Sunday, May 22, 2016

Word Puppets by Mary Robinette Kowal

Back on her birthday, I posted on Facebook, "Dear MRK- In honor of your birthday, I got your most recent book. I figured that was a good present for an author/friend."

Now, in May (not because I'm a slow reader, but because I don't often read on my e-reader), I've just finished wrapping the gift she gave me in the stories of Word Puppets. I started it at JordanCon, (which, back in 2012 is where I met the author), and have picked it up here and there, between other books to finish it off. Some of the stories were good, some great, some left me with that vague sense of wanting more (which is why I prefer not to read short stories). At least one made me scratch my head and wonder. But none made me want to skip the story, or to stop reading. I also loved how imagery of things which are important or favorites of the author were woven into the stories. However, were one to talk about "my favorite bit" of the book, I must fess up-- it wasn't by our esteemed author, but was the wonderful introduction by Patrick Rothfuss. Icing/cake anyone?
All in all, a good collection.

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

This has been my year for Fredrik Backman. I read his My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She's Sorry after picking it up because of the title. It had charming moments, enough so that early into my reading, I immediately put A Man Called Ove on reserve at the library. Grandmother was interesting, but Ove claimed my heart. This book falls somewhere between the two. It seems that Britt-Marie might be the same Britt-Marie that appears in Grandmother, except in this book, the reader's sympathy is with her instead of the reader's wrath.

A lovely treatment of the peculiarities of peculiar people and how friendships, communities, and families of sorts are forged between the irascible and obstinate (not to mention the OCD, and even rats. And soccer. Lots about soccer.

Also, this book has one of the loveliest dedications I can remember-- but that may be because I'm a mother who believes in filling the hearts, minds, and bellies of those I love.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan

I feel almost guilty having mixed feelings about this book, which was highly recommended by a reading friend. (In fact, they gave me my copy.) Certainly the story of Marina Keegan's brief life is amazing and heartbreaking. I mourn for the loss of artistry and talent that came about because of her death. And, she certainly could write. Yet many of the pieces had me not so much engaging in them as wishing that her potential could have matured and fulfilled. Her stories and essays are evocative and beautifully written, but I was not as fully transported by some them as I had anticipated. Perhaps part of it is the generation gap-- she was born the same year as one of my children, which maybe explains why some things in that child's life mystify me. Another bit working against me is my limited appreciation for short stories. It's just not a genre that I particularly like. Ultimately, my dissatisfaction with the book is not in the writer, but in the reader.

Tags: don-t-want-to-ratei-heard-about-it-on-nprmade-me-sadmade-me-thinkmixed-feelingsnot-to-my-taste-but-worthwhilereadread-on-recommendationshort-storythought-provoking

For those unfamiliar with the story behind this book, and the life behind that story, I am reprinting the publisher's blurb here:

An affecting and hope-filled posthumous collection of essays and stories from the talented young Yale graduate whose title essay captured the world’s attention in 2012 and turned her into an icon for her generation.

Marina Keegan’s star was on the rise when she graduated magna cum laude from Yale in May 2012. She had a play that was to be produced at the New York International Fringe Festival and a job waiting for her at the New Yorker. Tragically, five days after graduation, Marina died in a car crash.

As her family, friends, and classmates, deep in grief, joined to create a memorial service for Marina, her unforgettable last essay for the Yale Daily News, “The Opposite of Loneliness,” went viral, receiving more than 1.4 million hits. She had struck a chord.

Even though she was just twenty-two when she died, Marina left behind a rich, expansive trove of prose that, like her title essay, captures the hope, uncertainty, and possibility of her generation. The Opposite of Loneliness is an assem­blage of Marina’s essays and stories that, like The Last Lecture, articulates the universal struggle that all of us face as we figure out what we aspire to be and how we can harness our talents to make an impact on the world.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Be Frank With Me: A Novel by Julia Claiborne Johnson

An entirely impulsive grab off the shelf that turned out to be a quirky, enjoyable read. Each character has their own set of flaws and eccentricities, that when put together in a glass house in the LA hills, somehow finds a way to work. The story is told from the point of view of Alice, who is sent to help reclusive author MM (Mimi) Banning finish her second novel (the first, published years ago, Mockingbird style). Alice's main task seems to be not involved in getting the manuscript ready to send off to her publisher boss, but riding herd on Mimi's eccentric, (there are several medical diagnoses that also spring to mind) son, and keeping the glass house and its occupants clean and fed. There's also a comfort of a sort to see how outlier personalities can work, and can provide support for each other, in a strong, loving relationship.  This is where I could compare the book to several others (the cover even echoes the color of one) but since I despise reviews that say something is like "When Harry Met Sally" meets "World War Z", I'll refrain. I will say that the book gives many moments to allow for strong visualization of characters, and also has some delightful recalls of movies from the golden days of Hollywood.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

I think it was the combined lure of a hint of King Arthur and of Ishiguro's prose that drew me to this book. A fascinating study of memory, and a poignant look at devotion. Plus an interesting premise and tale. Not as much Arthurian legend as I might have hoped, as this takes place in the aftermath of his rule, but plenty of fine writing, even if I never did get entirely lost in the story.

Tags: 2016-read, don-t-want-to-rate, fantasy, good-but-made-me-sad, great-cover, made-me-look-something-up, made-me-sad, magic, mixed-feelings, read, secret-history, still-trying-to-figure-this-one-out, thought-i-was-gonna-like, thought-provoking, will-look-for-more-by-this-author

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Last Days of Magic by Mark Tompkins

Not what I had hoped for, but still had moments of enjoyment. Did get a little ponderous I the historical bits, but it was kinda interesting to see how the author wove the tale around known history without changing the historical facts. Would have liked the book better if it had more of modern day sandwiching the story and if I hadn't been snookered into buying the book at full price, since my library didn't have it available.

Tags: 2016-read, color-me-disappointed, creatures, e-book, fantasy, first-novel-or-book, great-title, made-me-look-something-up, magic, mixed-feelings, ok-but-not-great, read, read-on-recommendation, rounded-up-in-star-rating, secret-history, skim-read-til-the-end, thought-i-was-gonna-like

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A Drinking Life: A Memoir by Pete Hamill

Pete Hamill has been one of my favorite authors and writers for a long time. This book covers ground and was published entirely before he entered my awareness. The story of his boyhood in Brooklyn, in The Neighborhood grabbed me, and didn't let me go until sometime in the mid 1970's when Pete Hamill heard his father singing on a hillside in Ireland (aka the last page of the memoir.). Hamill is still around and writing, so there's no spoilers there. I think the decades that make up the gap from end of this book to current day must, most certainly, be filled with fabulous tales.

I've loved Hamill's writing since I read Snow in August when it first came out in 1997. I gave it to my mother to read and he won my heart with her response. My mother grew up in Brooklyn, and though her neighborhood there was not Hamill's, she wept reading the story. "He knows," she said. "He knows." Some of his other books have also found a place on the bookshelf of my heart. When he writes of New York City, you are there, even in his memoir. I will say there were certain elements that fascinated me: that he dreamed of being a cartoonist; that in his quest to find himself, he got lost in his own neighborhood; that he found a way out to follow his art, only to lose it to circumstance, and stumble into what would become his career, and his gift to readers. I read of his time in Mexico City when my offspring was there, enjoying a visit with friends, and experiencing the opposite end of the spectrum from Hamill's experiences (thank goodness.) It was also fascinated to find the well known names, particularly in the last bit of the book, sprinkled into his life, some quite significantly.

Fascinating writing. Fascinating story. Not your usual "how I got sober" story, but one that truly investigated the life he led, how he got to the point that made him rethink, and very briefly, past that point. It's clear that Mr Hamill knows is craft as a writer and reporter. I raise my ginger ale to you, sir.