A REAL CHALLENGE

Ruth Ozeki’s The Book of Form and Emptiness was a real challenge to read.

A “different” book

To begin with, the narrator of this novel is a Book. Yes, you read that right, a book; a story, the story of Benny Oh, a young boy who hears the voice of the Book, his story. His mother Annabelle, is never the same after the death of Benny’s father, who is killed in a grotesque accident–meaningless and bizarre. In the novel she becomes a recluse and a hoarder. Benny takes “refuge [from his strange life] in the silence of a large public library.”He meets a homeless, wheelchair-bound philosopher and poet and a mesmerizing young woman, both classified as imaginary friends by the psychiatrist who takes on Benny’s case, but who turn out to be real people he met at the library. (Even the reader comes to doubt Benny for one awful moment–I did.)

There is a run in with CPS, incarceration in a mental hospital for Benny, and a job loss for Annabelle. All of these semi-unrelated events come together in an implausible but satisfying ending. The novel is at times humorous, and at times heartbreaking . Above all, the book is difficult to read, and I am still trying to decide whether sticking with it was worth the huge effort.

BOOK LOVERS by Emily Henry: A Review

A 2022 publication that deals with the publishing industry

Nora Stephens, an agent who almost always gets the best deals for her clients has been dumped at the beginning of the story. She misses her mother, who has died and feels responsible for her younger sister, Libby, but lives a driven life as a career woman. She meets Charlie, a hot-shot editor, for lunch only to be told he doesn’t want anything to do with her client’s latest effort. Their relationship develops along the lines of “a small-town love story” with “all the familiar tropes–” “hot-shot from NY or LA gets shipped off to Small town USA–to, like, run a family [owned business].” This outsider falls for a small-town farm/business “person who has true values and stays forever” on account of him/her.

The Nora-Charlie plot follows the “plot” of a fictional novel, Once in a Lifetime, which Nora is promoting and Charlie is forced by his publishing house to edit. Nora thinks to herself early on, “Charlie doesn’t want to work with me, and I don’t want” to work with him. Their relationship begins as a dislike and builds almost to hate category, all the while feeling a strong physical attraction which neither wants to admit. This makes for humorous miscommunications and misunderstandings. In this instance, both protagonists are Big City people, thrown together in tiny Sunshine Falls. A second love interest for Nora, Shepherd, a farmer with a heart of gold turns out to be Charlie’s cousin, which further complicates matters.

As you can tell, there are frequent twists and turns which all the while are underscored with a strong passion that torments both parties afflicted.

It is a modern romance complete with likable/unlikeable main characters and interesting secondary characters who fill out the novel’s cast. I checked this book out of my local library after reading a lot of positive reviews about it. I was only slightly disappointed.

CHALLENGE UPDATE

ONE OF MY 2022 READING CHALLENGES WAS TO READ 22 NOVELS IN 2022

TODAY I updated my Reading Log and filled in titles on my 2022 challenges. To my delight, I discovered I had FINISHED the Novel Challenge to read 22 novels from January to December. Actually, to date I have read 26 novels.

Novels are one of my main passions. At one time in my life, I read ONLY novels.

Here they are in the order I read them:

Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World by Benjamin Alire Saenz, the sequel to Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe/ Summer by Edith Wharton, which I also used for the “What’s in a Name reading challenge and could have used for the Classics Club / Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac, a novel in verse which I read for the Cybil’s judging/ The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera, a lovely literary love story/ Interior China Town by Charles Yu, which was a book club selection for my Page Turners book club/ The Monk Downstairs by Tim Farrington, which taught me a great deal about Buddhism / The Van Gogh Cafe by Cynthia Rylant, a sweet, gentle story/ The Dependents by Katherine Dion, a contemporary novel/ The Paris Library, based on the brave people who kept the Paris Library open during the occupation of Germany in WWII, told in novel form/ Life and Other Inconveniences by Kristin Higgins, an author I have come to seek out/ The Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Bully, a YA novel and a thriller/ Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, also used for The Classics Club/ The City We Became by N.K. Jeminsin, my new favorite sci-fi novel and the first in a series I look forward to reading / Fan Girl by Rainbow Rowell, a book that taught me what fan fiction was/ French Braid by Anne Tyler, one of my favorite authors/ Welcome to the School by the Sea by Jenny Colgan, a YA novel about a British boarding school/ The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, also used for The Classics Club and a Third Tuesday Book Club selection / The Children Act by Ian McEwan, first read then watched the film version/ Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson, a thriller that had me holding my breath/ At Least You Have Your Health by Madi Sinha, a women’s novel/ Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland, an audio Book about Books/ Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly, the prequel to Lilac Girls, which I read last year/ Book Lovers by Emily Henry, a novel about the publishing industry/ Accordion Crimes by Annie Proulx, the only disappointment on this list/ The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki, a novel narrated by a Book/ Arcadia by Lauren Groff about Hippies on a commune in the 70s.

Whew! That’s a lot of fine reading! What a good feeling to have one challenge finished for this year. Stay tuned to find out the total number of novels read in 2022.

Thanks to Evin for my elegant sign off.

AT LEAST YOU HAVE YOUR HEALTH by Madi Sinha: A Review

I receive so many of the books I enjoy through trades with friends, donations from neighbors to my Little Free Library that I do not usually buy a book outright just for me to read. This one I ordered through Amazon because the magazine recommendation, for it sounded fresh and appealed to me.

Unusual characters, unusual plot, but familiar themes

This 2022 release begins with a peek at the home life of Maya Rao, a 36 year old gynecologist of Indian ethnicity, who is married to an unflappable college professor and has three kids under the age of 13. Like any mother, she wants only the best for her children, and will accept nothing less than greatness from them, putting pressure on them and on the family dynamic. To say Maya’s life is frantic would not be an understatement. She is driven, the typical type-A personality, ambitious, and feels guilt at not having enough time for her children. At her eldest daughter’s expensive private school’s car-pick-up line, she meets Amelia DeGilles. DeGilles is the wealthy, perfection-incarnate owner of a private health care company. She makes Maya an offer she can’t refuse, and even though Maya has misgivings about the new-age, very expensive health services, the money is too much to turn down. She takes Esther, her nurse-assistant from her current women’s clinic job and begins to practice women’s health services to rich, status-seeking, social climbing women.

When one of her clients takes Maya and Esther along as she seeks a “sea-birth” in Belize for her baby, things get exciting and dangerous for all involved. The ending is satisfying, and in the end Maya makes a good decision about her career and her family, and is even rewarded for rearranging her priorities.

I read this in a ebook, and it went very fast, always keeping my attention with action and touches of humor like the scene where Maya and the kids go through an automatic car wash with the windows down ,near the beginning, or the daughter’s description of a bullying mother as looking like the Little Mermaid. Overall, this book was refreshing and even delivered a couple of timely “messages” subtly as it unfolded an interesting plot.

Thanks to Reading Is My Superpower for allowing me to borrow their meme.

HERE’S MY FRIDAY FIRSTLINER FOR JUNE 17TH on Friday night.

“Evie Stone sat alone in her tiny bedsitter at the north end of Castle Street, as far from the colleges as a student could live and still be keeping term at Cambridge. But Evie was no longer a student–she remained at the university on borrowed time. The next forty minutes would decide how much she had left…”

This novel is from the author of The Jane Austin Society.

The quote above is from this 2022 novel by an author I have enjoyed before. I checked it out from my local library and can’t wait to start it!

Thanks to the Purple Booker for this fun meme.

Today’s Tuesday Teaser is from a novel I finished last night . Anne Tyler is one of my favorite contemporary authors, and I have read most of what she’s written over the years.

Definitely one of Tyler’s best novels yet. She just keeps on getting better as the years go by.

The teaser is from the two main characters, Mercy and Robin recalling their sweet, innocent wedding night. Robin says…

” ‘…And then you came out of the bathroom in your slinky white satin nightie.’

‘And you looked away,’ Mercy said. ‘You looked off toward the bedroom window.’

‘I was trying to get control of myself, ‘ he said.’ “

Tyler is at her best doing what she does best here–describing the lives of ordinary middle-aged people. The book has been described as a “journey into one family’s foibles from the 1950s up to our pandemic present.” It deals with family complexities and the “kindnesses and cruelties of our daily life.” Even in the smallest details, Tyler captures the dailyness of our lives. Take for example when Mercy and Robin’s grown kids would come to visit, the first thing Robin would ask was, “How was the traffic on the beltway?” It reminded me that each time we would go to visit our folks in Virginia after marrying and relocating in Texas, the first thing everyone would ask was, “How long are you here for?”

Mercy and Robin Garret and their children Allie, Lily, and David are the well-developed characters in this 2022 novel. Their development and changes in character are demonstrative of Tyler’s forte, characterization. Of any contemporary author, Tyler does this best. Personally, I choose characterization over plot any day to peak and hold my interest, and perhaps this is the reason I enjoy Anne Tyler’s novels so much.

I highly recommend this “darned good read.”

Friday Firstliner for 4/28/22

I finished this Book about Books today.

First Line Fridays, hosted by Reading Is My Superpower asks participants to copy the first line or two of a book they want to read, are reading, or have read in order to tempt someone into reading the book also. Here are the first couple of lines from…

My copy from our local library looks a bit different because it is the large print version.

As the subtitle states, “A Bookshop Keeps Many Secrets.” Indeed, this is a book filled with secrets, and the unveiling and solving of them provides many twists and turns for the reader as the author tweaks the formula of the stand-offish, girl who works in the bookshop. This girl, Loveday Cardew mostly sorts and seeks book “finds” from the boxes of donated or purchased books for the bookshop she works at. The tattoos of the first lines of books which decorate her body brands her as a girl with secrets in her past. Into this murky background comes Nathan, poet and gentleman. Foiled against Rob, the discarded, surly previous lover, who seems bent on revenge, Nathan is every girl’s dream-come-true.

Three suspicious boxes are delivered for Loveday to sort through, which slam her back into her foster care past and the horrible act which alienated her from her mother. Secrets abound, are revealed, and misinterpreted, swirling around Loveday until the action-packed, hold-your-breath conclusion.

Here are the first lines:

“A book is a match in the smoking second between strike and flame.

Archie says books are our best lovers and our most provoking friends. He’s right, but I’m right too. Books can really hurt you.”

FRIDAY FIRSTLINERS

THANKS TO CARRIE AT “REEADIN IS MY SUPER POWER” for the idea and the lovely meme.

Today’s First Line Friday offering comes from Annie Proulx’s Accordion Crimes:

” The Instrument

It was as if his eye were an ear and a crackle went through each time he shot a look at the accordion.”

Typical, beautiful prose from the pen of the author of The Shipping News, Annie Proulx.

Thanks, Evin for the great sign off meme.

SOON TO BE A NETFLIX SERIES

A YA novel that has it all

Angela Boulley has a series-worthy hit that resonates in her YA thriller, The Fire Keeper’s Daughter. Eighteen-year-old-high school senior, half French, half Ojibwe, Daunis Fontaine, finds herself in the middle of a murder, and is recruited as an undercover operative for the FBI. An award-winning novel, this 2021 publication was also a recent pick for Reese Witherspoon’s YA Book Club.

The characters were handled beautifully, speaking and acting like realistic eighteen to twenty-year-olds.. This includes the language they use, their sexual feelings and activities and their feelings of hopelessnessg that life on the reservation (or in its nearby town) bring. Daunis dreams of the new start that going to college next year will provide. Levi, her all-star hockey player older brother; Jamie, the twenty-two-year-old love interest; and her best friend, whose boyfriend killed her in front of Daunis, are all drawn excellently. Memorable characterization is the main thing I look for in a novel, so I was very impressed with this author.

As advertised on the cover, this YA offering is “rare and mesmerizing.” It celebrates the Native American experience as Daunis builds relationships with her relatives, coaches, and other adults involved. She learns that some of the investigators she assists are more concerned with their case than in protecting the victims. A second murder heightens the suspense and confirms Daunis’s fears. The ending is action-packed and leaves the reader holding their breath as they follow the central characters into perilous situations.

I recommend it for older teens and young adults.

BRIDESHEAD REVISITED by Evelyn Waugh: A Review

My January/February 2022 selection is Brideshead Revisited

This 1944, WWII publication, has been described as a “memory drama.” Judging from the photos on the cover, it has been made into a good movie, which I wish I’d seen as well as read the novel. The narrative opens as Charles Ryder, a British officer, approaches the estate of Brideshead, to determine its suitability for billeting troops. He does not, at first, tell his fellow officers that he has been there before.

I wish I had seen the movie.

Waugh’s dissatisfaction with the Catholic Church, much like his dissatisfaction with the funeral industry in The Loved One, is expressed through satiric humor, which makes many somber philosophical points. Death, in general, is also satirized humorously as in the scene near the end of the old man’s death, presented in dark-humored detail. Waugh cleverly presents the conflict between the demands of religion and the narrator’s physical desires. The descriptions of the countryside, and especially, architecture, are stunning and provide pleasure to the reader. The love triangle between Charles Ryder, Sebastian, and his sister, Julia is a strange and complicated one. The characters, including the mother are complex and carefully developed. This “elegant, lyrical novel” demands the reader stay alert to the narrator’s “entanglement with an Anglo-Catholic family.”

It was a challenge to read for me because the pace was slow, and I was often impatient with the Brideshead family’s treatment of the protagonist, as well as with the protagonist himself, often wishing for Charles to cut the ties to this privileged family and get on with his life.