Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Blessings by Anna Quindlen

On a fading family estate, an abandoned newborn baby changes the lives of both the troubled young caretaker who finds her and the home's former socialite matriarch.

A main theme of the book is secrets - everybody's got 'em - and how the weight of those secrets affects their lives. Nearing the end of her life, Lydia Blessing is starting to have a different perspective on the choices she's made in life. Even the baby is both a mystery and a secret.

Skip's a good guy with bad friends and decisions to make on the direction of the rest of his life. He went to jail rather than rat out his friends, but now that he's on parole he's inspired not to fall back into the old comfortable ruts. His raising the baby is destined for failure, but everyone seems willing to overlook that fate for awhile, anyway.

We chose this for the library's book discussion, and I worried this book was would be too saccharine for my taste. It is sweet, but I loved that it didn't work out as tied-in-a-bow as I'd worried, and the characters were more complex that anticipated. It's more a slice-of-life story than the parable for clean living I'd anticipated.

Also, I listened to the audiobook, which was read by actress Joan Allen - quite the A-list talent!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman by Lindy West

It's hard to imagine anyone intentionally becomes an internet writer once you know what Lindy West has been through with trolls, online stalking and spamming, and more. And yet they do because like Lindy proves, there may be a bright future ahead if we can steer this thing in the right direction.

I found this book at an ideal time - I'm more and more aware that we each have a voice, and Lindy's using hers by taking up the feminist flag for acceptance and compassion concerning body image, rape, and reproductive rights. I listened to the audiobook read by the author, so this memoir was much like a conversation with a friend: listening to her stories, sharing in her joys and griefs, anger at her misfortunes.

This book is truly excellent. Lindy's got a way with words and she's got a great sense of humor, but the book's also frequently heartbreaking. She's developed quite an armor without losing her humanity.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson

Where, you ask, is the most dangerous place on earth? The American high school, of course.

This book is considered a novel, but it's almost a series of short stories. Perspective constantly shifts between students, and only a young, new English teacher pops up again and again with an embroiled outsider's perspective on the kids' drama.

The book takes these students from 8th grade through senior year. They study (or not), they party, they get in trouble, and they try to figure out what the world has to offer. We see their actions through the lens of other students (and their teacher), we see their roles in the social caste system, and sometimes we see things from their perspective, too - which often brings new information that alters your reaction to their behavior.

Pretty much they're all self-absorbed shits (they're teenagers - that's the default setting!). But Miss Nicholl isn't too far distanced from her own youth, and her naivety helps illustrate that maturity isn't a threshold you step over, it's more of a series of steps toward an unattainable goal.

The roiling dramas of high school is a near universal touchstone, even if you didn't grow up in this new, technological age, and this is a really, really good book full of complex characters and horrifying, realistic events.

It's being marketed as an adult novel, but it's very much like many of the young adult books being published today (I think the difference is the insertion of an adult rather than an all-teen perspective).

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer

On the run from the same government she once worked for, Alex (not her real name) is a human knot of neurosis, suspicion, chemical booby traps, deadly weapons and taciturn distrust. But the whole situation shifts when a lethal trap misfires and she ends up partnering with her would-be assassin to turn the tables and take down their pursuers.

Yes, I listened to 17 hours of this book. And the book was OK - probably even good because I did actually spend 17 freaking hours of my life with it - but I'll only recommend it with a shrug.

It's a government agent novel, with espionage and backstabbing and digital footprints and lots of "trust no one." Yet there's still plenty of time to ponder the luxury of the curls in his hair - my god those curls (she's obsessed). It turns into a romance of unlikely partners that smolders and stalls so long I wanted to beg them to just consummate and put us all out of our misery! (maybe I used slightly stronger words)

Do you like that kind of thing? Then you'll love this.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson

Two New York City kids get to know their grandmother (and learn about their whole family, really) when they're sent to spend a summer in Barbados.

Teenager Dionne is sure Bird Hill is hell; her mother's always threatened with "sending her home," and she's not sure what she's done to deserve this punishment. Her younger sister, Phaedra, is more accepting of the trip, making friends and exploring this new terrain.

It's a heartbreaking, heart-warming story of family and disappointment and love and growing up. Again and again, men prove to be a disappointment, but the warmth and strength of the community's women buoy the spirit and the story.

The audiobook, read by Robin Miles, was simply INCREDIBLE and added a rich layer to the story's depth with the various accents and patois. We chose to read this title for the library's book discussion, and I'm glad we found it.