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.

This early magazine’s title is the “borrowed” title of my post tonight, THE SATURDAY REVIEW.

Tonight (6/18) I want to review a book I read a couple of weeks ago, but never wrote a review on.

Fan Girl by Rainbow Rowell is a fast read and an enjoyable twentyish-appealing novel. It even kept this 77 year old’s interest.

At the risk of labeling my self “old,” I must confess I had always heard the term “fan fiction,” but never knew what it meant until I read this novel. Several of my students have mentioned various semesters that they wrote fan fiction in their teens, but later branched out and wrote stories, poems, and “pieces” of their own. Cath,(twin to Wren) the protagonist of this YA novel, is the ultimate Simon Snow fan and writes alternate stories to Snow’s author, sometimes even before the next book is published. She has a huge following, but she keeps her identity a secret from her followers.

The twins are ready to start college, and Cath is bemused by Wren’s decision to room with another girl rather than with her twin sister. As they begin their freshman year, apart for the first time, the girls begin separate lives and separate interests and friends.

The novel includes the themes of a parent who left, roommate relationships, romantic complexities, betrayal, and the true meaning and kinds of friendships.

I heard about this book in a magazine review and ordered it online from a bookseller. It turned out to be a “darned good read.”

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.”

THE CITY WE BECAME by N.K. Jemisin

This book, which I ordered from an independent bookstore, complete with a bookplate signed by the author and virtual attendance at an interview/event held by the bookstore was one of my favorite reads of 2022. Published in 2020 by my favorite science fiction writer, N. K. Jemisin, this sci fi novel takes place in New York City. Many of you who have followed my blog know about my fascination with NYC, so you can imagine how fast I ordered this book after reading about it coming out. It was everything I had hoped for and more.

The opening chapters alone are enough excitement and thrilling action for any sci fiction novel!

The City We Became is Jemisin’s first book in The Great Cities Trilogy. Neil Gaiman declares it to be “Glorious,” and, indeed it is.

“Every city has a soul. Some are ancient as myths; others are as new as children. New York? She’s got six–and all six will be called to arms in the greatest battle the city has ever fought.” The story opens with an exciting, terrifying scene where a young man, later identified as Manhattan, encounters monsters and catastrophic activity in “The Battle of FDR Drive” in chapter one. Each of New York’s boroughs makes up a team of individuals who must fight creatures from an alternate universe who seek to destroy NYC and eventually the Earth.

Set in contemporary NYC, this “modern masterpiece of culture, identity, magic, and myth,”has just whetted my appetite for the second book in the series, presumably set in Paris; then I think it’s on to London for the final book in the series. I can hardly wait!

WRITE FASTER, N.K. JEMISIN !

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.

THE MONK DOWNSTAIRS by Tim Farrington: A Review

Another library book returned this month

Rebecca, a thirty-eight-year old single mom, trying to hold her life together and raise her six-year-old daughter, Mary Margaret, decides to rent her basement apartment (the “in-law apartment”) to earn some much needed cash. And, who should apply but a monk, who has left the monastery after twenty years of contemplation and solitude.

A delightfully light, but insightful at times, romance

The book intersperses among the chapters that carry the narrative, Mike Christopher’s (the monk’s) letters to a monk/friend still at the monastery, chronicling his new life in the “outside world.” Most interesting are his musings on his new-found relationship with his landlady. Their relationship has its ups and downs, which keeps things interesting, and is refreshing and unique to the reader.

Mike volunteers to grow pumpkins (in December!) for Mary Margaret in the back yard, which he miraculously pulls off. Completing the cast of characters is Rebecca’s mom, Phoebe, who precipitates a catastrophic event which turns all the character’s lives upside down. Dealing with life in general and hard times specifically brings out the characters’ inner selves in a way that endears each to the reader in an unforgettable way. One will be thinking about these people long after finishing the novel.

HAPPY READING THIS WEEK!

Rae

WAKE UP GRATEFUL by Kristi Nelson: A Review

At the beginning of the new year, I began an informal “study” of gratefulness. My experience with illness and recuperation this past summer has left me with extreme gratefulness for life and living. Each morning, I wake up and say, “Good morning, Lord; thank you for another day.” The mug for my first cup of coffee says, “Renew/Restore/Refresh,” so I repeat the little mantra I’ve made up: ” ‘Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me;’ Restore me to health, please; and refresh my mind to where it can handle anything that might come my way today.” Then, I am ready to start my day. I believe I read in something by Brene Brown that Happiness does not cause gratitude, but gratitude causes happiness.

Deb Nance, a blogging friend at Readerbuzz, sent me a whole list of books about gratitude available at our local library that she discovered in her recent study of happiness. Here is the first book from that list that I have read in 2022.

A serious and very helpful book

Nelson does not allow her reader to wistfully think, “I’ll be grateful when…,” but encourages her to be in the moment and grateful for what she already has. It is a “touching, powerful, real” read because she shares her own story as a survivor of Stage IV cancer. During her search for recovery, she met a Benedictine monk, Brother David Steindl-Rast who helped found the Network for Grateful Living. This book articulates his teachings, which the author has put into practice in her daily life. Subtitled “The Transforming Practice of Taking Nothing for Granted, this book is full of inspiring quotes, which I often copied into my Quotes Notebook. I also began a gratitude journal during the time I read Wake Up.

Nelson tells the reader, “Grateful living offers a path and a promise” and explains both. The book is full of practical guidelines and specific practices for the reader to carry out. These practices are: Stop. Look. Go, and each is given for every section of the book. I was spurred to put these practices into action and to continue doing so for some time now.

To call Wake Up a self-help or self-improvement book is an understatement. it is a narrative by Nelson of her journey to a more positive, happy life, plus ways the reader can obtain this for herself.

I highly recommend this book.

Thanks to the Story Reading Ape blog for the use of this meme.

THIRSDAY THOUGHTS

I know I overuse the word “lovely,” but Wintering:The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times is a lovely book. Even the cover gives the reader a sense of peace and serenity.

One of the most helpful, most inspiring books I read in 2021

Published in 2020, May’s book fills a need in the human psyche. I for one suffer from SAD, seasonal affective disorder in the winter. The bleakness of the clouded skies and leafless trees depress me. Just looking out the kitchen window can immobilize me into standing there motionless, doing nothing for fifteen minutes or more. This cannot be a healthy mental state.

Wintering takes us through the seasons of the year, starting in September with the prologue, and continuing through late March with an epilogue. This beautiful, healing book looks at the winter season as a time of rest and healing. “…wintering cannot be avoided, but need not be feared.” Winter season is compared to “a warm blanket on a cold day.” We are instructed to use this time to “care for and repair our selves when life knocks us down.” The author gives personal examples from her life in a memoir-like musing on the winter season. We find that she underwent adversity and discover how she (not avoided it, but) worked through it.

This simple, little book leads us to understand that the “transformative power of rest and retreat” convinces us that “life is cyclical, not linear.”I am in the winter season of the cycle now; this year I will not “rush” the coming of spring, but prepare myself and heal myself from life’s blows in preparation for it.

I highly recommend this book.

This was one of the last books I finished in 2021.