Thursday, January 17, 2019

Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Alone in the North Carolina coastal marsh, abandoned by everyone, Kya Clark was fortunate to possess the gumption she needed to survive on her own from a single-digit age. Dodging the rest of humanity, save a select few who offer help in the form of trade, the young girl becomes one with nature. The locals, who catch rare glimpses when she has no choice but to enter town for necessary supplies, call her The Marsh Girl, and they deplore her.

Despite her intentions to remain unnoticed and alone, love - in different forms - finds Kya. As love often does, it blesses and curses this eccentric soul. Extremes of success and turmoil shake up Kya's world. After being the victim of a brutal assault, Kya finds herself on trial for murder in the small town where almost everyone views her as little more than trash. Her life depends on the ability of twelve jurors to put aside their prejudice and judge her fairly.

Owens's beautiful writing style is irresistible. Coupled with a fresh story, this book is impossible to put down. Whatever I could say to convince you to read it, consider it said.

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells

The 1895 classic provides a short trip into the year 802,701, where the human race has apparently evolved into two very different creatures. Expecting to find great advancements, the time traveler spends eight days in this distant future where he is surprised to discover the severe degradation of humanity. The surface dwellers, Eloi, are small, friendly, child-like creatures who all look the same and live together in droves. They fear the nocturnal Morlocks: subterranean ape-like carnivores who surface at night to hunt for food. The time traveler, with his new Eloi friend by his side, has to face the Morlocks in their subterranean atmosphere in order to find his time machine, which they have hidden from him.

I listened to the audio version of this book, and I am not a huge fan of the narrator. A good or not-so-good narrator can make all the difference when listening, and it certainly comes down to personal preference. However, I think it's always a great idea to experience the classics. Though the language and writing styles have changed in the last century, Well's story still offers a relevant caution to the future of the human race.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Inspiration: animal protagonist

Oh! This one's going to be a challenge for some of you - we're looking for books with a non-human as the main character (or one of the main characters) of the book.

There is one easy way to find these books: Look at kids books. Oftentimes tough subject matter in a children's book requires an animal protagonist. (Is it really easier to process bullying if it's done to a badger? I don't know.)  They're everywhere, but here's a few to start with:
  • Black Beauty by Anna Sewell - the classic, a horse's autobiography.
  • Redwall by Brian Jacques - this fantasy series features all kinds of woodland and water critters in a feudal, medieval society. 
  • Charlotte's Web by E.B. White - a pig, a spider, a friendship, all in a beloved classic.
  • Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo - girl and super squirrel (I didn't enjoy this one, but it got tons of love from other readers)
  • Wildwood by Colin Meloy - this is my choice to read coming up. Written by the sexy, nerdy dude from the band The Decemberists and illustrated by his wife.
For those of you NOT interested in kids lit, I still have some recommendations.
  • The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein - the story of a man and his family, as told by the dog. I ugly cried at the end. Twice.
  • The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski - it was an Oprah book choice, and it's Hamlet with dogs. Also, it's a hefty 600 pages (I read 3/4 of it and quit, years ago).
  • The Traveling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa - one for you cat people, but I haven't read it.
  • Animal Farm by George Owell - satirical revolution on the farm.
  • Only the Animals by Ceridewen Dovey - world history short stories, as told by animals killed during human conflict (I haven't read it).
  • Cat Out of Hell by Lynne Truss - delightfully creepy and weird, with a talking cat
This prompt is meant to push you out of your comfort zone, into something a bit more fantastical or imaginary. So, what are you reading with an animal protagonist? Loving it, or hating it? Tell us!

Monday, January 14, 2019

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway's memoir of his time in Paris in the 1920s is full of anecdotes involving his relationships and encounters with many other famous figures. The stories of his visits with Gertrude Stein are entertaining, to say the least. It's also his description of fond memories of Paris in the 20s that makes this such a great book.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and Pablo Picasso are some of the talented people Hemingway had the pleasure of knowing in Paris. He describes experiences with each of these luminaries and others in his memoir. The one aspect that makes me suspect of his story is the easiness with which he judges himself, while freely pointing out the character flaws of others.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Adults by Caroline Hulse

Christmas is just loaded with emotional landmines, and it's always delightful to read about somebody else's disastrous holidays to put your own in perspective. Nobody got shot through with an arrow at mine this year - you?

A divorcing couple, their new partners, and the couple's young daughter all go away together to a fun park resort for a Christmas "weekend" that lasts five days. Somehow, everybody can see it's a bad idea and yet no one can put on the brakes to make it stop.

There are a lot of lies and half-truths floating around, but you're not going to put four adults plus one child and an imaginary bunny friend in a small chalet this long and believe they're not all coming out eventually, explosively, once the wine starts flowing.

This was a very funny book, dark and laughable with a lot of British stiff-upper-lip, polite until it hurts. You know early on somebody gets shot, but that whole story and its implications come out through police interviews that alternate between the main chapters. If you've ever endured a forced-joviality vacation at a family fun resort with children, you'll totally relate.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Night Town by Timothy Hallinan

An empty, haunted old house even Junior Bender is afraid of? I'm in.

In this, the seventh book of the series, the burglar with a heart takes a job he knows will be trouble. They pay is too high, way too high, but if he's going to make bank to help his ladylove get her kid from the ex, he's going to have to shake off the heeby-jeebies and find a stupid doll in a stinky, vacant house about to be destroyed.

But Junior's a book nerd and historian extraordinaire, so when the house gets to him he embarks on a reference and genealogy project to figure out the backstory. Meanwhile, the job's a big damn mess that's been double-booked and double-crossed, so Junior's on high alert to tails, shooters, and creeps. Which means he's not going home and instead bunking in another crazy, seedy hotel. These hotels have become a character in their own right in the series.

I really like this character, and I especially liked the Grey Gardens style history he digs up this time on the funky house and the family who built it.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

A Little Something Different: Fourteen Viewpoints, One Story by Sandy Hall

It's a college meet-cute, will-they-or-won't-they kind of story but what really makes it "something different" is all the outside perspectives we get on this not-quite-a-relationship.

Lea and Gabe's lives circle the same places and people. Their trajectories keep crashing into one another, and everybody sees how they're destined to be together - except the couple themselves. So we see their relationship through the gossip of the Starbucks baristas, through the matchmaking of their creative writing instructor, through the Chinese food delivery driver, and even through a squirrel (and the damn bench!) in the greenspace where they frequently sit.

It's a fluffy book. And while it's not high art, it's certainly not the worst either. Hall gets extra points for trying a unique approach in the storytelling narratives (but the bench was a bit too far, just saying). You want to cheer for these two characters to get together, and yet you see why they're hesitant or what's pushing them away. It's pretty funny how so many other people are emotionally invested in these two getting together, and it makes you wonder if someone is "shipping" your life that you don't know about!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Paperboy by Vince Vawter

In the heat of the summer of 1959 in Memphis, a boy takes over his friend's paper route for one month. While delivering and collecting on the route, he learns a lot about his neighborhood, the world around him, and about himself.

This is - hands down - the best book I've read in recent history. I can't stop thinking about it. The kid (we don't learn his name until close to the end) suffers with a stutter, so he's typically afraid to speak in public, especially to strangers. But this new responsibility encourages him to try some coping mechanisms and to practice, practice, practice.

By making routine, regular trips around the neighborhood, he gets a glimpse of the day-to-day in households other than his own. He begins to understand privilege, race, and responsibility. Good and bad things happen, and when his buddy returns at month's end, our hero is a little different than he was previously. You will be too.

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Nora is presented with a puzzling dilemma as the story begins: whether or not to attend a hen weekend (bachelorette party) for her estranged best friend. After being goaded to attend by and with a mutual friend, Nora learns how much can change in ten years, but also how much can stay the same. The party of six find themselves in the middle of a murder investigation at the end of a weekend of intoxication and isolation in the woods. A knock on the head prevents Nora from remembering what happened until it might be too late.

Though there are a couple good moments of hold-your-breath suspense, I found some of the more important details of the story to be illogical. I enjoyed reading about the British version of a bachelorette celebration.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, or so they say. Jeannette Walls’s memoir is an often-unbelievable account of extreme poverty and puzzling family values. The award-winning author tells her tale of growing up in a family full of dysfunction, alcoholism, destitution, and a stunning sense of pride. Frequently without the basic modern necessities like electricity, heat, and running water, the Walls children depended on discarded food and threadbare thrift store clothing for survival. Persisting on their own gumption while dodging abusive family members was the only reality known to the Walls kids.

This incredible story of survival and success despite the odds had me shaking my head in disbelief while picking my jaw up off the floor. Walls narrates the audiobook herself, and her ability to tell it in a matter-of-fact tone, and sometimes even with reverence, is mind-boggling.

This story evoked the entire range of emotions, and it is one that encourages appreciation for the most basic elements in life that are often taken for granted. I will be pondering this story for a long time to come.

Inspiration: written before you were born

Have you ever read a book older than you are? It can be an interesting experience because so much has changed about societal norms (and publishing trends) in just the last few decades.

One way to give it a try is to revisit the lists of awards I gave you last week and look up the past winners.

You can also Google "award-winning books of XXXX" (year of your choice) and see what happens.

Pick up a classic - one of those books everybody's heard of and supposedly has already read (wait, that's another inspiration prompt we'll get to later). Most of those would be from before your time.

You know how I said societal norms have changed? Often the reason books get "banned" or suggested for review is dated terminology or no longer approved behavior. Take a look at the American Library Association's list of frequently challenged books and find inspiration there.

One last idea: ask an older adult for a recommendation. See what your dad's favorite book was before you were born. Or ask your grandparents about something they loved in the past. It might also start a conversation that takes you deeper in your understanding of them!

Sunday, January 6, 2019

For Everyone by Jason Reynolds

If you're looking for something uplifting, this might be the book. Reynolds wrote a letter to himself in the form of a poem. What's wonderful is that his words can have an impact on us all. Whether 14 or 40, the reader who picks up this book most likely has something in life that makes her wonder if she can achieve her dreams. A young reader, like most of Reynolds fans, might be overwhelmed by all the possibilities. An older reader might be trying to remember what the dream is.

Reynolds' voice sounds young and hopeful as he tells us all to listen to our own hopeful voices. He reminds us to let hope drown out the oppressive discontent that tries to knock us down. This might be one that has to live on my shelf for to be referenced on those wicked days.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Rush of Heaven by Ema McKinley and Cheryl Ricker

Ema McKinley's life was turned upside down (literally) due to a work-related accident that left her wheelchair bound and in excruciating pain for nearly two decades. This work of inspirational non-fiction chronicles her medical journey and the miracle that cannot be explained through science.

My mother read this for a book discussion group and asked me to read it for a one-on-one discussion. Sensing her skepticism, and knowing my own, I picked it up shortly before Christmas. At first, Ema's story and connection to God made sense. Throughout the recitation, I was right there with the author as she recounted all the ways her faith helped her endure physical pain and deformities unimaginable for the majority of us. I could believe even the most seemingly far-fetched parts of the path she traveled until I got to her behavior at the very end of the story. Ms. McKinley's actions toward her loved ones and doctors after her miracle seemed puerile and manipulative, even in the face of all her grateful talk.

Inspiration: award winner

One of the fun things about reading award-winning books is that they've already been vetted for you - a committee decided it was good! You're always allowed to disagree, but at least somebody thinks it's a good book, and that's never a bad jumping-off point.

I promise that no matter what you enjoy reading, there's an award for it: literature, romance, fiction, poetry, sci-fi, teen book, kid's lit, horror, and on and on. Here are a few links to the sites for various awards:


and then I decided maybe I'd just give you the list on Wikipedia of world literary awards because this is so much fun to browse and look for inspiration!
Have you ever read an award-winning book and thought it was total crap? Tell us about it in the comments!