Thursday, December 21, 2017

Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan

Telling the story of one family and two generations of siblings, this novel flips back and forth in time between the 1950s when two sisters immigrate from Ireland and the modern-day as the family deals with the sudden death of an oldest son.

It's a story full of secrets and the way secrets rarely stay hidden. As a naive girl in Ireland, Nora makes a hasty decision (to marry the neighbor boy) that sets in motion everything that comes after. But as often happens, she's daily reminded of those decisions and sometimes feels like a martyr for the sacrifices she's made.

In the next generation, the kids are a tight bunch but are holding their own secrets. Coming together in the wake of Patrick's death brings them closer and also offers an opportunity for change.

The book is engaging and very well done. While satisfying, the ending is left open and unfinished, with the rest of the story for you to imagine. I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Tenth of December by George Saunders

Designer drugs, human slaves as yard art, a returning soldier with anger issues, and an attempted suicide - what a collection of short stories!

After having LOVED Lincoln in the Bardo, I was excited to dip into a bit more of Saunders' oeuvre. I enjoyed this post-modern collection of stories: there's a sci-fi bent, a bit of absurdity for satire, and a very dark look at modern society.

This is another book we read for the library's discussion - and another one I enjoyed that they all hated! Although the more we discussed it, they at least came around a bit on some of it.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

A quartet of adult siblings about to come into a substantial inheritance get a big surprise when their mother decides instead to drain the fund in a bail-out of the eldest. What they're each hiding is that all could use a bail-out.

It's another family book - another look at sibling relationships and the roles we take over and over within the family framework. Another book where they're all a bit contemptible, yet realistically so. I wonder if we would like ANYONE if we knew their secrets?

We read this for book discussion at the library, but I missed the discussion. It could be a good one, too: How does the mere idea of money spoil each character? Does the grief motivating Tommy's bad decision make it more honorable than any of the Plum siblings bad decisions?

I enjoyed the book immensely - although the end is a bit pat for me. I felt like most of the ends tie up a bit too neatly. I listened to the audiobook, read by Mia Barron, and it was very well done.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Cay by Theodore Taylor

A boy and his mother flee the Carribean at the start of World War II, but their boat is hit by German submarines. Phillip ends up injured and afloat with an elderly black man - the start of their survival adventure.

This 1969 children's book was recommended to me by a former librarian who cited it as a forgotten favorite. I read online it has been criticized as racist - and while there are spots of racism, they're included to show how Phillip grows and learns. How the experience allows him to overcome perceived differences and learn what even his mother didn't know.

The book moves quickly - despite the fact it covers quite a bit of time, it's only 140 pages. To keep kids interested and engaged it's dramatic but doesn't dwell overlong on the machinations of life marooned on the island. I found it interesting and well told. 

Friday, December 8, 2017

Essential History of American Art by Suzanne Bailey

Rarely could I say I've read an art book - they're the kind of thing you dip in and out of, skimming a lot and reading just the interesting bits. This one, however, was different.

It doesn't try to be definitive or all-inclusive (although it covers a fair bit of territory). Also, artists are included if they were born elsewhere but worked in the US, or were born here and worked mostly elsewhere. There's a wiggly, loose definition of "American" art.

And, strangely, the artwork used to illuminate an artist is almost always NOT their best-known piece. I did a lot of Google image searching while I read to view other work and get a better career overview.

But what fascinating text! Brief bio and description of style and influences, with many artists shown with more than one piece of art.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

I finished this book with a big sigh of, "What a GOOD BOOK!" John Green is really a genius.

Aza and her friend Daisy get swept into a mystery when a local, dirty businessman disappears - the dad of a kid Aza once knew from camp. They reconnect, and then they start spending time together. But Davis' parent problems aren't the only challenges to this teen relationship.

Green has talked a lot about the depiction of OCD in this book and his own struggles with mental illness. He worked hard to give an honest view of a misunderstood condition.

Which is why, honestly, this book reads a bit like a Matthew Quick book. That's a little weird to say because, "it's like a John Green" book is its own genre, but I mean it as a huge compliment.

As expected from Green, these are realistic teens with flaws and bad choices and internal struggles. But he's gone into new territory (one Quick has made his home) with this frank look at mental illness. You'll grow to love these kids, and also feel for them.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth

Junior high is hell anyway, but imagine the special kind of torture for a "different" kid in class. In this case, it's that Lewis is the only rez kid in the "smart" class full of white kids.

Lewis spots an opportunity to make a friend when a new Air Force kid comes into class; George doesn't know anyone's social status yet, so Lewis hopes that he can get a hook into him before the local prejudices jell. The boys bond over music, and it's the start of something special.

While the book is set in 1975, there's a lot that seems modern about Lewis' life, middle school friendships, and social prejudices. Seriously, haven't we evolved farther than this? Nope.