Saturday, August 30, 2014

Notes on Some Books

Here are some notes on what I've been reading lately...

Landline by Rainbow Rowell
A friend of mine was surprised that I gave four out of five stars to Landline on GoodReads. She, while a huge fan or Rainbow Rowell, found it hard to get invested in the characters in Landline. I thought Landline was fun...Georgie, a television writer, mom, and wife of Neal, is struggling to stay connected to her family. Christmas is coming and she, instead of going to Nebraska with Neal and the kids, feels she has to stay in L.A. with her writing partner and work on an important, time sensistive project. Neal is not pleased. Georgie struggles with her choices, and worries she will lose her family. While they are apart, Georgie finds a phone at her parents' house that enables her to talk to the past. Unlike my friend, I did feel invested in the characters and their dilemmas...I would have liked a little more depth and a little more with the phone, but overall I enjoyed Landline.

Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir by Roz Chast
Roz Chast chronicles her life with her parents as their health declines and she, as the only child, has to help them make difficult decisions regarding their living situations and their care. I, too, have cared for my aging parents as their health declined. Not easy. Sometimes really, really hard. And sad. Gut wrenching. And exhausting. I was a little hesitant about reading this book, knowing that it would probably bring up feelings I'd had when I was going through it all with my own parents. But I'm so glad I read it. I loved that this was a graphic memoir. Somehow her cartoon depictions of what she was going through helped lighten it a little - not just by occasionally bringing a little humor into difficult situations, but even when she was discussing the really hard parts, the visuals brought recognition to me, in a way that was different than words on a page. Really well done.

You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz
Grace is a therapist who often works with couples. In her years of being a therapist, she discovers what she thinks is pretty basic about relationships and she writes a book called You Should Have Known. Her premise is that when you meet someone and are in the early stages of a relationship, you find out things about your potential partner. That he gambles. That she cheats. That he doesn't treat people well. And, she says, people often go ahead ANYWAY, diving into a relationship because we think we can change the person, or that they'll change when they settle down. In her practice, she's seen couple after couple come into her office in crisis, after living for years with this person they knew about from the beginning. He still gambles. She still cheats. And now they want her help after living for years with this person who was less than suitable from the beginning. Grace has developed a good theory, she's got a thriving practice and a book coming out as well as a loving husband and a beautiful son. What could go wrong? When one of the mothers from her son's school is found dead, murdered, Grace's world starts unraveling. While I had some expectations of what I thought would happen (and I was right about some of them), there were twists that I didn't expect. I quite enjoyed this.

Lucky Us by Amy Bloom
Getting rave reviews, Lucky Us mainly tells the story of Eva and Iris, half sisters meeting each other as teens when they both have to live with their father for the first time. It started well. I read the first few pages in the bookstore and wanted to see where it was going. As seems to be popular in books these days, the novel is told from several points of view. First from Eva's, the younger sister, who goes with her mother to her father's house and is left there when her mother leaves and never comes back. Iris, an aspiring actress, tells some of her story through letters she writes Eva. Gus, a man that gets involved with the sisters also writes letters to Eva. A child is abducted from an orphanage. The father's health declines. I found myself caring less about the characters as the book went on. Probably not a good sign. There were some moments of lovely writing, but for me it wasn't enough to redeem the book for me.

Little Mercies by Heather Gudenkauf
Ellen is a social worker working for CPS in Iowa. She has three children and a loving husband. Their lives are hectic, but Ellen feels fulfilled helping children in her work and raising her own lovely family. Jenny is a young girl who lives with her well meaning but alcoholic father in Nebraska. Jenny ends up in Ellen's town, staying with Ellen's mom, Maudene at the same time Ellen faces a crisis in her own life. How can Ellen, an upstanding CPS worker, deal with her own actions towards one of her own children? How will Jenny cope with being in another state without her father? Going back and forth between Ellen's perspective and Jenny's, this was an engaging, engrossing, complex, well done novel.

To Die for by Joyce Maynard
Suzanne is ambitious. She has known from childhood that she wants to be on television, like Barbara Walters. Her focus is admirable. She marries Larry, who brings some fun into her life, and still supports her as she pursues her goals of breaking into the business. She gets a low level job with a small, local television station, and tries to make the most of the position. Suzanne decides to make a documentary about young people, so starts working with some high school students. Someone dies. Told from many points of view (Suzanne, each of her parents, Larry's parents, each of the high school kids, etc.), the story comes out, and secrets are revealed. Short chapters make this an easy and fun read.

Old Man's War by John Scalzi
I read Scalzi's Redshirts a few years ago and loved it. A friend of mine at work read Redshirts recently and loved it, and she recommended Old Man's War to me. I am reading it now. Scalzi writes fun and sometimes funny science fiction. This one, told from the point of view of John Perry, a 75 year old man in the future who joins the military to help humans fight a war in the the universe. Why do they want a 75 year old to fight a war? How do they get a 75 year old ready for battle? I've just started this novel, and am quite enjoying it. John Perry is funny and sarcastic, and ready to help humanity.

What have you been reading lately?



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