Thursday, June 23, 2016

Literary Life: Sequels and Series

Two weeks ago, I read The Rose and the Dagger which is the sequel to The Wrath and the Dawn. I enjoyed the sequel as much as the first book. The characters were compelling, the writing moved at a wonderfully breakneck speed, and I was captivated by the story. But it was a rough re-entry. The six months between reading the first book and the second one made lots of details blurry and it took me a few chapters to remember what had happened before and get back in the rhythm of Renee Ahdieh's writing.

So maybe I've learned my lesson. I read The Cuckoo's Calling earlier this month. Then I went to the library and picked up the next one. This way, I will remember everything from the first book that impacts the second. One of my favorite reading memories is when I sped through several Flavia de Luce books all in a row. Some of my most frustrating moments have been while reading books in series when the previous book was published (and read) many years before.

So tell me, bookish friends. How do you deal with sequels and series? Do you read them all in one glorious spree? Do you re-read earlier books before a new release? Or do you just jump in and hope that you remember enough of the previous stories?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Mini-Reviews: Sunday's on the Phone to Monday and Country of Red Azaleas

When Mathilde and Claudio meet at a party, they discover that even two fiercely independent people can be strengthened by family. They marry and Mathilde continues to pursue her dreams of acting, while Claudio runs a record store. They soon have three children: brilliant Natasha, Lucy, whose heart condition could turn into tragedy at any moment, and Carly, who is adopted from China. In addition to the usual joys and trials of raising children, the couple is also responsible for Claudio's sister Jane who is unknown to her nieces because of her violent struggles with mental illness. In short vignettes from differing points of view, we are invited into the inner depths of the Simone family to see just what makes their hearts beat.

It would be simplistic to say that Sunday's on the Phone to Monday is a book about sisters. It is that, but it is also a book about husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, parents and children. Reilly does a masterful job of capturing what it is like to be a young parent as well as the ways that siblings fight with and protect each other. This book is both quirky and heartfelt; sometimes those two things work wonderfully and sometimes it becomes just a bit too much. It would be a great pick for the reader who loves to read about the tragedies and triumphs of family.

Sunday's on the Phone to Monday
By Christine Reilly
Touchstone April 2016
323 pages
Read via Netgalley

Lara and Marija are the best of friends, no matter what. But when their countries of Serbia and Bosnia begin a bitter war, the two women are torn apart. Lara goes to America with a new husband and Marija is determined to report on the atrocities of war from Sarajevo. The friends are able to keep in touch for a while but when Lara loses contact with Marija, she is determined to go back home and find her.

Country of Red Azaleas has been compared to Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan books and I can understand the comparison. Lara and Marija are the kind of friends who will fight bitterly but fight for each other even harder. Lara is a tough character to follow, though. She is mostly able to escape the war that rages in her homeland. She marries, works as a professor, has a child, and has the luxury of having an affair while her friends and family are in a war zone. Even when Lara finds out what has happened to Marija, the terrors she experienced seem removed from Lara's life (and by extension, ours). But I'm glad that this novel gives voice to two nations and a war that I think are often ignored by history.

Country of Red Azaleas
By Domnica Radulescu
Twelve April 2016
320 pages
Read via Netgalley

Monday, June 20, 2016

It's Monday and I'm a little behind today!

Hey everyone! It's Monday afternoon and I'm finally here!

We had one of those good and hectic weekends. I worked late on Friday and picked up the boy from a sleepover on Saturday morning, Then we all went to the birthday party of our nephew Saturday afternoon and spent Sunday at church and the afternoon/evening celebrating Father's Day with my husband and dad.

I have still been reading, of course. It is good for this lady's mental health to find some quiet time every day to read a few chapters. I finished Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World and then read What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi. Currently, I'm reading The Fifth Avenue Artists Society and am looking forward to tackling Stewart O'Nan's City of Secrets next.

What are you reading this week?


Friday, June 17, 2016

Review: Shotgun Lovesongs

When their friend Kip gets married, Hank, Leland, and Ronny come together to celebrate. But things have changed since the boys were inseparable in childhood. Kip left their hometown of Little Wing, Wisconsin to trade commodities and returned unsure of his future. Hank never left and farms the land his father farmed before him, as he makes a life with his wife Beth and their children. Leland is now a famous musician with the money and groupies to go with it. But he finds himself longing for the simplicity of home. Ronny was a rising star on the rodeo circuit until an accident took away his chance at success and forever changed him. The reunion between the friends will force them to discover if things can ever really go back to the way they were, when their futures were bright and friendship was taken for granted.

I feel like I've read many books like this, but the difference here is that the characters (and author) are male. Of course, much to the chagrin of male-only book clubs everywhere, this doesn't mean that the heart of the story is much different. These are still people trying to find a place to call home, a job that fulfills them, and friends and family who will always be there for them.

Nickolas Butler does a wonderful job of writing place. Little Wing, Wisconsin seems like a town you could actually visit and see the miles of farmland, stare up at the deserted mill towering over the town, and have a beer at the VFW. This is apparently because Butler based it on his own experiences growing up alongside his friends in the small town of Eau Claire.

Shotgun Lovesongs is a book about going to your best friend's house for dinner, taking your girlfriend to see the town where you grew up, and watching a sunrise with the people who know you best. Henry, Kip, Ronny, and Leland learn that adult relationships are hard: they take a level of care and commitment that the friendships of our youth never did. As the characters look for the places and people that mean home for them, the reader feels like they are home too.

Shotgun Lovesongs
Nickolas Butler
Thomas Dunne Books March 2014
320 pages
From my shelves

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Midyear Thoughts

As we move from sweater and boots to suntan lotion and swimsuits, I suddenly realize that we are halfway through this year. It seemed like a good time to take a look at what has been happening on the blog in the past six months and what I hope will happen in the second half of 2016!

What's Happened So Far:

I Read More Than I Reviewed
When I started blogging, I thought I had to write about every single book that I read. After all, I started this blog so I could remember the stories I loved years later. As of today, I have read 57 books this year. I've only reviewed 33 of them. Now it is true that most of the books I reviewed in January were ones I read in 2015. It's also true that I have several books that I have already read and plan to review in the next few weeks. But I've definitely learned that I don't need to review every book. Sometimes I just don't have anything new to add to the conversation. If the thought of writing instead of starting a new book makes me grumpy, it's time to move on!

My Goodreads Ratings are Crazy High
There's a good reason for that. I stopped reading books I wasn't enjoying. That means that almost every book gets three or more stars when I mark them finished on Goodreads. It also means that my reviews on my blog will almost always be positive. Life is too short to read books you don't like!

Changes with the Little Readers
D used to love to write reviews for the books he picked up from the library. These days, as he is completing the last days of second grade, he is less eager to talk about the books he is reading. The exception, though, is that D loves to read on our Kindle. If I get some books for review from Netgalley, he is more than willing to read them and will sometimes review them too!

Thoughts for the Rest of 2016:

Blog Design
I would love to have a new blog design. I don't know too much about designing though, so I guess I either need to teach myself or start researching some good designers!

Blogger Meet-Up
I haven't been able to go to BEA yet, but I would love to meet up with some fellow book bloggers who live in New Jersey, or even New York or Pennsylvania. Any takers?

Different Kinds of Posts
I rather enjoy writing book reviews. I want to remember what I liked or didn't like about the books I read. But I realize that book reviews are usually duds as conversation starters. There isn't much to say other than "I really liked this too!" or "I'm excited to read this book soon." But when you write a post that invites discussion, like this one about your love for a series fizzling out or why we read short stories, you might find that people have a lot to say!

What have you learned so far in 2016, book bloggers? What are you looking forward to in the rest of this year?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Mini-Reviews: Alias Grace and Maine

In July of 1843, Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy were brutally murdered. Two of Kinnear's servants, Grace Marks and James McDermott, were apprehended fleeing through the United States. Grace insisted that she had no memory of the day of the murder and went with McDermott because she feared for her own life. The press and the prosecution in the murder trial insisted she was complicit in the whole thing. In Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood imagines what might have really happened with Grace Marks and one of the most notorious murder cases in Canadian history.

Alias Grace is a novel that requires the reader to commit. Atwood leaves no stone unturned, as she imagines what her protagonist may or may not have done. A lot of the novel is concerned with the small moments of one woman's life, as she grows up, tries to care for her family, and learns her place as a servant in a rich household. Grace is a woman without agency; a woman whose life is controlled by her father, her boss, her jailers, the judge who presides over her case, and then by Doctor Jordan, a man who tries to discover if she is crazy or criminal. This book seems like an amalgamation of so many genres: it's a mystery, historical fiction, and an examination of what has changed and what remains the same when it comes to our expectations for women. Like all of Atwood's books that I have read, I'm sure that there are layers and layers to uncover for the book lover who embarks on a re-read.

Alias Grace
By Margaret Atwood
Anchor October 1997
468 pages
From my shelves

Maine is both a place of beauty and wonder and a place that is taken for granted by the Kelleher family. Ever since patriarch Daniel won a plot of land on the beach, the family has descended each summer to swim, lie on the sand, enjoy each other's company, and drive their relatives crazy. This year, things will be a little different. Grandmother Alice is a bit lost after the death of her husband and considering what should happen to the summer house when she's gone. Her daughter-in-law Ann Marie is coming to look after Alice due to a misplaced sense of duty. She would much rather dream about winning first place in an upcoming dollhouse competition or finally having a romantic moment with her neighbor. Granddaughter Maggie is pregnant, but she hasn't told anyone yet (including her own mother).

Sullivan excels at showing women in very different stages in their lives: Maggie is a bit reckless because she hasn't yet experienced consequences. Ann Marie bends over backwards to please the others in her life, neglecting her own happiness in the process. Alice has had decades of hiding her pain behind appearances, doing good deeds, and a good drink or five. She is finally at the point of not caring anymore what her children, grandchildren, or anyone else thinks of her.

I've seen several readers say that they were deceived by the cover and expected a fun, light beach read. Maine is certainly not that book. The anger has been simmering for years in the Kelleher household and each of the women do some really mean or stupid things during this story. This is not the book for you if you hope that everyone makes the logical choice or that every character will be likable. But our understanding of each woman builds as the author effortlessly dips into each woman's perspective of their past and their present and this story will certainly make you think about (or be thankful for) your own family.

By J. Courtney Sullivan
Knopf June 2011
388 pages
From my shelves

Monday, June 13, 2016

It's Monday. Who else loved the Tony Awards?

This week has been sponsored by tissues and honey. I'm not sure if allergies are just crazy with the constantly changing weather or we are lovingly sharing a family cold, but it's been a sniffly, coughy few days around here.

We are still, of course, able to get joy out of things like our sandbox (the kids), reading (the kids are loving Geronimo Stilton and Redwall and you can see my picks below), and watching the Tony Awards on Sunday night!

What have I been reading? I'm glad you asked. The Rose and the Dagger is the sequel to last year's hit The Wrath and the Dawn. I was excited to read it as soon as my hold came in from the library! I also read Shotgun Lovesongs, which I picked up from the $5 table at Barnes and Noble a while back. It's a great story and I really enjoyed it.

        The Rose & the Dagger (The Wrath & the Dawn, #2)   Shotgun Lovesongs

This week, I'm reading about how we can raise kids who are grateful in a world that tells them to constantly ask for more. After that, I'm going to finally read What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours

          Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World: How One Family Learned That Saying No Can Lead to Life's Biggest Yes  What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours

What are you reading this week?