went ahead and searched out books 1 and 2 as well, they'll land on my 2014 bookshelf.  :)
Julia is a 24 year old single Mom to Daniel and big sister turned into Mom to Simon, her 10 year old brother.  They all live with Julia's Grandma who basically raised her. In the first couple of pages of the book, and our introduction to Julia's life there were a few paragraphs, or phrases, that resonated so loudly with me that I have been thinking about them ever since.  Baart has a beautiful way of phrasing the reality of life.  We also meet Julia's boyfriend, Michael, and as the reader I wondered when the turn would come from this idyllic life Julia seemed to have.  I didn't have to wait too terribly long.  Michael drops a bombshell and Daniel's birth Dad resurfaces.  This is where the story gets predictable.  Not that I didn't enjoy reading it still.  As it always does a loose "love triangle" forms and causes Julia some heart angst along the way.  Her son and her brother are struggling without a consistent male figure in their lives and her Grandma is aging more quickly than anyone would like or wants to admit.  And she's only 24 in charge of so much more than she ever imagined she would be.
What I appreciate about Baart is she doesn't get all preachy and Christianese in this book.  Yes, the book is a Christian one but it isn't sickening, if you know what I mean and some of you do know what I mean.  *grin* She does have a lovely way of writing and all of her books are marked "to-read" on my list so it seems I'm a fan of her writing style, storylines, and characters.  Each that I just mentioned are well developed and make reading her books easy and a pleasure.




Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham

Let's get something out of the way.  I love Lauren Graham.  I have a slight obsession with her.  I loved her in Gilmore Girls, I love her in Parenthood. I think she is great.  So when I saw she had written I book I had to give it a go.  It was decent first novel but I think I like Lauren Graham on screen better.  I was thinking, as I was reading this book, that I would like to hear Lauren Graham read this book - do a little one woman show and read this book - I have a feeling I would have gotten the parts that were supposed to be a little funnier or meaningful if I could listen to Graham read it in the voice that was in her head while she wrote it. But it wasn't bad at all reading it with the voice in my head.  I just think I could have liked it more.
Set in 1995 when Friends and E.R. were at the height of popularity in TV, Graham's main character, Franny Banks, is an aspiring actress in Brooklyn, NY.  She's got a self-imposed deadline for "making it" and it is fast approaching.  Between her acting classes and her waitressing (because almost all actors/actresses apparently wait tables at some point) she's feeling the pressure of proving to herself and others that she can be an actress that earns money on stage rather than in an apron with an order pad. Her roommates are also creative brains so they get the journey Franny is on.  Graham takes the reader through the last 6 months of Franny's self-imposed deadline, complete with insights into her daily calendar.  What will happen when 6 months are up and Franny doesn't have the break she's been waiting for?  Will she bail on her dream or push through?  Franny's journey to maturity is most likely very relateable to most, perhaps it may even be a bit of an autobiography from Graham.  After all who better knows the ins and outs and the hopes of the industry better than an actress herself?
Graham writes decently. Her story line was *just* this side of boring, however.  I read it, I stayed with it but felt myself getting bored with it. She developed her characters well enough but the story started dragging for me. It's a lot of dialogue as well.  The story is inserted into the dialogue and is in Franny's voice. Which is why I think I was wanting to hear Graham herself read it and put the inflection and the life into Franny that I think she created for Franny.  But all in all, Graham gets the job done and pulls off a decent read.




Tell Me by Lisa Jackson

Another decent mystery author.  She includes a little too much of the relationship details of the main character but all in all her mystery is a good one, at least in this title.
Nikki Gillette is Jackson's main character in this Savannah series.  A newspaper reporter looking for her big break in the publishing world.  She had stumbled upon two sensational stories prior to this title and is up against a deadline for a third book. In this story an old murder is resurrected with the impending release of a woman who has served 20 years for the murder of her own daughter.  Nikki happened to know the murdered girl as well as the defending lawyer who happened to be her uncle.  Savannah is outraged by the news of the mother's release and the police are put back on the case to try and keep her locked up.  Nikki goes on the case as well and begins to slowly uncover bits and pieces of truth not known 20 years previously.  What really happened 20 years ago and how many people know more than they're talking about?
Lisa Jackson seems to be a prolific author.  She has several series and stand alones.  This is my first read of her titles and style and I liked it just fine.  The mystery part of it kept me guessing.  I guess part of Jackson's background is romance novels and that comes through in Nikki's relationship with her fiance.  I could do without that but it wasn't too much so I can overlook it for the bigger story.  I'll definitely give some of her other titles a try.



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