Friday, October 24, 2014

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty


Big Little Lies
by Liane Moriarty
Penguin/Putman, 2014
462 pages
source: borrowed from the library

Summary (from goodreads):
A murder… . . . a tragic accident… . . . or just parents behaving badly?
What’s indisputable is that someone is dead.   But who did what?

 Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:   Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).

Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.   New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.

 Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.

My thoughts:

This is a book I never would have picked up without a little push from my blogging friends. Liane Moriarty is everywhere these days, but this is the first time I've read her. Why all the fuss? It's because Moriarty gets it.

In many ways, Big Little Lies is almost too real. You learn right up front something has gone terribly wrong at a school function. Someone is dead. But who? And why? Was it murder? An accident? The story immediately backs up to kindergarten orientation at the beginning of the school year. As it moves forward, the reader gradually gets to know the players and key events before finally arriving at that fateful evening.

The characters, the dialog, and the kids are all captured perfectly. You might not like these people, maybe you'll sympathize with one or two of them, and maybe it will remind you of parental shenanigans at your own kid's school. It mostly made me glad I'm beyond this point in life.

I was expecting a light, frivolous novel and was caught off guard by the unexpected substance of Big Little Lies. Book clubs will find plenty to discussion here.

If you haven't read Liane Moriarty yet, what are you waiting for?

My rating:



Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Speaking of Series...

I'm a day behind, but this week's Top Ten Tuesday is all about series. Specifically series we'd like to begin. By nature, I am a series avoider. They require more of  a commitment from the reader, you have to read them in order, the books are often very long, etc. It would be a struggle for me to come up with ten series I'd like to start, but I can certainly come up with five ... and then for good measure, five more I need to continue.

Series to begin:


Some Luck: A Novel by Jane Smiley 
This new release is the first book of a planned trilogy and the reviews sound promising.




Les Rougon Macquart by Emile Zola
I loved Therese Raquin  and have read #11 in the series, The Ladies' Paradise.  Now I want to go back to book one, The Fortune of the Rougons, and continue in order.




The Chronicles of Barsetshire by Anthony Trollope
I'm kicking myself for not getting in on Melissa and Amanda's readalong this year. 




The Passing Bells Series by Phillip Rock
"Before Downton Abbey, there was Abingdon Pryory, the elegant country home of the Grevilles—a titled English family who, along with their servants, see their world turned upside down when England goes to war." Who could ask for more?




The Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard
I actually picked up Book 1, The Light Years at the library today. Will I read it this time?



Series to continue:


The Century Trilogy by Ken Follett
I read Fall of Giants  over a year ago and have Winter of the World  ready to go. The Edge of Eternity (book 3) was recently released.




The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy
I loved this volume (containing novels 1-3) when I read it nearly a decade ago. Ali is embarking on a year-long project to read all nine novels beginning in January and I am tempted to join her. I would begin with a reread.




The Good Earth Trilogy by Pearl S. Buck
Did you know The Good Earth  continues with Sons  and A House Divided?




Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
It's been a couple of years since I read book one. It's time to keep going with Birds of  Feather.




The Dublin Murder Squad by Tana French
I listened to In the Woods while walking on the beach a couple of winters ago. The Likeness  is next on my list.


Your turn...
Are you attracted to series or do you tend to avoid them? Which are your favorites?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Tuesday Intro: Dollbaby

1964
Chapter One
There are times you wish you could change things, take things back, pretend they never existed. This was one of those times, Ibby Bell was thinking as she stared bug-eyed out the car window. Amid the  double-galleried homes and brightly painted cottages on Prytania Street, there was one house that didn't belong. 
"Ibby?" Her mother turned down the radio and began drumming her fingers on the steering wheel. 
Ibby ignored her, letting her mother's words mingle with the buzz of the air conditioning and the drone of the idling car engine as she craned her neck, trying to get a better look at the house that was stubbornly obscured by the sprawling branches of a giant oak tree and the glare of the midmorning sun. She cupped her hands over her eyes and glanced up to find a weathervane shaped like a racehorse jutting high above the tallest branches of the tree. It was flapping to and fro in the tepid air, unable to quite make a total spin around the rusted stake, giving the poor horse the appearance of being tethered against its will. 
I know that feeling, Ibby thought.
Dollbaby: A Novel
by Laura Lane McNeal

Dollbaby  is my current audiobook and, just past the halfway point, I'm nearly ready to proclaim it as a favorite of the year. The New Orleans setting, a compelling story, and first-rate narration combine for a near perfect listening experience.

Here's a portion of the goodreads summary:
A big-hearted coming-of-age debut set in civil rights-era New Orleans - a novel of Southern eccentricity and secrets. 
When Ibby Bell's father dies unexpectedly in the summer of 1964, her mother unceremoniously deposits Ibby with her eccentric grandmother Fannie and throws in her father's urn for good measure. Fannie's New Orleans house is like no place Ibby has ever been - and Fannie, who has a tendency to end up in the local asylum - is like no one she has ever met. Fortunately, Fannie's black cook, Queenie, and her smart-mouthed daughter, Dollbaby, take it upon themselves to initiate Ibby into the ways of the South, both its grand traditions and its darkest secrets.
Would you keep reading... or listening?


Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Weekly Update: October 19, 2014

It's Sunday and it's snowing. Seriously. Temperatures are in the mid-30s and the rain has turned to wet, white flakes. They're saying it's "lake effect" and only coming down in higher elevations, but still... Can I go to Florida now?

For such a short week, it seems like last Sunday was a month ago. We had a wonderful drive through the southern Adirondack Park on the way to visit my FIL on the Vermont border. The sun was shining, the leaves were spectacular, and we got to spend several hours chatting with him and wandering around outdoors before heading back home. I posted my view from his window as a wrap-up to my #100HappyDays on instagram.

Twin A drove back to school on Tuesday and, for whatever reason, the rest of the week just dragged.  There were all the usual activities, plus a doctor's appointment, issues with one of the cars, and to top it off, my washing machine died.

Needless to say, there was not much reading going on and I didn't finish a thing. I abandoned Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury at the 40% mark. I hate not finishing readalong books (like book club selections) and even turned to the audio version for help. In some ways, that made things even worse. I guess Bradbury is not an author for me.



Current reading//



I'm halfway through Starting Out in the Evening by Brian Morton. Like his latest novel, Florence Gordon, there isn't much action... but getting to know and understand his characters more than makes up for it.

Listening to//


Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal...  a coming of age story set in New Orleans in the 1960's and I love it!

Up next//


My library hold of The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters came in. It's a mystery how you can go  from #19 to the top of the list overnight, but I'm not complaining! The book is almost 600 pages long and might be a good candidate for a read/listen combination, especially since Juliet Stevenson narrates the audio version.

Also under consideration are Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann (with Bellezza) and a group read of Elizabath Bowen's first novel, The Hotel, which I learned about from Ali.

On the blog//
The Classics Club: A Midpoint Report
Review:  Breakfast at Tiffany's  by Truman Capote (audio)
Tuesday Intro:  Starting Out in the Evening  by Brian Morton

In the kitchen//
I spent most of last Monday in the kitchen, not at the mall as planned. I wanted to stock my daughter's freezer for the rest of the semester and we made lasagna, a couple of casseroles, and a tortilla pie.

Today I'm making Tuscan Bean Soup for lunches this week and more lasagna to bring to a family dinner later today. We will be celebrating my twin sisters' birthdays.


Sometime this week, I will make the above Cauliflower Mac and Cheese with Crispy Panko Topping, a lightened up version of a favorite comfort food. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Today//   I'm going for a walk (after I find my hat and gloves!) so I can listen to more of Dollbaby. Then I'll make the soup for lunch, put the lasagna in the oven, and hopefully read for an hour before we head to the birthday celebration. If I'm lucky, I'll even get to the New York Times  tonight.

How was your week? What are you reading today?

This post will link to It's Monday, What are you Reading? hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.





Friday, October 17, 2014

The Classics Club: Midpoint Report


It's been two and a half years since I joined The Classics Club on April 15, 2012. My goal at that time was to read 50 classics in 5 years. I made a list of 50 books plus 5 personal challenge books, and figured one every month or so should do it. Complete details can be found on my Classics Club page.

To date: I have read 25 of 50 books

Brontë, Anne - The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
Brookner, Anita - Hotel du Lac
Buck, Pearl S. - Imperial Woman
Calvino, Italo - If on a Winter's Night a Traveler
Capote, Truman  - Breakfast at Tiffany's
Christie, Agatha - And Then There Were None
Dreiser, Theodore - An American Tragedy
Eliot, George - Middlemarch
Gaskell, Elizabeth - North and South
Greene, Graham - The End of the Affair
Jackson, Shirley -  The Haunting of Hill House
James, Henry - Washington Square
Hardy, Thomas - Tess of the d'Urbervilles
Hemingway, Ernest - The Old Man and the Sea
Plath, Sylvia  - The Bell Jar
Pym, Barbara - A Glass of Blessings
Pym, Barbara - Some Tame Gazelle
Stewart, Mary - The Ivy Tree
Strachey, Julia - Cheerful Weather for the Wedding
Tanizaki, Junichiro - The Makioka Sisters
Thackery, William Makepeace - Vanity Fair
Thirkell, Angela - High Rising
Wharton, Edith - The Age of Innocence
Wilde, Oscar - The Picture of Dorian Gray
Williams, John - Stoner

Surprisingly I am on track, yet my reading has not been entirely consistent.

  • 2012 - 6 classics (in 8 months)
  • 2013 - 13 classics, a banner year
  • 2014 -  6 classics to date

I'm willing to cut myself a little slack this year since two of those six books were 800 pages or more, Middlemarch  and  An American Tragedy. 

Additionally, my male/female author ratio is 11/14, but nearly all authors are British or American.

An interesting observation: 12 of the 25 books read have involved other readers. This includes 6 read-alongs or buddy reads and 6 Classics Spins sponsored by The Classics Club.

My conclusion: Classics are better with friends!

Moving ahead: My original list is now fluid, or evolving. When a book interests me, I add it to my list. Also, I need to get to those non-American/British authors on my list.

And of the books I've read...

Most Anticipated:
An American Tragedy  by Theodore Dreiser - It had been on my shelf for nearly 35 years.


Most Beautifully Written:
Stoner by John Williams

Most Disappointing:
The Bell Jar  by Sylvia Plath - I should have read this book in my 20's.

Most Surprising (in a good way):
The Makioka Sisters  by Junichiro Tanizaki


Most Memorable Characters:
Tess and Alec from Tess of the d'Urbervilles

Most Recommended to Others:
Tess of the d'Urbervilles
North and South
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
The Makioka Sisters

Do you enjoy reading classics? Have you joined The Classics Club?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote (audio)


Breakfast at Tiffany's
Written by: Truman Capote
Narrated by: Michael C. Hall
Length: 2 hrs and 52 mins
Publisher: Audible Studios, 2014
source: purchased

Publisher's Summary:
Golden Globe-winning actor Michael C. Hall (Dexter, Six Feet Under) performs Truman Capote's provocative, naturalistic masterstroke about a young writer's charmed fascination with his unorthodox neighbor, the "American geisha" Holly Golightly. Holly - a World War II-era society girl in her late teens - survives via socialization, attending parties and restaurants with men from the wealthy upper class who also provide her with money and expensive gifts. Over the course of the novella, the seemingly shallow Holly slowly opens up to the curious protagonist, who eventually gets tossed away as her deepening character emerges.

Breakfast at Tiffany's, Truman Capote's most beloved work of fiction, introduced an independent and complex character who challenged audiences, revived Audrey Hepburn's flagging career in the 1961 film version, and whose name and style has remained in the national idiom since publication. Hall uses his diligent attention to character to bring our unnamed narrator’s emotional vulnerability to the forefront of this American classic.

My thoughts:

I am surely the only person on the planet who has never seen the 1961 film starring Audrey Hepburn. I do know that the plot differs significantly from the novella and have always thought I should read Capote's words first. Although I've had a beautiful hard cover Modern Library edition (purchased at Border's going out of business sale) on my shelf for years, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to grab the audio when it was offered as an audible daily deal.

I've read Capote before. In Cold Blood  was quite a page-turner and "A Christmas Memory" is one of my favorite short stories, but I felt distanced from this work right away. Maybe it was due to the narration, maybe that was Capote's intent. For whatever reason, it just didn't click. Written in 1958, it also struck me as dated.

As I listened, The Great Gatsby  frequently came to mind. The narrators of both novels are similar in quality and voice, and I liked them much more than the title characters. Holly could have been a female version of Gatsby himself.... not entirely what she seems, not necessarily totally above board.

A quick search of google revealed, as expected, that this was by no means an original thought. The similarity has been been duly noted in The Guardian, and my blogging friend Jane posted on this topic years ago. With these thoughts fresh in my mind, it must be time to reread  The Great Gatsby... yet again.

Strangely, I have nothing further to say about the narration of this audio production. It was fine... distancing as noted above, but otherwise unremarkable.

My rating:

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tuesday Intro: Starting Out in the Evening


1
Heather was wearing the wrong dress. It had seemed like a good idea in the morning - it was a tight little black thing; she'd looked fantastic in the mirror - but now she was thinking that she should have worn something more demure. This was a foolish dress to meet your intellectual hero in. 
Waiting in the coffee shop for the great man to arrive, Heather was squirming with nervousness, and she began to wonder why she was here - why she had gone to such lengths to meet this man, when she knew he couldn't possibly be as interesting in person as he was in his books. She had a wild urge to flee - to scribble a note of apology, leave it with the waiter, and drive all the way back to Providence. But she stayed where she was. She was nervous; she was a little scared; but she could live with that. Fear of any undertaking, to her way of thinking, was usually a reason to go ahead with it. 
The door opened and a man came in from the cold. He was wearing an enormous coat - a coat that was like a house - and a big, furry, many-flapped hat. He peeled off the hat and stopped for a moment in front of the cash register, stamping off the snow. He was wearing galoshes 
They had never met, but he picked her out instantly, and he came toward her, smiling. Old, fat, bald, leaning awkwardly on a cane. The man of her dreams.
Starting Out in the Evening
by Brian Morton

This is actually the entire first chapter of Brian Morton's 1998 novel, and the second of his books I have picked up in as many weeks. I loved his most recent novel, Florence Gordon, and started reading this one just a few days later. I'm only 50 pages in, but love the writing and am enjoying getting to know the three main characters. I think this will be another winner.

Here is a summary from Library Journal:
In beautifully nuanced scenes, Heather Wolfe, a 24-year-old graduate student, forces a meeting with broken-down Leonard Schiller, an out-of-print, sick old writer whose early works, written during the heyday of 1940s and 1950s New York intellectualism, forever changed Heather's life. Targeted as the subject of Heather's master's thesis, Schiller quickly falls under the seductive promise of her admiration, much to the distress of Ariel, his 39-year-old daughter, whose own struggles with failed romance and childlessness derail her energy. Morton demonstrates an astonishingly sensitive appreciation for his characters as he reveals with unnerving accuracy the most private thoughts not only of his women but of the dying old man as well. These mismatched souls gradually realize that their individual journeys, which they thought were drawing to a close, are in fact new beginnings. Morton's respect for his characters and his audience is a quiet literary triumph. Highly recommended.
What do you think of the first chapter? Would you keep reading?


Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

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