Sunday, July 24, 2016

Reader, I Married Him: Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre

I am on a book reviewing tear.  I know, it doesn't look like it.  Probably because I haven't exactly been on a book reading tear.  The upshot of that unfortunate fact, however, is that it makes it easier to boost my book reviewing ego when I am essentially keeping up with reviews of the books that I am reading instead of 10 books behind. 

Lately, I have made another attempt at short stories.  Short stories and I have a checkered past.  I don't really like them on the whole, but occasionally I come across one or two that I really like.  Reader, I Married Him seemed like a natural choice since I once had Jane Eyre as required reading and actually liked it (When does that happen?), so stories inspired by that famous novel seemed an obvious place to look for a short story hit.

Reader, I Married Him is a collection of short stories by female writers inspired by the famous line from Jane Eyre.  The collection brims over with works by numerous well-known authors of literary fiction including Jane Gardam, Emma Donoghue, Salley Vickers, Lionel Shriver, and a good many more authors that you've undoubtedly heard of.  Some stories share a direct and obvious connection to Jane Eyre while others simply use marriage as a jumping off point to head in a different direction.  Like many short story collections, this one is a bit uneven, but definitely worth a read for some of the highlights.

My reaction to Reader, I Married Him covered the usual bases of my reaction to short story collections.  A little, "What was the point of that?" with a side of, "I don't get it..."  Some, "This is good, but I wish it was a whole book." And, of course, even a bit of "This is really good/clever.  Why have I never heard of this author?"  Oddly enough, yet somehow par for the course (I am going to mostly unwittingly get *all* the sports analogies into this review, just you watch.), despite this collection running over with big name female authors, the stories I found myself the most taken with were by authors that were unfamiliar to me. 

In Kirsty Gunn's selection, "Dangerous Dog," a chance encounter with a few boys and a dog whose bark is much worse than his bite changes the life of a fitness trainer taking a writing class.  In it, Gunn cleverly re-imagines Mr. Rochester as a dog, and somehow manages to weave together what seem like three stories in just over ten pages.  The other story that really captured me was "The China from Buenos Aires" by Patricia Park, about a Korean girl who leaves her Buenos Aires home to go to college in New York City,  There she feels homesick and isolated until she happens upon a boy she knew from home, but is ordinary Juan enough to bind her to a place where she never felt at home?  (Both of these stories were slam dunks.  Please, somebody stop me.)

All in all, I found this to be an enjoyable collection.  While I may not have been satisfied by each story, since I often find myself unsatisfied by the medium, I was impressed with each author's ability to evoke places and characters so fully in only a few pages.  A word to the wise, many of the stories in the collection have, at best, the faintest of connections to Jane Eyre, so if you're seeking mostly obvious parallels, I would advise adjusting your expectations before picking up Reader, I Married Him.  However, if you're looking for a solid collection by some well known female authors that is admirably diverse, definitely give this one a try!

(Thanks to William Morrow Paperbacks for providing a copy in exchange for review consideration.)

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Choose Your Own Comment Adventure! (4)

This month has been a struggle between me and my computer.  I started the month on call for work, and it didn't go particularly well.  I logged a lot of screen time trying to fix one problem or another and after that sitting at the computer just didn't seem too alluring.  I actually started a few comment adventures, wandered off and never finished them.  So commenting has been happening (free comments for all the strangers!), posting not so much.  Anyhow, I made up for my lack of adventuring this weekend, at last.  Here's my latest jaunt around the book blogosphere, now with Linky so if you're keen to play along, you can now do so officially!


Today's adventure begins with Sue at Book by Book who has the magical power of making me want to read more middle grade fiction. She reviewed Pax by Sara Pennypacker, the story of a boy and the fox he saves who are separated by war. Both boy's and fox's point of view are written. Sounds great!

My next stop is with Vicki at I'd Rather Be at the Beach who is participating in the Cook the Books book club, where they apparently read the book for the month and cook something mentioned in its pages. This month's selection is Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchy which Vicki liked well enough, but not probably not as much as the paella it inspired, which sounds delish!

It doesn't surprise me much when I end up on familiar ground at BermudaOnion's blog when I'm on my commenting adventures, what with Kathy being a famously prolific commenter. Middle grade fiction seems to be the special of day. Kathy reviewed When Friendship Followed Me Home by Paul Griffin, the story of a boy who's spent too much time in the foster care system but has finally found a friend. Maybe I *should* be reading more middle grade...

Mystica has been reading The Provincial Lady Collection by E.M. Delafield which while humorous and providing social commentary, also seems like great comfort reading!

Cleo at Cleopatra Loves Books has signed up for a challenge to read 20 books this summer and shares the rest of her selections for the challenge. I haven't read any of her choices, but they sound good!

Jacqui at JacquWine's Journal penned a tantalizing review of a book by an author who is by no means new, but is certainly new to me. This is my first time hearing of Mary Hocking, but Jacqui's review of The Very Dead of Winter, a book about a dysfunctional family spending Christmas together that's not short on black humor, sounds like something I might like!

Marina Sofia at Finding Time to Write usually shares a "Fun Friday" post, but this past Friday's post was replaced with a photographic moment of silence in mourning for the tragedy that took place in Nice. 

The next stop on my adventure is at A Haven for Book Lovers. Diana posted a review of The Step Mother by Claire Seeber, a mystery/thriller that while not totally satisfying, did keep Diana guessing throughout. I do love a good mystery where I can't figure out the twist...

I found another book to add to my wish list at A House of Books, The Museum of You by Carys Bray. This story of a father and a daughter grieving their lost wife/mother sounds very poignant.

Eloise at Eloise in Wanderlust is moving out of a house where she technically doesn't live anymore anyway. Her books are dreading the "getting rid of books" moment before the moving. (Mine dreaded the same last year, but have happily sunk back into a sense of security since I've been stationary for a year now.). Certainly her future roommate can't object to another bookshelf!

I had to backtrack a touch to get my comment adventure back on track, and I landed at Art and Soul where I may have unintentionally uttered a breathless "Oh my God" at the topic of Claire's most recent post - a recipe for caramel Rolo fudge. After a few moments of gathering myself and mopping the drool off my keyboard, I manage to leave a comment about mopping the drool off my keyboard.

Pssst, don't tell, but I did 11 instead of 10 this time.  Because I can't count.

Here are the very loose "Rules" for Serendipitous Comment Adventuring:
  1. Start with a book blog, any book blog (I usually pick the most recent post in my feed reader).
  2. Leave a comment.
  3. Visit the first commenter on that post.
  4. Leave a comment on their most recent post.
  5. And so on, until you've adventured through 10 blogs (or however many seems good to you).  Adjust as needed to stay on the trail of book blogs (if you so choose) or find commenters that are different from ones you already visited.  You get the idea. 
  6. Write up a post about your adventure and link it up below!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Dreamland by Kevin Baker

Today, I will attempt a rare but not impossible feat.  I will review an e-book.  I know, some people review e-books all the time, like good e-book reading citizens.  As for me, my best motivator for reviewing a book, you know, aside from actually liking it, is to, uh, get rid of the book and make space for more, um, other books.  Understandably, that makes the payout for reviewing e-books somewhat less awesome because, obviously, I think I'll probably hang on to my Kindle and all its hundreds of unread cheap e-book deals for as long as it will have me.


Nonetheless, I read this chunkster of a book by Kevin Baker, Dreamland.  Happily, since I read it on the Kindle, its 657 or so pages didn't intimidate me into reading something shorter.  I'm glad its largesse didn't scare me away due to its e-book format, because I highly enjoyed this story of early 20th century New York.


Dreamland, titled after the Coney Island amusement park of the same name that was in its heyday at the time, starts with a tale from Trick the Dwarf about a bizarre twist of fate and the love story that resulted.  The story then mushrooms out to take in the points of view of a couple notorious New York City gangsters, a factory girl involved in early union activity, a prostitute, a Tammany Hall politician, and, oddly enough, Dr. Sigmund Freud.  With these characters, Kevin Baker vividly brings to life the downtown New York of the early 1900s, plagued by crime and poverty but also somehow larger than life and full of possibility.

He was astonished, for the first time, to see how many people there were and how fast they were moving.  Straddling each avenue were high steel girders, pylons holding up the trains that raced madly through the night, sometimes two at a time, in opposite directions, until they made the whole street shake.  It was a frantic, crowded, nightmare world that he could not wait to join.

Baker's gangsters are based on real historical gang members, with their stories tweaked and their lives and motives re-humanized.  These gangsters disappoint their parents, immigrate from Eastern Europe in search of a better life that never seems to materialize.  They care for their sisters and their lovers, all in between killing and maiming.  Naturally, there is a love story, and a good one at that, between an exiled gangster and the girl he meets on Coney Island.  There is no small amount of crooked politicking.  There is disturbing violence, both random, provoked, and shocking, in the case of the early labor movement. 

With Dreamland, Baker paints a picture of a city struggling through its many growing pains and trying to come of age.  While there were definitely some storylines I could have easily done without (adios doctors Freud and Jung - what are you guys doing here anyway?), I was, for the most part, totally taken in by Dreamland and its gritty, larger than life portrait of New York City at a pivotal point in historyBaker ably breathes life into each of his many characters and marches them steadily toward an explosive conclusion that expertly weaves many narrative strands into one pivotal day on Coney Island. 

"A magnified Prater," he sniffed to Ferenczi and Brill, referring to the cheesy midway in the Vienna park - but the Prater was like a summer garden party compared to this.  Everything louder, bigger, more hysterical - more American.

I'll definitely be picking up Kevin Baker's other fiction about this time period since he made reading 657 pages seem like a pleasant walk in the park instead of the slog I'm used to expecting out of long books (when I'm such a very slow reader).

No disclaimer - I bought this for my Kindle at a price not exceeding $2.99, if I know me at all.


Monday, June 27, 2016

The Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie West

Once upon a time I requested some book that I now forget the title of from William Morrow Paperbacks blogger blast.  Ok, two books, I requested two books.  There was some sort of mix-up at the book publishing factory or shipping center or whoever shuffles off the finished copies when they run out of ARCs, and I ended up with one of the books I requested and one shiny new copy of The Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie West instead of the other book I requested.  Happily, I've been known to enjoy some YA contemporary romance on occasion, so I didn't miss that other book for long and ended up with some top-notch summer reading to enjoy.


Gia Montgomery is obsessed with what people think of her and her perfect image, and she doesn't even realize it.  That is, she doesn't begin to realize it until her boyfriend Bradley breaks up with her just before they were to enter the prom and prove to Gia's friends that Bradley isn't a figment of her imagination.  As senior year draws to a close, the thought of having to face her friends, including frenemy Jules who seems to determined to dislodge Gia from their group, dateless at the prom is beyond the pale. Desperate to avoid looking like a liar in front of her friends, Gia enlists the help of a guy dropping his sister off for the night to pose as Bradley.  With one fake date, Gia starts to get tangled up in a web of lies that pave the way for her to learn the truth about herself.


The Fill-In Boyfriend is perfect summer reading, easy to read with a main character who becomes more and more sympathetic as the book wears on and, naturally, a love interest that readers won't find it hard to fall for.  Gia, at the start, is benignly reprehensible, choosing to be a liar in order to not look like a liar, obsessed with her image and portraying a perfect, put-together version of herself even when she's starting to come apart at the seams.  Happily, her nemesis in the book, Jules, is just enough worse that even Gia at her least lovable looks better.  The benefit from starting out so bad is that Gia has plenty of room to grow, and grow she does, discovering that she hardly knows herself beneath the perfect exterior she presents.


There's something Sarah Dessen-esque about The Fill-In Boyfriend, a sort of formula that pairs up a perfect always-fine girl with a guy who is unexpectedly dashing and self-aware, who helps peel back the layers of artifice to reveal the decent human being inside all that fakey perfection.  As we've probably established a few times already as I've fallen hard for a few Sarah Dessen books, that formula is one of my most beloved "guilty pleasures."  The Fill-In Boyfriend is fast read that brings back all those high school feelings, good and bad. It's definitely a great entry into the YA contemporary romance genre that satisfies without wrapping things up too easily, making it that much more enjoyable for its authenticity.


(Thanks to the publisher, for, uh, accidentally shipping me the wrong book?  In exchange for review consideration?  Or something?)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Choose Your Own Comment Adventure! (3)




It's been a little longer than I planned since my last one, but it's time for yet another Choose Your Own Comment Adventure where I let the comments lead me on a little book blogosphere adventure and write it up for you to follow my wanderings.  You can read more about my "rules" for adventuring in this post, if you so desire.



My latest comment adventure starts with Ti at Book Chatter, who claims that her life is slowing down for the summer but still has a busy day planned that includes seeing Darryl Strawberry at church and going out to an Automotive Museum. Ti is also plugging and participating in a readalong of Joe Hill's The Fireman, which I really should take part in. Decisions, decisions.




The comments lead me to JoAnn at Lakeside Musing who has been celebrating Father's Day all weekend long. In an ironic twist, I add a book to my wishlist that she DNFed, Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler. I might just have to try out the recipe for the delicious turkey burgers she's been cooking, too.




Audrey at Books as Food is jumping the gun to celebrate Margaret Kennedy Day a day early with an excerpt from Lucy Carmichael that made me chuckle. I'm not familiar with the author, but it seems like I ought to be!




Next up is Lisa at TBR 313 who gives a glimpse into what she's a reading, Harriet Tubman by Catherine Clinton. I'll admit I have a 5th grader's level of education when it comes to Harriet Tubman, so it should come as no surprise that I learned a few things just from what Lisa shared!




Onward to Lark Writes. Lark has gamely re-read Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome despite not liking it very much the first time, a courageous feat that I would never attempt, preferring generally to avoid classics, most especially ones I didn't enjoy on the first go. Happily Lark emerged with a greater appreciation of the book!




Jenclair's at A Garden Carried in the Pocket is reviewing something a little newer, Age of Myth by Michael Sullivan. I think I'll keep this one on file for those times when I need a little high fantasy in my life. They exist! I swear!




Ooo, up next is Kelly whose Instagram I heartily enjoy but whose blog, The Written World, I don't pay near enough attention. Unfortunately, she's struggling with post broken ankle depression that's taking a toll on her reading, something I can easily relate to, having an almost year old repaired ankle of my own. Stupid things take a second to break and forever to get better. I distract myself from the slippery slope of rejoining the broken ankle depressed by once again ogling the cool pics of colorful cement houses I recognized from Instagram!




Katherine at I Wish I Lived in a Library made me laugh out loud with her post about some home improvements that may involve taming some of the bedroom "book creep." You know how unread books tend to just fill up empty spaces, right?




My next stop is with Laura at fuonlyknew who is contemplating how her pets have changed with age which leads her to reflect on how *she* has changed with age.




Last but not least is Deborah at Debbish.com who has a most fantastic header image for her blog. This week she finished Wuthering Heights on audio and had less than glowing things to say about it, like me. She's also got a book review published in the newspaper. Fun branching out!




As always, I invite you to take your own comment adventure.  You'll be surprised, like I always am, but the amount and diversity of book blogs out there for the viewing.  I'm debating throwing  a linky on these posts for people to officially join in, but if you do before then, please leave your link in the comments!