The Paper Trail

Not only do I love reading books, I love listening to them too! I only drive 8 miles to work, so I’m not really killing any time by listening to a book on my commute, but I still do it! It’s far more enjoyable than the radio; not because I don’t like music, but because I don’t like shouty radio personalities and commercials every 2 songs. So this basically means I’m always reading a book and listening to a book at the same time. And since there are times when you can’t read, but you don’t have to devote all of your attention to an activity, why not multi-task and enjoy a book? Taking a walk, cooking dinner, and it sure makes cleaning the bathroom more fun! Okay I’m a giant nerd… I’m really fine with it.

Now about audio books… I have an app for that! Incredibly handy, right there on my phone and almost harder to put down than a visual copy! You are being read to by someone who does all the voices, and sometimes the voice performance of the audio book enhances the story in a way that my reading never could.

So if you are impressed by my super-fast reading abilities, well, I’m double-fisting my books.

Book #2 Where’d You Go, Bernadette. By Maria Semple. Audio Narration by Kathleen Wilhoite.

books2 Rating: 4- Would recommend to a friend.

Synopsis: Bernadette Fox is  well-known in the architectural world for her innovative use of green materials to build a single family home in LA, before anybody was ever talking about “green.” But a set-back in her career, and a promotion for her husband through the ranks at Microsoft, prompt a move to Seattle to be closer to the Microsoft headquarters. Now Bernadette is Mom to 15 year-old Bee, an exceptional student and precocious girl who wants only one thing as a reward for her perfect grades… A family trip to Antarctica!

Bee is the narrator of the story and  gives first-hand perspective of the present as well as recounts of the past based on her memory and things her parents have told her about their pasts. Bee was born with a congenital heart defect and spent her first years in and out of the hospital for surgeries, causing a delay in her growth. But what she lacks in stature, she makes up for in charisma!

The back story is told through a series of email correspondence between other characters. Bernadette to her virtual assistant to book the trip (and handle random tasks that she should be able to do for herself, but cant seem to figure out…), two moms at Bee’s school who like to complain about Bernadette, notices from the school headmaster prompted by events between Bernadette and the moms…  All describing Bernadette’s bizarre behavior leading up to her even more unexplainable disappearance.

My Impressions: First, as an audio book, this was a great one! The reader’s performance was excellent; she was able to alter he voice enough to differentiate major characters, but not in a hokey way that might distract from the story. When I listen to a book I try to decide if I’d rather have read it, but this one was good for listening.

Now about the book itself… There’s just something about Bernadette and Bee. They suck you in to their world, you’re drawn to their quirkiness.  Bee is so excited over just about everything! Bernadette is cynical over just about everything. But they bleed together and balance each other out beautifully. This is what I liked most about the book.

I’m not usually a fan of the letter-writing style of story telling. In other books like this, I’ve felt like it makes for a very disconnected story. But in the case of this book, it works well. Firstly because these people write some really long and detailed emails! Seriously, I’m not sure I’ve ever written an email longer than one short paragraph, but these go on and on. Since I don’t have a hard copy of the book, I can only guess that some of them are at least 10 pages since they were at least 30 minutes of audio in some cases! Not tedious minutes, but if my friends wrote email that long, I’d reconsider our preferred communication. The second reason the letter format is successful is that it helps to move the plot along, connecting past and present and telling two sides of concurrent events; allowing those looking in from the outside to follow the chain of events that lead Bee on the search for her mother. Lastly, the sum of information from the collected correspondence offer explanation for their existence and reveal the secrets behind the story. (Cryptic right? You’ll have to read for yourself to understand fully!)

The thing I liked least about the book was really the thing your are supposed to dislike about the book… The antagonist characters. The people masquerading themselves as helpful, good, caring people.  Your aren’t supposed to like them because they keep giving you reasons not to!

Why you should read it: Strong female personalities, modern technology references, scandal and intrigue, and a trip to Antarctica! What more could you want? This book is a little all over the place, but it’s intentional and I promise you won’t get lost. You’ll just have a hard time putting it down!

2nd book in the bag!

“You get a little moody sometimes but I think that’s because you like to read. People that like to read are always a little fucked up.”
― Pat Conroy, The Prince of Tides

A perfect place to start!

PenumbraBook # 1- Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Book Store, by Robin Sloan

Before I start my review, I want to establish a rating system. Each book will get a rating 1-5 to give a more objective understanding of my opinion. So let me define: 5, I’d read it again! 4, Will recommend to a friend. 3, It was a good book. 2, Not my fav! 1, Put it down before I was done.

Now for this book, a solid 5!

Synopsis: Clay Jannon is twenty-something, recently unemployed, living in San Fransisco with room-mates who are gainfully employed and far more motivated. Clay used to work in marketing for a company that made bagels more visually appealing; until they went under. Now he is wandering around town looking for a new job when he stumbles upon a curious book shop where he is met by a more curious proprietor, Mr. Penumbra. Clay earns the job by answer two interview questions: 1. “Tell me about a book you love ” for which his answer is met with a wide smile and 2. “Can you climb a ladder?”

Clay will work from 10pm to 6am, selling very few books, but lending several a night to a strange set of clientele, and he will log the specifics of these encounters into a large tome. As Clay becomes curious about the books on the shelves, the people borrowing them and his unusual employer, he stumbles upon a strange mystery. He employs the help of his Googler girlfriend, artist room-mate and entrepreneur best-bud to crack the code hidden within the shelves.

My Impressions: I was hooked by this book after the first few pages. Clay is a character you can really relate to on many levels; there is an appreciation for his circumstances, a general sympathy for his combination of  skills that don’t translate to a specific career and desire to see him succeed no matter how bizarre his quest.  The story is a great balance of fiction with a touch of fantasy. There is also a lot of direct narration in which Clay explains things to the reader for better understanding, like the uses for programming languages or the origin of  a typeface. Some might find these explanations a little tedious, but I found them interesting and always in keeping with the story. And occasionally the narration breaks the barrier of book and reader for a little humour. Clay is a bit of a nerd and it’s part of what makes him endearing. He is also loyal to his friends and his new boss and shows a great respect for their talents, even while slightly exploiting them on his quest. He is committed to this cause throughout the story and can’t be dissuaded. If I had any criticism for the story, I would say that things come almost too easy for Clay as he moves through his challenge. But that’s really okay, because you are rooting for him to succeed from the start. You want him to get the job, get the girl, solve the puzzle, find the… No spoilers I promise!

I liked the authors’ style of writing. As I said, it was really captivating from the beginning and the story moved along a good pace. Clay’s dialogue isn’t always in quotes so it was difficult at first to differentiate between inner monologue and actual replies. (For a minute I thought everyone at Google was a mind reader). I also appreciated the title character’s unusual name, most befitting his mysterious persona- a space of partial illumination surrounded by shadow.

Nostalgia as a prominent theme in story.  There is a lot of discussion of old technology setting the stage for new technology and old traditions reappearing in modern life in ways that most people would be unaware. There is a push-pull between past and present; books versus e-readers. Those on the side of books may actually convince you to revert to turning pages! In fact the love of books is so prominent throughout this story that I think it can be considered fan fiction for fans of reading!

Why you should read it: It’s just a fun book. About books! It’s a quick and light read, and hard to put down once you get into the heart of the story. And really all I ask is to be entertained!

So head to the book store (real or virtual) and ask yourself “what do you seek in these shelves?” Festina Lente!

1st book in the bag!

“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.” -Lemony Snicket, Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can’t Avoid

A Book in The Bag

I love to read! I wanted to be read to as a child. I read along with cassette tapes that prompted page turns with a little ping! I learned to read and maxed out my book limits at the school library and the public library. I got “pre-approved” and maxed out credit cards at Barnes & Noble.

Okay, that last part may not be entirely true… I’m sure I also had some help from  Target and DSW.

But you get the point. I read a lot, often, and I’m never without a book. Or these days, a Kindle. I have the app for my phone so in the rare case that I’m without my latest read, I can sinc up to where I left off. And I buy my handbags based on the criteria that they be big enough to fit my Kindle.

And so the name of my blog, a book in the bag.

But since I do so much reading, an get so much enjoyment from books, I thought I’d keep track and offer my modest and untrained critique of the books that I’m reading. I just turned 31, so my self challenge will be to complete 31 books this year. (This might be too lofty of a goal, I haven’t really done the math!)

I’m going to to try to honor each book and it’s author with an objective review of the work, before offering my opinion. I recently read an article about online book review sites calling some amateur reviewers “book-bullies” for their harsh and heavily opinionated posts. One went so far as to include GIFs and memes mocking the work. That will not happen here.

I am going to be honest about my feelings towards the book. I’m going to step out of my reading comfort zone a little too, though I make no promises to finish a book that fees like work to get through. Once while I was complaining about a book being particularly hard to finish my friend, an author, said to me, “Then just stop reading it! Who says you have to finish it?” I’m sure I blinked a few times before saying something intelligent like “Oh, okay…” It just never occurred to me to give up on a book, I felt like I must finish what I started. Or maybe it just gets good in the last 50 pages?

To this day, I don’t know how Middlesex ends, and I’m totally okay with it… Life is too short to read bad books! Or some other coffee mug quote…

Anyway I think you get the idea. I read all the time, and now I’m going to blog about it. I’m no Mother Goose or LeVar Burton, but maybe I can inspire someone else to pick up a good book! (Sorry that song is going to be stuck in your head for hours.)

So without further ado, Let the wild rumpus start!