Friday, November 21, 2014

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer


Belzhar
by Meg Wolitzer
Dutton Juvenile, 2014
272 pages
source: borrowed from the library

Goodreads summary:
If life were fair, Jam Gallahue would still be  at home in New Jersey with her sweet British  boyfriend, Reeve Maxfield. She’d be watching  old comedy sketches with him. She’d be kissing  him in the library stacks.

She certainly wouldn’t be at The Wooden Barn, a therapeutic boarding school in rural Vermont, living with a weird roommate, and signed up for an exclusive, mysterious class called Special Topics in English.

But life isn’t fair, and Reeve Maxfield is dead.

Until a journal-writing assignment leads Jam to Belzhar, where the untainted past is restored, and Jam can feel Reeve’s arms around her once again. But there are hidden truths on Jam’s path to reclaim her loss.

From New York Times bestselling author Meg Wolitzer comes a breathtaking and surprising story about first love, deep sorrow, and the power of acceptance.


I need to tell you three things:

I don't read much Young Adult literature.
I'm not into fantasy.
I don't get magical realism.

BUT, 

I still loved Belzhar... and think you might, too.

Favorite Quotes:
“We're talking about the novel, right? But maybe we're not. We're talking about ourselves. And I guess that's what can start to happen when you talk about a book.”   
"..pain can seem like an endless ribbon. You pull it and you pull it. You keep gathering it toward you, and as it collects, you really can't believe that there's something else at the end of it. Something that isn't just more pain." 

My rating:

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal


Dollbaby
by Laura Lane McNeal
narrated by January Lavoy
Penguin Audio, 2014
11 hours and 12 minutes
source: purchased

Publisher's 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.

For Fannie's own family history is fraught with tragedy, hidden behind the closed rooms in her ornate Uptown mansion. It will take Ibby's arrival to begin to unlock the mysteries there. And it will take Queenie and Dollbaby's hard-won wisdom to show Ibby that family can sometimes be found in the least expected places.

For fans of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and The Help, Dollbaby  brings to life the charm and unrest of 1960s New Orleans through the eyes of a young girl learning to understand race for the first time.

By turns uplifting and funny, poignant and full of verve, Dollbaby  is an audiobook listeners will take to their hearts.

My thoughts:

Have you ever read a novel and enjoyed the characters so much you hated to say goodbye? That's exactly how I felt about Ibby (Liberty), Fannie, Queenie, and Dollbaby. Every moment I spent with them was a treat.

Set in 1960's New Orleans, Dollbaby  is brimming with southern charm and atmosphere, but also reflects the racial tension of that time period. It's a coming-of-age story filled with joy, sadness, love, self-discovery, and, of course, family secrets.

And I loved it.

Dollbaby  is an impressive debut novel. I'll be reading whatever McNeal writes next.

About the audio production:
Listening to Dollbaby  was a near perfect audiobook experience. January Lavoy delivers an outstanding performance and is my top narrator discovery of the year. Whether you are an audiobook evangelist or considering your first listen, Dollbaby gets my highest recommendation.

My rating:



Bottom line:
Dollbaby is my favorite audiobook fiction of 2014.  Read or listen, just don't miss this one!




Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe


The End of Your Life Book Club
by Will Schwalbe
narrated by Jeff Harding
Random House Audio, 2012
9 hours and 40 minutes
source: purchased

Publisher's Summary: 
"What are you reading?"

That's the question Will Schwalbe asks his mother, Mary Anne, as they sit in the waiting room of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. In 2007, Mary Anne returned from a humanitarian trip to Pakistan and Afghanistan suffering from what her doctors believed was a rare type of hepatitis. Months later she was diagnosed with a form of advanced pancreatic cancer, which is almost always fatal, often in six months or less.

This is the inspiring true story of a son and his mother, who start a "book club" that brings them together as her life comes to a close. Over the next two years, Will and Mary Anne carry on conversations that are both wide-ranging and deeply personal, prompted by an eclectic array of books and a shared passion for reading. Their list jumps from classic to popular, from poetry to mysteries, from fantastic to spiritual. The issues they discuss include questions of faith and courage as well as everyday topics such as expressing gratitude and learning to listen. Throughout, they are constantly reminded of the power of books to comfort us, astonish us, teach us, and tell us what we need to do with our lives and in the world. Reading isn't the opposite of doing; it's the opposite of dying.

Will and Mary Anne share their hopes and concerns with each other - and rediscover their lives - through their favorite books. When they read, they aren't a sick person and a well person, but a mother and a son taking a journey together. The result is a profoundly moving tale of loss that is also a joyful, and often humorous, celebration of life: Will's love letter to his mother, and theirs to the printed page.

My thoughts:

I always steer clear of memoirs dealing with illness or death of a parent, yet cannot resist books about books. For that reason, The End of Your Life Book Club  presented an unusual dilemma. My solution in this case was to avoid the book... and I did for nearly two years until curiosity finally won out. I gave in and listened earlier this fall.

Will's mother, Mary Anne, was a remarkable woman, very much loved by her family. After her diagnosis, Will and Mary Anne formed a two person book club which met at Memorial Sloan-Kettering during chemotherapy sessions. They read (or reread) many interesting books and their discussions provided a means of sharing thoughts on life and, eventually, death.

It is, of course, still a memoir about the illness and death of a parent, but because books and book discussion provide the structure, it was nowhere near as depressing as I'd anticipated.

Now for the books...

It made me want to reread several favorites including:
Crossing to Safety  by Wallace Stegner
The Uncommon Reader  by Alan Bennett
The Painted Veil  by W. Somerset Maugham
Brooklyn  by Colm Tóibín

I also made a long list of books to investigate:
The Etiquette of Illness  by Sue Halpern
Daily Strength for Daily Needs  by Mary W. Tileston
Marjorie Morningstar  by Herman Wouk
Gilead  by Marilynne Robinson (on my shelf)
Brat Farrar  by Josephine Tey
The Magic Mountain  by Thomas Mann (on my shelf)
A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier  by Ishmael Beah
My Father's Tears: And Other Stories  by John Updike

A Favorite Quote:
I was learning that when you're with someone who is dying, you may need to celebrate the past, live the present, and mourn the future all at the same time.
If I'd read a print copy, there would be many, many more quotes to share, but that's almost impossible with an audiobook.

About the audio production:
Jeff Harding is no stranger to audiobook narration, but this was my first experience with his work. He did an excellent job narrating and immediately drew me into Will's story. In fact, I often wondered if it was actually Will doing his own narration. I would gladly listen to him again.

Bottom line:
If you enjoy books about books, don't be put off because this one is also about death and dying.

My rating:

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Sunday Salon: November 16, 2014


Hello again! I'm back, at least for a little while. We left upstate New York just over a week ago (in the snow, of course) and drove to Florida. After a short overnight stop in Virginia, we spent a couple of days in Savannah, GA. What a fun city! We arrived in southwest Florida early Monday evening, unloaded the car, and, following a long-standing tradition, headed straight to our favorite spot for peel-and-eat shrimp and a pitcher of beer. Daughter #1 and my brother-in-law arrived Wednesday just in time for my husband's birthday celebration.

We took long walks on the beach, rode bikes, and  sipped a "Happy Gator" mojito or two. There was very little reading on this trip, although I listened to a few hours of The Paying Guests  on the flight home yesterday evening. And now here we are, back in the snow belt.


Current Reading//


The Hotel by Elizabeth Bowen
A quiet novel set, obviously, in a hotel on the Italian Riviera in the 1920s



A beloved collection of essays to be released in a new ebook edition by Open Road Media this week


Listening to//


The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
Under 2 hours to go in this nearly 22 hour book... can't wait to see how it ends.


Blog updates//


The Classics Club Spin landed on number 13, which means I will be reading They Were Sisters  by Dorothy Whipple before January 5. A beautiful Persephone edition, purchased at Persephone Books on my last trip to London, has been waiting on my shelf for several years.



Nonfiction November is happening all over blogland. I posted about my year in nonfiction before we left for vacation, but totally missed out on week two. My nonfiction reading list has exploded, but I'm still looking forward to wading through last week's posts.

In an attempt to get caught up I will try to post some mini-reviews this week, but we're only home for a few days. Friday we'll head to Philadelphia to cheer for our daughter who will be running the half marathon over the weekend... and by the time we get home, the Thanksgiving holiday will be well underway. Where has November gone???

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


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Nonfiction November: My Year in Nonfiction


Welcome to Nonfiction November. This event is a month-long celebration of nonfiction hosted by I'm Lost in Books, Sophisticated Dorkiness, Regular Rumination, and Doing Dewey. There will be reviews, readalongs, and discussion topics posted throughout the month. Be sure to check these blogs for complete details.

 Week 1: My Year in Nonfiction

Looking back on 2014, roughly a quarter of my reading has been nonfiction. This is only slightly above my average, but I've enjoyed the books so much I can't help but wonder why the percentage isn't even higher.

I should also note that I generally prefer listening to nonfiction. Even though I almost always have a hard copy (for photographs, charts, maps, etc.), audiobook nonfiction outnumbers print two to one for me. Perhaps I am an auditory learner.

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? 


This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchette 
A wide-ranging essay collection from a favorite author. Patchett narrates the audio version herself... an added bonus.


What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? 


The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
Who would expect a book about crew to be so exciting?


What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet?

Even though a lot of my nonfiction reading involves food and food culture,  Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick has been on my wish list for a very longtime. Earlier this week, Leila reviewed Without You, There is No Us  by Suki Kim. It sounds like an interesting book, and got me thinking about a possible North Korea reading project.



 What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?
My main goal this month is to add some exciting titles to my nonfiction reading list. Who better to turn to for suggestions than trusted book bloggers?

Visit Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness for this week's link up.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Classics Club: Spin #8


The Classics Club Spin has been a huge success. Previous rounds have dealt me An American Tragedy, The Bell Jar, Middlemarch, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Cheerful Weather for a Wedding. The rules are the same this time, only the dates have been changed.

Here's how it works:
- Go to your blog.
- Pick twenty books that you’ve got left to read from your Classics Club list.
- Post that list, numbered 1-20, on your blog by next Monday. (11/10)
- Monday morning, we’ll announce a number from 1-20. Go to the list of twenty books you posted, and select the book that corresponds to the number we announce.
- The challenge is to read that book by January 5.

I'm still sticking with a slightly modified version of my original list. Here's what it looks like this time:

Pick Me, Pick Me (books I want to read now)
1. My Cousin Rachel by Daphne DuMaurier
2. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
3. Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty
4. Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell
5. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Quickies
6. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
7. Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte
8. The Professor's House by Willa Cather
9.  Sandition by Jane Austen
10. A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf

Favorite Authors
11. The Bunner Sisters by Edith Wharton
12. The Warden by Anthony Trollope
13. They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple
14. The Winter of our Discontent by John Steinbeck (reread)
15.  Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

Chunksters 
16.  Them by Joyce Carol Oates
17.  Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
18. Villette by Charlotte Bronte
19.  Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
20.  What Maisie Knew by Henry James



UPDATE:
The spin number was 13. I will be reading They Were Sisters  by Dorothy Whipple by January 5.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Weekly Update: November 2, 2014


It feels like fall is pretty much over in central New York. Most of the leaves have fallen, many trees are bare, and we've already seen our first snow flurries. Around here, November is a notoriously dark, cloudy, depressing, in-between month. The sun rarely shines in November and sunset is early - 4:55 PM today. But yesterday on my walk, I was treated to an unexpected splash of red that brightened my day. I shared the photo on instagram, and much later it struck me how perfectly that tree illustrates Estellagram's November theme, see the good. I really like that theme and have decided to embrace #seethegood in my own life this month.



As for reading and blogging, it has been a relatively quiet week.


Yesterday afternoon I started reading Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer and finished it this morning - I loved it! Most of you know I'm not much of a YA reader and avoid magical realism and fantasy at all costs, but this book totally sucked me in and didn't let me go until I was done. The Interestings  is already one of my favorite books this year. I may have to read everything Wolitzer has written...


I'm about halfway through my read/listen combination of The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. The beginning was wonderful, but it seems to be dragging a bit at the moment. I like it, but can't say I love it. At least not yet.


My other book is The Hotel by Elizabeth Bowen, which I am enjoying but haven't spent much time with this week.

On the blog//
-  Weekend Cooking:  A Lighter Mac and Cheese
-  Tuesday Intro:  The Paying Guests

In the kitchen//
I tried a new recipe for an old favorite - this chicken piccata was delicious. Yesterday my husband went to the farmers market without me and came home with bison filets for dinner. I've never had bison, but we decided to grill them. Surprisingly good!

The week ahead//
We're heading south on Friday afternoon. After a few days on the road, we will celebrate my husband's birthday in Florida and fly home the following weekend. If we leave a car in Florida, we'll have to back, right?

I'm falling behind on reviews again and am waiting for inspiration to strike. Hopefully, that will happen this week. If it does, I can schedule a couple to post while we're away, but if it doesn't  a short blogging break may be on the horizon.



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


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