Posts tagged books of the month

Books of April

I have neglected the blog this month in favor of doing a final revision of Love Over Easy based on beta reader feedback. It was my first experience with that kind of criticism and it was hard. My lovely editor, Kenny Baldwin (who is also my brother), walked me through it and made me feel better. I’m afraid I was a bit of a diva. But the book is better than it was and I’m so excited to share it with the world starting tomorrow!

I read several mediocre books this month and a couple really great ones.

I read The Word is Murder a while back and loved it, so I had high hopes for this YA novel by Horowitz. I was disappointed. It was a very straightforward chosen one story line. The protagonist was fighting against a satanic cult trying to use a nuclear incident to unleash some demons on the world. I have the same problem that I do with most satanic cultists which is: why do they think that they’re going to be spared from the evil they unleash? It never makes sense to me. In any case, this book was unremarkable and I didn’t even hand it to my daughter.

This book made me want to spend the summer at a beach house. It made me glad that I have a best friend that my daughters can love and confide in. Aside from that, I was mostly confused and irritated by it.

In an admittedly accurate depiction of the fickleness of teenage girls, the main character flirted and begged for attention from every boy in the book. It made me want to bang my head against the wall and say ‘girl, go figure out who you are and what you love. stop worrying about boys so much.’

I’m reminded again that romance just isn’t my genre and while I love my novel that comes out tomorrow, I won’t be writing any more romance. 🙂

Barbara Kingsolver writes literary fiction and its not everyone’s cup of tea. I was devastated when I picked The Poisonwood Bible for book club and not a soul liked it the way I did. I usually find her brilliant and evocative and her writing beautiful and poetic. I didn’t love Unsheltered.

It’s a contentious book about a family in several different kinds of crisis at once. The parents have failed both financially and at raising a close and loving family. It also flashes back a hundred years to another dysfunctional family embroiled in a debate about Darwin.

I think that the book is supposed to be a commentary on humankind’s hubris and unwillingness to adapt to ideas that make us seem less important in the grand scheme of things, but it was so disjointed and political that the overall theme was lost in the noise.

This one came recommended to me by a friend, so maybe I had high expectations. It was good, a steampunk coming of age adventure. I liked the characters and thought there was a fun undertone of who to trust and what to believe.

For some reason it was overall just okay to me. I don’t think that steampunk is really my thing. I listened to it, so maybe that was a factor, but I felt like it was slow in spots. I thought it was wrapping up a couple of times then it kept going. I will hand it to my daughter though, who I think will enjoy it.

At the beginning of quarantine a friend recommended the Masterpiece show The Durrells in Corfu. She said it was light-hearted and fun and perfect for these stressful times. I rather enjoyed the show and when I realized that it was based on a real family I got curious and discovered that the show is loosely based on this book.

As is usually the case, the book is a million times better than the movie. This book is like a boy version of Anne of Green Gables. Gerry is enamored with his surroundings on Corfu, particularly the wildlife, and writes about them charmingly. I laughed so hard out loud several times reading this book and insisted on reading portions out loud to my husband who laughed too. I have a sudden desire to get a pet tortoise. Or to move to Corfu. I’m planning on bullying my book club into reading this book. It is absolutely delightful.

This book was so timely for me. It’s all about why we should be creative and how we can free ourselves from the natural fear of other people’s opinions. The section devoted to why we shouldn’t take our work too seriously really stuck out to me. I have been working on my novel, Love Over Easy, for eight years. Perfectionist tendencies and wanting my work to somehow mean something prevented me from putting something that I felt was trivial out in the world with my name on it. And Love Over Easy is definitely trivial, a fun little love story that will make you laugh, but that’s okay. I appreciate Gilbert’s book because it helped me solidify my thinking about why and how I put my work out there and made me excited instead of scared to continue writing.

Tune in tomorrow for Love Over Easy’s launch! I’m so excited.

Books of March

You’d think that with the quarantine I’d have lots of extra time to read. Unfortunately, policing all four of my children’s at home schooling has taken up a ridiculous amount of my time. I can’t believe how much work my fourth grader has to do each day. Significantly more than my middle schooler who has seven different classes to juggle.

In any case, I did read quite a few books this month but it’s because most of them are YA.

This book is fascinating. I can’t believe the amount of work that went into the Chicago World’s Fair, which was built mostly just to show off and compete with France. Larson only mentions it in passing, but I thought it was interesting that Walt Disney’s father worked to help build the fair, which clearly helped inspire Disneyland.

I read this one and a David McCullough book this month and I found the differences interesting since they are both such successful narrative history writers. Larson talks frequently about how people are feeling or what their minds are preoccupied with and I can’t see how he would know those things for certain. He must be making educated guesses and inferences.

This book was really interesting to read during the quarantine. It follows the story of Ohio River Valley settlers following the Revolutionary War. They had repeated quarantines for several different kinds of diseases, not to mention trouble growing crops that resulted in starving times, hostilities with Native Americans and the general danger caused by the lawlessness of a settlement far away from civilization. McCullough paints a picture of a hardy and adaptable group of people that truly define the spirit of the USA.

McCullough drew some criticism for his depiction of Native Americans in this book but I feel like it’s political. He was telling the story of the American settlers so it’s from their perspective. A whole other book could easily be written about the Native American experience in the same time and place. When I was reading McCullough’s account I was struck by how appalled the Ohio settlers were about slavery, and how cavalier they were about Native Americans. Odd dichotomy.

McCullough doesn’t try to imply or impose feelings upon any of the historical figures he writes about, nor does he make inferences. He sticks stringently to what has been written in primary source documents and I am amazed at his ability to maintain a narrative story while staying true to that standard. He is amazing.

Sorry, a lot about McCullough.

This book was, sadly, not as good as Rebecca. Overall it was compelling, but not exactly the page turner that I was expecting. Like in Rebecca, the setting is a main character in the book.

The thing I found the most interesting about this book was its quasi-feminism. It was written in 1936 and the main character is a strong female character but has very little faith in the character or abilities of any of the other women in the book and attributes any of her flaws to the fact that she’s a woman.

I just didn’t love this one. I really liked Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware and this was supposed to be a read alike but I didn’t find it nearly as good. I wasn’t scared, I wasn’t curious, the twist didn’t thrill me and the weird political message that rich people view poor people like they’re subhuman was distracting from the plot.

This was a fun YA puzzle book that I finished and then immediately put into my kids hands. I underestimated how hard the puzzle would be but found myself drawing all over my post-it bookmark trying to figure it out. And (spoiler alert) it has a happy ending, a must for my oldest daughter, who just finished it and loved it.

This is a religious book of encouragement and doctrinal discourse. Each chapter deals with a different subject. I found a couple of the chapters to be helpful and enlightening.

There are some controversial subjects in this book like same-sex attraction, modesty and chastity that might bother people who are sensitive about those subjects, just a head’s up. But I appreciated Sheri Dew’s personal stories about how she is unmarried as an older person and is still a virgin and how that has made her life better and easier.

This is a short book. It is not a kid’s book. It is a lot more violent than I expected it to be. The humans beat the dogs, the dogs tear each other apart, humans kill each other, humans and dogs die from the elements and dogs tear human’s throats out. Graphically.

I read this out loud to my kids thinking that we’d see the new Harrison Ford movie afterwards. My seven year old cried and cried and then refused to listen to it. She couldn’t bear the dogs getting hurt.

I’ve read this book has some deeper themes about human nature and the natural world and whatnot. I think I need to revisit it sometime when I’m not reading it to my kids. 🙂

Oh Hoot, I wanted to like you so much. All the incoming 6th graders at my daughter’s school have to read this book. It’s a Newbery medal book. I had high expectations.

It’s an interesting thing for kids to read because it deals with the idea that sometimes the right thing to do and following the rules are sometimes at odds. The kid in the book deals with this moral quandary. Definitely a good thought exercise for kids 12ish year old kids.

Unfortunately that’s the only positive thing I have to say about this book.

This book was just as charming as I imagined it would be and my only regret is that I watched the Netflix series before I read it!

What I love about this series is that the kids make their own luck and figure out solutions to their problems by themselves. No one comes to rescue them. I think that’s such an important concept for my kids, and myself, to grasp.

I read this book in one sitting. It’s pretty short and it’s fast moving. My daughter loves all of Gary Paulsen’s books.

I am amazed by Paulsen’s ability to craft a compelling narrative using little or no dialogue.

Stuart Little is another read aloud book for me and my kids. It was bizarre but entertaining at the same time. You should know that nothing is resolved at the end, one of my kids really struggled with that.

At one point in the book Stuart writes a note to a girl he’s never met urging her to meet him by the river that night without telling her parents because he doesn’t think they would approve of his mouse-like appearance. We used this as a great jumping off point to talk about stranger danger and why you should never ever do what Stuart convinced this girl to do and that she was lucky he wasn’t an axe murderer.

So those are the books of March. Reading has been a lovely distraction lately, although now I’m distracted by some beta reader feedback and fixes I need to make. My book is set to release on April 27th! I’m having a hard time remembering why I’m publishing my book. It seems like an exercise in self torture, but I guess forward progress is my goal in life and I’ve been scribbling for many years. I guess letting other people read it and decide if they hate it or not is the next step.

Books of February

I read Year of Wonders for what I call my “Old Lady Book Club.” I’m in two book clubs, one of which has an average age of around 70. Which is delightful, I really enjoy their mature and feisty perspectives on life, the universe, and everything. But I digress.

I really enjoyed the first 90% of Year of Wonders. It takes place in England in 1666 during The Plague and is from the perspective of the house serving girl for the vicar and his wife. Their little town is quarantined and it’s about all the ways in which people react to the Plague.

I found it fascinating and it prompted me to do a little more research about The Plague. The mortality rate in Europe during this time was 40-50% and some of the most heart-wrenching scenes of the book were about the only surviving members of families.

I listened to it as an audiobook and I didn’t love the narrator. She was really breathy and almost sing-songy, which I found distracting.

The main problem I had with this book was about the end. It came out of the blue for me and I didn’t feel like the characters’ behavior was consistent with the personalities they had the rest of the book so it fell flat a little bit. Not to mention an off the wall, completely unnecessary epilogue.

Still worth reading.

Read this one curled up with a cup of something hot. With numerous nods to the English Gothic tradition, this book was compelling and spooky. Multiple twists kept me guessing and turning pages until I got to the end.

However, I found myself dissatisfied when I put the book down because the characters fell flat for me. I didn’t really like any of them. The intricate plotline made me want to finish the book, but it’s not going to stay with me because I wasn’t really invested in the character’s lives.

I don’t feel like I can say too much more without spoilers 🙂 but I feel like I might be a little too hard on this book. I’m curious if anyone else has read it and might have opinions.

I loved this book.

This is a poignant coming of age story set at the turn of the century in Brooklyn. It is largely autobiographical which I find makes it even more compelling.

This story is about a little girl growing up in poverty with an alcoholic father and yet she is able to see so much beauty all around her. Her relationships with her parents and brother are touching and her tenacity is inspiring.

With my history background, I really enjoyed the insights the book gives into holiday celebrations, diverse cultural interactions, politics, and education systems in this specific time and place.

The main character comes from a line of strong women and the feminist role models in this book are so valuable.

Honest and heartfelt, this book will stick with you. It is not plot-driven so the only impetus you’ll have to turn pages is the love you develop for Francie and her family.

This book is a Pulitzer-prize winning historical fiction novel with magical realism elements.

**This is a work of fiction. The underground railroad was not actually an underground railroad as is depicted in this book. Do not be confused.**

Sorry, I had to get that out there since I saw a lot of reviews on Goodreads saying the felt so enlightened to know that the underground railroad was real when they read this book. Oiy.

I was expecting more magical realism from this book then there actually is in there. The only element is the railroad being really real and deep underground. The main character escapes slavery then bounces around from state to state afterward on the railroad. From what I can gather each state represents a different time or season in African American history. It’s an interesting premise.

I listened to this one as an audiobook and while the narrator did a good job, this isn’t the kind of book that should be listened to. I think I missed out on a lot of the themeing and other literary mechanisms I would have noticed if I held it in my hands and could read at my own pace.

I wasn’t blown away by this book. For slavery depictions I like Kindred by Octavia Butler and Beloved by Toni Morrison better, I found them more impactful.

I really liked this interview with Colson Whitehead. I found it particularly interesting that he combed through thousands of personal narratives of people who were slaves while preparing to write the book.

A lot of people worry about scenes of intense violence, etc, when deciding to read books about slavery. This book is a good one to read if you’re worried about that. It does depict violence, but it isn’t graphic and it doesn’t linger.

I loved this book. It’s really meant to be a business book about how to manage people and run a successful business without stifling creativity but I found it so applicable to my regular life and found the anecdotes surrounding familiar Pixar movies fascinating.

I found myself getting all teary when he talks about when they released Toy Story because I remember seeing it in the theater and being completely blown away by it.

I choked up when he talked about how every movie they have ever made started out as a bad idea. I can’t think of anything more inspiring than that.

I loved the story he told about getting his first job at LucasFilm and how they hired him because when they asked him who else they should interview for the job, he was willing to give them a list of names when no one else would.

I so enjoyed it. I listened to it as an audiobook and the narrator is fabulous as well.

And that’s the end of my February reading. What did you read this month? I never read anything unless it’s been recommended to me so I’d love to know what you think I should read next.